December 5, 2020

The Aikido Belt System: Ranks & Levels

Like in other things, the belt system in Aikido is very different from other martial art forms as well. The whole belt system in Aikido varies because of different systems followed in different parts of the globe. Unlike Judo or Jiu-jitsu which have five belt colors, Aikido only has two. 

Different degrees of learning were shown by white and black belts only. It was only when Aikido came to Europe that this system became a bit difficult to implement and hence, different colors of belts started being used by the British schools to represent different grades and rankings, which then spread to other places as well. 

Belt system wasn’t initially a part of Aikido as it promotes a sense of competition and brings in the factor of ego, both things against Aikido’s primary philosophies. But it was brought in gradually to show the level of training a student had received so far. And with that, let’s look at the belt system and rankings in Aikido in detail, one at a time. 

aikido black belt belt

Adult Belt System

There are two classes of belts in the adult belt system in Aikido: kyu and dan. The former used to be shown by white (and is still shown by some) but is now shown by different colors depending on the level of kyu while the latter one is only shown by a black belt. 

A white belt can’t be achieved instantly in Aikido. It takes some days of practice before the Sensei decides whether you’re ready or not. Your Sensei has to permit you as well, to test for a particular rank or belt. Tests can only be done periodically and after the trainee has had some training. 

And therefore, you can not (and must not) rush through the process of testing. Here’s looking at each of the two belts of the adult belt system in Aikido in detail:

Kyu

This class is used to identify students who are yet to attain the dan status and obtained the black belt. According to their experience, they are further divided into ranks which begin from the 6th kyu and goes till 1st kyu. Yes, the ranks are obtained in descending order! 

The students who obtain kyu ranks wear a white belt (and as it led to confusion for many, brown, blue and belts of other colors are used as well by different institutions). 

There are further different degrees in this class which are as below:

6th kyu: Also referred to as rokukyo degree, this is the easiest one to obtain. You’re taught techniques including variations of kosadori (hand grab) like kosadori kotegaeshi, kosadori omote shihonage etc and other rolling, kneeling movements. 

5th kyu: Also called gokyu degree, you learn some standing techniques like shomen uchi ikkyo, shomen uchi irimi nage etc and the sitting technique of kokyu ho

4th kyu: Called the yonkyu degree, under this degree, you learn shomen uchi nikyo apart from the 5th kyu techniques. There are other optional techniques as well, like kata tori ikkyo, nikyo etc. 

3rd kyu: Also termed sankyu degree, apart from the 4th kyu techniques, you learn shomen uchi sankyo and nikyo, as well as optional techniques like munetsuki kote gaeshi, yonkyo katate tori etc. 

2nd kyu: Also called the nikyu degree, the techniques so far taught are taught under basic techniques only. Under optional techniques, there is hammi hantachi, jiyu waza and ushiro waza

1st kyu: Also referred to as the ikkyu degree, the techniques taught, so far, are practised and refined. This is the last kyu level and after this, the student progresses towards the dan category. 

Dan

This category accepts those students who’ve earned their black belts. Things become more complex here: training is more challenging, as well as the various techniques. Under this, students also have to attend two seminars annually. It is further subdivided into ranks on basis of experience and proficiency:

1st dan: Also called shodan, a student has to consistently train and practice for 6 years before reaching this level. Various unarmed techniques are taught under this, like thrusts, strikes and a variety of grasping forms (elbow, shoulder, wrists etc). 

2nd dan: This is also termed Nidan and it includes the techniques of the 1st dan as well as tanto-dori (defense against knife attacks) and futarigake (defense against attack by two persons). 

3rd dan: Also referred to as Sandan, this last rank takes years to reach and in many Japanese Aikido dojos, only fighters with 3rd dan are allowed to wear a black belt. All the techniques of 2nd dan are included, along with tachi-dori (defense against sword), jo-dori (defense against short staff), and taninzugake (free form practice: against multiple attackers). 

Degree/Level (Belt Color) Average practice required to pass the level
6th Kyu (White belt) 40 days
5th Kyu (White belt) 60 days after acquiring 6th Kyu
4th Kyu (White belt) 80 days after acquiring 5th Kyu
3rd Kyu (White belt) 100 days after acquiring 4th Kyu
2nd Kyu (Brown belt) 110 days after acquiring 3rd Kyu
1st Kyu (Brown belt) 120 days after acquiring 2nd Kyu
1st Dan (Black belt) 200 days after acquiring 1st Kyu
2nd Dan (Black belt with a thin gold stripe) 400 days after acquiring 1st Dan
3rd Dan (Black belt with red stripe) 500 days after acquiring 2nd Dan

Kids Belt System

There’s only kyu testing done for children in Aikido dojos. The motive behind this is to provide the children with an opportunity to test themselves, see where they stand in terms of their Aikido experience and training, under stress. This is done with the belief that the students will continue studying and practicing sincerely. There is also a belt-stripe system for ranking students who train only with weapons. 

There are many belts under this system and which are given as follows:

Yellow Belt: The first belt a young Aikidōka receives after initiating his/her training is the yellow belt. Under this, very simple movements are taught like irimi (entering into a technique), ukemi (receiving a technique), shikko (floor movement) etc. 

Orange Belt: Under this, relatively more advanced techniques are trained and tested, like kokyunage (breath throws), aikiotoshi (blending drop), ai hanmi (same stance), gyaku hanami (mirror stance) etc. 

Red Belt: Variants of kokyunage are taught under this, along with other techniques like shomenuchi ikkyo omote (pinning in response to a strike by the uke), morotedori ikkyo omote (pinning in response to a 2 hand grab) etc. 

Green Belt: A multitude of techniques are taught under this, like kosadori iriminage (throw in response to a grab), yokomenuchi ikkyo ura (pinning in response to an attempt to strike on the side of the temple), katadori kokyunage (breath throw against a shoulder grab), ukemi iriminage (receiving a throw) etc. 

Blue Belt: Techniques like shomenuchi iriminage (entering throw in response to an overhead strike to temple), katadori sokumen iriminage (throw in response to side shoulder grab), ushiro ryotedori kokyunage (breath throw in response to both hand grab from behind) etc. are trained and practiced under this. 

Purple Belt: Under this, various techniques like ryokatadori aikiotoshi (blending drop in response to both shoulder grab), ryotedori tenchinage (heaven and earth throw in response to both arm hold) etc. are practiced. 

Brown Belt: From this stage onwards, the number and complexity of techniques increase. Here, a plethora of techniques are taught and tested including ryokatadori kokyunage (breath throw in response to both hand hold), kosadori kotegaeshi (throw against a cross hand grab), katatedori ude kime (arm throw in response to one hand grab) etc. 

Advanced Brown Belt: To obtain this belt, students have to practice and test for various techniques like katatedori kotegaeshi (throw in response to one hand grab), tsuki kokyunage (breath throw in response to a fist strike), katadori iriminage (throw against shoulder grab) etc. 

Junior Black Belt: For acquiring this belt, students train for several techniques including ryokatadori iriminage (throw against both hand hold), tsuki kotegaeshi (throw in response to a fist strike) etc. 

Intermediate Black Belt: Under this, many techniques are practiced and assessed like munedori iriminage (throw in response to a chest grab), randori-ryakatadori (defense against hand hold by multiple opponents), suwari waza kokyudosa (a seated technique where partners face each other in kneeling position) etc. 

Advanced Black Belt: The last belt amongst the Youth Belt System in Aikido, it has several complex techniques including randori-tsuki (fist strike by multiple opponents), tantodori-shomenuchi (taking away knife from a front head strike position), unspecified attacks and defenses etc. 

Belt ColorAverage training duration required to obtain the belt
Yellow Belt15 hours of practice
Orange Belt25 hours of practice after acquiring the yellow belt
Red Belt35 hours of practice after acquiring the orange belt
Green Belt50 hours of practice after acquiring the red belt
Blue Belt75 hours of practice after acquiring the green belt
Purple Belt100 hours of practice after acquiring the blue belt
Brown Belt150 hours of practice after acquiring the purple belt
Advanced Brown Belt200 hours of practice after acquiring the brown belt
Junior Black Belt250 hours of practice after acquiring the advanced brown belt
Intermediate Black Belt350 hours of practice after acquiring the junior black belt
Advanced Black Belt500 hours of practice after acquiring the intermediate black belt

Which Belt System is the right one? 

As you might know, there are different belt systems followed by different institutions. 

For eg, originally and still in some institutions of Japan, there are belts of only two colors, black and white. Aikido Federation has several sublevels within the 6th kyu

The Aikido Federation of Singapore has a different system where there are 12 kyu levels in total. The belt system used in Western institutions differ for adults and children, the latter having belts of many distinct colors which are also different in different institutions. 

Hence a question might arise naturally from this: which one is the best? Which ranking or belt system should one follow? 

The answer is none of the above. The belt system was never intended to be brought in by the founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba, as Aikido’s philosophy is based on having no competitions, sacrificing the ego of a being, and respecting everyone. 

It was to keep up with the times that the belt system was introduced to Aikido, but even now, Sensei tests the mindset and character of a pupil and not just the various techniques he/she has learnt. 

And therefore, it doesn’t matter where you get your training from or which belt system is being followed. It’s just a way to signify your experience and training level. 

How to progress through belts in Aikido?

There are three primary methods for an Aikido practitioner to get promoted and progress through various belts:

Examination

For every kyu class as well as for each dan rank, there are minimum requirements which are to be fulfilled, like hours or days practiced, techniques learnt etc. Of course, these vary from institution to institution. Some also have written examinations. 

Honorary

A student can be given an honorary promotion (depending on the dojo) for introducing Aikido to new people and spreading the word about it. 

Combination of the above two

In this case, both methods supplement each other for promoting a student. 

Are rankings important in Aikido?

Keeping with the spirit of Aikido, there is no competition of any sort whatsoever and the ranking is entirely based on the Sensei’s observation of the student and his/her development in several fields. 

The Sensei observes various criteria like:

  • Physical skill (how the pupil executes/receives the techniques: nage and ukemi
  • Mind-body coordination
  • Spirit (vitality, dedication towards their training) 
  • Personal attitude (humility, respect towards others, personal hygiene) 
  • Stamina (physical endurance according to age and body history) 
  • Overall character

And hence, ranking, while having its importance undoubtedly, doesn’t have a lot of value in Aikido. It just shows how long you’ve been practicing it and how proficient you are in it now. 

What’s more important in Aikido is the growth in character you’ve had, the techniques you’ve learnt etc. The real meaning lies in these things, the quality of your training, the intensity of it and what all you’ve discovered so far. 

Belt System:

Eugene Hardy

Eugene is a professional Muay Thai fighter, with several years of experience. Also, a black belt holder. He actively participates in tournaments and provides training to his students. Eugene started this blog to share his experiences with Martial Arts.

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