Belt Ranks

There are many different Martial Arts styles and they do not all use the same rankings and colors. Typical the uniform, kimono, or Gi is white, but there are black, blue, navy blue, Lilac, red, and camouflage ones being marketed. Black is often worn by black belts. The belt color usually designates the level of proficiency. The most common belt colors are White, Yellow, Orange, Green, Blue, Purple, Red, Brown, and Black.

Each style and even each school can have a different color order or even a different ranking system altogether. Students move from one rank to another by testing with their teacher. Tests focus on everything that the student learned up to their last test, plus everything new the instructor has been teaching them since, ensuring the student is constantly building on his/her skill set. When a student passes, they move on to the next rank. A black belt is the highest rank achievable by a student. If the student wishes, they can begin to progress through the teaching ranks known as "Dan's". Typically, once you reach your 3rd Dan you are considered a full-fledged teacher. (This is also referred to as your "3rd degree black belt") A lot of schools will have their black belt students, who have not yet achieved their 3rd Dan, assist in teaching classes so that they gain experience (much like a student teacher). The highest level of Dan achievable is the 10th Dan. With each traditional style there is usually only one 10th Dan, with very few martial artists ever achieving above a 7th or 8th Dan.

In some arts and schools there is the (often only half-serious, though equally often rigorous) opinion that the belt should not be washed; the idea that by doing that one would "wash away the knowledge" or "wash one's Qi away" might be related to this myth. Apart from risk of the dye running, there is the problem that as most modern belts are made with a cotton or nylon outer shell, but polyester batting and stitching to fill out the belt, the different shrinkage of cotton and polyester in hot water could cause the belt to come apart

In contrast to the "black belt as master" stereotype, a black belt commonly indicates the wearer is competent in a style's basic technique and principles Since in many styles a black belt takes approximately three to six years of training to achieve, a good intuitive analogy would be a bachelor's degree: the student has a good understanding of concepts and ability to use them but has not yet perfected their skills. In this analogy a master's degree and a doctorate would represent advancement past the first degree.

Another way to describe this links to the terms used in Japanese arts; shodan (for a first degree black belt), means literally the first/beginning step, and the next grades, nidan and sandan are each numbered as "ni" is two and "san" is three, meaning second step, third step, etc. The shodan black belt is not the end of training but rather as a beginning to advanced learning: the individual now "knows how to walk" and may thus begin the "journey".

As a 'black belt' is commonly viewed as conferring some status, achieving one has been used as a marketing 'gimmick', for example a guarantee of being awarded one within a specific period or if a specific amount is paid. Some schools place profit ahead of ability when using these tactics and are sometimes referred to as McDojos

In some Japanese schools, after obtaining a black belt the student also begins to instruct, and may be referred to as a senpai (senior student) or sensei (teacher). In others, a black belt student should not be called sensei until they are sandan (third degree black belt), as this denotes a greater degree of experience and a sensei must have this and grasp of what is involved in teaching a martial art.

In the Japanese martial arts, the further subdivisions of black belt ranks are called dan grades where more stripes means higher rank. Yudansha (roughly translating from Japanese to "person who holds a black belt") describe those who hold a black belt rank. While the belt remains black, stripes or other insignia can be added to denote seniority. In some arts, very senior dan grades will wear differently colored belts such as in judo and some forms of karate where a sixth dan will wear a red and white belt, which becomes red only at even higher ranks. In some schools of Jujutsu, the Shihan rank and higher wear purple belts. These other colors are often still referred to collectively as 'black belts.

Belt Ranks

Each style and even each school can have a different color order or even a different ranking system altogether.

Yellow   Hachikyu 8th Kyu
Orange   Shichikyu 7th Kyu
Purple   Rokkyu 6th Kyu
Blue   Gokyu 5th Kyu
Green    Yonkyu 4th Kyu
3rd Class Brown   Sankyu 3rd Kyu
2nd Class Brown    Nikyu 2nd Kyu
1st Class Brown   Ikkyu 1st Kyu
1st Black Junior Instructor Shodan 1st Dan
2nd Black Assistant Instructor Nidan 2nd Dan
3rd Black Head Instructor Sandan 3rd Dan
4th Black Senior Instructor Yodan 4th Dan
5th Black Associate Professor Godan 5th Dan
6th Black Professor Rokudan 6th Dan
7th Black Senior Professor Shichidan 7th Dan
8th Black Associate Master Hachidan 8th Dan
9th Black Master Kudan 9th Dan
10th Black Senior Master of the Art Judan 10th Dan

return to main page