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Do the mons go on the left or the right?

After the recent gradings I was asked the perennial question by one of my students - "Which side do my mons go on?". So I thought this was worth writing a little piece about.

In Japanese martial arts, mons are coloured stripes that are awarded to students who do particularly well during their grading (an assessment for a new belt). The stripes are sewn onto one end of a belt. In some martial arts they are used to show progress towards a new belt without actually assigning the new belt. In Shorinji Kan Jiu Jitsu mons are sometimes used for this purpose but more frequently they are used to indicate that the student simply demonstrated spirit, techniques, etc. above that required for their current belt; so similar to but not quite the same as demonstrating elements of the next syllabus.

In some arts mons are restricted to juniors. Shorinji Kan allows adults to be assigned mons at grades up to and including orange belt and for juniors up to and including green belt.

So with the purpose in mind where do the mons go when the belt is tied. Should they be on the left or on the right? Does it matter at all?

The mons are used to determine the order in which students line up together. The more mons, the higher the rank and the further to the right of the line a student will stand (i.e. lowest grades line up on the left and highest grades line up on the right). So having the mons on the left shows the lower grades the next level to which they should be aspiring. Of course having it on the right makes sense if you consider that the higher the grade the further to the right it is.

So which side is it? It's the left side.

As I've suggested, there's logic to wearing it on either side, but there are a few sources that back up this statement.

  • This is what my instructor told me when I asked him the same question. Just like the techniques I studied, this was just another thing passed down through the instructor/student lineage and I expect was what his instructor had told him (and so on back through the line).
  • The second is the Wikipedia page for The Jitsu Foundation. TJF is the governing body for Shorinji Kan Jiu Jitsu and an entry on the page states the following - "The belt is then worn so that the mons are displayed on the wearer's left.". Whilst you shouldn't necessarily believe everything you read on the Internet/Wikipedia this does corroborate my first source.
  • The third and final source comes from something I got with my first gi (Jitsu uniform). The old style of gi were custom made by a company called Carter and included a sheet entitled "Welcome to the Foundation". This sheet included details about how the various grades (including the old dan grade system) were indicated by gi and included an example photograph of a jitsuka with mons on his belt. The mons are on the left (see below and note the badge on the right shoulder so we know the image hasn't been accidentally mirrored).

Author: Stephen Millard.