Karate Belt Order: Ranking system, belt color, and meaning

Karate Belt Order

One of the reasons that many people try their skills at karate is to earn one of the coveted belts. The belts and ranking system is one of the most fundamental parts of the sport, and you must understand it. You will commonly start with a white belt and work yourself up through the ranks to reach black.

So what does karate belt order mean? The belt system can often be seen as a knowledge system, with each belt indicating mastering certain aspects of karate and the knowledge required to progress. The belt holder is often seen as a leader due to the belt they hold at one stage or another. These belts are coveted and often take numerous years for practitioners to earn.

With such an extensive ranking and belt system, many get confused by the different belt colors and their meaning.

Fortunately, we have done some in-depth research, and with some insight from my brother (1st  Black Belt), we can decipher some of the ins and outs of karate. The article aims to break down these technical terms.

If you are interested in exploring the different types of karate, I encourage you to read this article: 6 Different Types of Karate (Which one should you pick!)

What Do The Belts Represent In Karate?

In Japanese tradition, each belt is referred to as a degree, which is called Kyū in Japanese. The belts represent the grade or level of the practitioner, which is often accompanied by certain levels of knowledge about karate. Belts are traditionally used in all forms of martial arts. However, they have different meanings.

In essence, each belt is a representation of how far the person has climbed up the ranks of skill and knowledge.

Competitions throughout the year allow individuals to improve their skills and their subsequent rank. This is judged by other practitioners of a higher skill level, who decide which belts are earned.

Karate Belt Order
Karate Belt Order: Ranking system, belt color, and meaning – sportsario.com

Karate Belt System Explained

Any practitioner or karate should note that there are two different distinctions when it comes to belt ranks. The first is referred to as Kyū, which encompasses all the colored belts in karate. The second system, which is called dan, encompasses all the different black belt rankings associated with karate. 

For the Kyū system, the trainee or mudansha (those without a rank) will always start with the white belt in the Kyū system. They will progress through various colors representing a new rank and skill level the trainee has earned.

The lowest rank in the Kyū system is often the 8th rank, while a 1st Kyū is the highest rank before moving over to the dan system.

Once a trainee has attained the highest Kyū level, they will move to the dan system. The dan system explains all the various levels of the black belts, which often start with one and end with the 10th rank.

Certain ranks vary, and while ranks 1 through 7 are earned through competitions, the rest are given through merit or honorary ceremonies.

Karate Belt Order: Ranking system, belt color, and meaning – sportsario.com

Understanding The Colors Of Karate Belts

One of the most important things you need to do before starting your karate journey is to look through the various ranks, which can be symbolized by the different colors of each belt.

You will often work your way up through the various ranks and achieve these specific belts. Here is an order of the Kyū and dan systems:

White8thBirth of a new light
Yellow7thFirst ray of a rising sun
Orange6thSpreading of light to new horizons
Green5thPenetration of growth seeds and plants
Blue4thFruits of the sun reaching the sky
Purple3rdSeriousness and commitment 
Red2ndDepth of profoundness of knowledge for the student
Brown1stA dark shadow behind glowing objects
Table Displays Order Of The Kyū And Dan Systems – sportsario.com

While these symbolize the kyu aspect of karate, they might be slightly different when it comes to dan aspect.

The dan symbolizes that the trainee is no longer a trainee and slowly moving up to becoming a master. There are ten different levels of dan that you can find. Each of these has its Japanese name as well:

1st Shodan
2nd Nidan
3rd Sandan
4th Yondan
5th Godan
6th Rokudan
7th Nanadan
8th Hachidan
9th Kyudan
10th Judan
Table Contains Karate Different Dan And The Meaning Of Each – sportsario.com.

As you can see, once you have attained the black belt in karate, the work is not nearly done. You are not even halfway to finishing and becoming a master.

So how long does it take to reach a Judan level in karate? It would take you another few years, with some even practicing as much as 50 years before reaching the “Judan” level. Karate is one of the best but most dedicated sports you can practice.

If you are interested in finding out How Long It Takes to Get a Black Belt in Karate, I suggest you check out this article.

How To Improve Your Rank In Karate?

By now, you should note that you will start with a white belt when starting your karate journey. You will need to participate in the sport and earn your different belt colors through promotions and examinations to achieve a higher rank.

The process of each promotion will get much harder as you go up higher in the ranking system. 

The Lower Ranks

At many of the lower ranks, you would often join a dojo. The dojo will assign you a master that would teach you all the ins and outs of karate, hoping for you to improve. As part of the yearly dojo setup, you will visit numerous competitions, enabling you to improve and master new levels of knowledge slowly.

A couple of times a year, there are competitions or ceremonial events. This is where the individual will perform and show off their wisdom to some of the masters and be judged.

Depending on your performance, you would be promoted to a new level and perhaps even earn a higher level of the colored belts.

Black Belt Ranks (1 – 7)

As mentioned, there are 10 different black belt ranks at the “dan” level that you can achieve. For the first few ranks, the process is similar to that of the Kyū system, and you would need to attend competitions and ceremonies, where you will be judged. These competitions are often spread farther apart than those of the lower ranks.

Another issue stems from the fact that you can only be awarded a new belt by someone who has already achieved this higher belt level.

As you can see, it becomes much harder to find individuals who can do this, depending on your country. This has left many practitioners going directly to the country of Japan and being awarded in the country.

Black Belt Ranks (8 – 10)

As you move past the 7th rank of your black belt, it becomes much harder, and this is when there are no competitions, and those who can award you higher levels are few and far between.

Most 8th-dan black belts reside in the country of Japan, which is why many people choose to perform in the country when trying to move up.

Unfortunately, you will not be visiting a competition and you are often awarded a new dan belt based on your merit or when being recommended by a different black belt.

These ceremonial belts are mostly defined by the level of wisdom the individual has attained over the years. It can take decades for some people to achieve this level.

How Long Does It Take To Achieve The 10th Dan?

One of the most common questions we often notice is that people want to know how long they will be practicing before they reach the coveted 10th Dan. However, this is not as simple, and you will find that almost every karate school has different grading systems and timelines for allowing people to advance. This is often backed up by the Japan Karate Association guidelines for promotion.

The first few ranks should go fairly quickly, and for someone to achieve a black belt in Karate, it can take around 3-years at the minimum.

However, you might fail a couple of times, which could set you back. It is best to work with around 5 years for you 1st Dan. For the black belts, it gets harder.

And we have created a table showing the approximate time it would take:

Black Belt DegreeYears NeededTotal Years
Shodan (1st)11
Nidan (2nd)23
Sandan (3rd)36
Yondan (4th)410
Godan (5th)515
Rokudan (6th)621
Nanadan (7th)728
Hashidan (8th)836
Kyudan (9th)945
Judan (10th)1055
Table Shows The Time It Takes To Achieve 10th Dan In Karate – sportsario.com.

As you can see, the higher level you try to achieve, the longer it will take. When factoring in the first few years of Kyū, you can assume that it would take approximately 60 years for a beginner to reach the level of Judan eventually.

Not only is this a very long time, but very few people have the actual patience for this.

See also: Karate And Aikido: What Are The Main Differences (And which one should you choose?)

Wrapping Up

Karate is a fun but very complicated sport, and it requires extreme patience for someone to make it up the ranks.

There are numerous levels of each discipline, and this is also similar to most forms of martial arts. If you are doing karate, we would love to see some of your comments on any aspect we might have missed.

What to read next:


Hello friends, I am Altiné. I am VERY excited you are here! I am the guy behind sportsario.com. I am passionate about reading, sports, and everything that allows me to enjoy the outdoors. I hope you find what you are looking for while visiting sportsario.com.

Recent Posts