Karate belt order - wayofmartialarts

Karate Belt order: Ranking System Explained

In this article, we are going to deal with an essential aspect of karate – its belt system. It is well known that most Oriental martial arts have a certain system of differently colored belts that symbolize the level of knowledge each holder has.

Karate is, of course, no exception, as its trainees are also awarded a colored belt that represents the degree of knowledge of the art each of them possesses.

A black and white drawing of a series of karate moves

The karate ranking system consists of 8 belts in different colors. Ranging from beginner belts to more advanced ones, karate belts’ colors are as follows: white, yellow, orange, green, blue, purple, red, and brown.

Each of the belts represents a degree of knowledge, called a kyū (級), which is a Japanese term meaning grade, level, or degree. It is similar to the already discussed Korean term group (see the article on belts in Taekwondo) and it is not used exclusively in martial arts, but also in other disciplines such as the boardgame go, academic tests, etc.

The World Karate Federation (WKF) governs international karate and the belt system in this sport is unified (with only small varieties), unlike in some similar disciplines, such as Taekwondo.

Origins of Belts in Martial Arts

Oriental martial arts have been practiced in the Far East for centuries, but the belt system is a relatively new phenomenon, just a little over a century old. Before belts were introduced, martial artists handed out certificates (or diplomas) to students who had reached a certain level of knowledge and ability.

A Karate black belt knot

But, at the turn of the 20th century, a man called Jigorō Kanō, best known as the founder of judo, decided to introduce colored belts in his art. This was not a completely original idea, as he was inspired by a similar system present in the Japanese board game of go (similar to chess), but it was a revolution in the world of martial arts. 

The essential idea behind the belt system was to enable students to advance more rapidly, but also to enable fighters to quickly identify the level of knowledge their opponent has, thus leading to a more leveled field in potential combat. Kanō’s original colors were blue, white, brown, and black, but as the years passed the system had become more sophisticated and included a larger palette of colors. 

A Karate moves drawing

The colored belts in karate stem from 1924, when Gichin Fukanoshi decided to adopt Kanō’s degree system in the art of karate. Thus, the kyū and dan systems were created for the sport of karate and they are both used today in karate schools around the world. Let’s deep dive into the Karate belt order and get to know more about the Karate belt system.

There are some similarities between Karate and the Brazilian jiu jitsu system – there are no belt levels (for example, in Taekwondo, you can get a yellow belt with green tape, that is not going to happen in Shotokan karate, as Karate practitioners only get one of nine belts). The belt rank is described in the paragraphs below.

The Belt System in Karate

There are two sets of belts in karate. The kyū set, which encompasses all the colored belts, and the dan set, which encompasses different black belt degrees. The starting color is always white and the final level is a 10th-degree black belt. 

The kyū system is designed for trainees who are called mudansha, meaning “those without a rank”. Each color symbolizes a trainee level and the degrees start from a higher number and advance to lower ones, just like in similar martial arts.

A drawing of a bow before a match

The lowest kyū is usually the 8th one (although there can be variations), designating a white belt, while the 1stkyū represents the highest rank a mudansha can achieve before obtaining a black belt; the 1st kyū belts are brown or under. Unlike some other Oriental martial arts (p.e. Taekwondo), each kyū in karate is represented by a different belt color.

The black belts are divided into ranks that are called dan (段) or, in English, degrees. The degrees start with the lowest number (1stdan or first-degree black belt) and reach the final, 10thdan (ninth-degree black belt), associated with the title of grandmaster. Dan-holding karateka is referred to as yudansha, meaning “those who hold a rank”.

In karate, only the first five or six dan ranks are truly competitive and are given after examinations (promotions) by higher-ranked karateka, while ranks from 7 to 10 are usually honorary and are given either on a merit-based system or after reaching a certain age. What does that mean?

Well, in many styles of Karate, you cannot get a red belt or brown belt until you’re 18 or 20 years old, depending on the rule set. You can be the champion of the world, but the rules are the same for all Karate students.

A series of karate students

How to Achieve a Higher Rank in Karate?

The process of attaining a higher rank is called a promotion or examination. Each trainee starts with the mandatory white belt and achieves higher ranks through promotions.

The process of promotion gets more difficult as the ranks become higher, but is usually a presentation of technical and tactical skills the trainee has learned throughout the training process. 

Lower ranks in karate are more focused on issues of balance, stance, and coordination, while more complex elements, like speed and power, are added later on.

Advancing through the lower kyū ranks usually requires mastering the basics of karate and applying them. The green belt is the first belt that demands a more practical application of the karateka’s skills. 

As the karateka advances, the examinations usually add more complex techniques, but can also include sparring, simulated sparring, self-defense, and breaking skills. Although the WKF does have a system of guidelines, each school can have its variations of the minimal standards.

The time necessary for promotion depends on the school, the national federation, and the rank in question. Lower ranks are usually attained after a few months (1-3) in rapid progression, while higher ranks usually require a certain period to pass before trying out for promotion.

There are some cases where promotion from rank one to rank two is given automatically, while others require a regular promotion. The period between promotions can range from one month to a few years. Each school and/or national federation determine those periods. 

Karate Belt Order: Colors Ranked

The system of belts in karate is divided between 8 kyū (in general) and 10 dan degrees. The dan degrees are, like in Taekwondo, not that interesting, because they’re all represented by a black belt and we’ve already discussed how the ranks are achieved. The dan itself is represented by white stripes on the black belt, each stripe representing one dan.

A karate student with a black belt

Each dan also has a specific Japanese name (p.e. the 5th is called godan, the 8th is called hachidan, etc.). Dan ranks are usually attained until a yudansha reaches the hachidan level, while kyu dan (9th) and judan (10th) ranks are exceptionally rare, even among life-long practitioners. 

As for the kyū degrees, although there can be variations based on the school, the usual number is eight, starting with the 8th kyū (white belt) and ending with the 1st kyū (brown belt), after which one can try out for the black belt. The colors are always unique for each kyū (there are no striped variations like in Taekwondo).

Karate belts

In this article, we will analyze the system based on eight degrees, while stressing that there can be schools that use fewer colors than eight.

Also, the order of colors is usually fixed, but we have to stress that there can also be some variations in the order, based on the school. 

How many belts are there in one of the most popular Japanese martial arts? The correct answer is – there are nine belts in Karate. The colors of Karate belts are as follows:

  • White belt – the beginner who has just arrived gets a white belt;

  • Yellow belt – you learned basics;

  • Orange belt – orange belt means you’ll become an intermediate soon;

  • Green belt – not a rookie anymore;

  • Blue belt – you’ve got some skills;

  • Purple belt – the last step of intermediate;

  • Red belt – red belt means you’re closing in the master rankings, you’re not an intermediate anymore, you know some dangerous Karate techniques;

  • Brown belt – congrats, you’re one step away from becoming a master of the traditional Japanese martial art;

  • Black belt – the highest Karate belt one can get is a black belt.

There are 2 tables here so please take a look at the page on the site to verify if you need to add more info https://wayofmartialarts.com/karate-belts-ranking-system-explained/

Color – Kyū Meaning

White Belt – 8th Kyu – The Birth Of A New Light, Which Reflects All The Cool Colors

Karate Belt knot

It is a person who wants to start learning Karate and deal with new challenges. Even when you come from a different striking background, you will get a white belt because you have never trained the Shotokan karate, Okinawan karate, or whichever style you’ve chosen.

The colored belt system kicks off with a white belt, and you are the “Mr. New Beginning”. Get ready to learn, white belt is the lower belt color one gets when he joins any dojo. Even the most skillful kickboxer or a Muay Thai fighter gets his white belt upon joining the local school.

Yellow Belt – 7th Kyu – The First Ray Of A Rising Sun

The Karate student’s mind is finally open to new changes and challenges. The yellow belt means you’ve learned basic techniques and blocks. Yet, it comes immediately after the white belt, so you don’t know too much yet.

The yellow belt can mean that you’re an advanced beginner, a fighter who knows to defend easy-to-see hooks, haymakers, or kicks.

But a yellow belt doesn’t mean you’ll throw spinning hook kicks or powerful front kicks to the face of the moving opponent, belt levels exist for a reason.

Orange – 6th Kyu – The Spreading Light That Widens Horizons

The spreading of the light of the Earth (orange belt) means the student is advancing in all areas of fighting. Right after the yellow belt, it’s time to get more technical.

Karate students sitting on the ground

If you reached an orange belt, it means that your strikes have more power, plus an orange belt means you can start learning combos, defend and counter (some simple moves), and start thinking about potential fights in the future. You’re not a yellow belt anymore.

Green Belt – 5th Kyu – Penetration And Growth Of Seeds And Plants That Want Sunlight

The next belt in Shotokan karate is a green belt. The green belt in Karate depicts the penetration of stems and roots of the plant to get the sunlight – it is time to watch towards the sky!

The student is developing a new skill set and he’s not a beginner anymore. He can connect combos, unload big bombs, defend efficiently, and take part in fun competitions with a green belt. But you’re not Karate masters right after the orange belt, stay patient!

Blue Belt – 4th Kyu – The Fruits Of The Sun Are Reaching For The Endless Sky

After the green belt, the student is going deeper into the understanding of the name. You are creating your fighting style with a blue belt, you might become a defensive or offensive-minded guy. You can learn to transition from defense to offense in a split of second.

With an orange belt, you don’t have a deep understanding of the game, but the blue belt knows which techniques are going to work for him, when, and how.

Plus, the blue belt is the earliest moment when Karate can become your lifestyle. Imagine the plant growing towards the sky and the creation of the fruit – that’s the symbol behind your blue belt.

Purple Belt – 3rd Kyu – A Degree Of Seriousness And Commitment

Are you looking to pursue your Karate career? Would you like to become a black belt? The purple belt is the clear difference between an intermediate and an advanced practitioner.

The purple belt means you are very serious about the upcoming belt. The blue belt was the final stage of an intermediate, you are a dedicated black belt candidate now. The fruit is growing. 🙂

Brown Belt – 2nd Kyu – Symbol Of Depth And Profoundness Of The Student’s Knowledge

The plan is full-grown and ready for harvesting – the brown belt after the purple belt says you are ready for combat.

Black Belt – 1st Kyu – A Dark Shadow Behind A Glowing Object

The depth of the knowledge and the ability to give those a successful direction. Congrats on reaching the highest kyu level and Karate belt!

Red Belt – Highest Belt In Karate

Usually, the black belt is the highest belt in martial arts. But, in Karate, the red belt is reserved for exemplary masters of the art and is above the black belt.

The Karate red belts signify exemplary knowledge of skills, a high level of competence, contribution to the art through teaching, and an excellent reputation that is gained over the years.

It is reserved for the elite of the elite, including the founder, Grand Master, and other higher ranks.

Most never reach the level of the red belt. To do so means that they represent martial art in its highest form.

Black Belt Dan Degrees

We’ll also bring you the Japanese names of all the dan degrees. For the 1st dan, you can get a recommendation by Prefectural HQ or Branch dojo or group. For each next, from 2nd to 5th dan, you must get a get recommended from the National (Prefectural) HQ or Regional HQ, but you must get the approval from Tokyo JKA HQ.

Also, there is one more significant rule – when you reach the first dan, you must have it for at least one year before you test yourself in front of the commission for the 2nd dan. You must wear second dan for at least 2 years before you advanced to the 3st etc.

Tokyo JKA HQ gives the 6th dan, while you must be 50+ years old for the 7th dan. There is a special ruleset for 8th, 9th, and 10th dan – you must be 60+ years old, plus you have to get a recommendation from Instructor Committee.

Vladimir Vladisavljevic has been training in the art of kickboxing for over seven years, holds a Taekwondo black belt, and has a master's degree in sports and physical education. He's also a huge mixed martial arts fan. He's a big deal in Bulgaria as a mixed martial arts commentator, analyst, and podcaster.
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Vladimir Vladisavljevic