The idea of a belt ranking system was created in 1883 by Kano Jigoro, the founder of Judo.
Kano based this system on the Japanese board game ‘Go’, which is similar to chess.
Go used a Dan system to differentiate between the skill levels of players with 9 Dan being the highest rank.
The word ‘Dan’ can literally translate to level or grade.
Kano was inspired to make the Dan belt black after he saw swimmers in 1886 wearing a black ribbon around their waist to show their advanced rank.
Back then the belts were not the same style you would wear today.
They were instead a wide obi as people used to practice in kimonos, and would typically be in only white or black.
It wasn’t until 1907 when Kano invented modern Keikogi (white practice uniform) when the belts began to resemble the ones we know of today.
While common in martial arts, the Dan system is also used in different cultural arts.
These include flower arranging, tea ceremonies, and Japanese calligraphy to indicate different levels of mastery in the skill.
The time it takes to achieve the next Dan in martial arts normally correlates to the number of the Dan.
For example you will spend 1 year at first Dan, 2 years at second Dan and so on.
Following this pattern it will take 45 years to reach the highest Dan.
Many martial arts will see that acquiring a black belt doesn’t necessarily mean you are a master of that art, more like a trained student.
Dan In Karate
Before you reach any Dan in Karate you must first achieve all the Kyu belts.
These are the colored belts that indicate you are a junior student in Karate.
It typically takes about 5 years since starting karate to reach the first Dan.
Karate is one of the early adopters of the belt system from Kano Jigoro.
Like Judo, Karate doesn’t traditionally indicate what your exact Dan is on your belt.
- First Dan – Shodan
- Second Dan – Nidan
- Third Dan – Sandan
- Fourth Dan – Yondan
- Fifth Dan – Godan
- Sixth Dan – Rokudan
- Seventh Dan – Nanadan – Last Dan to be given as a promotion from a test. The rest are honorary and merit based
- Eighth Dan – Hachidan
- Ninth Dan – Kyudan
- Tenth Dan – Judan
Unlike most martial arts, the highest Dan you can reach is not colored black. In Karate the red belt is reserved for the highest rank.
How To Reach 10th Dan In Karate
10th Dan is awarded to those who have given a lifetime to Karate, around 60 years of training.
These are usually reserved for founders of different karate styles, or who have exceptional skills.
Dan In Taekwondo
While being a Korean sport, Taekwondo got introduced to Dan due to Japanese influence.
Similar to the Kyu is Karate, Taekwondo has the Geup (sometimes referred to as Kup) which are the colored belts before the black belts.
Your Dan will typically be represented on your belt by the amount of golden stripes sewn into it.
Taekwondo is seen as the martial art where you can achieve your first Dan in the shortest amount of time, usually about 3 to 5 years.
Despite this fast progression, Taekwondo puts heavy emphasis on when you reach black belt is when you properly begin to learn Taekwondo.
The ‘Poom’ rank is something that is unique to Taekwondo.
It is awarded to someone who is 15 or under and so they can’t achieve a Dan.
When they reach 15 their Poom rank will translate into the corresponding Dan.
- First Degree Black Belt – Il dan – Also known as a Junior Instructor
- Second Degree Black Belt – Ee dan – Also known as a Instructor
- Third Degree Black Belt – Sam dan – Also known as a Assistant Master
- Fourth Degree Black Belt – Sa dan – Also known as the first Master rank
- Fifth Degree Black Belt – Oh dan
- Sixth Degree Black Belt – Yuk dan
- Seventh Degree Black Belt – Chil dan – Also known as a Grand Master
- Eight Degree Black Belt – Pal dan
- Ninth Degree Black Belt – Gu dan – Also known as a Chief Master
How To Reach 10th Dan In Taekwondo
Also known as Sip Dan, the 10th Dan in Taekwondo is actually an honorary rank bestowed by the Kukkiwon (World Taekwondo Federation) for notable contribution to Taekwondo.
Below are some of the people who have been given 10th Dan either in their lifetime or posthumously.
- Un Yon-Kin – Founder of the World Taekwondo Federation
- Byeong Roh Lee – Jido Kwan
- Chong Soo Hong – Moo Duk Kwan
- Moo Yong Lee – Moo Duk Kwan
- Il Sup Chun – Jido Kwan
- Nam Suk Lee – Chang Moo Kwan
- Chong Woo Lee – Ji Kwan
The Kwan (literally meaning building or hall) are the 5 original schools, and the 4 major schools created after World War 2, which are responsible for the creation of Taekwondo. Taekwondo is actually a fusion of the different arts which each Kwan taught.
Kano Jigoro Belt Ranking
By now you should know that Kano Jigoro created the first belt system, but you might be surprised to find out what his Dan is.
You will find references online that will say he got 11th Dan or even 12th Dan. The truth is, he has no Dan.
By profession Kano Jigoro was an educator.
He worked to get Judo and Kendo as parts of school curriculums and was a pioneer of international sports, being the first Asian member of the International Olympic Committee.
Kano Jigoro gave out Dan, but he didn’t receive them. In 1883 he gave Shodan to two of his senior students, replacing the previous method of licenses or secret scrolls.
There are 2 statues of his likeness to celebrate his lifetime.
One is placed outside the Japan Sport Olympic Square in Shinjuku, Tokyo. The other is also in Tokyo at the Kodokan Judo Institute.