Kung Fu is one of the most impressive martial arts to watch. Each martial art has its own belt ranking system. Today I’ll explain how long it takes to get a black belt or black sash in kung fu.
On average it takes 5 years to get a black belt/black sash in kung fu. This is based on training twice a week. In traditional kung fu, there was no belt or sash ranking system. So, there is a lot of variation between schools in how long it takes for a person to be awarded a black belt in kung fu.
In this article I will explain the technical requirements to advance from one sash to another, how it differs from traditional kung fu taught in China, as well as, what to expect when beginning to learn kung fu.
What Is the Order of Belts in Kung Fu?
In traditional kung fu taught in China, people wore sashes, however, they weren’t used to show rank or skill level.
Hanfu is the Chinese word for the traditional style of dress that you’re probably familiar with in kung fu movies. In hanfu fashion common styles involve long flowing robes made of silk, that are tied with a silk belt or sash.
The color of the sash or belt was used primarily for aesthetic reasons.
Where the colors were used to match other colors to create an overall look. And a sash and its color were more of a fashion statement rather than any indication of skill level in kung fu.
Because of that, there is no defined belt order in kung fu. And it very much varies from instructor to instructor.
This is very different from other martial arts such as karate, and judo where the colors of the belts are virtually exactly the same regardless of what school you go to.
Many kung fu instructors comment that the belt/sash ranking system in kung fu came about due to the popularity of Japanese martial arts such as judo and karate.
Especially when kung fu arrived in Western countries such as the US. Where people seemed to like a colored belt ranking system and therefore many kung fu schools also adopted a colored sash/belt system.
So many styles of kung fu – no defined belt system
Although I’ve provided a timeframe for how long it takes to get a black sash in kung fu, there is more to the story.
There is a tonne of different kung fu styles such as wushu, Shaolin, and Bruce Lee’s adaptation called jeet kune do.
Kung fu is handed down from the instructor to the student, and because the belt ranking/sash ranking system mostly wasn’t used it’s common for a kung fu school to use no colored sash/belt system at all.
A colored sash is also not recognized like it is in other martial arts.
For example, if you were to go to a jiu-jitsu competition wearing a purple belt, or a brown belt, people would recognize that you are very advanced. Whereas, if you wore a blue sash or a yellow sash on your kung fu uniform no one would really understand what it means or how good you are.
There are many anecdotal stories from people that train kung fu where they say that their instructors aren’t too fussed about what belt a person is.
And don’t necessarily consider it to be an indication of a person’s skill level in fighting.
Here’s a quote from a long time practitioner of kung fu:
“The worst fighter at my school and best fighter at my school were both black belts. The worst black belt at my school memorized all of the techniques and went up the ranks very fast. But, when it came to actual sparring he was the worst and everyone beat him.”(source)
In my opinion, this is not unique to kung fu and can occur in other martial arts. And long-time martial artists often comment that the practice of awarding ‘fake’ belts was very prevalent in the 1990s.
But, with the internet connecting everyone so closely, this practice is becoming less and less common.
Also, in my opinion, this practice is somewhat dangerous as it can give a person a false sense of security which can be very harmful if they ever need to use their skills to defend themselves or a loved one.
So, it’s clear that kung fu schools can award belts to indicate that a person can perform the different striking techniques.
However, it’s also clear that people are aware that this doesn’t translate into actual fighting skills.
This is only developed through sparring against an opponent who is trying to land strikes on you and avoid the strikes you’re trying to throw.
This is a concept known as live sparring which is common in some martial arts but not in others.
Overall, there is no standardized belt system in kung fu and it very much varies from school to school. Some schools also don’t use a colored belt/sash ranking system.
Kung Fu originated in China, and many people wonder whether Karate also originated in China. I explained this in detail in this article about whether karate is Chinese or Japanese.
How the colored belt/sash ranking system was adopted in Kung Fu
Since kimonos and hanfu were typical clothing – and were worn every day in olden times when it came to training martial arts they were also worn.
However, in Japanese martial arts, a white kimono was worn.
And in kung fu, it’s also common to wear a loose-fitting long sleeve shirt and baggy pants. In kung fu, the sash was worn to keep the fabric around the midsection close to the body.
This is seen any many old videos of martial artists training such as Jigoro Kano the founder of judo.
And in Chinese martial arts movies such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Here’s a trailer from the movie:
The colored belt ranking system is widely considered to have been invented by Jigoro Kano.
Jigoro Kano formalized the unarmed grappling techniques used by the samurai and created a new code of ethics for this martial arts style known as jiu-jitsu. He also changed its name to jiu-do or judo.
Kung fu is very different from judo. It very much has more of a focus on striking. Whereas, the judo techniques are exclusively throws, joint locks, and chokes.
Interestingly, judo is in fact jiu-jitsu. I explained the history of how jiu-jitsu came to be known as judo in this article about whether jiu-jitsu is Japanese.
The colored belt ranking system ended up being very popular and liked and was adopted by many other martial arts such as taekwondo, and karate.
Some kung fu schools adopted it, and kung fu instructors are generally of the opinion that it was because people expected them to have a colored belt ranking system. Due to it being so widely used in other martial arts.
Before the colored belt ranking system was invented and used, martial artists practitioners were only separated into either a professor – someone who could teach the art, or a student – someone who is not yet a professor.
When a martial artist was promoted to professor they were awarded a certificate.
This signified that you were qualified to teach the specific style you had mastered. Certificates are also still awarded today along with colored belts.
The main differences between kung fu and other martial arts
The most striking difference is the origin of the martial art. Kung fu has its origins in China. Whereas, other martial arts such as kickboxing come from Thailand, and judo and karate come from Japan.
Another main difference is that kung fu very much has a striking focus.
Which is very different from a grappling-focused martial art like wrestling or judo. Interestingly, China has an equivalent to other popular martial arts.
For example, China originated a martial art known as Shuai jiao, also known as jacket wrestling. Here’s a video of Shuai jiao.
There is also a martial art from China that is very similar to kickboxing called Sanda. The reason is that effective fighting techniques are discovered by trial and error as two people train, and play around having fun.
All humans have the same kind of body, therefore manipulating to effectively throw someone is the same regardless of the country where it is worked on.
The same is true of trying to strike the face and body in a way an opponent can’t block and also avoid getting hit as well follows universal principles. Which transcend the geographic location where the skills were worked on.
Is Kung Fu Better Than Karate?
There are many different martial arts, and it can sometimes be difficult to decide which one to do. One of the most popular martial arts is karate, but kung fu is well known and many of the moves look very impressive.
So, I thought I’d answer whether kung fu is better than karate.
Karate is better than kung fu. In karate, there is more of an emphasis on realistic sparring known as kumite. Any striking martial art such as kung fu or karate is effective provided the practitioner does realistic sparring. But, kung fu is well known for using unrealistic techniques.
The unrealistic techniques are very impressive to watch, such as doing flips and jumping very high into the air. However, the effort used to learn these techniques is generally better spent doing moves that would be effective in a self-defense situation.
Most people learn martial arts to defend themselves in a real-life situation, therefore, spending extra time learning techniques that don’t have a practical application, generally isn’t what most people are looking for in a martial art.
However, provided you’re aware of this difference, it still can be fun and challenging to learn the flashy techniques in kung fu.
Is Kung Fu Better Than Taekwondo?
There are many different striking martial arts. One that focuses more on kicks is taekwondo. But, kung fu also has some kicks, as well as, punches and forearm strikes. However, which is better kung fu or taekwondo?
Taekwondo is better than kung fu. Taekwondo is an Olympic sport and has a more defined belt ranking system and curriculum. Both teach realistic fighting techniques, however, taekwondo for the most part has more of an emphasis on realistic sparring.
Although, kung fu is good the belt ranking system is sometimes used and not used and isn’t clearly defined.
Taekwondo also has some variation in the grading and belt system, however, overall it is more well defined which makes it easier to follow.
Both kung fu and taekwondo have very cool-looking techniques. And at the end of the day, both are fun and are a great way to stay in shape.
Can You Get a Black Belt in Kung Fu?
Getting belts is motivating and is something you can be proud of. In most martial arts a black belt is equivalent to being a professor in the martial art and signifies that you are an expert. But, is it possible to get a black belt in kung fu?
It is possible to get a black belt in kung fu. However, it’s generally called a black sash, because the kung fu uniform uses a silk sash rather than a belt. Some schools follow a belt/sash ranking system but it’s just as common for a school to not use a colored belt/sash ranking system.
It very much depends on the individual kung fu school. And it isn’t a given like it is in other martial arts such as karate, and judo, where all of the schools regardless of the instructor use a colored belt ranking system to signify proficiency.