Shotokan Karate Belts

The Shotokan Karate Grading syllabus has a range of grades, also known as kyu.  When a Karate practitioner progresses beyond brown belt, the next grading is Black Belt or Shodan (1st Dan). Students wear belts which are colored to signify their grade level.

Karate belts are said to date back to the Japanese judo. Here, a system of using a variety of colored belts was used as it was felt it was the best way of determining an individuals skill level. There are many people who believe that a method of dyeing the belts was used, which may suggest why the belts get darker with each grading level. Others believe in the theory of a white belt becoming dirtier until it becomes black, which was the first method of determining someone skill, although this theory is most likely a myth.

Below is a list of the Shotokan Karate Belts. Please click on the relevant grading for a more detailed guide and syllabus for each level. Please also see our guide how to tie a karate belt.


Karate Belts (kyu level)

Karate Belts GradingKyū-level practitioners are often called mudansha (無段者) which means literally "ones without dan". People of such ranks are considered as initiates, not students. Remember, although this is the official shotokan karate belt ranking system, many clubs will choose to follow their own system based on this.

10th Kyu Karate White belt Jūkyū (十級:じゅうきゅう)

9th Kyu Karate Orange belt Kukyū (九級:くきゅう)

8th Kyu Karate Red belt Hachikyū (八級:はちきゅう)

7th Kyu Karate Yellow belt Nanakyū, Shichikyū (七級:ななきゅう, しちきゅう)

6th Kyu Karate Green belt  Rokkyū (六級:ろっきゅう)

5th Kyu Karate Purple belt Gokyū< (五級:ごきゅう)

4th Kyu Karate Purple and white belt Yonkyū (四級:よんきゅう)

3rd Kyu Karate Brown belt Sankyū (三級:さんきゅう)

2nd Kyu Karate Brown and white belt Nikyū (二級:にきゅう)

1st Kyu Karate Brown and white belt Ikkyū (一級:いっきゅう)

The original belt system, still used by Shotokan Karate of America is:

8th–4th kyū: white

3rd–1st kyū: brown

1st-5th dan: black


Karate Belts (Dan level)

1st Dan Karate Black belt  shodan (初段:しょだん): first degree black belt

2nd Dan nidan (二段:にだん): second degree black belt

3rd Dan sandan (三段:さんだん): third degree black belt

4th Dan yondan (四段:よだん): fourth degree black belt

5th Dan godan (五段:ごだん): fifth degree black belt

6th Dan rokudan (六段:ろくだん): sixth degree black belt

7th Dan nanadan (七段:ななだん): seventh degree black belt (also, shichidan)

8th Dan hachidan (八段:はちだん): eighth degree black belt

9th Dan kyuudan (九段:くゅだん): ninth degree black belt

10th Dan jūdan (十段:じゅうだん): tenth degree black belt


Recommended Shotokan Grading BookWant to make sure you pass your grading?

If you want even more detailed guidance on the techniques involved for your next grading, i'd recommend buying The Shotokan Karate Bible: Beginner to Black Belt book. It's probably the best book you will get on grading.

Alternatively the DVD JKA 21 Shotokan Karate Kata is also highly recommended, you can't fail if you follow these properly and train hard. 

In my experience, the people who do well in gradings are the ones who have studied external resources outside of class such as the book or DVD mentioned. There is no substitute to training hard, but seriously, you have a much higher chance of passing and progressing with the help of these.


Origins of the Karate Belt Grading System

Karate took its belt ranking system from Judo. As Gichin Funakoshi introduced karate, he took advice from his good friend Kano Jigoro, the founder of Judo and their ranking system.

Originally there was few kyu ranks, although it is unknown, it is thought to be three - being white brown and black. Other colors which are now in the karate ranking system today were later introduced. The first new belt color that was brought in was green, it wwas thought that this gave a seasonal meaning to the belts, white - spring, green - summer, brown - autumn and black - winter.

Some schools even now use different numbers of ranks, some choosing to omit certain ranks, however most offer all kyu ranks. There are some Karate Organizations which enforce standardization across the schools.

It is common for karate sensei's to use tape to put a loop on the end of the belt. This indicates that the student is one level up from the original belt rank that they have already earned.

The Karate belts and ranks are beneficial in the way that they provide a benchmarking system for both instructors and students. Students can be organized quickly into groups when teaching a large class. A sensei at one glance can know what level a student is and instantly know what syllabus that person is training to.

Of course, students also get benefits from the belt system. They can set short term goals and feel a sense of satisfaction once they meet the next ran as well as confirming that that have progressed their karate ability. When a student reaches a new kyu rank, they are encouraged to work harder to progress again to the next kyu, which is usually a minimum of 3 months in training.

Once passed beyond the kyu ranks and into black belt, Dan ranks are used to provide further motivation and rewards for continuing to progress. The later dan ranks also provide this motivation to continue training, providing experts with rewards for continuing their training.