Recently, I began wearing a standard black belt again and this choice has raised some eyebrows and some questions, so I thought maybe I should explain.
Firstly, I consider the matter of higher ranks wearing either red and white belts or black belts to be simply a matter of preference – there are no hard and fast “rules” about this as far as I am concerned . In arts like Judo where red and white belts are commonly worn after rokkudan , it is still common to see folks prefer the standard black belt for daily training and to wear the red and white or “teacher-belt” only for special occasions. All in all, if somebody has been around that long they can wear whatever they want, in whatever art they want, and it is fine by me.
My own choice resulted when I noticed that in Aikido, red and white belts are very uncommon—If you do a lot of digging around you might find a small handful of folks wearing them who do not share our particular lineage. In my research, I found almost none, and the few exceptions were all individuals who also had high rank in judo or jujitsu. Even in cases where dual ranking applies, it is an uncommon custom; for instance, in all the films I have reviewed, I have seen no evidence that Mr. Tomiki wore red and white belt in his aikido training, nor has Ms. Miyake for that matter – in fact, one of the events that made me aware of how unusual it was occurred during Ms. Miyake’s visit to Oklahoma in 1997. I have a photo on my wall with all of us high ranked folks gathered around her for a picture— all sporting red and white belts but for one --only one individual was wearing a black belt and it was the Lady herself.
I never really questioned the red and white belt custom much even after 1997; our teacher preferred to wear red and white, so who was I to buck the trend? But once I became independent, I recognized that in some ways our aikido has existed in a sort of self imposed ghetto. It’s a mighty fine ghetto, mind you, but a ghetto none the less. I turned my thoughts toward wanting to be more interactive and inclusive with the broader aikido community, and I realized that customs of dress such as the red and white belt can really turn traditionally oriented aikidoka off. In the pursuit of wanting to make more friends in the larger community, I opted for the standard dress code. (I will probably eventually adopt the hakama as well, but I am slow to change, easy does it, one step at a time).
Since I have begun wearing a black belt, many of the other high ranks around here have followed suit, but again this has been a matter of personal preference and whatever they want to wear is cool by me.