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: white, brown, 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 (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 belt||8th Kyū|
|Yellow belt||7th Kyū|
|Orange belt||6th kyū|
|Green belt||5th kyū|
|Blue belt||4th Kyū|
|Purple belt||3rd Kyū|
|Red belt||2nd Kyū|
|Brown belt||1st Kyū|
|1st-degree black belt||1st Dan|
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
|1st Dan||Black belt||Shodan|
|2nd Dan||Black belt||Nidan|
|3rd Dan||Black belt||Sandan|
|4th Dan||Black belt||Yondan|
|5th Dan||Black belt||Godan|
|6th Dan||Black belt||Rokudan (Master)|
|7th Dan||Black belt||Shichidan|
|8th Dan||Black belt||Hachidan|
|9th Dan||Black belt||Kudan|
|10th Dan||Black belt||Judan|
Karate Belt Order Explained
The following is a detailed explanation of karate belt order and what each color belt means and stands for:
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
Students are rapidly gaining new knowledge and are slowly transitioning to the advanced levels.
“The sky turns purple as the night approaches.”
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”
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.”
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 Belt||Rank||How long it takes||Total time|
|White belt||8th Kyū||/||/|
|Yellow belt||7th Kyū||3 months||3 months|
|Orange belt||6th Kyū||3 months||6 months|
|Green belt||5th Kyū||6 months||12 months|
|Blue belt||4th Kyū||6 months||18 months|
|Purple belt||3rd Kyū||9 months||27 months|
|Red belt||2nd Kyū||9 months||36 months|
|Brown belt||1st Kyū||12 months||48 months|
|Black belt||1st Dan||12 months||60 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 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 Color||Rank||Time to achieve|
|White||9th Kyū||Beginner belt|
|Yellow||8th Kyū||3 months|
|Orange||7th Kyū||6 months|
|Green||6th Kyū||12 months|
|Purple||5th Kyū||18 months|
|Purple and White||4th Kyū||24 months|
|Brown||3rd Kyū||30 months|
|Brown and White||2nd Kyū||40 months|
|Brown and white||1st Kyū||50 months|
|Black belt||1st Dan (Shodan)||62 months|
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:
|Belt||Rank||Time to achieve|
|White belt||6th Kyū||/|
|Orange belt||5th Kyū||6 months|
|Orange belt (second grade)||12 months|
|Blue belt||4th Kyū||18 months|
|Blue belt (second grade)||24 months|
|Yellow belt||3rd Kyū||30 months|
|Yellow belt (second grade)||36 months|
|Green belt||2nd Kyū||42 months|
|Green belt (second grade)||48 months|
|Brown belt||1st Kyū||54 months|
|Brown belt (second grade)||60 months|
|Black belt||1st dan||72 months|
Kyokushin black belt (dan ranks) order:
|Belt rank||Name||Gold Stripes|
|1st dan (black)||Shodan||1|
|2nd dan (black(||Nidan||2|
|3rd dan (black)||Sandan||3|
|4th dan (black)||Yondan||4|
|5th Dan (black)||Godan||5|
|6th Dan (black)||Rokudan||6|
|7th Dan (black)||Shichidan||7|
|8th Dan (black)||Hachidan||8|
|9th Dan (black)||Kyudan||9|
|10th Dan (black)||Judan||10|
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 Color||Rank||Kata/Bunkai for Grading|
|White belt||10th Kyū||Beginner|
|White belt with a green stripe||9th Kyū||Geki Sai Dai Ichi|
|Yellow belt||8th Kyū||Geki Sai Dai Ichi and Bunkai|
|Blue belt||7th Kyū||Geki Sai Dai Ni|
|Green belt||6th Kyū||Geki Sai Dai Ni and Bunkai|
|Green belt with one brown stripe||5th Kyū||Saifa|
|Green belt with two brown stripes||4th Kyū||Saifa plus Bunkai|
|Brown belt||3rd Kyū||Seiyunchin|
|Brown belt with one stripe||2nd Kyū||Seiyunchin plus Bunkai|
|Brown belt two stripes||1st Kyū||Shisochin|
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:
|White Belt||10th 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 belt||5th Kyū (Gokyu)|
|Green belt with one brown stripe||4th Kyū (Yonkyu)|
|Brown belt with one black stripe||3rd Kyū (Sankyu)|
|Brown belt with two black stripes||2nd Kyū (Nikyu)|
|Brown belt with three black stripes||1st 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 color||Rank||Time to achieve|
|White belt||9th Kyū (Beginner)||Day 1|
|Yellow Stripe Belt||8th Kyū||3 months|
|Yellow belt||7th Kyū||6 months|
|Orange belt||6th Kyū||12 months|
|Green belt||5th Kyū||18 months|
|Purple belt||4th Kyū||27 months|
|Brown Belt||3th Kyū||36 months|
|Brown belt||2nd Kyū||42 months|
|Brown Belt||1st Kyū||52 months|
|Black belt||1st Dan (Shodan)||60 months (5 years)|
Here is a Dan Grading system in Shorin Ryu:
|Rank||Time to achieve|
|1st Dan||5 years (average)|
|2nd Dan||7 years|
|3rd Dan||10 years|
|4th Dan||13-15 years|
|5th Dan||15-20 years|
|6th Dan||25 years|
|7th Dan||30+ years|
|8th Dan||Toughest one to achieve and there is no estimated time.|
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 Color||Rank||Minimum Time to Achieve||Required kata|
|White belt (yellow tip)||9th Kyū||1 month||Taikyoku Jodan|
|Yellow belt||8th Kyū||2 months||Taikyoku Gedan|
|Orange belt||7th Kyū||4-5 months||Taikyoky Gedan|
|Green belt||6th Kyū||9-10 months||Gekisai Ichi|
|Blue belt||5th Kyū||15 months||Gekisai Ni|
|Purple belt||4th Kyū||2 years||Saifa|
|Brown belt||3rd Kyū||2.5 years||Gekisai Ichi plus Ni/Saifa|
|Brown belt (black tip)||2nd Kyū||3-3.5 years||Gekisai Ichi plus Ni/Saifa|
|Brown belt (two black tips)||1st Kyū||3.5-4 years||Gekisai Ichi plus Ni/Saifa|
|Black belt||1st Dan (Shodan)||4-5 years||Sanchin|
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.
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!