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OBI's or belts are used throughout the Japanese Martial Arts as part of their training outfits. Often made of thick cotton and roughly 5 cm thick and at various lengths the belt/OBI is primarily designed to hold the practitioners uniform together. The belt ranking system used by various Martial Arts today can be attributed to Jūdō's 柔道 founder Jigoro Kano Sensei 嘉納 治五郎. 

Around 1930 Kano Sensei created a new belt to recognize the special achievements of high ranking black belts. Other arts such as the tea ceremony and swordsmanship provided recognition for their masters in the form of a special tea pot or sword. Kano Sensei chose to recognize sixth, seventh, and eighth degree black belts with a special obi made of alternating red and white panels. 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 Kano Sensei started the first Red and White Tournament in 1884. He also created the red belt to recognize 9th and 10th dans.

Other colored belts for students who had not yet achieved black belt originated later, when Judo began being practiced outside of Japan. Mikonosuke Kawaishi Sensei is generally regarded as the first to introduce various colored belts in Europe in 1935 when he started to teach Judo in Paris. He felt that western students would show greater progress if they had a visible system of many colored belts recognizing achievement and providing regular incentives.This system included white, yellow, orange, green, blue, and purple belts before the traditional brown and black belts.

The Judo practice uniform and belt system eventually spread to many of the other modern martial arts such as Aikido
合気道 and Karate 空手 which adapted them for their purpose. Karateka in Okinawa did not use any sort of special uniform at all in the old days. The KYU/DAN ranking system, and the modern KARATE DOGI 道着(modified JUDO DOGI) were first adopted by Funakoshi Sensei in an effort to encourage the acceptance of by the Japanese. He awarded the first Shodan 初段 ranks given in Karate to Tokuda, Otsuka, Akiba, Shimizu, Hirose, Gima, and Kasuya on April 10, 1924. The adoption of the KYU/DAN system and the adoption of a standard uniform based on the JUDO DOGI were two of the four conditions which the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai 大日本武德會 required before recognizing karate as a "real" martial art. If you look at photographs of Okinawan Karateka training in the early part of this century, you will see that they were training in their everyday clothes.

Promotion requirements for each rank vary according to the Style, Sensei and the national organization that you are affiliated with. There is no worldwide standard for each rank, although it is generally accepted that a BLACK BELT, 1st Dan has had many years of practice.
Shodan 初段, literally translates to "The first stage" is the lowest black belt rank in Japanese martial arts and the game of Go. The character 初 (sho, alternative pronunciation: hatsu) also means first, new or beginning in Japanese.

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