Karate Belt Order and Belt Ranking System

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The order of Karate belt

Karate has a long and illustrious history as a kind of martial art. The belt system, on the other hand, is a relatively modern addition to the art. The kyu/dan grading system has been used to grade the development of Karate practitioners since the turn of the twentieth century. To this day, many current Karate styles take from the Judo kyu/dan ranking system. Instead of demonstrating mastery, the “Black Belt” was intended to demonstrate competence. The journey doesn’t end with a black belt.

Karate Belt Order

The Origins of the Karate Belt

It might surprise you to know that the whole idea of using different colored belts to denote a student’s rank isn’t that old. Though used in many types of martial arts, the belt ranking system is just a little older than Karate itself.

The Legend of the Karate Belt’s Origin

There is a legend that you may have already heard about the origins of the Karate belt.

It is said that students were given a white belt when they began their training. Over the years, the belt would become stained and dirty with sweat, dirt, and blood. Students were told never to wash their belts. Superstition said that in doing so, they would “wash off” their experience.

Once the belt turned black, the student was considered a true martial artist.

The legend makes the belts sound both awesome and ominous. Of course, the real story is a little more practical.

The Real History of Karate Belts

For centuries in Okinawa, the birthplace of Karate, martial artists practiced in secret. Wearing a colored belt, or any symbol of their progress or involvement in martial arts, was a dangerous idea.

The idea of a colored belt system actually began with Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo, in the late 1880s. Before that, students were awarded certificates only as they progressed through the ranks.

Jigoro Kano got the idea from Japanese swimmers who wore a black ribbon around their waist to symbolize their more advanced status. He started giving out belts in his Judo school. White was for beginners, black was for teachers and advanced students.

From Judo, the system migrated to Karate, Tae Kwon Do, and other martial arts styles.

In the early 1900s, a few more colors were added to the system. And it wasn’t until about the 1930s or 40s that the full-color Karate belt system was designed.

Karate Belt Order

How Many Belts in Karate?

There are 9 belt colors in Karate: white, yellow, orange, green, blue, purple, red, brown, and black. Though most people are only familiar with the two most common belt colors, there may also be more than one level of the same belt color in some karate belt ranking systems.

As the lowest belt in Karate, the white belt is where everyone starts. The largest cohort of students have worn this belt and many people never make it past this point.

The highest belt in Karate, and thus the most coveted, is the black belt. Only about 3-5% of people who started training in Karate will complete their journey to earning a black belt.

Earning a black belt in Karate is a prestigious honor. It takes years to earn your black belt. Most people don’t realize the hours of sweat, tears, and even a little blood that go into earning this prize.

But when you receive your black belt…you’ll know. And the send of pride and accomplishment is profound.

Of course, you’ll also know that you’ve only just begun. Earning a black belt isn’t the end of the road in Karate, it is the beginning of a lifelong journey.

The Karate belt colours in Europe

There used to be only three belt colours in Karate: white, brown, and black. But that changed in 1935 when Mikinosuke Kawaishi began teaching Judo in Paris and he was credited with bringing the coloured belt system to Europe. According to him, western students would progress quicker if they had a visible belt system that recognised and rewarded accomplishments on a consistent basis.

After a short time, Karate practitioners outside of Japan began to adopt Kawaishi’s belt system to distinguish between black and white belts. After some time, the technique was adopted by Okinawa and Japan as well.

Nowadays, Karate belt colours vary from school to school and organisation to organisation. Therefore there isn’t a unified global standard.

Which ranking systems do different Karate styles use?

Belt colours and ranks now vary widely, depending on the style, school, and even country. This means that in martial arts, the most frequent colours for belts are: white, yellow, orange, green, turquoise, blue, brown, and black.

The six kyu system of Karate raking is listed below. There are karate styles that use kyu systems of 8, 9, 10, and even 12.

Levels of Kyu (student levels)

Kyu rankings are used in Karate (as well as many other Japanese arts) to denote a student’s progress in the technique. “Mudansha” is the name given to the practitioner at this point. Karateka (Karate practitioners) move sequentially down the kyu grades as they develop.

Therefore 1st Kyu (or brown Belt) is the most advanced “student” level.

The Belt order for Karate

White Belt (6th Kyu)

Karate’s journey begins with a white belt, which represents the beginning point. New Karate students don’t yet know how to control their thoughts or body and thus their white Belt represents both their pure nature and devotion to Karate, which they will grow and develop as they progress in the sport.

Yellow Belt (5th Kyu)

The yellow Belt, like all other belt levels, is earned by passing a test. As the learner progresses through the ranks, they begin to grasp the fundamentals of Karate.

Orange Belt (4th Kyu)

An orange belt is given to a pupil who has begun to master the fundamentals of Karate. General management ideas begin to make sense to them.

Green Belt (3rd Kyu)

The learner begins to hone his skills at the green belt level. They gradually improve in terms of self-defence and the mechanical application of the skills they learn. Green belts have a better sense of their opponent’s moves than their black belt counterparts.

Blue Belt (2nd Kyu)

Students begin to demonstrate more mastery of their skills and their minds at the blue belt level. They have a lot of control over their opponent when they’re sparring. They are more capable and self-assured while defending themselves.

In addition, they’ve improved their ability to count as time has gone on.

Brown Belt (1st Kyu)

The brown belt rank is the highest in the karate hierarchy. The student’s martial skills and mental maturity have matured to a certain degree at this time. By the time they reach the rank of Brown Belt, students have mastered the mechanical execution of Karate techniques and are increasingly adept at using them against a resisting opponent.

They have a greater understanding of physical conflict and fighting, which helps them defend themselves when necessary.

Progression via the Karate Belt System

The aforementioned is just a rough estimate of how long it should take to advance through the Karate belts. For the past 28 years, I’ve used this approach with my pupils, and it’s proven effective. Remember that this is the minimum progression time, not the time it takes to obtain a belt in an organised manner.

Getting the next rank may take a while, but that’s great since the aim is to learn and grow as a person, not only achieve the next Belt.

Levels of mastery attained by a black belt

The Dan grades are the most advanced; this is the point when the true adventure begins. Yudansha is the title given to a practitioner who has attained the dan level.

From the 6th or 7th dan forward, depending on the style, there is no further test, with the rank being granted on an honorary basis by the headmaster.

Shodan (1st Dan)

One who has mastered the fundamentals of Karate.

Nidan (2nd Dan)

An expert karateka who has mastered the fundamentals.

The Sandan (3rd Dan)

One who has learned the fundamentals of Karate and is skilled in the art.

Yondan (4th Dan)

One who has mastered both the fundamentals and practical applications of Karate.

Godan (5th Dan)

An exceptional martial artist who has mastered both the fundamentals and practical applications of Karate.

Rokudan (6th Dan)

One who has mastered the true essence of Karate and is regarded as a master.

Nanadan (7th Dan)

An expert Karate practitioner who has understood the art’s deeper meaning.

Hachidan (8th Dan)

An expert Karateka is one who has studied and practised the art for a significant period of time and has become extremely proficient.

Kyudan (9th Dan) and Judan (10th Dan)

Only the most deserving masters receive these prestigious honorary titles.

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