One of the most iconic things about karate are the belts. Even those who have never tried karate for themselves know that every student has a belt with a certain color and that those colors have meaning – but what exactly is the order and what does each color mean?
Here we are going to go through the belt order in karate so you can understand what each color represents and what it means for the student.
So, let’s get started!
How Many Belt Colors Are There In Karate?
In karate, each student follows a ranking system that has different levels or ‘kyus’ depending on the style of karate you are following.
Each kyu represents the level of mastery you are at for the style of karate you are learning and they range from beginners to masters.
Each school will follow a different kyu system which means that there could be different levels of experience for each style of karate. However, a general rule is that the bottom rank are called beginners, the kyus are numbered, and the masters are known as ‘dans’.
A way for your ‘kyu’ to be represented to others in your karate school is for the belt of each ‘kyu’ to be a certain color.
However, each school can change the color of each kyu’s belt as they see fit and as a result, there is no definite correlation between the color of the belt and the kyu it represents.
That means there is no ‘correct’ order for the colors of the belts but the kyu system roughly stays the same. There are some common, unspoken rules that most karate schools follow.
For example, beginners wear white belts and masters wear black – but which colors are used for the kyus inbetween and which kyus they individually represent can change from school to school.
This is because originally, there were only two belt colors – white and black. White belts were worn by students and black by masters and teachers, but over time more colors and kyus were introduced to help rank the students.
The most common colors used for these ‘in between’ belts include green, yellow, orange, red, blue, and purple.
Some dojos and schools even use dashes on belts that are the same color to help create more kyus – so it’s very difficult to give a definite order of belts in karate.
So, let’s take a look at three popular belt orders a lot of karate schools follow!
The Japan Karate Federation Belt Order
In the Japanese Karate Federation, the belt order and their respective kyus are as follows:
Beginners wear white belts to distinguish them as just starting out when learning karate, following the old traditions of beginners wearing white belts.
From there, the kyus are numbered in reverse order so the higher the number, the lower the karate student is in ranking.
For the fourth kyu, the belt order goes green, yellow, blue, then orange. As a student progresses in their kyu, they must first go through all the belt colors first before moving up into the next kyu.
For the third kyu, the belt order is brown then green.
For the second kyu, the order is brown, purple, then gray.
And finally, the top level is dan which is black belt.
This is a common belt order used in Japan but is rarely seen outside of the country. However, some hardcore karate dojos may follow this system even in the United States.
The KyokushinKaikan Belt Order
For the KyokushinKaikan system, beginners also start out as white belts, again following the old traditions.
From there, each two kyus share a belt color which means that one color belt may mean that you are in one of two different kyus.
The first color and lowest ranking above beginners is orange. This belt represents both 10 and 9 kyus.
From there, 8 and 7 kyus are represented by a blue belt, 6 and 5 kyus are represented by a yellow belt, 4 and 3 kyus are represented by a green belt, and 2 and 1 kyu are represented by a brown belt.
Finally, the dan ranking are given black belts to distinguish them as masters of karate.
The Okinawan Karate Family Belt Order
The final school we will be looking at the Okinawan Karate Family belt order.
Beginners again start off with white before moving onto the lowest kyu, 10 kyu. They are then given a yellow belt to represent their kyu.
Moving up to 9 and 8 kyu will reward them with an orange belt, and moving up to 7 and 6 kyu will gain them a light blue or turquoise belt. 5 and 4 kyu ranking karate students wear dark blue or navy belts, and 3 kyu wear dark green. 2 to 1 kyu students wear brown.
Next, there is a unique ranking known as ‘Jun Sho Dan’ which translates to ‘pre’ or ‘half’ dan. This means that this kyu acts like a halfway point to becoming a full dan.
The belt for this kyu is black with a white stripe running horizontally all the way around, splitting the belt into two.
After that, the dan belts continue to be black but there are additional dashes to mark out the level of the dans. Instead of all dans wearing a single black belt like with other belt orders, this order distinctively marks the more advanced dans from the newer ones.
So, 1 to 5 dan wear solid black belts while 6 dan are marked with a yellow stripe on either end of the belt. When the dan moves up to 7 dan, they gain another stripe and so on until they reach 10 dan where they have five yellow stripes on either side of their belt.
So, to sum it up, there is no correct karate belt order.
Each school and dojo can use their own colors and kyus although there is an unspoken rule regarding beginners and dans that pretty much every karate school follows.
While beginners are sure to always wear white belts and dans wear black belts, the inbetween kyus often wear different colors at different stages depending on their school’s rules.