Karate Belt Order – Ranking System & Belt Colors & Meaning

karate belts, karate belt order

Have you ever wondered about all those different colored belts in a Karate class?

The visual cue about a student’s progress is handy. Plus, it provides a source of pride and a sense of accomplishment for Karate students as they move through the ranks and are awarded new colors. 

But where did the idea of colored Karate belt levels come from? What is the correct Karate belt order and what is the meaning behind them all? Let’s find out!

How Many Belts in Karate?

There are 9 belt colors in Karate: white, yellow, orange, green, blue, purple, red, brown, and black. Though most people are only familiar with the two most common belt colors, there may also be more than one level of the same belt color in some karate belt ranking systems.

As the lowest belt in Karate, the white belt is where everyone starts. The largest cohort of students have worn this belt and many people never make it past this point.

The highest belt in Karate, and thus the most coveted, is the black belt. Only about 3-5% of people who started training in Karate will complete their journey to earning a black belt. 

Earning a black belt in Karate is a prestigious honor. It takes years to earn your black belt. Most people don’t realize the hours of sweat, tears, and even a little blood that go into earning this prize.

But when you receive your black belt…you’ll know. And the send of pride and accomplishment is profound.

Of course, you’ll also know that you’ve only just begun. Earning a black belt isn’t the end of the road in Karate, it is the beginning of a lifelong journey.

karate belt, history of karate belts

The Origins of the Karate Belt

It might surprise you to know that the whole idea of using different colored belts to denote a student’s rank isn’t that old. Though used in many types of martial arts, the belt ranking system is just a little older than Karate itself. 

(If you’re now wondering how young Karate is, check out this post to learn more about Karate’s origins. Spoiler: Karate is technically less than 100 years old!)

The Legend of the Karate Belt’s Origin

There is a legend that you may have already heard about the origins of the Karate belt. 

It is said that students were given a white belt when they began their training. Over the years, the belt would become stained and dirty with sweat, dirt, and blood. Students were told never to wash their belts. Superstition said that in doing so, they would “wash off” their experience.

Once the belt turned black, the student was considered a true martial artist.

The legend makes the belts sound both awesome and ominous. Of course, the real story is a little more practical.

The Real History of Karate Belts

For centuries in Okinawa, the birthplace of Karate, martial artists practiced in secret. Wearing a colored belt, or any symbol of their progress or involvement in martial arts, was a dangerous idea. 

The idea of a colored belt system actually began with Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo, in the late 1880s. Before that, students were awarded certificates only as they progressed through the ranks. 

Jigoro Kano got the idea from Japanese swimmers who wore a black ribbon around their waist to symbolize their more advanced status. He started giving out belts in his Judo school. White was for beginners, black was for teachers and advanced students. 

From Judo, the system migrated to Karate, Tae Kwon Do, and other martial arts styles. 

In the early 1900s, a few more colors were added to the system. And it wasn’t until about the 1930s or 40s that the full-color Karate belt system was designed. 

Karate Belt Colors

There is no one-size-fits-all ranking system for the Karate belt colors. Different styles of Karate (and sometimes schools within the same style) use different belt systems. The colors of the belt are typically the same, but the colors go in a different order and some systems drop a color or two. 

Sometimes stripes are added to show progression within a rank before graduating to the next rank. For example, you may remain a white belt for several months as you begin training. However, as your skills develop you’ll earn 1, 2, or even 3, stripes on your belt before graduating to the next color. 

Shotokan Karate belt ranks go in this order: white, yellow, orange, green, purple, brown, and black. There are two levels of purple and three levels of brown belt in this system. 

Other common color orders include:

  • White, yellow, orange, green, blue, purple, red, brown, and black
  • White, red, yellow, orange, green, blue, purple, brown, and black
  • White, yellow, green, orange, red, blue, purple, brown, and black

The notion of the same white belt turning to black as a symbol of a student’s progress is mythical. However, the idea of the colors progressing from lighter to darker was done for a practical reason. 

The colored belt levels in Karate came into more widespread use during and after World War II. At that time, life was hard and money was scarce. Instead of awarding students a new belt for each rank, the same belt was dyed a darker color to conserve resources. 

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Karate Belt Order

So, how did they pick the Karate belt colors? What does each color mean?

Did a bunch of Karate masters get together one day and toss their favorite colors into a hat, drawing them out until they had enough colors?

Nope.

Like everything else in Karate, there is thought and intention behind the colors chosen. They represent the life cycle of a plant from its humble beginnings to its seeming end. 

Here’s how it goes. 

1. White Belt

The first belt in Karate, of course, is the white belt. It represents the beginning. As the little plant bursts through the soil, it is greeted by the bright, white light of day.

2. Yellow Belt

As the plant adjusts to the light, it deepens into the golden hue of sunlight. The student is being warmed and stretched in the pursuit of their goals.

3. Orange Belt

As the sun grows hot, life becomes more difficult for the little plant. In the same vein, training becomes more difficult for the student. 

4. Green Belt

The little plant has survived the hot sun and is now sending forth new growth. Green leaves and shoots are spreading out from the plant. The student is growing and becoming more proficient in the basics.

5. Blue Belt

The plant is continuing to grow and stretch up towards the bright blue sky. The student’s knowledge is expanding and growing.

6. Purple Belt

The day is drawing to an end, the blue sky darkens to purple. The student’s knowledge is deepening and becoming more profound.

7. Red Belt

The final rays of the sun are red and hot on the blossoming plant. Training is intense but the student has come so far.

Red is also a symbol of danger. The student is becoming proficient enough that they are a danger to their enemies.

8. Brown Belt

The darkness is intensifying and the plant humbly bows its head back towards the soil from which it came. The seed is maturing and ripening as the harvest nears. The student is beginning to reap the rewards of all their toil and training.

9. Black Belt

Darkness falls and the plant dies. But in its place, there is a new beginning. The student has learned so much, including that there is so much more to learn. The first stage of their martial arts journey is complete, but the journey has just barely begun.

Black Belt Degrees in Karate

The journey doesn’t stop once you earn a black belt. There are 10 degrees of black belt, each one requiring years of intense training to attain. 

For example, in 2011, 98-year-old Keiko Fukuda became the first woman to earn a 10th-degree black belt in Judo. This honor is held by only a handful of others around the world. Needless to say, you must dedicate your life to training and teaching martial arts to ever reach this level. 

karate belts - black belt in karate

Karate Belt Order in Different Karate Styles

Shotokan Karate Belt Order

Shotokan Karate follows a dedicated belt system to rank a student. The karate belt system uses a variety of coloured belts to determine an individual’s skill level. With each passing level, the colour of the belt gets darker. Many also believe in the theory of the white belt becoming dirty over time and turning black, representing a black belt, the best rank. 

Mentioned below is the belt ranking system in Shotokan Karate:

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

Kyokushin Karate Belt Order

The students of the Kyokushin discipline are awarded belts once they’ve demonstrated techniques for the appropriate belt levels. These can be mastering certain kicks, strikes, or katas. The schools have become splintered over the years and the belt rankings may vary. Ask your instructor for the belt rankings at your school. The following list contains the commonly used belt ranking system:

LevelBelt
MukyuWhite Belt
10th KyuOrange Belt
9th KyuOrange Belt with Blue Stripe
8th KyuBlue Belt
7th KyuBlue Belt with Green stripe
6th KyuYellow Belt
5th KyuYellow Belt with Orange Stripe
4th KyuGreen Belt
3rd KyuGreen Belt with Brown Stripe
2nd KyuBrown Belt
1st KyuBrown Belt with black stripe

Kyokushin Black Belt Order:

Name BeltNumber of Gold Stripes
Shodan1st Degree (Dan) Black1
Nidan2nd Degree (Dan) Black2
Sandan3rd Degree (Dan) Black3
Yondan4th Degree (Dan) Black4
Godan5th Degree (Dan) Black5
Rokudan6th Degree (Dan) Black6
Shichidan7th Degree (Dan) Black7
Hachidan8th Degree (Dan) Black8
Kyūdan9th Degree (Dan) Black9
Jūdan10th Degree (Dan) Black10

Shorin Ryu Karate Belt Order

Once you start training Shorin Ryu, your desire to get better and avail higher ranks will definitely increase. To assess your growth, there’s a ranking system based on belt colors. 

Here’s the belt ranks for Shorin Ryu Karate:

ColorOrder
White BeltBeginner level
Yellow Stripe Belt8th kyu
Yellow Belt7th kyu
Orange Belt6th kyu
Green Belt5th kyu
Purple Belt4th kyu
Brown Belt3th kyu
Brown Belt2th kyu
Brown Belt1th kyu

As soon as you reach the first kyu level, the next goal is to get the black belt. On average, it takes 4 to 6 years for an individual to reach that level. But that isn’t the ultimate goal, though. Black belts are further categorized into Dan’s grades.

Here’s a Dan grades system:

ColorOrderMinimum time to achieve
Black Belt1st Dan4-6 years
Black Belt2st Dan2 years after 1st Dan
Black Belt3st Dan3 years after 2st Dan
Black Belt4st Dan4 years after 3st Dan
Black Belt5st Dan5 years after 4st Dan
Black Belt6st Dan No such estimated time.
Black Belt7st Dan Same goes for it.
Black Belt8st DanThis stage is the toughest and takes even 5-10 years. 

Wado Ryu Karate Belt Order 

The belt ranking system for Wado Ryu Karate is as follows:

LevelBelt ColorKata
Hachikyu – 8th KyuYellow BeltFirst grade. Kihon, no Kata or basic Kata
Sichikyu -7th KyuOrange BeltTo earn the belt the kata is Pinan Nidan
Rokyu – 6th KyuGreen BeltThe Kata for this rank is Pinan Shodan, Pinan Shandan
Gokyu – 5th KyuBlue BeltPinan Shodan, Yondan
Yonkyu – 4th KyuPurple BeltStudents have to pass this Karate test Pinan Godan, Yodan for this rank.
Sankyu -3rd KyuBrown Belt- 1 stripePinan Godan
Ni Kyu-2nd KyuBrown White Belt- 2 stripesKushanku
Ik Kyu-1st KyuBrown Black Belt-3 stripesNaihanchi

After you have achieved these levels, students step further into Black ‘Dan’ levels. Black belt has 10 different levels starting from Shodan, Nidan, Sandan, Yondan, Godan, Rokudan, Nanadan, Hachidan, Kudan, to lastly Judan.

Goju Ryu Karate Belt Order 

The belt order followed for Goju-ryu Karate is mentioned in the table below:

Belt ColorRank
WhiteUngraded
White with tab10th kyu
Blue9th kyu
Blue with tab8th kyu
Yellow7th kyu
Yellow with tab6th kyu
Green5th kyu
Green with tab4th kyu
Brown3rd kyu
Brown with tab2nd kyu
Brown with 2 tabs1st kyu

Uechi Ryu Karate Belt Order

The belt ranking of Uechi Ryu Karate:

RankBeltRequirements
Jukyu -10th KyuWhite Belt
Kyukyu – 9th KyuWhite Belt With Green StripeSanchin, Exercises
Hachikyu – 8th KyuWhite Belt With Two Green StripeKanshiwa, Sanchin, Exercises
Sichikyu -7th KyuWhite Belt With Three Green StripeSanchin, Exercises + Kanshiwa Bunkai
Rokyu – 6th KyuWhite Belt With Green BarKanshu, Kotikitai, Kyu Kumite And All Above
Gokyu – 5th KyuGreen BeltSparring And All Above
Yonkyu – 4th KyuGreen Belt With Brown BarSeichin And All Above
Sankyu -3rd KyuBrown Belt With Black StripeStrong Sparring And All Above
Nikyu – 2nd KyuBrown Belt With Two Black StripesSeisan, Seisan Bunkai And All Above
Ikkyu – 1st KyuBrown Belt With Three Black StripesKenyuikai Kumite And Above

Shuri Ryu Karate Belt Order

Like most karate ranking systems, Shuri Ryū also has the belt system. Trias himself laid out the rules of the ranking system in “The Pinnacle of Karate”. 

The ranking system is as follows:

OrderColor of the BeltTime
7th KyuWhite3 weeks
6th KyuYellow2 months
5th KyuGreen6 months
4th KyuBlue15 months
3rd KyuPurple2 years
1st-2nd KyuBrown2.5 years
1st-10th KyuBlack4 years

Shito Ryu Karate Belt Order

The ranking of belts starts from 9th Kyu, which means the beginner level to Shohdan/1st dan. For better insight, we have mentioned the belt ranking system of Shito-Ryu in the table below.

GradeColour Of The Belt Minimum Training + Karata To be Performed
9th Kyowhite + yellow tip 3 weeks (taikyoku Jodan)
8th KyoYellow 2 months ( taikyoku Chudan) 
7th KyoOrange 4 months (taikyoku Gedan)
6th Kyo Green 9 months (Gekisai Ichi)
5th KyoBlue 15 months (Gekisai Ni)
4th KyoPurple 2 years (Saifa)
3rd KyoBrown 2.5 years (Gekisai Ichi + Ni/Saifa)
2nd KyoBrown + Black tip 3 years (Gekisai Ichi + Ni/Saifa)
1st Kyobrown + 2 black tip 3.5 years(Gekisai Ichi + Ni/Saifa)
ShodanBlack 4 years ( min. Age 13 years) (Sanchin)

Chito Ryu Karate Belt Order

Chito Ryu Karate has a belt system that runs from white to black with multiple levels in between. Here are details on how this system works:

Rank Belt KataKumiteTime
13th KyuWhite4 weeks
12th KyuYellowKihon dosa ichi6 weeks
11th KyuOrange + White tipKihon dosa ichi2 months
10th KyuOrangeKihon dosa ichi3 months
9th KyuGreen + White tipKihon dosa ichi5 months
8th KyuGreenKihon dosa ichiJiyu kumite8 months
7th KyuBlue + White tipKihon dosa niJiyu kumite9 months
6th KyuBlueSeiken no migi hidariKihon kata ichiKihon dosa sanJiyu kumite1 year
5th KyuPurple + White tipZenshin kotai Kihon kata ni Kihon dosa yonJiyu kumite1.5 years
4th KyuPurpleShiho wariKihon kata sanShiho haiJiyu kumite2 years
3rd KyuBrown + White tipSeisanJiyu kumite2.5 years
2nd KyuBrownNiseishiJiyu kumite3 years
1st KyuBrown + Black tipBassaiJiyu kumite4 years
Dan RanksBlackChintoShiai5 years

After the black belt, there are still some grades that can be promoted, they are: Shodan, Nidan, Sandan, Yondan, Godan, Rokudan, Nanadan, Hachidan, Kyudan.

Your Martial Arts Journey

If you haven’t begun your own journey yet, you’ll start with everyone else — with a white belt. Should you choose to undertake this training, you’ll be in for a life-changing adventure. 

Looking for tips and advice along the way? Check out more about effective karate techniques

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Cara Koch

Cara Koch

Hello! My name is Cara, and I hail from the great state of Washington up there in the Pacific Northwest. While there, I trained for and earned my 1st degree Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do at the Bonney Lake College of Martial Arts. My interest in martial arts, however, didn’t wane. I hope you enjoy the content on The Karate Blog and are impassioned and empowered by what you read here.