There are times when I open up the intertoobs and just cannot believe what I am seeing. And yes, sometimes it's trivial, as it was today when I saw someone I keep up with via Facebook spout the old story that the "black belt" has its origins in an old custom of giving a student a white belt, which got dirtier and darker over the years until it was finally black, or close to it.
What utter nonsense. What horse squeeze. Yes, I know it's a triviality, but dadgummit, the person propagating this myth is a senior-level black belt with a fair number of students. She ought to know better than to just repeat stuff that she was told years ago without taking the trouble to check it out. And it's easy to check out. All you have to do is google "origins of the black belt system" and you will come up with it. Some sites will be missing some of the details, some won't. The one thing everyone agrees on is that the belt ranking system had its origin in Jigoro Kano's judo, and the progression from white to black (with whatever colors in between, if any) had nothing to do with dirt. Some people think that he got the idea from Japanese swimming competitions, where apparently more advanced competitors were denoted with a black ribbon tied 'round their waists. I don't know about that. Maybe it's true, maybe it's not.
Why the heck would he come up with such a thing, anyway? You have to remember that a big part of Kano's judo process was standardization. He was trying to create something of a standard jujutsu that everyone could rally 'round. He needed order, he needed hierarchy, he needed a standard uniform--all of which he developed over the years. Personally, my thinking is that the belt was just the easiest visible object on the uniform to change as rank changed. I mean, what the heck else would you do? Change the whole uniform? Give 'em a badge (ouch!)?
But that "dirtier and dirtier white belt" stuff? That's horse hockey. It amazes me that people still tell that story.