Belt Ranking in American Kenpo

BELT RANKING IN AMERICAN KENPO KARATE – through our lineage in the Chinese Karate Federation

The color of one’s belt is to symbolize the level of the practitioner within the confinements of the base material being taught and tested upon, beginning with white belt and leading to black belt through constant refinement of skill and intellect.  In American Kenpo one must learn certain basics, sets, forms, freestyle, and self-defense techniques in each belt to test upon as a blueprint of motion providing the tools to reach his/her full potential.  Aside from the physical movements, students learn the concepts and principles of Kenpo based on science—primarily physics and geometry—as well as certain rules, code words, themes, definitions and possible theories so that they can also speak the language of Kenpo, become free thinkers and self-correcting. What is learned outside of the tested curriculum through analyzing, interpreting, tailoring and improving is what is most important, however.  The written material guides us to the ultimate findings in our journey throughout the three stages of American Kenpo: academic, sport, and combative.

The ranking system in Martial Arts is not an ancient custom, however, because it was first used by Kano Jigoro (founder of Judo) in the 19th century. Senior Grandmaster Edmund K. Parker, the founder of American Kenpo Karate, dug deeply into the “Color in Chinese culture.”  To understand the ranking system we need to know the following:

The ancient Chinese culture was based on the color BLACK = YANG and WHITE = YIN to represent the cycle of life.  The ancient Chinese regarded BLACK as the KING OF COLORS and believed “BLACK as the color of HEAVEN and BEGINNING” while they believed in “WHITE as the END.”

In the traditional Chinese culture and Chinese physics, China’s emperors selected standard colors by using the “Theory of the Five Elements.”

Movement: Earth                   Metal                  Water              Wood              Fire

Color: yellow                 purple                  blue                  green              red

Direction: center                     west                    north               east               south

Planet: Saturn                 Venus                 Mercury           Jupiter            Mars

Energy: stabilizing          contracting        conserving      generative    expansive

By knowing the basics of Chinese culture the ranking system is easy to understand:

White                    –   The ‘End’ as new ‘Beginning’

Yellow                   –   to stabilize what you’ve learned

Orange                  –   add a little red to yellow and learn more

Purple                   –   to contract what you’ve learned

Blue                       –   to conserve what you’ve learned

Green                    –  to generate what you’ve learned

Brown                   –  combine yellow to green and keep on going

Black                     –   Heaven and the ‘new beginning’

Red Stripes           –  Fire = Expansion

In all aspects of life, there is always an opposite and a reverse, and we view everything in American Kenpo as such.  “For every move, concept, principle and definition there is an opposite and a reverse.”

Through studying the meaning of colors in Chinese culture in detail, Mr. Kelley has decided to reverse “HEAVEN and FIRE” (black belt with red stripes) into “FIRE and HEAVEN” (red belt with black stripes).  This signifies humility, honors the wisdom and commits to the willingness of being a lifetime student of Kenpo, with the final goal “THE REAL HEAVEN.”

It’s an honor to get and to wear the “red belt” which can be only presented by the President of the Chinese Karate Federation for ranks 5th and above.

FAITH          –          SPIRIT          –          WISDOM

CHINESE                KARATE              FEDERATION

Written by:  Brigitte Schulte (Kenpo legend Rainer Schulte’s wife) and

Michael Miller (CKF Public Relations Administrator)

CKF President Sean P. Kelley's belt showing the reverse of the black belt with red tips (now red belt with black tips) as explained in the article!

Miller’s Kenpo Karate Dojo

443 East Main Street
Bradford, Pa 16701
814-368-3725

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