Which Martial Arts Don’t Use Belts?

martial arts no belts lg

What if I told you that there are a ton of martial arts you could practice in just your street clothes or workout clothes? And that these martial arts do not use a belt ranking system. So which martial arts don’t use belts?

Martial arts with no formal, colored belt systems include Muay Thai, Kickboxing, Krav Maga, Tai Chi, Systema, and MMA. You do not need to practice in a traditional gi with these martial arts.

You might be wondering, why do some other martial art forms use a belt system? Stick with me through this article, and you will learn all there is to know about martial arts and the belt ranking system.

Why do martial arts use a belt system?

The simple answer is that belts are used in martial arts to rank their students’ progress. It is a grading system that shows the skill and expertise of its owner based on the color of the belt they have achieved. 

By just taking a glance at the color of the belt tied around the waist of a martial arts student’s uniform, you can denote their rank level of expertise and estimate how long they have persisted in that martial arts practice.

The most common belt ranking system starts at a white belt for beginners, with a black belt usually being the highest obtainable belt.

It takes years of training and experience to obtain a black belt in most martial arts styles. So, for example, if you happen to see a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, know that it took that person 8-15 years to achieve that rank —most people reach that in 12 years.

The belt ranking system was invented by Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo.

He introduced the idea in the late 1880s. As the concept spread across the globe, it became widely accepted by many. It has been adopted by many martial arts styles and martial arts schools, beginning from the early 1900s.

But in the olden days, everyone wore a white belt. And then, over time and after years of practice, they would gradually get dirtier (since traditionally you don’t wash your belt). And eventually, that white belt would turn to gray, then brown, and eventually black.

Today, many martial arts practices have incorporated some form of colored belts ranking system to track their students’ growth. In 2018, the International Sambo Federation (FIAS) agreed to adopt a colored belt ranking system for Sambo.

Do belts matter in martial arts?

Whether or not belts count in martial arts is highly debatable.

There are two opposing thoughts on the matter. On the one hand, some see belts as an innovative way of ranking students’ progress. On the other hand, an equally large number of people believe belts and ranks are unnecessary and should be dismissed.

Honestly, it is an extended argument that never ends. If you ask the martial arts community, “Are belts important?” Many would answer, “Yes, they are important.”

Many more would reply, “Yes, belts are important, but they shouldn’t matter.”  And many others simply don’t care about such rankings and think “it is unnecessary and takes away the enjoyment of the art.

It makes more people focus on acquiring the next ranking belt, and it becomes their sole purpose to achieve the highest-ranking belt rather than enjoy the beauty of the art.”

The truth is that because of the differing level of proficiency in martial art schools, belts do not matter, especially when it comes to the wearer’s skills. A belt is not proof of how great a fighter is. A belt does indicate that you are serious about the art.

Depending on the school you train at, there are varying requirements for belt advancement.

And in each school, there are also differing levels of proficiency. This is why a green belt from a more demanding and stricter school may be better than a black belt from a school that is lax and hands out black belts like candies.

The thing is, a belt from a good dojo represents your commitment to the art and your skills. However, the ones from bad dojos just show how much money you have spent without the proper skills and proficiency to match the acquired belt.

Why are martial arts belts colored?

With each advancement in ranks, the color of your belt changes. Each colored belt has a special meaning as well. 

And while the colors and order of progression do vary from one martial art to another, here’s an example of the order and meaning:

  • A white belt means “the birth of a seed” or “a fresh beginning.” Beginners wear it.
  • A yellow belt is the next ranking belt after the white belt. It means “the sun is warming up the new seed.”
  • An orange belt is the third phase of martial art skills, and it means that “the warmed seed is getting strengthened to prepare for its new growth.”
  • A green belt is the next stage of martial art skills, and it usually means that the student has begun to learn how to cultivate and strengthen his martial arts techniques.
  • A blue belt means the student is more confident and stronger.
  • A purple belt is a stage before moving to a more advanced level of martial arts. It means that the student is learning to understand all required to be an advanced martial artist.
  • The brown belt is the last stage before a black belt. In this stage, the student has attained advanced skills to help them achieve a black belt.
  • The black belt is the highest obtainable belt in many martial arts styles. It is a genuinely prestigious rank.
  • A red belt in some martial arts styles is the belt awarded after having a black belt for a while and denotes the Grandmaster. In some martial arts, however, it is a pre-black belt stage.

But does BJJ really only have 5 belts? And how long does it take to get to black?

If you would like to know how long it would take you to get a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, I have a recent article where I explained everything you need to know.

Click on the link to read about it on my site.

Does Systema use a belt system?

Systema does not use a belt ranking system. It does not have techniques or katas to memorize, it doesn’t have a lot of rules, and anything goes while practicing it. 

Systema is an ancient Russian martial art style that has been readapted for modern warfare.

It teaches natural self-defense moves that can be practiced for a lifetime. It is a very effective martial arts style that, until recently, had been kept secret.

It is typically practiced in street clothes or perhaps camo or military-style casual clothing.

I’ve trained Systema extensively since 2013 and it is very unique in how free-form it is. It gets a bad rap online a lot by people who don’t really understand it. But 1 punch from a Systema master will convince you!

Does every martial art have a black belt?

No. Not every martial art has a black belt. In fact, many martial arts styles don’t even use a belt ranking system.

Notable examples are Muay Thai, Kickboxing, Krav Maga, Tai Chi, Systema, and Mixed martial arts. Also, some martial arts use different colored belts but do not include a black belt.

So you can’t get a black belt in Muay Thai.

But some schools in the US have opted for colored armbands or colored shorts to identify ranks. This, however, means nothing to the broader Muay Thai community. 

I wrote about this in a recent article and analyzed how long it would take to be proficient at Muay Thai. You can click the link to read about it right here.

And if Krav Maga is more of what you fancy, you can check out this recent article.

I even compared Krav Maga with Systema to give you a clearer view of what you might be getting into. Clicking the link will lead you to the article on my site.

Martial Arts Belt Ranks


Muay Thai, Kickboxing, Krav Maga, Tai Chi, Systema, and Mixed martial arts are examples of martial arts that do not use a belt.

You don’t need a traditional gi when practicing them. You can train in your street clothes or workout clothes. So, while many martial arts use a belt ranking system to grade their students’ skills and expertise, others like the ones listed above do not care for such rankings.

I practice martial arts, and I enjoy writing about it; this is why I have an entire website dedicated to it.

I have written individual posts on martial arts that do not use belts.  So if you are considering Tai chi and would like to know how to learn it from the comfort of your room, I have a recent article where I explained everything.

Just click that link to see a bunch of great (and free) resources for learning it.

Image by edcurtain from Pixabay

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