Most people are aware that Japanese martial arts tend to follow a color-coded ranking system, used in the form of belts worn by the students. Each belt represents a level of training and skill.
In order to work out which colored belt is the highest ranked by karate students, we will need to look into the history of the sport, along with other factors that can affect the student’s ranking.
In this article, we will look at all these factors, and find out which belt is the highest in karate.
A Brief History Of Karate Belt Colors
The Karate belt system (see also ‘Can You Skip Belts In Karate?‘) was first established in the 1920s to assist retain the values that karate was originally based on, as well as to help standardize the qualifications needed to progress.
Certain types of Japanese martial arts used a three-tier hierarchy with certificates as prizes before coloured belts were introduced. These certificates were awarded to the pupils in the form of titles.
Karate outfits were updated in the early twentieth century. They were inspired by judo practitioners’ uniforms, but with minor modifications to allow for greater flexibility during the sport.
For the first time, the uniform came along with a thin, colored belt; originally, the only colors used were white, brown, and black, inspired by the colors used in the ancient Chinese strategic board game, ‘Go’.
Mikonosuke Kawaishi, a judo teacher, began introducing further colors of belts in 1935 to encourage his students to attain higher success rates.
This practice was also adopted by those who done karate, and from then on, colored belts were used as a ranking system.
The colors that we now know karate belts to be are vastly believed – yet, not confirmed – to come from the analogy that they became darker and ‘dirtier’ as the karate student gained more experience.
The darker the belt, the more experienced the karate pupil had become.
This would explain why the ranking system starts with white, the cleanest and purest color, and ends with black, the darkest color.
The Karate Belt Ranking System
To find out which karate belt is the highest, we will first need to look at the several factors that contribute to a student’s level of skills, and how they are ranked.
The Many Colors Of Karate Belts
There are many types of ranking systems used by different karate schools, meaning that the order of the colors sometimes fluctuate depending on where the student is being taught, and who they are being taught by.
However, the order of the colors tend to remain fairly constant, with those with less experienced having lighter colored belts, and those with more experienced progressing towards darker colors.
White (Est. 3 Months)
The white belt depicts the blank slate that a brand-new karate student has at the start of their training.
Yellow (Est. 6 Months)
When a beginner student demonstrates that they are exposing their minds to the discipline of karate, they are given the yellow karate belt.
Orange (Est. 6 Months)
The orange belt is given to a student when they begin to develop a solid understanding of karate’s primary techniques and principles as they go up the ranks.
Green (Est. 9 Months)
The first phase of a student’s journey is completed once they achieve the green belt, and they can then move on to the more advanced belts.
Blue (Est. 12 Months)
Students should prepare to train on their upper bodies at the blue belt grade, with a stronger focus on endurance, agility, and adaptability.
Purple (Est. 12 Months)
The advancement to a purple belt marks a significant turning point as the student progresses towards more challenging phases of training.
Red (Est. 12 Months)
A red belt acknowledges that the pupil is getting more threatening now that their skills are considerably greater, as this color is generally associated with danger.
Brown (Est. 18 Months)
The brown belt is awarded to the student who has progressed significantly since beginning the sport, and is ready to advance to the final level.
It is typically believed that achieving the black belt is the final stage, but in reality, this is just the beginning. Although the student has now mastered their karate skills, they can still continue to progress through the sport.
The Dan Grades Of Black Belts
Once a student has earned their black belt, they can then continue to reach higher levels of skills if they continue with their training.
While the black belt is the highest color to be reached – at least, in most karate schools – the student can then progress to achieve dans.
The dan grades are the most advanced out of all the ranking systems in karate, and the higher one rises in these ranks, the more powerful and respected one becomes within their sport.
Here are the titles given to each of the 10 dan grades:
- Shodan – 1st dan
- Nidan – 2nd dan
- Sandan – 3rd dan
- Yondan – 4th dan
- Godan – 5th dan
- Rokudan – 6th dan
- Nanadan – 7th dan
- Hachidan – 8th dan
- Kyudan – 9th dan
- Judan – 10th dan
Once a person has earned their 1st dan, they are then referred to as a ‘yudansha’. This is the title given to anyone who has received a 1st dan or above.
Adding Stripes To Karate Belts
Along with colors, karate students can earn stripes to add to their belts to represent their progress throughout the sport.
Stripes can be earned at any stage/color, and some schools will require that a student has earned a specific amount of stripes before they can advance to the next colored belt.
Each colored belt represents a fresh start, and will require new stripes to be earned.
Typically, the maximum number of stripes a student can earn is 4 for each belt, although this can vary, again, depending on the school.
The Highest Belt In Karate
As we have mentioned throughout this article, the ranking system will vary depending on the school and the practices being taught.
In most, if not all, karate schools, the black belt is considered to be the highest color that a student can reach.
So, in terms of color, the highest belt is typically the black belt.
However, this is not taking into consideration the number of stripes earned, or the dan level that the student has reached.
While the ranking systems vary in several schools, it is generally accepted that the highest achievable colored belt in karate is the black belt.
Those with a black belt can progress further, however, and continue to achieve dan grades.
They can also continue to earn stripes to their maximum level. A karate student will never truly conclude their training, and will continue to learn as long as they are practicing.
We hope you found this article helpful.
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