Black belt (martial arts)

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Two aikido black belts training PRehse002-cropped.jpg
Two aikido black belts training

In East Asian martial arts, the black belt is associated with expertise, but may indicate only competence, depending on the martial art. [1] The use of colored belts is a relatively recent invention dating from the 1880s. [2]



The systematic use of belt colour to denote rank was first used in Japan by Jigoro Kano, the founder of judo in the 1880s. Previously, Japanese Koryu instructors tended to provide rank certificates only. [3] Initially the wide obi was used. As practitioners trained in a kimono, only white and black obi were used. It was not until the early 1900s, after the introduction of the judogi, that other colours were added. [2] Other martial arts later adopted the custom. This includes martial arts that traditionally did not have a formalised rank structure. This kind of ranking is less common in arts that do not claim a far Eastern origin, though it is used in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program.

Relative rank

Rank and belts are not equivalent between arts, styles, or even within some organisations. [4] In some arts, a black belt may be awarded in three years or even less, while in others it takes dedicated training of ten years or more. Testing for black belt is commonly more rigorous and more centralised than for lower grades.


In contrast to the "black belt as master" stereotype, a black belt commonly indicates the wearer is competent in a style's basic technique and principles. [2]

Another way to describe this links to the terms used in Japanese arts; shodan (for a first degree black belt), means literally the first/beginning step, and the next grades, nidan and sandan are each numbered as "ni" is two and "san" is three, meaning second step, third step, etc. The shodan black belt is not the end of training but rather as a beginning to advanced learning: the individual now "knows how to walk" and may thus begin the "journey".[ citation needed ]

As a "black belt" is commonly viewed as conferring some status, achieving one has been used as a marketing gimmick. For example, a school might guarantee that one will be awarded within a certain period, or for a certain amount of money. [5] Such schools are sometimes referred to as McDojos or belt factories. [6]


In some Japanese schools, after obtaining a black belt the student also begins to instruct, and may be referred to as a Senpai (senior student) or sensei (teacher). In others, a black belt student should not be called sensei until they are Sandan (third-degree black belt), or the titles kyosa or sabom in Korean martial arts as a second degree or higher, as this denotes a greater degree of experience and a sensei must have this and grasp of what is involved in teaching a martial art.

Higher grades

Some martial art schools use embroidered bars to denote different levels of black belt rank, as shown on these taekwondo 1st, 2nd, and 3rd dan black belts. Rhee TKD Black Belts.jpg
Some martial art schools use embroidered bars to denote different levels of black belt rank, as shown on these taekwondo 1st, 2nd, and 3rd dan black belts.

In Japanese martial arts the further subdivisions of black belt ranks may be linked to dan grades and indicated by 'stripes' on the belt. Yūdansha (roughly translating from Japanese to "person who holds a dan grade") is often used to describe those who hold a black belt rank. While the belt remains black, stripes or other insignia may be added to denote seniority, in some arts, very senior grades will wear differently colored belts.

In judo and some forms of karate, a sixth dan will wear a red and white belt. The red and white belt is often reserved only for ceremonial occasions, and a regular black belt is still worn during training. At 9th or 10th dan some schools award red. In some schools of jujutsu, the shihan rank and higher wear purple belts. These other colors are often still referred to collectively as "black belts". [5] [7]

See also

Related Research Articles

Judo Modern martial art, combat and Olympic sport

Judo is generally categorized as a modern Japanese martial art, which has since evolved into an Olympic event. The sport was created in 1882 by Jigoro Kano (嘉納治五郎) as a physical, mental, and moral pedagogy in Japan. With its origins coming from jujutsu, judo's most prominent feature is its competitive element, where the objective is to either throw or take down an opponent to the ground, immobilize or otherwise subdue an opponent with a pin, or force an opponent to submit with a joint lock or a choke. Strikes and thrusts by hands and feet as well as weapons defences are a part of judo, but only in pre-arranged forms and are not allowed in judo competition or free practice. It was also referred to as Kanō Jiu-Jitsu until the introduction to the Olympic event. A judo practitioner is called a "judoka", and the judo uniform is called "judogi".

Karate Martial art

Karate (空手) is a martial art developed in the Ryukyu Kingdom. It developed from the indigenous Ryukyuan martial arts under the influence of Kung Fu, particularly Fujian White Crane. Karate is now predominantly a striking art using punching, kicking, knee strikes, elbow strikes and open-hand techniques such as knife-hands, spear-hands and palm-heel strikes. Historically, and in some modern styles, grappling, throws, joint locks, restraints and vital-point strikes are also taught. A karate practitioner is called a karateka (空手家).

Shotokan Karate Shodan Style

Shotokan is a style of karate, developed from various martial arts by Gichin Funakoshi (1868–1957) and his son Gigo (Yoshitaka) Funakoshi (1906–1945). Gichin Funakoshi was born in Okinawa and is widely credited with popularizing "karate do" through a series of public demonstrations, and by promoting the development of university karate clubs, including those at Keio, Waseda, Hitotsubashi (Shodai), Takushoku, Chuo, Gakushuin, and Hosei.

Shōrin-ryū Style of karate

Shōrin-ryū (少林流) is one of the major modern Okinawan martial arts and is one of the oldest styles of karate. It was named by Choshin Chibana in 1933, but the system itself is much older. The characters 少林, meaning "small" and "forest" respectively and pronounced "shōrin" in Japanese, are also used in the Chinese and Japanese words for Shaolin. "Ryū" means "school". Shōrin-ryū combines elements of the traditional Okinawan fighting styles of Shuri-te.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to martial arts:


Kyū is a Japanese term used in modern martial arts as well as in tea ceremony, flower arranging, Go, shogi, academic tests and other similar activities to designate various grades, levels or degrees of proficiency or experience. In Mandarin Chinese, the same character 級 is pronounced , and the term is used for academic tests. In Korea, the term geup is used. In Vietnamese martial arts, it is known as cấp (khớp).

Shōrinjiryū Kenkōkan Karate Style of karate

Shōrinjiryū Kenkōkan Karate (少林寺流拳行館唐手) is a style of karate founded by Kōri Hisataka (1907–1988) shortly after World War II in Japan.

Danzan-ryū (檀山流) is a ryū of jujutsu founded by Seishiro Okazaki (1890–1951) in Hawaii. Danzan-ryū jujutsu is of mainly Japanese origin but is most common in the West coast of the United States. The Danzan-ryū syllabus is syncretic, and includes non-Japanese elements.

Dan (rank)

The dan (段) ranking system is used by many Japanese, Okinawan, and martial art organizations to indicate the level of a person's ability within a given system. Used as a ranking system to quantify skill level within a given set of specific patterns, it was originally used at a go school during the Edo period. It is now also used in most modern Japanese fine and martial art.

Keikogi (稽古着), also known as dōgi (道着) or keikoi (稽古衣), is a uniform worn for training in Japanese martial arts and their derivatives. Emerging in the late 19th century, the keikogi was developed by judo founder Kanō Jigorō.

<i>Judogi</i> Japanese name for the traditional uniform

Judogi is the formal Japanese name for the traditional uniform used for Judo practice and competition.

Shuri-ryū (首里流) karate, is an eclectic martial arts system developed by Robert Trias (1923–1989), reportedly the first Caucasian to teach karate in the mainland United States, who opened his public first dojo in 1946 in Phoenix, Arizona. According to modern Shuri-Ryu stylists, Shu which means to learn from tradition, Ri means to transcend or go beyond, and Ryu means any style or particular school of thought. Although according to the Japanese and Okinawan language Shu (首) means head, Ri (里) means Village and Ryu (流) means Style. Later in 1948 he formed the first karate association in the U.S., the United States Karate Association (USKA). The USKA became one of the largest karate associations in the country; its membership included almost all of the early top karate instructors. The style of Shuri-ryū is taught in the United States, parts of Europe, and South America.

Gosoku-ryu Style of karate

Gosoku-ryū (剛速流) is a style of karate which was founded by Takayuki Kubota. Gosoku stands for hard and fast, which suggests a combination of techniques both from the fast and dynamic Shōtōkan style as well as from the strength-focused Gōjū-ryū style.

Red belt (martial arts)

A red belt is one of several colored belts used in some martial arts to either denote rank or differentiate opponents in a competition. Like the more commonly known Black Belt, its use varies between arts, with most using it for the style founder, Grandmaster or other high rank, while others use it as the immediately pre–black belt rank or even to denote a beginner who holds no rank. In some schools, especially those with lineage related to Kodokan Judo, a red belt signifies ninth or tenth degree Dan rank, the highest ranks attainable.

The Jitsu Foundation or TJF is a national-level association of sports clubs headquartered in the United Kingdom, but also has affiliated organisations in other countries around the world. Focusing on standing throws and locks using weakening strikes to assist, the style taught within the association is known as Shorinji Kan Jiu Jitsu(少林寺完柔術).

<i>Obi</i> (martial arts) Colored fabric belts worn in martial arts

Many Japanese martial arts feature an obi as part of their exercise outfit. Such an obi is often made of thick cotton and is about 5 cm wide. The martial arts obi are most often worn in the koma-musubi knot ; in practice where a hakama is worn, the obi is tied in other ways.

Yoshukai Karate branch discipline of the Japanese/Okinawan martial art, Karate–dō

Yoshukai karate is a branch discipline of the Japanese/Okinawan martial art, Karate–dō, or "Way of the Empty Hand." The three kanji that make up the word Yoshukai literally translated mean "Training Hall of Continued Improvement." However, the standardized English translation is "Striving for Excellence." Yoshukai Karate has been featured in Black Belt Magazine.

Rank in Judo Judo belt

In Judo, improvement and understanding of the art is denoted by a system of rankings split into kyū and dan grades. These are indicated with various systems of coloured belts, with the black belt indicating a practitioner who has attained a certain level of competence.

Shorinjiryu Koshinkai Karatedo School of karate

Shorinjiryu Koshinkai Karatedo (少林寺流古新会唐手道) is a school of karate based on the Shōrinjiryū Kenkōkan Karatedo lineage of Kōri Hisataka, as passed on by two of the leading students of the founder, Masayuki Hisataka of Shorinjiryu Kenkokan and Shunji Watanabe of Shorinjiryu Kenyukai Watanabe-Ha. Shorinjiryu Koshinkai Karatedo was jointly founded by Jim Griffin, Max Estens, Lesley Griffin and Des Paroz in Australia. Shorinjiryu Koshinkai Karatedo is the school of karate taught by the Australian Shorinjiryu Karatedo Association, the original Australian school of Shōrinjiryū Kenkōkan Karate, founded in 1977.

Norman Robinson is a South African master of Shotokan karate. He and Stan Schmidt were the first practitioners of Shotokan karate in South Africa and they instigated the establishment of the South African branch of the Japan Karate Association (JKA) in 1965 and popularized the art across the country. In 1970 he was one of the first westerners to be invited into the JKA's famous Instructor Class in the Tokyo Honbu dojo, the invitation having been offered by Masatoshi Nakayama himself. Latterly, he established Japan Karate Shotokai South Africa, having remained loyal to Tetsuhiko Asai after Asai established Japan Karate Shotokai. Norman Robinson is also a distinguished student of Judo, holding a 7th dan in that art, and is also known for his acting roles in several martial arts films.


  1. "Myths and Misconceptions Part 1 - Vol 44 No. 1". Black Belt Magazine. Archived from the original on 2014-06-06. Retrieved 2010-01-29.
  2. 1 2 3 Ohlenkamp, Neil (March 25, 2007). "The Judo Rank System". Retrieved 2007-10-15.
  3. Fumon, Tanaka; Samurai fighting arts: the spirit and the practice , Kodansha International, 2003 ISBN   9784770028983 p25
  4. Sensei, Brian (August 10, 2018). "Karate Belt Ranks — History and Present". Full Potential Martial Arts, San Diego.
  5. 1 2 Pollard, Edward. "Michael Jai White Ignites Black Dynamite". Black Belt Magazine . Archived from the original on 2010-01-02. Retrieved 2009-12-27.
  6. Cotroneo, Christian. (November 26, 2006) Toronto Star. There are also associations that award higher dan grades for a fee: hence the proliferation of 8th and 9th degree 'grandmasters' in the USA, who have little to support their claim to such titles. . Kicking it up at the McDojo. Section: News; Page A12. Archived October 16, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
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