Learn more about the colored belt system of Karate
Karate is a martial art with an ancient and rich history. However, there is one component of the art that is relatively new — the belt system. While Karate practitioners have been studying the art for hundreds of years, their progress has only been graded with the kyu/dan system since the beginning of the 20th century.
In this article, I will cover the following:
- What is the order of belts in Karate?
- Karate belt progression
- History of modern Karate Ranking
- The Original Ranking Systems of Japanese martial arts
I know you're like me, you're passionate about Karate and you love Japan. I learned to speak Japanese in no time with this website. You too can speak Japanese, and sooner than you think!
So what do belts represents in Karate, when were they added, and what do they signify? Does every school or styles use the same colors? Let’s examine the history and meaning of modern Karate belts closely and answer those questions together.
What is the order of belts in Karate?
Today's modern Karate styles use the kyu/dan system borrowed from Judo. The “Black Belt” was designed as a way to show competence in the art, not mastery of it. The black belt is only the beginning of the journey.
Does Every Karate Style Use The Same Ranking?
Today, there is a wide variety of belt colors and rankings depending on styles, schools, and even countries.
That being said, the most common belt colors used in Karate are respectively white, yellow, orange, green, blue, brown, and black.
Most Common Karate Belts
Here is a list of the most common Karate raking, the 6 kyu system. Some Karate styles utilize 8, 9, 10, and even 12 kyu systems.
Please allow me to propose my vision and meaning of each grade, ranging to white belt up to 10th level black belt.
Kyu Levels (student levels)
In Karate (as well as in many other Japanese arts), kyu ranks are considered student ranks and represent the early stages of practice. The practitioner is then called "Mudansha".
As they progress, Karateka (Karate practitioners) advance numerically downwards through the kyu grades, so 1st kyu (or brown belt) is the highest or most advanced "student" rank.
White Belt (6th Kyu)
Minimum time before the next rank: 3 months of active training as a white belt
A white belt symbolizes the starting point or the beginning of the Karate journey. Obviously, individuals new to Karate doesn't yet know how to control their minds or bodies, so their white belt is a representation of both their pure nature as well as their commitment and determination to learn and grown through Karate.
Yellow Belt (5th Kyu)
Minimum time before the next rank: 6 months of active training as a yellow belt
Like every belt levels, the yellow belt is acquired through an exam. At this level, the student begins to understand the basic principles of Karate.
Orange Belt (4th Kyu)
Minimum time before the next rank: 6 months of active training as a orange belt
Orange belt is awarded to the student who is starting to gain a better understanding of Karate’s basic skills. He or she begins to understand and apply the principles of distance management.
Green Belt (3rd Kyu)
Minimum time before the next rank: 9 months of active training as a green belt
At the green belt level, the student starts to refine the skills he has learned so far. He or she slowly get better at protecting himself or herself and at the mechanical execution of the techniques. The green belt is more aware of their opponent's movements.
Blue Belt (2nd Kyu)
Minimum time before the next rank: 12 months of active training as a blue belt
At the blue belt level, the student really starts to show more significant control over both his or her techniques and mind. During sparring, they show considerable authority over the opponent. In self-defense, they show more control and confidence. Also, they are more and more adept at countering.
Brown Belt (1st Kyu)
Minimum time before the next rank: 18 months of active training as a brown belt
The brown belt level is the last kyu level. At this point, the student has reached an undeniable level of maturity both in terms of his or her martial skills and mind. Brown belts have a high level of control over the mechanical execution of Karate techniques and are having more and more skills in applying those techniques with a resisting partner. In terms of self-defense, they have a better overall perception of physical altercation and combat.
Even if the goal of Karate is not acquiring ranks, you can proudly display your belts instead of leaving them in a box in the garage.
Karate Belt Progression
Here's a suggested progression time for each Karate belt. This is the progression that I've been using with my students for the last 28 years, and I've found that it works great. Please note that this is the minimum progression time, not the systematical time it takes to acquire a belt. If it takes more time for a student to acquire the next rank, it's totally fine as the goal is to gain knowledge and skills, not getting the next belt.
|LEVEL||MINIMUM TIME BEFORE NEXT RANK|
|White Belt||3 months of active training as a white belt|
|Yellow Belt||6 months of active training as a yellow belt|
|Orange Belt||6 months of active training as a orange belt|
|Green Belt||9 months of active training as a green belt|
|Blue Belt||12 months of active training as a blue belt|
|Brown Belt||18 months of active training as a brown belt|
Dan Levels (Black Belt Levels)
Dan ranks are considered advanced grades, this is where the real journey begins. A practitioner holding a dan level is called Yudansha.
Depending on the style, from the 6th or 7th dan, there is no further examination, the rank being awarded by the headmaster, on an honorary basis.
This ranking is inspired by Tozando's Kyu & Dan in Budo blog post, as it nails perfectly the broad description of each level, whether it's about Kendo or Karate.
Shodan (1st Dan)
One with good skills who have acquired basics of Karate.
Nidan (2nd Dan)
One with fine skills who have acquired the basics of Karate.
Sandan (3rd Dan)
One with proficient skills who have mastered the basics of Karate.
Yondan (4th Dan)
One with excellent skills who have acquired the basics and applications of Karate.
Godan (5th Dan)
One with outstanding skills who have mastered the basics and applications of Karate.
Rokudan (6th Dan)
One with superb skills who have attained the deeper meaning of Karate.
Nanadan (7th Dan)
One with top-level skills who have mastered the deeper meaning of Karate.
Hachidan (8th Dan)
One who is acquainted with the mysteries of Karate and have thoroughly matured in his or her skills.
Kyudan (9th Dan) and Judan (10th Dan)
These honorary titles are awarded to very VERY special masters.
I'll get into more details in a future post.
History of modern Karate ranking
You probably heard the story claiming that early Karate practitioners started their training with a white belt, which eventually became stained black from years of sweat and dirt.
This story should be relegated to the status of myth as there is no real evidence for it. Knowing how strict and proud the Japanese are, it is nearly inconceivable that a student training with a dirty belt or uniform would be allowed to train.
Judo's Influence on Karate's Ranking
Martial arts belt ranking and training uniform began with Jigoro Kano (1860–1938), the founder of Judo. He used colored belts (obi) to indicate the experience or level of the practitioner.
In 1883, Kano borrowed from the game of “Go” his kyu/dan system of classifying his students.
Kano thought that the kyu/dan grading and ranking system would help to encourage students, and as well as help with structuring classes for each level.
The rankings consisted of six kyu grades, (one level for light blue belt, one level for the white belt and three levels for the brown belt), and ten dan or black belt grade).
Karate quickly followed
In 1922, Gichin Funakoshi, the founder of Shotokan Karate (and friend of Jigoro Kano), adopted the kyu/dan system for Karate (minus the light blue belt), and in 1924, awarded the first Karate Shodan rankings (1st-degree black belt) to seven of his students.
Other Okinawan teachers also adopted this practice.
More Coloured Belts For European Karate Practitioners
As you know by now, Karate originally had only three belt colors: white, brown, and black, but something was about to change.
Mikinosuke Kawaishi is credited with introducing the colored belt system in Europe in 1935 when he started to teach Judo in Paris, France.
He felt that western students would manifest greater improvement if they had a noticeable system of many colored belts acknowledging accomplishment and providing regular incentives.
Shortly after, Karate practitioners outside Japan started to use Kawaishi's colored belt system. After some time, Okinawa and Japan began using the system as well.
It's important to note that today, there is no standard regarding Karate belt colors as it varies with schools and organizations.
The Original Ranking System of Okinawan and Japanese martial arts
It's not a secret, the Japanese culture is highly disciplined and structured. Practically every traditional art, from calligraphy to flower arragement, comes with its own progressive series of formal ranks. It is also with the case with Budo or martial arts.
Okinawa, experience over ranking
At the beginning of Okinawan Karate or Te, as it was once called, there were no belt ranks.
During the birth of Karate in Okinawa, most practitioner’s did not have belts nor uniforms. They trained wearing everyday kimono and a sash.
Old Karate Masters would select only a handful of students and would teach the art at no cost. A disciple's advancement was not evaluated based on ranks, but by the number of years he had trained, what level he has reached, and how properly developed his mind has become.
In Okinawa, the kyu/dan system did not become universal until 1956 when the Okinawa Karate Federation was formed.
Ancient Japanese Martial Arts Ranking System
Before the introduction of Kyu and Dan rankings in Judo by Kano Jigoro, Japanese martial arts used a ranking system called Menkyo or "license".
The Menkyo system is an old Japanese license system dating back to the 8th century.
The master was then giving his disciple a certificate in the form of a calligraphed roll, testifying the technical and mental transmission of the art.
The Menkyo system is not based on the years of study, but on the mastery of the discipline.
One particularity of the Menkyo system is that there are far fewer levels than in the kyu/dan system. On average, there are between three to five Menkyo degrees over the practitioner life span.
This system of “titles” is still used today in most traditional schools called Koryu.
Thanks to Jigoro Kano, we have in Karate this ranking system that we all love, the colored belts.
As you could see, both the number of kyu ranking and the color associated with it varies from styles to styles, but one thing remains — that matters most in the journey, not the destination.
What rank do you have?
P.S. If you really want to improve your Karate, you should definitely check out this article I wrote about my favorite equipment for training Karate at home.
Pssst, I've got more!
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Which karate belt is the highest? ›
The more common color that we come across is white and black. Where white represents the starting level, Black represents the true expert having highest rank. Yellow, orange, red, green, blue are some other colors of belt.What is the order of karate belts and stripes? ›
Some of the belts have either one or two colored ribbons (called stripes) sewn onto them. The color sequence is Gold, Green, Purple, Blue, Red, Brown and Black. Rank order is by color sequence first, then number of stripes. Instructors give promotions for these ranks in class.Is there a gold belt in karate? ›
Meaning Of The Karate Belt Colors
This repeated dying process dictated the type of belt color and the order of the colors. The standard belt color system is white, yellow, gold, orange, green, blue, purple, brown, red and black.
There are 6 belt colors: white belt, orange belt, blue belt, yellow belt, green belt, brown belt, and black belt.Is red belt higher than black belt? ›
Usually, the black belt is the highest belt in martial arts. But, in a few arts including Judo, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and Karate, the red belt is reserved for exemplary masters of the art and is above the black belt.What belt did Bruce Lee have? ›
He also never had a black belt in any discipline. Lee's primary martial arts background was in wing chun, which he studied directly under the famous Ip Man. He excelled, but it was also a martial art that offered no belt system.Is brown belt better than black? ›
Brown belt is the highest ranking color belt below black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Progressing from a beginner white belt through to a brown belt typically requires at least five years of dedicated training. It is often thought of as a time for refining techniques.Why is there no red belt in karate? ›
In modern Karate, as governed by the World Karate Federation and its subsidiary federations, red (aka) and blue (ao) belts are worn by competitors. Only red and blue belts are to be worn for competition, with foot and fist pads of the corresponding color for kumite competition.How many years does it take to get a black belt? ›
Some schools stipulate a minimum of four to five years of training before a student can earn a black belt, while others do not. The student must first pass a test that is based on the school's curriculum.How many karate belts are there? ›
How Many Belts in Karate? There are 9 belt colors in Karate: white, yellow, orange, green, blue, purple, red, brown, and black.
What does black tape on karate belt mean? ›
Kicking & Stance) GREEN TAPE: Self-Defense - Different escapes, locks and take downs. BLACK TAPE: Forms - Multiple upper and lower body technique put together to create a pattern. RED TAPE: Mental Knowledge - Belt Meanings.What is a GREY belt in karate? ›
While not a common color in the traditional martial arts, some schools choose to add grey belts into their systems just before black belt, to symbolize that the practitioner is a black belt in training.What do karate belt colors mean? ›
The belt colors tell a story…
Of life, growth & advancement. From the beginning and birth (white belt) to the intermediate parts of development (orange, green, blue etc.) to maturing and going beyond (purple, brown, black belt). The belts symbolize your progress as an individual – both inside & outside the dojo.
If you're interested in learning more balanced, full-body moves, karate might be a better choice. For those interested in learning fast and more elaborate kicking moves, taekwondo is the better option. A good way to find out which martial arts style is best for you is to try taking beginner classes in both disciplines.How many karate styles are there? ›
There are over 75 style of Karate, the four prominent among them being Shotokan, Shito-ryu, Wado-ryu, and Goju-ryu. Of these, the first three styles originated in Okinawa's Shuri region while Goju-ryu originated in the Naha province.How long does it take to get a purple belt in karate? ›
Green Belt: 6 Months. Blue Belt: 6 Months. Purple Belt: 9 Months. Brown Belt: 9 Months.What does a white belt with a yellow stripe mean? ›
Stripes are sometimes used to show “in-between” phases of training. For example, a white belt with a yellow stripe could mean that the student has been progressed beyond a standard white belt, but is not quite ready for a full yellow belt.What is the hardest black belt to get? ›
Karate's many divisions have separate black belt requirements. The toughest may be Shodokan Karate, which requires around 75 memorized striking moves. It also calls for four different types of sparring sessions and a kata, a memorized sequence of techniques.What is a purple belt? ›
Purple belt is the intermediate adult ranking in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. The purple belt level practitioner has gained a large amount of knowledge, and purple belts are generally considered qualified to instruct lower-ranked students.Is green belt good in karate? ›
Green belt represents that a very basic steps of karate learning have been accomplished successfully. Green belt is awarded to intermediate students who are refining their kills. Blue belt represents further improvement and one level up.
Is Jackie Chan a black belt? ›
After entering the film industry, Chan along with Sammo Hung got the opportunity to train in hapkido under the grand master Jin Pal Kim, and Chan eventually attained a black belt. Chan joined his parents in Canberra, Australia in 1976, where he briefly attended Dickson College and worked as a construction worker.Is Keanu Reeves trained in martial arts? ›
What martial arts does Keanu Reeves train in? According to Screen Rant, Reeves first took up martial arts while preparing for 1999's The Matrix. His training for that film included lessons in Jiu Jitsu, Wushi, Boxing, and Krav Maga. He has since added Judo and Karate to training.What martial art does John Wick use? ›
Gun fu in John Wick, as described by director Chad Stahelski, is a combination of “Japanese jiu-jitsu, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, tactical 3-gun, and standing Judo.” Under the watchful eye of Jonathan Eusebio, the fight coordinator for both John Wick films, Keanu Reeves took those arts (and others) and threw them into a ...Which Colour belt is best? ›
Black with black, brown with brown, blue with blue, and so on. The only exception here is when your shoes are white or brightly coloured. In those instances, a black belt is usually your best bet.How long does it take to get a blue belt? ›
On average, BJJ practitioners will get their blue belt within 1-2 years. You can reduce your time at white belt by spending more time training on the mats, studying Jiu-Jitsu while off the mats, and competing regularly.Who has a 10th degree red belt? ›
The 10th degree red belt was originally only given to the pioneers of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, the Gracie brothers. There are no living 10th degree red belts: Carlos Gracie – (Brazil, 1902–94) was taught judo by Mitsuyo Maeda, a Japanese immigrant to Brazil who was then a 4th dan Kodokan judoka.What is a pink belt in karate? ›
In 2016, karate medallist Aparna Rajawat founded the Pink Belt Mission, a project that aims to provide tools, techniques and knowledge to strengthen women, help them fight violence and respond to associated challenges.What is the most famous karate movement? ›
The reverse neck choke, commonly known as the sleeper hold, is one of the most well known and dangerous attacks in all of martial arts.Is a black belt in karate good? ›
It takes years and years more practice before “expertise” is earned. A new Black Belt is the same way: highly proficient in the basic techniques and principles of karate, but by no means an expert. Their karate journey is only just beginning.Can a white belt beat a black belt? ›
In the video in question, a white belt successfully submits a black belt winning his match. Clearly the white belt entered the black belt division (as they would not have allowed a black belt to enter the white belt division) so he is not a sandbagger.
Who has the most black belts in the world? ›
Shang-Men-Rem Professor Gilberto Pauciullo has hitherto unequaled qualifications in martial arts. Silly Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu doesn't have a single living 10th-degree black belt. Pauciullo holds 22 10th degree black belts by himself, including five in Jiu-Jitsu alone, and one in mexed martial arts.Can I get a black belt in one year? ›
The minimum time it could take is 3 and a half years. However, this would mean you train all day every day. Most people who train 1 to 3 times a week could expect to get a black belt in about 5 to 10 years.How hard is it to get a red belt? ›
Getting a red belt can take up to +52 years of BJJ practice. It is the highest belt rank in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and denotes a Grand Master who has attained the 9th or 10th-degree black belt in martial arts.What is the first kata in karate? ›
The first two kata that we learn in GKR Karate are known as Taigyoku Shodan and Taigyoku Nidan, but they are more commonly referred to as First and Second kata.What do stripes mean in karate? ›
Stripes on belts indicate progress at that belt level
A newly promoted green belt will not have any stripes on their belt. A green belt with 6-months of training might have 2 stripes on their belt. More stripes equals more knowledge. A beginner level student at Bushido Karate will earn stripes after every 10 classes.
Yellow: Techniques: Set #1. Orange: Judo. Blue: Techniques: Set #2. Green: Katas/Forms. Red: Techniques: Set #3.Where do stripes go on a karate belt? ›
Lay the right side of belt across the tanden. Stripes will now be on your left side. Slide the left side of belt (striped side) under and behind all the belt layers at the tanden. Stripes will still be on your left side.What is a red and white belt in karate? ›
Around 1930, the Kodokan created a new belt ("obi") to recognize the special achievements of high ranking black belts. Jigoro Kano chose to recognize sixth, seventh, and eighth degree black belts with a special obi made of alternating red and white panels (kōhaku obi - literally translated as "red and white belt").What is the youngest black belt? ›
Ethan Comer, of Tennessee Academy of Martial Arts in Lafollette Tennessee is the youngest black belt ever promoted to first degree black-belt at age 6.What martial art do Navy SEALs learn? ›
Krav Maga is a brutal martial art learned by the SEALs. Krav Maga translates from Hebrew to mean “contact combat.” It is an Israeli martial art used by Israel's commandos and special forces.
Can purple belts promote? ›
IBJJF approves that purple+ belts can promote one belt below themselves if there is no black belt around.How long does it take to get a yellow belt in karate? ›
According to Martin Jutras, a black belt in karate, who runs KarateLifestyle.com it takes about 6 months to get a yellow belt in karate. And according to GKR Karate it takes about 12 classes to get your yellow belt. So anywhere between 2 to 6 months is realistic for most people.Is a brown belt in karate good? ›
Brown belts have a high level of control over the mechanical execution of Karate techniques and are having more and more skills in applying those techniques with a resisting partner. In terms of self-defense, they have a better overall perception of physical altercation and combat.What is the first belt color? ›
While the number of belts and the order of the color progression varies among styles and schools, it's generally accepted that the martial arts journey begins with white belts and ends with black belts – the highest-ranking level.Is karate effective in a street fight? ›
Karate is very linear, the stances are deep, and everything is very controlled. But, the techniques are powerful and very effective at stopping your opponent when used correctly. So, yes, Karate techniques do work in a real fight. Critics will say the rigidness of Karate goes against everything you need on the street.Which is harder Taekwondo or karate? ›
But the other side may find Taekwondo to be harder simply as karate suits them better. But one thing is for sure, becoming a black belt in both of these arts is very, very hard. They are both known as hard styles in which you can't earn anything without sacrifice and hard work.Is brown belt better than black? ›
Brown belt is the highest ranking color belt below black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Progressing from a beginner white belt through to a brown belt typically requires at least five years of dedicated training. It is often thought of as a time for refining techniques.How many 10th dan black belts are there? ›
“It is so difficult to actually reflect how distinct this is.” He said there are about 20 to 30 10th-degree black belts in the world, and earning one is an amazing achievement that comes after years of dedication.Why is there no red belt in karate? ›
In modern Karate, as governed by the World Karate Federation and its subsidiary federations, red (aka) and blue (ao) belts are worn by competitors. Only red and blue belts are to be worn for competition, with foot and fist pads of the corresponding color for kumite competition.What's after purple belt? ›
The belts in order are: White, Blue, Purple, Brown and Black.
What is the hardest black belt to get? ›
Karate's many divisions have separate black belt requirements. The toughest may be Shodokan Karate, which requires around 75 memorized striking moves. It also calls for four different types of sparring sessions and a kata, a memorized sequence of techniques.Which Colour belt is best? ›
Black with black, brown with brown, blue with blue, and so on. The only exception here is when your shoes are white or brightly coloured. In those instances, a black belt is usually your best bet.How long does it take to become a black belt? ›
The average duration can differ when it comes to various types of martial arts. The longest time taken to earn a first degree black belt is 27 years while the shortest training period recorded was 4 years. Going by this study, you can say that it can take anywhere from 5 years to 25 years of rigorous practice.What rank was Bruce Lee? ›
For example, most people assume Lee was a highly decorated martial arts master. But believe it not, he never actually earned a black belt in any discipline, or any other rank, for that matter. When Lee was asked about his rank, he replied: "I don't have any belt whatsoever. That is just a certificate.Who is a 10 degree black belt? ›
Who Is Eligible for 10th Degree? The 10th Degree is only awarded to those martial artists who have given a lifetime to the furtherance of the martial arts and have demonstrated a lifetime of significant achievement.Is Chuck Norris a black belt? ›
He is a black belt in Tang Soo Do, Brazilian jiu jitsu and judo. After serving in the United States Air Force, Norris won many martial arts championships and later founded his own discipline Chun Kuk Do.What is a GREY belt in karate? ›
While not a common color in the traditional martial arts, some schools choose to add grey belts into their systems just before black belt, to symbolize that the practitioner is a black belt in training.Why is karate better than taekwondo? ›
If you're interested in learning more balanced, full-body moves, karate might be a better choice. For those interested in learning fast and more elaborate kicking moves, taekwondo is the better option. A good way to find out which martial arts style is best for you is to try taking beginner classes in both disciplines.What is a pink belt in karate? ›
In 2016, karate medallist Aparna Rajawat founded the Pink Belt Mission, a project that aims to provide tools, techniques and knowledge to strengthen women, help them fight violence and respond to associated challenges.Is getting a black belt a big deal? ›
Getting to Black Belt isn't the end of a student's training, and students who quit their training after earning a Black Belt probably shouldn't have received that rank in the first place. It's a major milestone, but only a milestone, on a much larger and longer journey.
Is a black belt in karate good? ›
Having earned the black belt, the martial artist shows responsibility to not only himself or herself, but to others, and the community as well. The student is capable of exceptional self-defense skills and emotional mastery. A martial artist with a black belt shows respect, honor, discipline and focus in life.What's a blue belt in karate? ›
Blue Belt. Blue belt represents further improvement and one level up. It is awarded to students who have started learning technical skills and additional knowledge about karate. Bluer color actually symbolizes that minds and bodies of students are continuously growing.