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.
Other Okinawan teachers also adopted this practice. In the late 1800s, even Kano had no external differentiation between yūdansha (black belt ranks) and mudansha (those who had not yet attained a grade). Kano began the custom of having his yūdansha wear black obi (belts) in 1886. These obi were not the belts karateka and jūdōka wear today—Kano had not invented the judogi (judo uniform) yet, and his students were still practicing in kimono. They wore the wide obi still worn with formal kimono. In 1907, Kano introduced the modern jūdōgi and its modern obi, with white and black belt ranks.
The 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.
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.
1st Dan Shodan 初段
2nd Dan Nidan 二段/弐段
3rd Dan Sandan 三段/参段
4th Dan Yondan 四段
5th Dan Godan 五段
6th Dan Rokudan 六段
7th Dan Nanadan 七段
8th Dan Hachidan 八段
9th Dan Kudan 九段 )
10th Dan Judan 十段
Traditionally, there is a ‘time served’ requirement for Dan grades as with Kyu grades, although in the case of Dan grades this is measured in years, not months and, for ease of remembering, the grade a person is going for is the same as the number of intervening years, since the last grade;
1st Dan to 2nd Dan – min 2 years
2nd Dan to 3Rd Dan – min 3 years
3rd Dan to 4th Dan – min 4 years and so on…..
In most Karate systems, it will at 4th Dan that the last ‘physical’ grading is taken. Subsequent gradings must be time served with continuing service and Association recommended and endorsed. The system is open to gross abuses, unfortunately.
The highest dan ranks are sometimes reserved for the founder or leaders of a style and only high ranking students can be promoted to them. This has led to upper level ranks becoming extinct in some arts. For example, in judo there are only seven living tenth-level dans in the world and only nineteen have been promoted to the rank since its inception. In other styles the dan ranks are not the highest level that might be attained, with instructor certification and judge/judgment authorization being understood as higher-level or more sophisticated.
In certain styles, shodan implies that all the basics of the style have been mastered. At sandan the student is deemed capable of teaching independently as a teacher or instructor, often called sensei. Minimum age and time in rank are factors affecting promotion. In Japan, the use of belt colors is related to the age of the student. Some clubs will only have black and white, others will include a brown belt for advanced kyū grades and at the elementary school level it is common to see a green belt for intermediate levels.
The Grading Syllabus
There are few other sports/pastimes, that have such a complex, sophisticated and potentially difficult system by which to progress through the two ranking systems.
Testing consists of demonstration of techniques before a panel of examiners. This will vary by school, but testing may include everything learned at that point, or just new information. The demonstration is an application for new rank (shinsa) and may include Kata, bunkai, self-defense routines, tameshiwari (breaking), and/or kumite (sparring). Black belt testing may also include a written examination.
Impact Karate & Fitness Centre’s grading awards for the year 2012:
Impact Karate & Fitness Centre’s grading awards for the year 2013:
Impact Karate & Fitness Centre’s grading awards for the year 2014:
Impact Karate & Fitness Centre’s grading awards for the year 2015: