Karate Belt Order and Ranking System Explained

- August 4, 2022
karate belt order

The karate belt order might confuse some people as there are many styles and forms, each with a unique belt ranking system. 

Still, it is not rocket science. In this article, you will learn how karate belt ranks work and how many color belts there are.

Most karate styles have 9 different color belts called “Kyū ranks,” and each one stands for one specific rank. Beginners start with a white belt and, on their journey, progress through yellow, orange, green, blue, purple, red, and brown until they reach the final black belt.

Once students complete the Kyū ranks, they switch to Dan ranks, which carry 10 different black belts.

Karate belt order and the number of color belts vary between the styles. Read on as we explain it all in more detail.

History and Origins of the Karate Belt System

The karate belt ranking system originates in Judo, a grappling system created in 1892. 

The father of Judo, Kano Jigoro, was also the one who created the famous “color belt” ranking system. His initial version had only three colors: whitebrown, and black.

Jigoro’s main idea was to separate the students by their skill level to improve the learning process. As Judo evolved, more and more color belts were added, and the entire ranking system underwent numerous changes. 

What does all of this have to do with karate? Well, the karate belt order is very much the same. 

In 1920, the father of Shotokan karate, Gichin Funakoshi, searched for a grading system. He took Judo’s color belt ranks, made minor changes, and applied them to karate.

In subsequent years, most other karate styles would adopt this grading method, which is how color belt ranking became an integral part of karate.

The Karate Belt Ranking System

The belt order in karate is pretty easy to understand as it consists of two sets of belts: Kyū and Dan belt ranks.

Kyū Ranks

Kyū (級), Japanese for grade, level, or degree, is a set of 9 different ranks that begins with the white belt (beginners) and finishes with a black belt.

These ranks are for students who are yet to become Karate masters. Each kyū level (belt) has a unique color and degree, which determines the trainee level of a student. 

For instance, a white belt is an 8th degree Kyū rank, a yellow is 7th, and a black belt is the 1st degree. Remember that the system varies between styles and forms, but the concept is always the same.

Karate “Kyū” Ranks

White belt8th Kyū
Yellow belt7th Kyū
Orange belt6th kyū
Green belt5th kyū
Blue belt4th Kyū
Purple belt3rd Kyū
Red belt2nd Kyū
Brown belt1st Kyū
1st-degree black belt1st Dan

Dan Ranks

Dan ranks begin once a student completes all the ranks within the Kyū system. Think of the Dan system as an advanced stage of learning. Dan stands for degree.

The Dan system consists of 10 different black belts, and grading goes from the lowest to highest ranks. The lowest is the 1st Dan black belt, while the highest is the 10th Dan.

Karate “Dan” Ranks

RankColorName
1st DanBlack beltShodan
2nd DanBlack beltNidan
3rd DanBlack beltSandan
4th DanBlack beltYondan
5th DanBlack beltGodan
6th DanBlack beltRokudan (Master)
7th DanBlack beltShichidan
8th DanBlack beltHachidan
9th DanBlack beltKudan
10th DanBlack beltJudan

Karate Belt Order Explained

The following is a detailed explanation of karate belt order and what each color belt means and stands for:

White Belt

The white belt is the first belt worn by the students just starting and learning the basics.

“A plant bursts through the ground and meets the sun’s bright light.”

Yellow Belt

Here, students are slowly mastering the basics and making gradual progress. The main objective at this level is for a student to master all the fundamentals, i.e., the basics of stances, punches, and kicks.

“Sun rays warm the plant, which slowly starts to stretch and grow.”

Orange Belt

Students begin to learn more complex moves and might face some serious obstacles on their journey. The orange belt is also where they start developing better balance and coordination.

“The sun is getting stronger, making it difficult for the plant to grow.”

Green Belt

Students have reached the intermediate level of learning. Their bodies are also becoming stronger, more flexible, and agile, which allows them to perform better.

“The plant managed to survive the burning lights of the sun and is now entered a new stage of growth.”

Blue Belt

Besides techniques, students learn to control their bodies and mind. Here, they also start to do light sparring sessions (Kumite) against other students.

“The plant is growing high up towards the blue sky.”

Purple Belt

Students are rapidly gaining new knowledge and are slowly transitioning to the advanced levels.

“The sky turns purple as the night approaches.”

Red Belt

Training gets more intense at this stage, and students must commit fully to achieving their goals.

“Rays of the sun turn red, and the plant seed is maturing”

Brown Belt

Students are slowly feeling the benefits of all the hard work they have put in thus far. The number of sparring sessions is increasing, and they are now practicing along with the black belts.

At this stage, students are more aware of their abilities and are starting to develop their own styles.

“The night is approaching, and the plant is maturing and almost ready for harvesting.”

Black Belt

This belt is the final belt but not the final rank. Students have reached the advanced level and are now ready for the more senior Dan ranks.

“Is the color of darkness and the plant dies which gives a new life”

*****************

Reaching a certain belt rank has a special meaning in every student’s life. The belt itself is not just a piece of clothing without the story. As you have seen, each color belt in karate has a unique meaning.

How Much Time Does It Take To Get Each Belt in Karate?

Let’s look at how much it takes for a karate student to get each belt and reach the final black belt rank. 

The time and grading examination differ a lot between the styles. Also, how much it takes also depends on how dedicated, consistent, and talented you are.

Color BeltRankHow long it takesTotal time
White belt8th Kyū//
Yellow belt7th Kyū3 months3 months
Orange belt6th Kyū3 months6 months
Green belt5th Kyū6 months12 months
Blue belt4th Kyū6 months18 months
Purple belt3rd Kyū9 months27 months
Red belt2nd Kyū9 months36 months
Brown belt1st Kyū12 months48 months
Black belt1st Dan12 months60 months (5 years)

In total, it takes 4 to 5 years of consistent training for a student with average talent to reach a black belt rank in karate. Some talented and dedicated students may do it in less time, while the others might need more. It all truly depends.

Karate Belt Order in the Different Styles

Karate has dozens of different styles and forms, with most having a color belt ranking system and promotional criteria. Here is a look at how the karate belt order works in the most popular worldwide styles. 

Shotokan Karate

Shotokan is arguably the most popular style of karate practiced in every part of the world. 

It is a semi-contact style that emphasizes overwhelming the opponent with a high level of technique, speed, and precision. 

At higher ranks, training also includes the basics of grappling and striking with all limbs, including elbows and knees. 

In addition, students do a lot of katas, as well as Kumite (sparring), to enhance self-defense capabilities, or prepare for competition.

On average, it takes between 4 and 7 years of learning before reaching a black belt in Shotokan karate. Here is a detailed look at the Shotokan belt order:

Belt ColorRankTime to achieve
White9th KyūBeginner belt
Yellow8th Kyū3 months
Orange7th Kyū6 months
Green6th Kyū12 months
Purple5th Kyū18 months
Purple and White4th Kyū24 months
Brown3rd Kyū30 months
Brown and White2nd Kyū40 months
Brown and white1st Kyū50 months
Black belt1st Dan (Shodan)62 months

Kyokushin

Kyokushin is a modern style developed in the 1950s. It is the only full-contact karate style where training is brutal and more dangerous than in other styles.

The emphasis is on throwing kicks and punches with lots of power, without any protective gear, not even gloves.

On average, it takes between 5 and 6 years of consistent training for a student with average talent to reach a black belt rank.

Here is the Kyokushin karate belt order and how much time it takes to earn each one:

BeltRankTime to achieve
White belt6th Kyū/
Orange belt5th Kyū6 months
Orange belt (second grade) 12 months
Blue belt4th Kyū18 months
Blue belt (second grade) 24 months
Yellow belt3rd Kyū30 months
Yellow belt (second grade) 36 months
Green belt2nd Kyū42 months
Green belt (second grade) 48 months
Brown belt1st Kyū54 months
Brown belt (second grade) 60 months
Black belt1st dan72 months

Kyokushin black belt (dan ranks) order:

Belt rankNameGold Stripes
1st dan (black)Shodan1
2nd dan (black(Nidan2
3rd dan (black)Sandan3
4th dan (black)Yondan4
5th Dan (black)Godan5
6th Dan (black)Rokudan6
7th Dan (black)Shichidan7
8th Dan (black)Hachidan8
9th Dan (black)Kyudan9
10th Dan (black)Judan10

Goju Ryu 

Goju Ryu is a style of karate developed by Seiken Shukumine in the 1950s in Japan. Here is the explanation of the belt order and required katas for grading in Goju Ryu karate:

Belt ColorRankKata/Bunkai for Grading
White belt10th KyūBeginner
White belt with a green stripe9th KyūGeki Sai Dai Ichi
Yellow belt8th KyūGeki Sai Dai Ichi and Bunkai
Blue belt7th KyūGeki Sai Dai Ni
Green belt6th KyūGeki Sai Dai Ni and Bunkai
Green belt with one brown stripe5th KyūSaifa
Green belt with two brown stripes4th KyūSaifa plus Bunkai
Brown belt3rd KyūSeiyunchin
Brown belt with one stripe2nd KyūSeiyunchin plus Bunkai
Brown belt two stripes1st KyūShisochin

Uechi Ryu Karate

Uechi Ryu is a traditional style developed by karateka, Kanbun Uechi, and the name translates to “half-hard” or “half-soft.” The Uechi Ryu belt order:

Belt colorRank
White Belt10th Kyū (Jukyu)
White belt with a green stripe (Yellow Belt)9th Kyū (Kyukyu)
White belt with two green stripes (Gold Belt)8th Kyū (Hachikyu)
White belt with three green stripes (blue belt)7th Kyū (Shichikyu)
White belt with solid green bar (Green Belt)6th Kyū (Rokkyu)
Green belt5th Kyū (Gokyu)
Green belt with one brown stripe4th Kyū (Yonkyu)
Brown belt with one black stripe3rd Kyū (Sankyu)
Brown belt with two black stripes2nd Kyū (Nikyu)
Brown belt with three black stripes1st Kyū (Ikkyu)

Shorin Ryu karate

Shorin Ryu is one of the oldest styles of karate that influenced the birth of many other styles, such as Shotokan.

Compared to other styles, Shorin Ryu focuses on natural breathing, performing in a flow, and utilizing circular rather than direct movements.

The color belt ranking order and progress is very similar to the one in Shotokan:

Belt colorRankTime to achieve
White belt9th Kyū (Beginner)Day 1
Yellow Stripe Belt8th Kyū3 months
Yellow belt7th Kyū6 months
Orange belt6th Kyū12 months
Green belt5th Kyū18 months
Purple belt4th Kyū27 months
Brown Belt3th Kyū36 months
Brown belt2nd Kyū42 months
Brown Belt1st Kyū52 months
Black belt1st Dan (Shodan)60 months (5 years)

Here is a Dan Grading system in Shorin Ryu:

RankTime to achieve
1st Dan5 years (average)
2nd Dan7 years
3rd Dan10 years
4th Dan13-15 years
5th Dan15-20 years
6th Dan25 years
7th Dan30+ years
8th DanToughest one to achieve and there is no estimated time.

Shito Ryu 

Founded in 1934 by Kenwa Mabuni, Shito Ryu represents one of four major styles of karate, where the minimum age for reaching a black belt is 13 years. The belt ranking goes in this order:

Belt ColorRankMinimum Time to AchieveRequired kata
White belt (yellow tip)9th Kyū1 monthTaikyoku Jodan
Yellow belt8th Kyū2 monthsTaikyoku Gedan
Orange belt7th Kyū4-5 monthsTaikyoky Gedan
Green belt6th Kyū9-10 monthsGekisai Ichi
Blue belt5th Kyū15 monthsGekisai Ni
Purple belt4th Kyū2 yearsSaifa
Brown belt3rd Kyū2.5 yearsGekisai Ichi plus Ni/Saifa
Brown belt (black tip)2nd Kyū 3-3.5 yearsGekisai Ichi plus Ni/Saifa
Brown belt (two black tips)1st Kyū3.5-4 yearsGekisai Ichi plus Ni/Saifa
Black belt1st Dan (Shodan)4-5 yearsSanchin

How to Achieve a Higher Rank in Karate

You must undergo an official promotional test to progress from one belt to the other. Each belt level includes a set of standards and skill levels that a student needs to match to qualify for the upper rank. 

The promotional criteria vary between schools, styles, and countries – Each school has its criteria and methods of teaching and promotion.

In most cases, students must demonstrate a certain skill level in various technical and tactical aspects. They must execute different katas, stances, punches, kicks, and blocks, and progress gets more difficult as you climb the ranks.

Lower level ranks, such as white and yellow belts, are not as hard to get as the purple and brown, for instance. This is because the focus in the lower ranks is on performing the basic moves that are not that hard to master. 

The period between the two tests at the lower level depends on the rank and the school, but it is usually between 1–3 months on average.

Examinations in the higher ranks include more complex techniques that take a lot of time to master to perfection. Students often need to train for a year or more before they can undergo a promotional test.

How to Earn a Black Belt in Karate in Less Than 5 Years

First of all, do not rush things in an attempt to speed up the process. That’s not the point. The learning process and the skill level you need to develop to earn a black belt remain the same. 

But, there are some tips and tricks, notably in how you approach the classes, which may help you progress faster than other people in your group.

Be Consistent 

Consistency is the key, not just in karate but in other martial arts as well. Though this sounds obvious, showing up to classes at least 4 or 5 times a week is hard to do.

You must sacrifice a lot of your free time and focus on training. This is the only way to keep up with the classes and consistently improve.

Workout at Home

Most students who are serious about reaching their goals tend to do various workouts at home. Apart from training in a dojo, they do different exercises at home that might improve their performance.

Even if it’s just basic stretching in the morning or evening, training outside the school will speed up your progress.

Focus On Strength and Endurance

Being physically strong, flexible, and in shape separates dedicated and successful martial artists from amateurs.

To learn fast and perform the right way, you have to be in excellent physical shape or constantly work on improving your strength in the upper and lower body.

Earn a Black Belt in a Legitimate Dojo

Or in other words, do not get carried away by marketing campaigns where certain karate schools promote their business as a place where you can reach a black belt rank in a year or two.

It is true; you will get to the highest Kyū rank in that time without question. But you won’t be as skillful as students who train in dojos that embrace complex teaching methods, strict promotional criteria, and strong hierarchy.

Final Thoughts on Karate Belt Order

Karate belt order differs significantly between the styles and forms, as well as the progress and time you need to train before achieving the black belt rank. 

While it might be confusing initially, it allows you to choose a style that best fits your needs. 

Regardless of the style, remember what you learned at the beginning of this article- Kano Jigoro created the color belt ranks to improve the learning process.

So be sure to focus on learning and growing as a martial artist and person. These are the main objectives of karate training. 

Lastly, don’t forget to have fun! 

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