Karate Belt Ranking System and Belt Order Explained

Hey there! If you’re interested in learning about Karate, you might be wondering about those colorful belts that Karate practitioners wear.

Well, those belts aren’t just for fashion – they represent a student’s rank and skill level within the art of Karate. In this article, we’ll dive into the fascinating world of the Karate belt ranking system and belt order.

Karate Belt Ranking System and Belt Order Explained

Karate Belt Ranking System and Belt Order Explained

Karate has a rich history dating way back, but believe it or not, the belt system is a relatively new addition. It was only introduced in the early 20th century as a way to measure a student’s progress and development.

The system was borrowed from another martial art called Judo, and it quickly caught on in the world of Karate.

Which Ranking Systems Do Different Karate Styles Use?

Now, here’s the thing – not all Karate styles use the same belt colors and ranking systems. Belt colors and ranks can vary quite a bit depending on the specific style, school, and even the country where it’s being taught. That said, there are some common belt colors that you’ll see across many styles:

  • White
  • Yellow
  • Orange
  • Green
  • Blue
  • Brown
  • Black

There are four main styles of Karate: Shotokan, Wado-ryu, Goju-ryu, and Shito-ryu. While they differ in their specific techniques, practices, and philosophies, they all use some type of belt system to measure student progress and achievement.

Many Karate styles use what’s called a “kyu” system for student rankings. Essentially, “kyu” refers to the ranks below the black belt. The number of kyu levels can vary – some styles have 6 kyu levels (with 1st kyu being the highest student rank before black belt), while others may have 8, 9, 10, or even 12 kyu levels.

Levels of Kyu (Student Levels)

Let’s take a closer look at the kyu system. In Japanese martial arts like Karate, kyu ranks denote a student’s level as they progress in their training. Students at the kyu levels are called “mudansha”.

As a student advances in their training, they move down the kyu ranks, from a higher number to a lower one.

So for example, a beginner might start at 10th kyu (if the style has 10 student levels), and work their way down to 1st kyu, which is the rank just below black belt.

Here’s a general idea of how a 6-kyu system might look:

Kyu Level Belt Color
6th kyu White
5th kyu Yellow
4th kyu Orange
3rd kyu Green
2nd kyu Blue
1st kyu Brown

Keep in mind, that this is just one example – the exact colors and number of levels can vary.

What is the Karate Belt Order: The Belt Color Order for Karate

Okay, so now that we understand the kyu system, let’s break down what each of these colored belts means in terms of a student’s progression.

  • White Belt (6th Kyu) The white belt represents the starting point of the Karate journey. It’s the belt you get when you first begin your training. As a white belt, you’re just learning how to control your mind and body. The white color symbolizes your pure, beginners mind, and your devotion to learning the art of Karate.
  • Yellow Belt (5th Kyu) To earn your yellow belt, you’ll need to demonstrate your skills in a test. At the yellow belt level, you start to understand the basics of Karate.
  • Orange Belt (4th Kyu) An orange belt shows that the student is starting to get a grip on the fundamentals. They’re starting to understand basic concepts and techniques.
  • Green Belt (3rd Kyu) As a green belt, you start refining your skills. You’re getting better at applying the techniques, especially in terms of self-defense. Green belts have a heightened awareness of their opponent’s movements compared to lower belts.
  • Blue Belt (2nd Kyu) At the blue belt level, students start demonstrating even more mastery over their skills and minds. They’re more controlled when sparring with an opponent, and more confident and capable in self-defense situations. Their ability to understand Karate concepts has also improved.
  • Brown Belt (1st Kyu) Brown belt is the highest rank in the kyu system. At this point, the student’s skills and mental discipline have matured significantly. Brown belts have mastered the mechanical execution of techniques and can effectively use them against a resisting opponent. They have a deeper understanding of physical conflict and self-defense.

After the brown belt comes the legendary black belt, which marks the start of the advanced “dan” ranks.

Progression via the Karate Belt System

It’s important to note that the progression outlined above is just a general guideline. It represents the minimum time typically needed to progress through each belt level.

However, earning each new rank often takes longer than the minimum. And that’s okay! The goal isn’t to race through the belts but to truly learn, grow, and embody the principles of Karate. It’s about the journey, not just the destination.

Remember, earning a new belt isn’t just about demonstrating physical technique. It’s also about showing mental discipline, respect, and character. These are key components of Karate training.

Levels of Mastery Attained by a Black Belt

Alright, so what happens after you earn your black belt? Well, in many ways, that’s when the real journey begins! A black belt is just the first level in the advanced “dan” ranking system. Practitioners at this level are called “yudansha”.

There are typically 10 dan levels. However, after reaching the 5th or 6th dan (depending on the style), further ranks are often honorary, awarded by the highest-ranking teachers for exemplary contributions to the art.

Here’s a rundown of the dan ranks and what they represent:

  • 1st Dan (Shodan) A first-degree black belt has demonstrated proficiency in the basic techniques of Karate.
  • 2nd Dan (Nidan) At second Dan, the practitioner is an expert in the fundamentals.
  • 3rd Dan (Sandan) A third dan black belt has mastered the basics and demonstrates advanced skill in applying techniques.
  • 4th Dan (Yondan) At fourth dan, the practitioner has mastered both the fundamentals and the practical applications of Karate.
  • 5th Dan (Godan) Fifth dan denotes a highly skilled expert who has achieved mastery over both the basics and the applications.
  • 6th Dan (Rokudan) A sixth Dan black belt is considered a true master who understands the essence of the art.
  • 7th Dan (Nanadan) At seventh dan, the practitioner doesn’t just have technical mastery, but a deep understanding of the philosophical principles of Karate.
  • 8th Dan (Hachidan) An eighth dan is a highly experienced expert who has dedicated a significant portion of their life to the practice and perfection of Karate.
  • 9th Dan (Kudan) & 10th Dan (Judan) The 9th and 10th Dan ranks are extremely rare, honorary titles reserved for the most exceptional masters.

The Karate Belt Colors in Europe

Did you know that Karate belt colors looked quite different in the past? There used to be only three colors: white, brown, and black.

The colored belt system as we know it today was introduced in Europe in 1935 by a man named Mikonosuke Kawaishi, who taught Judo in Paris.

Kawaishi believed that Western students would progress faster if they had a clear, visible system of ranks that consistently recognized and rewarded their achievements.

Soon, this colored belt system spread from Judo to Karate, with schools outside Japan adopting it as a way to bridge the gap between white and black belts. Eventually, even schools in Okinawa and Japan embraced the system.

However, because the system wasn’t adopted universally or all at once, there isn’t a single global standard for Karate belt colors.

The order and colors can vary between different schools and organizations. This lack of standardization is one reason why the belt system hasn’t been adopted by some older, more traditional martial arts like Muay Thai, even though it has become common in others like kickboxing.


So there you have it – a comprehensive look at the Karate belt ranking system and belt order!

We’ve covered everything from the kyu ranks for students to the advanced dan ranks for black belts, and explored how the colored belt system evolved and spread from its origins in Judo.

Remember, while the colored belts serve as important markers of progress, they’re not the ultimate goal of Karate training.

The true essence of Karate lies in the discipline, respect, self-improvement, and character development that happens along the way.

Whether you’re just starting as a white belt or you’ve dedicated years to earning an advanced dan rank, the journey of Karate is one of continuous learning and growth. So stay dedicated, train hard, and enjoy the process!

And if you’re ever unsure about a particular belt color or ranking system, don’t hesitate to ask your instructor. They’ll be happy to guide you through the specifics of your school or style.

Thanks for reading, and best of luck on your Karate journey!

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