The Karate Grading System
The grading system for Karate, like all Japanese, derivative martial arts is very formalised. In 1924 Gichin Funakoshi, founder of Shotokan Karate, adopted the Dan system from Judo founder Jigoro Kano, using a rank system with a limited set of belt colors. Kano himself adopted the Dan ranking system, which was invented by Honinbo Dosaku a professional go player in the Edo period. Dosaku valued the then highest title holder, Meijin at 9 Dan.
In modern Japanese martial arts, holders of dan ranks often wear a black belt. Dan ranks are still given in arts such as the strategy board games Go and Renju, the art of flower arrangement (ikebana)and tea ceremony. The character of Dan (段 dan) is used in Japanese to mean step or grade, and is commonly equated with degree. However, the origin of the Chinese character, pronounced duán in modern Pinyin, was used to mean “phase”. Dan rank is often used along with the lower rank system, Kyu(級 Kyū) rank. Kyu is a Japanese term used in martial arts, go and ikebana, such as Japanese traditional culture, and academic tests and in other similar activities to designate various grades or levels or class of proficiency or experience.
he use of belts to denote ranks were used by different athletic departments within the Japanese school system, most notably for swimmers, prior to their adoption by Kano. Karate, as we know also adopted the white Gi along the Judo lines.
In the Kyu/Dan system the beginner grades start with a higher numbered kyū (e.g., 10th Kyū or Jukyū) and progress toward a lower numbered kyū. The Dan progression continues from 1st Dan (Shodan, or ‘beginning dan’) to the higher dan grades. Kyū-grade karateka are referred to as “color belt” or mudansha (“ones without dan/rank”). Dan-grade karateka are referred to as yudansha (holders of dan/rank). Yudansha typically wear a black belt. Requirements of rank differ among styles, organizations, and schools. Kyū ranks stress stances, balance and coordination. Traditionally, speed and power are a condition of passing higher grades. The number of Kyu grades that apply vary from system to system – some having 10 kyu grades and some 8. Very occasionally, there may be a sub-division of the kyu grade into the ‘Mon,’ or ‘half grade’ reserved for Junior students.
The following is a typical division of kyu level belts and the associated colour:s
- 10th Kyu – White belt with red stripe
- 9th Kyu – Red belt
- 8th Kyu – Yellow belt
- 7th Kyu – Orange belt
- 6th Kyu – Green belt
- 5th Kyu – Blue belt
- 4th Kyu – Purple belt
- 3rd Kyu – Brown belt
- 2nd Kyu – Brown belt with white stripe (or black stripe)
- 1st Kyu – Brown belt with red stripe
In modern times, a dan-ranked practitioner of a style is usually recognized as a martial artist who has surpassed the Kyu, or basic, ranks. They may also become a licensed instructor in their art. In many styles, however, achieving a dan rank means that while one is no longer considered a beginner, one is not yet necessarily an expert. Rather it means that one has learned the basics.
The total number of dan ranks is style-specific (1st through 5th and 1st through 10th are common in Japanese arts). The lower dan grades can normally be attained through a grading examination or sometimes through competition. The higher dan grades usually require years of experience and contribution to the relevant martial art. This may be through instruction or research and publication. These grades can only be awarded by a higher-graded representative of the principal dojo or sometimes by a steering committee.There is no set achievement level that is universal. Ranking systems are specific to the school or style, so ranks do not necessarily translate across different martial arts styles. In fact, dan ranks do not necessarily indicate one wears a black belt. In certain martial arts such as iaido, kendo, or jodo, no external signifier of rank is worn, though it is by far the most common and recognizable symbol by the general public.
Wearing a black belt is a great privilege
A grade is a measure of the level of attainment of a Karate or Kickboxing student. Each grade is signified by a different coloured belt, starting with the White belt and progressing to Black. Below the black belt, grades are referred to as Kyu, Black belts are called Dan.
Gradings are formal assessments to review your progress in acquiring skills in the Art of Karate or Kickboxing. They may be considered to be like "milestones" in learning. It is a means of giving feedback and recognition for your child skills. Each grade is signified by a different coloured belt, starting with the White belt and progressing to Black belt. Wearing a black belt is a great privilege, and carries a deal of responsibility.
The belt system of ranking that you will find in most karate and kickboxing clubs is based on the original system created by the founder of Judo, Jigoro Kano. Unfortunately, that ranking system was never designed with children in mind. In particular, children learn differently, think differently, grow differently and are constantly evolving individuals (physiologically, anatomically, psychologically, developmentally etc.).
At Mosman Martial Arts Academy we teach children from 3 years upwards (most clubs start at 5 or, more commonly, at 7 years of age). Our Chief Instructors (Karate All Style NSW Champion, Sydney Karate Champion, ex World Champion and author of two Kata and Kumite referees exams for World All Styles Karate Championships) are acutely aware of the diverse and complex nature of child development. As such, the ranking system for karate students in our Academy reflect this.
Children's gradings need to be of a transitional nature. This is because, unlike adults, they are constantly changing. When an adult learns something, it is 'static' learning - what they can do today is similar to what they could do if they were to repeat it tomorrow. Change is slow with adults, it is rapid with children. When a child learns something, it is 'dynamic' learning - as their minds and bodies change, their depth of maturity and skills evolve radically.
The minimum amount time between moving from one grade to the next, up until brown belt (3rd Kyu), is 3 months. From brown belt to Brown & one white stripe (2nd Kyu) takes a minimum of 6 months, and a further minimum of 6 months must go by before reaching Brown & two white stripes (1st Kyu). At least 3 full years must pass before a student becomes eligible to grade for the Black belt.
These minimum times should more accurately be described by the number of hours a student trains at the Dojo. A student who trains only once a week will find it much harder to achieve the standard required. As students progress in their training towards being senior grades, they will see for themselves that this is far too little, and 4 hours a week becomes the expected hours for high grades (3rd Kyu and above). At least 2 classes a week are strongly recommended for consistency, especially since kids classes are 40 minutes long.
3 to 5 weeks before each grading Sensei will conduct an internal assessment. You will a confirmation email if you pass the assesment. Alternatively you can check if you name appears on the grading list on the notice board at Reception.
A grading form will need to be filled out and payed for at least 2 weeks prior to the exam.
There is a $55 cost for the Gradings ($85 for brown and black belt) covering the following:
If you are late for your exam, you will NOT be allowed to grade. All examiners have a schedule/timetable to follow for each grade group. All students are asked to arrive at the grading venue with plenty of time to spare and already wearing their gi (uniform).
- Kihon (basics) is just that. Remember all the punching and blocking you've done, up and down the Dojo floor, over and over again? That's all there is to it. You will be asked to perform different techniques (for example, downward block, stepping punch, upper-rising block) a number of times in front of the panel.
- Kata (from). Here you demonstrate the Kata you've been practicing.
- Kumite (sparring, only for experts) is where you show your ability to perform formal attacks and defences against an opponent. Once again, you've done this many times in the Dojo, paired up with a partner. Note that beginners (first belts) do not have any Kumite exercises to perform.