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What is the origin of the red/white paneled Obi?

“I have been seeing more and more of these checkered belts. Some are Red and black and some Red and white do they have any special meaning or is it just a way to set the founders, Grandmasters and other seniors from the lower Black Belt rank and file?” - Joe Rickard question on FB Ryukyu Martial Arts Wall

Blog Article/Post Caveat (Read First Please: Click the Link)

A very good question and the answers may have a surprise or two when you do the research. Remember first that the Dan-i, the belt system, was created in Japan by a Japanese for the system of Judo. This system was adopted by karate through the efforts of Funakoshi Gichin Sensei who started an Okinawan karate club in Japan. 

In a nutshell, there were five black belt levels back then and as with any discipline it was influenced by its members and modifications were made accordingly to those individual perceptions, distinctions and cultural beliefs, etc. 

The origins of the red/white paneled obi were Japanese and therefore Japanese cultural beliefs had a lot to say about the design. Take a look at the Japanese flag, notice anything in particular about it that connects with the red/white paneled obi? 

I quote the following from one Judo source, i.e., “Around 1930, the Kodokan created a new belt ("obi") to recognize the special achievements of high ranking black belts.

Jigoro Kano chose to recognize sixth, seventh, and eighth degree black belts with a special obi made of alternating red and white panels (kōhaku obi - literally translated as "red and white belt"). The white color was chosen for purity, and red for the intense desire to train and the sacrifices made. The colors red and white are an enduring symbol of Japan, and they have been used in Judo since Jigoro Kano started the first Red and White Tournament in 1884. - http://www.sandokai.co.uk/pages/info/yudansha/red-white-kohaku-belt.php

The selection of red-and-white colored belts to distinguish the highest ranks may have also been based on a simple cultural preference … Japanese typically divide groups into red and white sides, based on a pivotal historical event, the Genpei War - a dispute between two rival clans, the Genji and Heike. The Genji used white flags to identify their troops on the battlefield, while the Heike used red flags.

The "kōhaku [“紅白: red and white; colors for festival or auspicious occasions; red and white singing contest; first character means “crimson; deep red,” the second means, “White.”] obi is often worn for special occasions, but it is not required to be worn at any specific time and the black belt remains the standard obi for all the dan grade ranks.”

In my view the red/white paneled obi spread faster in the Western regions because it spoke directly to that regions ego pride driven cultural belief systems. The one culture that actually created their own system was the Okinawans. If Karate were going to use the grade/level system of ranking then it would be normal for the culture that created karate to have thier own culturally driven belt system, i.e., 

Regarding Okinawan Karate, Okinawan’s have used two models with the first being the Judo Dan-i system. The second is the unique belt system the Okinawans developed for themselves. 

Okinawan Dan System

1st - 3rd: black belt with silver strip in middle lengthwise
3rd - 6th: black belt with gold strip in middle lengthwise
7th - 9th: red belt with gold strip in middle lengthwise
10th: solid gold obi

1961 era development; not fully validated from any official Okinawan source to date. http://karatequestions.blogspot.com/2013/02/did-okinawans-develop-their-own-belt.html

The origin of the red/white paneled belt is https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_belt_(martial_arts)


Bibliography (Click the link)

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