The term "martial arts" may be defined as the art of combat that combines systems of codified practices and traditions of training for combat utilizing various fighting techniques. These arts may be offensive for combat or defensive for self-defense. They may further be practices for personal, spiritual, health, sport, or other reasons. Most martial arts adhere to a strict way of honor.
There are many different styles of martial arts practiced throughout the world. Generally, they are categorized as traditional, sport, and weapons-based martial arts. They can additionally be broadly grouped into striking, grappling, or weaponry. Each art can vary widely but most martial arts though have similar objectives: defeat the opponent and defend from physical threat.
The origin of the term martial arts refers to the art of warfare. In modern vernacular, the term martial arts often refers to the Asian fighting styles. Much of this is due to the popular martial arts films originating out of countries like China and Japan. However, Europe is home to many extensive systems of martial arts. A mix of origins is found in styles like Capoeira, which African slaves developed in Brazil.
While each style has unique components that make it different from other forms, a common characteristic is the systematization of fighting techniques. Methods of training typically include sparring (simulated combat) and forms (formal sets or routines of techniques).
Most styles of martial arts begin with a white belt rank and proceed to the level of black. Most systems use between six to ten belt rank colors.
Typical to most forms of martial arts, a student or practitioner's level is often marked by the color of his or her belt. The black belt is commonly the highest belt color used and denotes a high degree of competence. In addition, there are levels of black belts known as "dan" grades. In some forms of the arts, very senior grades have belts of a different color.
A common misconception, achieving a black belt has not been an ancient tradition. In fact it dates back to the 19th century. The systematic use of denoting rank with belt color was first used by Kano Jigoro, the founder of judo. He awarded the first black belts to denote a senior rank in the 1880s. Shortly after the turn into the 20th century, an expanded colored belt system was created. Other martial arts later adopted the custom and helped create a formalized rank structure.
Today the black belt is recognized worldwide as the standard for a way to describe an expert in martial arts.