It wasn’t until the early 20th century that colored belts were awarded to students of Kung Fu. Today, most Kung Fu schools outside of China participate in this practice.
In the martial arts, belts were instituted to signify advancement but in truth there is really no end to Kung Fu training. Further, there is no official or central body that governs rank in the study of Kung Fu. In general, it is up to individual schools.
Before belt systems, students would learn under just one Kung Fu master and a signed scroll was the only way that students were identified as advancing in their practice. Their master would sign the scroll and indicate what had been accomplished. The scroll was the only proof of individual achievement.
It was Jigoro Kano, the founder of modern Judo, who decided to use white and black belts in order to distinguish the beginners from more experienced students. However, when Judo became a hit in Europe, Western schools started to introduce different colors so that students could visually gauge their progress.
It was not too much later that Kung Fu adopted the system. In fact, almost every Kung Fu school from Hong Kong to the United States began adapting the colored belt system.
One difference between Kung Fu and the belts of other martial arts is the material of the belts themselves. Instead of a thick material, Kung Fu uses wide sashes as belts and those belts are often made of silk. This is significant because these belts are more than just a method of ranking in Kung Fu. They are a type of ceremonial uniform.
Kung Fu schools that do use a colored belt system divide the belts into three categories. These categories are novice, intermediate and advanced.
- Novice Belts: These yellow, orange and blue belts take about two years to earn. Earning these belts means that a students can perform Kung Fu’s basic strikes, defenses, counters, and stances.
- Intermediate Belts: Green, brown and blue, these belts indicate that a student has begun weapons training and has adapted more complex techniques. It takes about three years to advance through all of the intermediate belts.
- Advanced Belt: This is the black belt. There are several degrees of black belts. During this stage unique katas and philosophical concepts are learned. An individual who has advanced to a black belt also is able to teach students.