The judo belt ranking system changed the way ranking works in martial arts. It was so practical that just about every other martial art borrowed from it. But what is so unique about it? How does the judo belt system work?
The judo belt ranking system consists of two main belt groups: “Kyu” and “Dan.”
Kyu ranks are beginner grades reserved for students below the black belt. The system consists of three separate solid color belts and six grades ranked in numerical descending order.
Once students complete the Kyu ranks, they move to senior Dan grades that come after the black belt. Dan grades consist of 10 different grades ranked in ascending numerical order.
Though it may sound complex, the judo belt ranking is simple and easy to understand. Read on!
History of the Judo Belt Ranking System
In the beginning, judo students wore kimonos and didn’t use a ranking system. But, in 1883, the father of the art, Kano Jigoro, would make changes and develop the iconic judogi uniform and belt ranks.
Jigoro designed the Gi uniform to suit the demands of judo grappling. But instead of only using the belt as functionally intended, he decided to make a belt ranking system.
His main idea was to separate students from instructors with two different solid color belts:
- White (students)
- Black belt (Instructors)
Jigoro made the most significant changes between 1926 and 1931 when he split grading into Kyu and Dan ranks. Instead of just two, he raised the number of color belts to 16 (both senior and junior).
This ranking system is also known as the “Kodokan Kyu-Dan Ranking System.”
Today, despite the standardized order of belts in judo, it varies between countries. The variations include different numbers of belts, colors, promotional criteria, etc.
However, the original system created by Jigoro still stands as the most accepted judo belt system.
Judo Belt Ranking System Explained (Kodokan)
The ranking system in judo consists of 16 different color belts. Each one represents students’ level of skill and experience. The ranking is split into two main groups:
- Kyu Grades – beginners
- Dan Grades – senior students who have obtained a black belt rank.
Here is a detailed explanation of both:
Students below the black belt rank who are yet to master the art of judo are a part of the Kyu grading system. The numerical grades go into descending order, with the 6th grade being the beginner level and the 1st the highest level. The system consists of three solid color belts:
- Senior (18 years or older) – light blue belt, white belt, and brown belt
- Junior (17 years old or younger) – light blue belt, white belt, and purple belt
|Rank||Japanese name||Color belt (junior)||Color belt (senior)|
|6th degree Kyu (||rokkyu||Light blue||Light blue|
|5th degree Kyu||gokyu||White||White|
|4th degree Kyu||yonkyu||White||White|
|3rd degree Kyu||sankyu||Brown||Purple|
|2nd degree Kyu||nikyu||Brown||Purple|
|1st degree Kyu||ikkyu||Brown||Purple|
When they complete the Kyu ranks, students move to senior Dan grades.
Dan grades are reserved for senior students who have reached a black belt rank. Students who own a dan rank are also called “Yudansha.”
The system of dan grades consists of 10 different color belts. The grading goes into ascending numerical order, with the 1st degree being the lowest rank and the 10th the highest. Here is how it all looks in a table:
|Rank||Japanese name||Color belt|
|1st dan||Shodan||Black belt|
|2nd dan||Nidan||Black belt|
|3rd dan||Sandan||Black belt|
|4th dan||Yondan||Black belt|
|5th dan||Godan||Black belt|
|6th dan||Rokudan||Red and White|
|7th dan||Nanadan||Red and White|
|8th dan||Hachidan||Red and White|
|9th dan||Kudan||Red and White|
|White, Red, or Black|
Judo Belt Rank Per Country
Despite the standardized judo belt structure, belt order and color vary significantly between countries and national organizations.
Most academies worldwide have adopted Kano Jigoro’s original concept, but other variations exist.
Judo belt ranks in the United Stats
United States Judo Federation (USJF)
|USJA Junior ranks||USJA Senior Ranks|
|12th Class (white belt)||7th class (white belt)|
|11th Class (yellow belt)||6th class (yellow belt)|
|10th and 9th Class (Orange belt)||5th class (orange belt)|
|8th and 7th Class (Green belt)||4th class (green belt)|
|6th and 5th class (blue belt)||3rd, 2nd and 1st class (brown belt)|
|4th and 3rd class (purple belt)|
|2nd and 1st class (brown belt)|
United States Judo Association (USJA)
|USJF Junior ranks||USJF Senior Ranks|
|11th class (white)||6th class (white)|
|10th class (white-yellow)||5th class (green)|
|9th class (yellow)||4th class (blue)|
|8th class (yellow-orange)||3rd, 2nd and 1st class (brown)|
|7th class (orange)|
|6th class (orange-green)|
|5th class (green)|
|4th class (green-blue)|
|3rd class (blue)|
|2nd class (blue-purple)|
|1st class (purple)|
Judo belt order in Europe, Canada, Australia and New Zealand
Judo belt ranks went through a lot of changes in Europe. Instead of utilizing just white and black belts, many countries such as France have decided to introduce new belt colors. Adding more colors made it easier to identify ranks and this is also when associations made a decision to separate juniors (below 19 years of age) from seniors (above 19 years of age).
- White belt
- Yellow belt
- Orange belt
- Green belt
- Blue belt
- Brown belt
- Black belt
- Paneled belt
- Red belt
Judo belt order in Israel
The belt system in Israel differs from the original one as it includes more color belts and sub-ranks between the two kyu grades.
|Black (1-5)||1st to 5th dan|
|Black or Red-White||6th – 8th dan|
|Black or Red||9th and 10th dan|
Judo Color Belt Ranks and Progression Explained
The judo belt order and the number of color belts vary between countries. For example, in some, a 6th Kyu is a white belt, while in others, it might be a light blue belt. However, the requirements to move from one rank to the other are very much the same across all judo ranking systems.
This article explains the most common belt order used in most countries worldwide.
White belt (Rokyu) | Rank: 6th Kyu | Time: 6 months
Like in most other martial arts, a white belt is reserved for beginners who are just starting and are yet to learn the basics. As a white belt, the key is consistency and persistence to understand the basics of throws and break falls. On top of that, you must work hard on improving core strength, conditioning and become more flexible.
Yellow belt (Gokyu) | Rank: 5th degree | Time: 6 months
At this rank, students must focus on becoming comfortable with falling and being thrown to the ground. To achieve this, they must hit the floor hundreds of times per class, and yes, it hurts.
But this is a part of the learning process that even the most talented black belts have undergone. It helps condition your body and mind while teaching you how to fall without injuring yourself. On top of that, students learn some essential pins, chokes, and armlocks.
To obtain a Gokyu rank, students must show the correct break falls, sitting, standing, and kneeling forms. They also must demonstrate the fundamentals of gripping, postures, throws, and forms of unbalance.
Some of the required throwing and holding techniques are:
- O-soto-gari (large outer reap)
- O-goshi (hip throw)
- Hiza-guruma (knee wheel)
- Kesa-gatame (scarf hold)
- Kata-gatame (shoulder hold)
Orange belt (yonkyu) | Rank: 4th degree | Time: 9 months
Students transition from beginner to intermediate. To get here, they must master the fundamentals to perfection. They develop a good base on top of which they can start adding more complex moves and combos.
To earn a yonkyu rank, students must know the difference between Judo and ju-jitsu. They also must be good at executing all the basics and show improved skill and fitness levels. Some of the throws and holds required for this level are:
- Seoi nage (shoulder throw)
- Tai otoshi (body drop)
- Kouchi gari (small inner reap)
- Kami shiho gatame (upper four corner hold)
- Yoko shiho gatame (side locking four corner hold)
Green belt (Sankyu) | Rank: 3rd degree | Time: 9 months (non-competitors)
Sankyu is a critical rank in Judo, awarded only to students committed to learning and mastering Judo. Many believe this is a level where the learning process “speeds up,” and you start growing at a high rate. The emphasis is on learning how to apply judo moves in randori, shiai, and kata.
In some way, students start to move away from theoretical knowledge to practice, which also means more fun in training.
To obtain a Sankyu rank, all students must know the purpose and principles of kata and randori. They must also name all the belt colors in the Kyu belt ranks.
In terms of techniques, the goal is to show a high level of skill in executing various throws, holds, and chokes, such as:
- O-uchi-gari (inner reaping throw)
- Harai goshi (sweeping hip throw)
- Kuzure kami shiho gatame (upper four-corner throw)
- Tate-shiho-gatame (vertical four-corner throw)
- Kata juji-jime (half-cross choke)
- Gyaku juji-jime (reverse cross choke)
Blue belt (Nikyu) | Rank: 2nd degree | Time: 1 year (non-competitors)
By the time students reach the Nikyu rank, they have mastered all the fundamentals to perfection. At this stage, they slowly transition to the advanced stage of learning. Here, nikyu students are seen as highly-skilled judokas. In a lot of schools, nikyu ranks are also leaders of the class and even provide instructions to the lower ranked students.
First, students are asked to explain the history of Kodokan judo. They also must know various Japanese words and phrases and have a basic understanding of Kumi-Kata. When it comes to techniques, the key is to show a high level of skill in executing moves such as:
- Tomoe nage (stomach throw)
- Hane goshi (spring hip throw)
- Tsuri-komi-goshi (lifting-pulling hip throw)
- Nami juji-jime (normal cross choke)
- Okuri-eri-jime (sliding lapel choke)
- Ude garami (armlock)
- Ude gatame (armlock)
Brown Belt (Ikkyu) | Rank: 1st degree | Time: 3 years (non-competitors)
To reach this rank, all students must be highly skilled in executing various judo techniques. The ikkyu rank indicates that a student has completed the learning curriculum, from the basics to the most advanced techniques.
But although they have become skilled judokas, they have yet to master all the moves to perfection and learn how to put them together better.
In this stage, students also start contributing to the judo community. Many earn a coaching certificate and start working as technical officials or referees.
All students must show an increased proficiency in all lower rank requirements. On top of that, they must demonstrate the following throws, chokes, and joint locks:
- Sode-tsurikomi-goshi (sleeve lift pull hip throw)
- Kata guruma (shoulder wheel)
- Hadaka jime (naked choke)
- Kata-ha-jime (single wing choke)
- Hiza gatame (arm-knee lock)
- Juji gatame (cross arm lock)
Black belt (Shodan) | Rank: 1st dan | Minimum age: 14 years
For many people, reaching a black belt in Judo is the final goal. But in reality, a black belt does not mark the end – it’s quite the opposite.
Shodan rank is the start of mastery. It requires even more commitment and dedication than any other rank before it. Students begin to develop their style and specialize in certain areas.
Students must showcase moral character, maturity, and continuous practice and improvement. They also must demonstrate the following techniques:
- Uki otoshi (floating drop)
- Uki waza (floating throw)
- Koshi guruma (wheel throw)
- Three throws to the left and right side
- Three combinations of techniques
- Complete kata (non-competitors)
How Long It Takes to Get each Belt in Judo?
Considering all the requirements and minimum time spend at this belt, let’s see how long does it take for a student to get each belt in Judo.
|Color belt||Time at this rank||Total time|
|White belt||6 months|
|Yellow belt||6 months||12 months|
|Orange belt||9 months||21 months|
|Green belt||9 months||30 months|
|Blue belt||1 year||42 months|
|Brown belt||2-3 years||66 – 78 months|
|Black belt||Total time: 5.5 to 6.5 years|
The judo belt system from one belt rank to the other differs between countries, and associations, which can be confusing.
Hopefully, this article helps you understand judo belt colors, judo belt order, what it takes to succeed, and what you can expect on your journey to becoming a master.