October 27, 2020

Karate Belts Order & Levels

You may have never come across karate or what it entails but whenever the words ‘karate’ are uttered, the first image that pops in the mind is that of a man enveloped in a white attire with a belt tied around his tummy.

Well, unless you live in a cave!

You see, that ‘belt’ holds more significance than meets the eye – it reflects the expertise of its wearer.

Legend has it that the karate belt system originated out of fluke when fighters originally started off with a white belt but due to the all sweat and dirt from years of strenuous training, the belt got mucky and eventually turned black. 

Didn’t see that coming, did you?

Turns out, the tale is as absurd as it sounds considering the emphasis on cleanliness at any karate dojo. You won’t even be allowed to step foot in a dojo with a slight stain on your uniform, let alone with a belt that turned BLACK from all the rolling on the floor. 

The question remains: How did the ranking system come about? Read on to get to know the story!

History of the Modern Karate Ranking System

There existed no way to standardize a method to differentiate fighters with distinguished levels of skills. Most fighters did not have uniforms, let alone belts. All they wore was a kimono and a sash. This is because karate was not an art but a means of living – it was used as a tool for self-defense due to the tensions prevalent in Okinawa. Where a belt was used later, its sole purpose was to keep your pants from falling!

Teenager in silhouette practicing martial arts at sunset.

Experience and age were the only things that held value. How many years you trained as a karateka is what mattered – the older the better!

With age came respect, even if you were at the brink of dying!

The colored belts entered the show all thanks to Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo. In order to incorporate karate into the school and university curriculum, Jigoro introduced belts as a ranking system. This is how Judo became an Olympic Sport.

You can’t win in a sport that has no ranking, now can you?

This kyu/dan system was later adopted for Karate as well.

Karate Belt System

The karate belt system was designed to monitor the progress of fighters and reward the efforts of a true warrior. It is an indicator of where you stand as a karate practitioner.

A karate fighter’s journey is divided into two levels of ranking: Kyu (color belts) and Dan (black belts). We all know that someone who has earned a black belt in karate possesses an advanced skill set and training.

What we don’t know is that a black belt holder has earned his/her way through a series of color belts. The color belts are like a pathway to conditioning and improving the quality of your training. On the other hand, the black belts are like a stairway in which a fighter steps onto a new level, aiming for the top.

Simply put, the color belts are an indicator of your ability to move forth while the black belts lead you straight into the real game! 

The order of these belts is as follows, with proficiency increasing as you go down the list:

  • White Belt
  • Yellow Belt
  • Orange Belt
  • Green Belt
  • Blue Belt
  • Purple Belt
  • Brown Belt
  • Red Belt
  • Black Belt
karate belts order by color

Karate Belt Progression Timeline

Belts ColorMinimum time at the Belt
White3 months of active training
Yellow6 months of active training
Orange6 months of active training
Green9 months of active training
Blue12 months of active training
Purple16 months of active training
Brown18 months of active training
Red18 months of active training

Belt Colors & Objectives

If you are a fighter and have no clue what the orange belt you are wearing means or why it was given to you or why were you given an orange one rather than a purple one, you need to do some reading. But, the Good news? You don’t need to rummage through the internet to get your answers. This article has gathered everything you need!

So, let’s get to it!

1. White Belt

A beginner is handed a white belt – he/she does not EARN it! White color has always been symbolic of innocence, purity and naturalness in English and Japanese cultures. Quite fitting, because a karate fighter starts off with a sparkling clean slate and is oblivious to the art of aligning his body and mind to a purpose.

The white belt reflects the beginning of the journey of an unknowing amateur to a trained master. With true determination and a pure intention, a fighter reaches that level and progresses from the white belt.

Goals

  • To get started as a karate fighter
  • To develop a basic sense of the fundamentals of karate

 Minimum time at the belt

A white belt needs to train for a minimum of 3 months to get to the yellow belt.

2. Yellow Belt

The yellow belt is the first step toward progression. Just to be a little more dramatic, this belt is a true reflection of its color. It is often described as the first rays of the sun that hit the ground during the golden hour of dusk, representing the intense journey of a fighter that lies ahead!

Having crossed the baseline of karate by surpassing the white belt, a karate fighter is now pumped up with a sense of achievement and hope for the voyage ahead. His/her eye is on the prize!

Imagine being in constant scrutiny by your masters as you deliver harsh blows and then being acknowledged by them as they drape over your shoulder a new belt. Exemplary, isn’t it?

A yellow belt has now blended well with the basic karate principles and practices and have headway from being a novice. The fighter now starts adopting in his movements the true art of karate where he/she takes the leash of his/her body’s energy. It is all about taking control of your senses and then aligning them to a purpose.

Having had a firm grip on his/her stance, the fighter now learns to coordinate his/her mind and body for well versed and swift movements that hold purpose, rather than random street thrashing. The yellow belt molds the practitioner psychologically by introducing strikes that indulge both the mind and body.

Did you seriously think Kung Fu Panda meditated because he had nothing better to do? It is all about inner peace. You cannot be a legendary karate fighter if your body and mind are at war!

Goals

  • Further development into the basics of karate
  • Making use and controlling the body’s energy

Minimum time at the belt

Desperate to jump to the Orange Belt? You have got to stick for a minimum of 6 months.

3. Orange Belt

As the presence of the sun intensifies with the transition of rays from yellow to orange, the karate fighter has slipped more into the world of fighting. A step ahead of yellow belts, an orange belt now has an anchor more secure into the ground.

At this stage, a fighter has mastered the fundamentals of karate and has his/her mind in the game. His/her skills and training are both polished for strikes that are more swift.

Stability is what is achieved with an orange belt where the foundation is solidified to perfection. Basic stances, strikes, defenses and kicks are monitored and worked on. With an orange belt, you might feel like a karate pro with the magical blow you will be able to throw – if you knew better!

Goals

  • To learn the foundation that is laid for the proceeding levels
  • To learn the art of basic stances, strikes, defenses and kicks

Minimum time at the belt

6 months of rigorous training as an Orange Belt will get you to a Green Belt.

4. Green Belt

With a Green Belt commences the intermediate level journey of a fighter. Having refined the basic skills, a Green Belt wearer will now up his game!

The green seedling has finally begun to sprout and is ready to grow!

Now out in the real world, the fighter with a green belt encounters heftier tasks with a more serious attitude towards learning. Training sessions are elongated with a tough schedule. 

Gone are the old, easy going days!

Defense becomes a key skill to master on this level where the mechanics of the karate come to play. In this stage a fighter learns to block and hold strikes in order to protect himself in the ring. Intuition and sleek movements are incorporated that not only assist in stabilizing the fighter’s motions but also makes him/her more mindful of his/her opponent’s moves.

New and advanced strikes are introduced that challenge the fighter physically and spiritually and expect him/her to keep pace with the growing tactics.

The green one is not just about you, but also about who you have in the ring just inches away. You know when they say:

‘Keep your friends close and your enemies closer’.

Goals 

  • To adapt to a more demanding and serious karate routine
  • To learn the mechanical side of karate
  • Blocking and self-defense techniques are emphasised

Minimum time at the belt

In order to move forth from this demanding phase where the fighter is brutally challenged both mentally and physically, a minimum of 9 months of practice is required. After that, the Blue Belt awaits!

5. Blue Belt

Time to reach for the skies!

As reflected by its color, a blue belt constantly strives to reach the heights that lead up to the sky. Growth is the basis of this belt where the fighter is expected to advance to a new level. He/she is constantly layered with new lessons and techniques which he/she incorporates in his/her ‘already learnt’ routine moves.

Along with additional mechanics, the fighter is also enriched with a significant amount of knowledge of the art of karate. He/she blends in all the moves with all the knowledge to perfect his/her skills and grow tenfold.

That seedling has now journeyed toward flowering as it is fed abundantly with light and water both and has established a tougher exterior to face greater challenges!

A Blue Belt flows like water!

With fluidity like that of a blue belt, the karate fighter addresses challenges swiftly and is aware of what is coming. He/she sees with his/her eyes closed the danger ahead! Such fluidity has made the fighter fiercer and more self-reliant.

Sparring takes on a serious play with the fighter having greater control of his mind and body. The blue belt also shows more dominance and authority over his/her opponent while sparring. The fighter masters the art of countering.

You will have a tough time with a blue belt in the ring!

Goals

  • To learn how to strike in different situations
  • Stealth and fluidity are incorporated in the stances

Minimum time at the belt

The higher the belt, the more time it steals out of your days! To be capable enough to be awarded a prestigious blue belt, you will need to completely sacrifice a minimum of 12 months of your time.

Let me in you on a little secret: 

‘It’s all worth it’!

6. Purple Belt

A purple belt is worn by someone serious enough to handle the responsibility that comes with the belts that lie ahead. Specifically, the fighter claws his/her way to the Black Belt, with a deeper will to outdo his/her partners and reach the top.

You do not want to take them lightly, AT ALL!

The color purple represents the bold step up of the fighter as he/she steps into the advanced levels of training, very similar to the way the purple shades coat the sky once the transition towards dawn begins.

The karateka, at this stage, has crossed the threshold of adapting to different karate styles but is in full practical mode where expertise is tested. Highly proficient in standard blocks, grab defenses, punches, kicks and strikes, a purple belt strives for perfection. He/she runs his/her body through his/her mind and knows precisely the movement required to execute the desired block or strike.

If you spot a purple belt charging towards you, it is best you turn the other way because he/she will know just the move to put you down!

Goals

  • To master standard blocks and strikes
  • To have power over the body’s movement in order to achieve the desired move

Minimum time at the belt

In order to throw a punch like a true Purple Belt, you need to keep throwing pouches for at least 16 months.

7. Brown Belt

The karateka sets foot into adulthood and maturity as he/she welcomes a brown belt. A brown belt is often envisioned as a ripening seed that approaches harvest season. The fighter is only a few inches away from becoming the best.

He/she awaits to take a bite out of the fruit that is now in clear sight!

Such maturity is reflected in the skills of the karateka as they are polished so bright you might end up blind. The fighter is far from an amateur with the expertise and knowledge dripping from his stance. He/she is set to go through a 15×1 minute kumite.

‘Control’ is the brown belt’s most powerful weapon – control over his/her mind, control over his/her strikes and control over his/her opponent. At this stage, the fighter is faced with extremely resistant partners who do not go easy on him/her. This establishes in him/her the flair for combat and the absolute know-how of sophisticated fighting along with smooth self-protection tactics.

Within a brown belt, you see a true legend emerging!

The brown belt is the initiation of the distinction that is seen in fighters once they reach the top. This is because they train with black belts and contemplate closely their styles while developing their own along the way.

Goals

  • Mind and body both need to be in ultra sync
  • To be able to combat with proficiency no matter how brutal the opponent
  • To find their own unique style

Minimum time at the belt

Want to explore what you can offer as a brown belt that nobody else can all the while taking inspiration from your seniors? Give it your all for at least 18 months and reveal your true talent!

8. Red Belt

Red flags are all you should see when you come across a Red Belt!

Thanks to all the hell they can break lose through the tips and tricks they have learned along the way.

Apart from showing furiousness, red attributes to the nearing of the fighter’s journey towards the finish line just like the sun descends towards the horizon during a mind-blowing ‘red-infused’ sunset.

Greater responsibility settles on the shoulders of a Red Belt with the profound knowledge he holds. The fighter is expected to exhibit greater self-control and a defying discipline for all to learn from.

Dedication exudes from a Red Belt in the same way blazing fire oozes out of a dragon!

Goals

  • To learn how to reflect confidence in his/her moves
  • To be creative and practical in the ring

Minimum time at the belt

After 18 months of dedicated training as a Red Belt, no one can stop you from getting that black belt.

9. Black Belts

Coming on to what you all have been desperately waiting for: THE BLACK BELT!

The black belt, be it any, is considered the apex for a fighter’s journey by many people. This is when darkness settles right after the sun disappears and a phoenix (the fighter) is born! This sweet but harsh voyage from a white to a black belt makes one a master from a learner.

This is a hard earned transition from being ignorant and sloppy to becoming wise and skillful.

As if ALL this was not enough, the journey doesn’t end here for a karateka!

The black belts (dan) pave way for another journey – yet another mountain to hike. In true words, the struggle of a fighter never ever ends, exactly the reason behind him being called a FIGHTER!

While taking further steps toward evolution, a Black Belt is perfectly capable of both seeking and giving guidance. With his exemplary physical and mental conditioning, a Black Belt is knee deep into the karate world.

Goals

  • To enter into the world of real fighting and become legendary
  • To learn the art of self-awareness
  • To dive deeper into the secrets of karate
  • To engrave in him/her the tenets of karate

The real summit is the last of the ten back belts i.e. the Ju Dan, so stay tuned!

Sho Dan (1st Dan)

Consider the Sho Dan as an inauguration ceremony into the world of wiser fighters. 

In this first stage, the fighter works on the basics of karate

Ni Dan (2nd Dan)

In the second stage of the black belts, the fighter takes a step forward towards refining those fundamental skills and gaining an insight of what they entail.

San Dan (3rd Dan)

With this stage, the karateka has developed proficient skills and masters the basics of the karate he/she has learned.

Do you see how slow and time taking these techniques are? It literally takes a fighter 3 solid belts to be sound on the BASICS!

Yon Dan (4th Dan)

Along with further working on the skills, the karateka now steps foot into the realm of applications where he gains hands-on experience of the events that follow in a ring.

Go Dan (5th Dan)

The fifth dan gives the fighter enough time to develop formidable skills along with a deeper view of their applications.

Roku Dan (6th Dan)

Roku Dan is the belt where the fighter’s moves are flaunt-worthy!

He multi-tasks and dives deeper into the applications of the skills taught.

Nana Dan (7th Dan)

You can only imagine how marvellous the skills of a fighter are at the seventh black belt!

His commendable moves give his/her journey a pathway to deeper understanding.

Hachi Dan (8th Dan)

Scared to know what a fighter is capable of at this step?

You should be!

This is because at this belt, the karateka has complete know-how of all the mysteries and secrets that come part and parcel with such a hefty responsibility.

Kyu Dan (9th Dan)

A Kyu Dan is like a solid wall you can never cross!

Imagine The Wall in Game of Thrones and you will know exactly what I am rambling about.

The fighter now possesses exemplary skills.

Ju Dan (10th Dan)

A round of applause for the incoming legend!

A true Black Belt now turned legend, is worthy of all praises and respect. A Ju Dan is the carrier of an unconquerable spirit and his/her rank is above all.

His/her mind, body and soul are now the assets of the karate world!

Throughout these black belts, the fighter gives all his time and energy in mastering martial art skills with stealth along with tenets. Tenets are what distinguish a fight between two karateka from a brawl on a roadside.

With this package, a fighter acquires an unconquerable spirit!

Black Belt LevelMinimum time at the BeltAge Requirement
Sho Dan12 months of active training11
Ni Dan2 years of active training19
San Dan3 years of active training22
Yon Dan4 years of active training26
Go Dan5 years of active training32
Roku Dan6 years of active training38
Nana Dan7 years of active training45
Hachi Dan8 years of active training53
Kyu Dan9 years of active training62
Ju Dan10 years of active training72

How Important Are Karate Belt Rankings?

The belt ranking system helps maintain the hierarchy of the system, giving credit to a fighter where it is due. It would be highly unfair to place fighters of the same age or with the same number of training years all in the same plane, don’t you agree?

Some people tend to grasp a technique within two days while the others might take two years!

A ranking system organizes fighters according to their skill set and takes them higher with their improvement and progression. It is a standard system to keep the requirements in check which in turn gives the karate system integrity and credibility.

One of the most obvious pros of having a ranking system is the incentive to learn and push yourself to the next belt. Everybody needs a little appreciation every now and then!

The Bottom Line

Always remember! Do not let a belt define you. Running after belts in order to get to the black belt should not become a race for you. A rank is not a means to an end but is an honor you achieve through dedication and hard work.

A belt should not be your ultimate goal. Let the belt signify self-awareness and growth that karate bestowed on you!

So, which belt are you on?

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.

View all posts by Eugene Hardy →

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *