FEAST Your Eyes On The Karate Belt Order (Shotokan)

What is Shotokan Karate?

Are you aware of the karate belt order Shotokan uses? Shotokan is one of the various karate styles, and it uses powerful long-range techniques and lengthy, deep stances. Long, deep stances are a trademark of the Shotokan style of karate, which also includes more explosive sparring techniques called Kumite. 

The deep stances of the forms provide pupils with powerful legs, stability, and balance, whereas sparring training gives a more fluid manner of fighting technique application.

Man in Shotokan karate

How Many Belts are there in karate?

So how many belts in karate do we have? In karate, students can earn one of nine different colored belts: white, yellow, orange, green, blue, purple, red, and brown belts. 

In various Shotokan karate belt ranks, there may be more than one level of each belt color, even though the majority of people are only familiar with the two belt colors that are the most frequent. Everyone begins their karate training at the white belt level, which is the lowest belt level. 

More pupils have worn this belt than any other, and many students never go beyond this point in the curriculum. The black belt is the highest level of the Karate belt, and as such, it is the most sought-after. Karate is a complicated martial art to master, and only roughly 3% to 5% of persons who start training in it will eventually obtain a black belt. 

It is a significant accomplishment to get the level of black belt in karate. Achieving the rank of the black belt can take years. Most people are unaware of the countless hours of blood, sweat, and tears necessary to win this award. However, once you have achieved the rank of black belt, you will understand. 

The pride and fulfillment that comes with accomplishing something are great. You’ll be aware, of course, that this is merely the beginning of your journey. Obtaining a black belt in karate is not the conclusion of the road; instead, it is the beginning of a journey that will last a lifetime. So, how did they decide which colors to use for the karate belts? 

What does each different color represent? Is it possible that one day a group of karate experts got together, drew lots to choose which colors you would use for the uniform, and then kept drawing until they had enough of each color? 

No. In the same way, there is thinking and intention behind the chosen colors for everything else in karate. Listed below are the several belts that you can earn in karate.

The White Belt

The top belt in the karate belt hierarchy is the white belt. This belt represents the start of your martial arts adventure. Martial artists start as students. Therefore, they are unfamiliar with the martial arts. As a result, every lesson is brand new. 

They are primarily young children or teenagers who have never studied martial arts before, so they are frequently enthusiastic and motivated to learn. However, adults don the white belt when starting their karate adventure. As they advance, they acquire greater expertise and belts in various colors.

The Yellow Belt

The pupil receives a yellow belt after finishing the initial classes. The yellow belt is the second-lowest color belt in the Karate ranking system. This yellow belt represents light to demonstrate that the student is willing to try new challenges, approaches, and tactics.

The Orange Belt

The orange belt is the third belt you’ll acquire after obtaining your white and yellow belts. The spread of light shown by the orange belt in karate indicates that the student’s knowledge is expanding and growing. 

The orange belt, which represents achieving a specific level of mastery in karate, is a crucial turning point in your training. You must have practiced for several months or mastered several karate moves to obtain an orange belt. The karate program at your school will, nevertheless, play a role.

The Karate Green Belt

The green belt represents ongoing development and advancement. It also represents the student’s comprehension of karate fundamentals. This belt is typically for intermediate-level fighters who have mastered several moves and are working to hone their newly acquired talents.

The Blue Belt

The fifth belt in karate is blue, and it represents the sky. After passing the yellow, orange, and green rankings, a pupil reaches this level, having learned various karate techniques. Blue belt holders are intermediate pupils who have mastered the most fundamental karate techniques and have begun to learn more complex ones. 

Their training will concentrate on honing those techniques with faster and more powerful movements. As they progress through the levels to become black belts, they will also pick up new moves.

The Purple Belt

The purple band represents how the blue sky grows dimmer before dawn. It follows that the karate practitioner at this level is learning karate in a more in-depth manner. Students earning a purple belt progress through advanced learning and martial arts mastery levels. 

It may take a karate student to get to this level, typically 12 to 20 months. Once you get this rank, you will be on your road to the highest karate ranks.

The Brown Belt

The seed turns brown when it reaches full maturity and begins to ripen. This karate belt fits the same scenario. It demonstrates that the learner has advanced in their martial arts training and is ready to reap the rewards of their toil. Students who have demonstrated technical maturity earn this seventh belt, depending on the karate system.

The Red Belt

This red belt’s color stands for the sun’s might. Additionally, as red always has links with danger, red belt holders are hazardous because they are proficient in most karate techniques. 

Due to their knowledge of martial arts and experience, red belt holders have permission to assist in training the newbies. Before a karate trainee advances to the black belt rank, which denotes expertise, the brown and red belts are typically the last rankings.

The Black Belt

The black belt, which indicates that you have advanced through every rank in the ranking system, is the highest and most special rank. A black belt person is a master with sufficient knowledge of karate philosophy and techniques to instruct other students. 

While this is the ninth belt, it is not the highest rank a karate practitioner may achieve. You must practice patience and perseverance to achieve several different black belt ranks.

What is the Order of Belts in Shotokan Karate?

What is the order of belts in karate? A specific belt system determines a student’s rank in Shotokan Karate. The karate belt system utilizes a wide range of colored belts to classify students according to their level of expertise. As you progress through the levels, the belt’s color will gradually become darker. 

Many people also subscribe to the belief that a white belt will eventually become soiled and turn black, at which point it will have attained the highest possible level of black belt. We take a gander at the Shotokan belt order. The degrees of color belt and black belt that you can achieve in Shotokan Karate is as follows. 

However, because there are a variety of distinct Shotokan organizations, the belt levels and color systems associated with them can fluctuate from dojo to dojo and organization to organization (i.e., different Shotokan federations). In addition, several dojos make modifications unique to their belt systems compared to the ones used by their national federation. 

As a result, please see your sensei to find all karate belts in order at your dojo. The major Shotokan associations and federations all employ the same belt levels and ranking systems. Here is the Shotokan karate belt order.

RankBelt ColorKata Required
9th KyuWhiteHeian Shodan
8th KyuYellowHeian Nidan
7th KyuOrange Heian Sandan
6th KyuGreenHeian Yondan
5th KyuPurple Heian Godan
4th KyuPurple and WhiteTekki Shodan
3rd KyuBrownBassai Dai
2nd KyuBrown and WhiteBassai Dai
1st KyuBrown and White Bassai DaiKanku DaiJionOr Empi
Shodan 1st Dan Black All Kata’s

What is the Highest Belt in Karate?

The black belt is the highest in most martial arts styles. On the other hand, in karate, the red belt is a higher rank than the black belt and is only awarded to the most skilled practitioners of the art. 

The red belt is the highest in karate at the advanced belt level. It is only accessible to the highest-ranking members of the organization, such as the founder, the Grand Master, and other higher grades. The vast majority of people never even get to the red belt level. Doing so demonstrates that they can represent martial art in its purest form.

Black belt in karate

Origins of the Karate Belt

In days gone by, you could not know a karate practitioner’s rank by the belt. The primary purpose of the belt was to keep one’s clothing together, and it did not perform any other functions. For generations, this was how people in Okinawa would train in karate, which at the time it is a Japanese name, To-de. 

Back then, acquiring knowledge was the primary purpose of any training (and, perhaps, a profession, as a bodyguard for the ruling class noblemen). There were no official ranks of any kind. The training was often in intimate settings, typically to the master’s direct descendants or to the master’s closest friends and allies. 

Things began to shift with the turn of the 20th century. Karate was in the process of migrating from Okinawa to mainland Japan then, and the karate masters of the time worked very hard to make their art more appealing to the preferences of the Japanese people. 

In his book “Karate, My Way of Life,” the creator of Shotokan Karate, Gichin Funakoshi, explains some variations to the original style. Among these was the adoption of the name “Karate” for the martial art, modifications to the terminology used to describe techniques and kata, and others.

Jigoro Kano, the creator of Judo and the inventor of the belts ranking system, devised the system in the late 19th century. Many different types of martial arts use this system today. 

Kano, who had gone through training in the art of Japanese Jujitsu used in battle, adopted that technique to make it less harmful and suitable for teaching in elementary schools and universities as a sport. 

In addition, he used philosophical ideas (which were most likely influenced by Confucianism) to mold his discipline’s evolution from a martial art into a martial way. Because of this, they refer to martial arts as Judo, which translates to “the gentle way,” developed around 1882. 

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the general population of Japan held an unfavorable impression of Japanese Jujitsu (seeing it as a cruel art that was not acceptable for dignified kids and adults to study), yet Judo enjoyed popularity in Japan. 

As they were establishing themselves in mainland Japan, early Okinawan karate masters like Funakoshi aspired to achieve the same level of popularity as their predecessors on the island of Okinawa.

Gichin Funakoshi, who has close links with Jigoro Kano, began using the Keikogi outfit, which Kano had originally designed for the practice of Judo, for his karate training around the year 1922. (Also called Dogi or Gi for short). The Funakoshi school also adopted the judo belt ranking system. 

By the way, the ranking system Kano devised for Judo was eventually formalized and sanctioned by the Japanese Butoku-kai, which translates to “martial arts association.” This section of the Japanese Ministry of Education is responsible for supervising ranks in Judo and Kendo. When Funakoshi created karate, he used the same ranking system in Judo. 

This early karate belt ranking system consisted of only three colors of belts: red, black, and white.

  • White Belt (three grades/kyu ranks)
  • Brown Belt (three grades/kyu ranks)
  • Black Belt (ten grades/dan ranks)

The term “Kyu ranks” refers to the colored belts or ranks given to students before the highest level of black belt. The terms “dan ranks” and “belts” refer to the various belts and rankings granted to black belts.

Seven of Funakoshi’s students got promoted to the first dan level on April 12, 1924, when the master handed out the honor. Since ranks and belts did not exist in karate until 1922, when Funakoshi gave his students rank, he did not hold a belt rank in karate or any other martial arts style. 

Several colored belts represent the various kyu rankings in subsequent years. This is how the many colored belts used as a ranking system in karate dojos all over the world came to be.

Karate Black Belt Degrees

Many people have inquired about the titles black belts and teachers acquire during their training. Every level of training increases the mental and physical demands. The black belt should actively participate in a reputable school and must also carefully practice alone. 

As with ranks, they should confer each title to you and not taken, as many people do, by a certified instructor of the corresponding rank.

Renshi- 5th-degree black belt (12 to 16 years after 1st Dan) & (five years after the 5th Dan]   

The Renshi title means “refined instructor.” You may get this from a teacher who has attained the rank of Kyoshi. Occasionally, a student with a similar rank as the instructor may be present. For instance, a 6th Dan would teach a 5th Dan pupil. 

In rare instances, the term “Renshi” may confuse lower-rank students as to which student is the more senior black belt. To elucidate this circumstance, they may grant you a second term at the rank of 6th Dan. Shihan is a Japanese term frequently used as an honorific title for senior instructors in Japanese martial arts. 

It is commonly used synonymously with English words like “senior instructor.” The prerequisites for using the title vary depending on the martial arts organization, but generally, it is a high title (6th dan or above) that takes a long time to get. 

The bestowing of the title must be by a person who is at least a 7th or 8th Dan and has received the title of Kyoshi, just as other advanced titles (Renshi, Kyoshi, and Hanshi). 

In schools that are part of my association of dojos, the individual must be a teacher of their school and have promoted people to at least the rank of Renshi. It is generally distinct from the black belt grading system.

Kyoshi – 7th and 8th-degree black belts (5 years after 6th Dan and at least 50 years old) 

Professor or philosophy are the meanings of the “Kyo” in Kyoshi. Kyoshi is thus equivalent to a “professor” qualified to impart the philosophy of martial arts. The title of Kyoshi to an instructor should be by a Hanshi who has achieved this rank and is still actively involved in a dojo and diligently training alone.

Hanshi – 9th degree black belt & 10th degree black belt 

The “Han” in Hanshi means “example, model,” and it designates “an instructor who can serve as an ideal model for others” or a “senior master.” Hanshi is a 9th and 10th-degree black belt. This is a unique title that denotes the highest levels of martial arts, a teacher of teachers, and one that shows individual development and in-depth knowledge of the discipline.

The 9th degree should have completed at least 40 years of serious adult training in Isshin-ryu Karate in the dojo and independent study. Beyond this, the person should earn respect from their peers and become an important martial art community member. 

The originator of the style is generally the 10th degree. The founder may delegate the rank, title, and obligations that come with the designation to an heir. Jigoro Kano, the creator of Judo, developed the colored belt system using obi (sashes), and in the 1880s, he gave the first black belts to signify a dan rank. 

This started the systematic usage of belt color to represent rank. In the past, Japanese Koryu instructors frequently gave out certificates. Initially, they utilized wide obi, but as practitioners practiced in kimonos, they switched to using white and black obi. After inventing the judogi in the early 1900s, they developed an enlarged colored belt system for determining rank. 

Subsequently, other martial arts adopted the practice or a variation (such as using different colored sashes to indicate rank). This applies to martial arts that, in the past, lacked a formalized rank system. Although it is for use in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program, this ranking type is less popular in disciplines that do not claim a far eastern origin.

There are differences in rank and belts between different disciplines, styles, and even within some organizations. While it may take ten years to achieve a black belt in some arts, it may only take three years in others. Compared to testing for lesser grades, testing for a black belt is frequently more demanding and centralized.

Contrary to the idea of the “black belt as master,” a black belt typically denotes proficiency in a style’s fundamental principles and techniques. 

Since obtaining a black belt typically requires three to six years of training, a bachelor’s degree would be an appropriate comparison because the student has a solid grasp of the essential ideas and abilities but has not yet honed their craft. 

A graduate degree would stand in for progress after receiving the first degree. Brazilian jiu-jitsu would be a major exception, as it typically requires 7 to 12 years of training to obtain a black belt jiu-jitsu practitioner. A black belt holder is generally an expert in the discipline.

Another way to put it is to compare it to the terms used in Japanese martial arts. Shodan, which refers to a first-degree black belt, literally means the first or first step, while nidan and sandan, which are the next grades, are each numbered as “ni” is two and “san” is three, and mean second step, the third step, etc. 

The shodan black belt represents the start of advanced learning rather than the completion of training because the student now “knows how to walk” and can start the “journey.” 

Achieving one has is a marketing “gimmick,” for example, a guarantee for awarding one will be within a certain timeframe or if you pay a certain sum because a “black belt” is typically seen as giving some status. 

Some schools are McDojos or belt factories because they use these strategies to prioritize profit over academic excellence. After earning a black belt, a student may start teaching in some Japanese schools and become a sensei or senpai (senior student) (teacher). 

In some systems, you should not refer to a black belt student as sensei until they have reached the rank of Sandan (third-degree black belt), or the use of titles of kyosa or Sabomnim in Korean martial arts should be as a second-degree or higher, as these titles denote a greater level of experience. 

A sensei must possess this and understand what is involved in instructing a martial art. These taekwondo 1st, 2nd, and 3rd dan black belts exemplify how some martial arts schools employ embroidered bars to indicate various degrees of black belt rank. 

The further divisions of black belt levels in Japanese martial arts may connect to dan grades and be denoted by “stripes” on the belt. Black belt holders are ydansha, which approximately translates from Japanese as “one who possesses a dan grade.” 

In some disciplines, highly senior grades will wear belts that are a different color while the belt itself is still black, but they may add stripes or other symbols to indicate seniority. A sixth dan will have a red and white belt, as is customary in Judo and some styles of karate. A conventional black belt is for training, and a red and white belt is for ceremonial events. 

Some schools award red in the ninth or tenth grade. Shihan level and higher in some Jujutsu schools wear purple belts. The term “black belts” is still frequently used to refer to these additional hues.

How Many Karate Belt Systems are There?

Due to the wide variety of styles and forms, most people need clarification on the karate belt ranking system. You might be curious about the karate belt system’s actual operation. Does the Shotokan belt system change depending on the karate style? 

Alternatively, how long does it take to advance from one belt to the next? Students below the black belt rank and still learning methods have kyu ratings. Dan ranks, reserved for karate masters who have previously attained the black belt degree, start where Kyu ranks terminate. Here is a thorough justification of both: 

Kyu in Japanese means “class,” and karate identifies the lower ranks than the black belt level. The kyu ranking system and how its structure is different from school to school and style to style in karate. Most karate dojos and styles use a kyu ranking system with ten levels, with the tenth level being the novice level and the first level being the black belt rank. 

You will get a white belt as a beginner in karate as soon as you sign up for classes at a dojo (10th kyu rank). They would have to advance through nine other kyu rankings before reaching the first kyu rank, equivalent to a black belt. This would take some time.

Dan in Japanese means “Step” or “grade,” and in karate, it is a representation of a grading system that starts once a student gets the rank of black belt. Students who have completed the kyu ranks and have a black belt award are now eligible to advance to the dan ranks. 

Blue and red belts

A Final Word

You are now aware of all the rankings and the degrees involved in all karate sports. You are in a position to differentiate the different karate belts and exactly what they all stand for. This article has all you need to understand, including belt ranks in karate. 

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