We will describe about the Belt or Rank System which is used in our dojo. You need to be aware of the respective ranks because of how you will line up in class, and also so you will know how you will progress higher in the school. Rank is used to keep students motivated or to give them a sense of progression, of accomplishment and separates different levels of skill within a group. Below is a general table showing how the adult ranks are arranged. The ranks for children vary slightly, but roughly follow a similar sequence.
BLACK BELT RANKS ( 黒帯の段位 = Kuroi-Obi no Dan-i )
Japanese Pronunciation English Meaning
Ju-Dan (十段) 10th Degree Black Belt
Kyū-Dan ( 九段 ) 9th Degree Black Belt
Hachi-Dan ( 八段 ) 8th Degree Black Belt
Shichi-Dan / Nana-Dan ( 七段 ) 7th Degree Black Belt
Roku-Dan ( 六段 ) 6th Degree Black Belt
Go-Dan ( 五段 ) 5th Degree Black Belt
Yon-Dan ( 四段 ) 4th Degree Black Belt
San-Dan ( 三段 ) 3rd Degree Black Belt
Ni-Dan ( 二段 ) 2nd Degree Black Belt
Sho-Dan ( 初段 ) 1st Degree Black Belt
ADULT BEGINNING & INTERMEDIATE LEVELS ( 級 = Kyū )
Ik-kyu / Cha-Iro Obi San Kuroi 一級 / 茶色帯三黒い 1st Level / Brown Belt with Three Black Stripes
Ni-KYU / Cha-Iro Obi Ni Kuroi 二級 / 茶色帯二黒い 2nd Level / Brown Belt with Two Black Stripes
San-KYU / Cha-Iro Obi Ichi Kuroi 三級 /茶色帯一黒い 3rd Level / Brown Belt with One Black Stripe
Yon-KYU / Murasaki Obi 四級 / 紫帯 4th Level / Purple Belt
Go-KYU / Aoi Obi 五級 / 青帯 5th Level / Blue Belt
Roku-KYU / Midori Obi 六級 / 緑帯 6th Level / Green Belt
Shichi (or Nana)- KYU / Orenji Obi 七級 / オレンジ帯. 7th Level / Orange Belt
Hachi- KYU / Ki-Iro Obi 八級 / 黄色帯 8th Level / Yellow Belt
Ku-KYU / Shiroi Obi Ichi Ki-Iro 九級 / 白い帯一黄色 9th Level / White Belt with One Yellow Stripe
Ju- KYU / Shiroi Obi 十級 / 白い帯 10th Level / White Belt (Beginner)
Background on How the Belt Colors Developed
Karate didn’t always have a belt ranking system. Back in the days when Karate was known as “Chinese Hand” or Tote, there was no need for a Belt ranking system, because everyone in the dojo knew who the Senior student and Teacher or Master was.
One tradition teaches that in the early days of Okinawan Martial Arts, all Karate-Ka started out with a White Belt. In time, and the change of seasons, spring would come about and with it green grass, pollen and dust. Since the Belt was never washed as a sy mbol of hard work put forth into one’s training (as is today) Spring could leave behind on your White Belt a tinge of green, since most dojo of the day were exposed to the elements or classes were held outdoors, and depending on how much training you participated in. With the coming of fall and winter the soot and muck of Nature would further stain the once White Belt. After several turning of seasons, and repeated summers of heat to bake and darken the colors, the Belt eventually turned Black! Thus explaining the origin of the Black Belt.
With the advent of change came the introduction of a standardized structure that would separate students by levels of comprehension in their style of Martial Art. This structure had already been in place before “The meeting of the Masters” in the 1930’s in Japan, yet it was
formally standardized by the Okinawan Martial Art systems as it was in Tokyo just some time before (early 1930’s).
Endorsed by the Butoku-kai, the wearing of sashes and Belts was originally conceived of by the founder of judo, Jigoro Kano. Mr. Kano first foresaw the need to distinguish the difference between the advanced practitioner and the different levels of beginners; thus he developed the Dan/kyu system.
The Dan, or Black Belt, indicated an advanced proficiency level and those who earned it became known as Yudansha (Dan recipients). The higher the number or degree for a Black Belt, the higher the rank.
The Kyū degrees represented the varying levels of competency below the Dan, and were known as Mudansha (those not yet having received a Dan). The lower belt levels started with larger numbers or degrees, and each rank rose to the highest degree in the beginner/intermediate system, prior to reaching Black Belt levels. The wearing of colored belts is often associated with Kyū ranks, and it is common to see the darker colors associated with the higher ranks closest to Black Belts. The White Belt signifies the lowest ranked color, and Brown is the last color before entering Black, with other colors being in the middle ranks.
Kano Sensei felt it particularly important for all students to fully realize that one’s training was in no way complete simply because one had achieved the Dan degree. On the contrary, he emphasized that the attainment of the Dan rank merely symbolized the real beginning of one’s journey. By reaching Black Belt level, one had, in fact, completed only the necessary requirements to embark upon a relentless journey without distance that would ultimately result in self-mastery.
Titles for Highly-Ranked Practitioners
The Dai-Nippon Butoku-kai (大日本武徳, the “Greater Japan Martial Virtues Association,” often just called the Butoku-kai) is the official entity that governs all Martial Arts from Japan on an international basis. The Butoku-kai adopted and issued the first titles distinguishing modern day martial arts practitioners (Budo-ka) These Budo-ka were esteemed as either being prominent or exceptional in their styles by
their peers as well as by the Butoku-kai. In the Butoku-kai, ranking is the assessment of an individual’s course toward the attainment of excellence through practice and tradition. This judgment is not based on mortal superior ability however includes the entire mortal, moral, and spiritual and developmental credentials and aspects.
The first Shihan (師範 “Master Teacher”) title was Hanshi (範士 “Model Expert”or “Teacher by Example”), and Kyoshi (教士), originally known as Tasshi (達師 "Teaching Expert"). In 1934, a third title was introduced, Renshi (錬士 “Well Trained or Skilled Expert”). These are the same ranks awarded to masters today.