The belt (or ranking) system is one way of recognizing a student’s experience and accomplishment throughout their training in the martial arts. There is a long history of the development of our belt system. At Full Circle Martial Arts, the belt system in use was greatly influenced by Jigoro Kano, founder of judo, and originator of a similar ranking system. Many articles can be found in text books and on the web for a more thorough historical perspective.
Kyu, a Japanese term, is used to denote beginner grade. Each grade has a correlating number and belt color. While the grade and color are not fixed, most schools implement a similar system. The system counts down from 10 kyu (white belt) to 1 kyu (brown belt with black stripe). After that a student reaches dan or black belt ranking, and the system counts up.
New students begin at the level of white belt (10 kyu). Students are expected to progress at a pace commensurate with their ability and desire, and in general will take a grading exam every three months. During those three months, class attendance is monitored and students are expected to attend a minimum of 24 classes. Intermediate awards for children students in the form of colored stripes are added to their belts as they progress. These stripes are “earned” for reaching a proficiency level acceptable to the instructors. These proficiencies include a white stripe for basics, blue stripe for kata (forms) practice, and red stripe for sparring drills.
A new student having completed three months training, met the attendance requirements, and in the case of children earned their stripes, will be invited to test. Upon a successful grading with the rest of the class in a formal setting, the student is awarded their next rank. This includes a new belt and a certificate with their grade. This process continues all the way through purple belt, where the guidelines increase to 6 months and 48 classes. The additional time between testing is necessary to prepare the students for advanced ranks and ultimately their black belt rank.
- White belt (10 kyu)
- Yellow (9/9b kyu)
- Yellow w/Black Stripe (8/8b kyu)
- Orange (7/7b kyu)
- Green (6/6b kyu)
- Purple (5/5b kyu)
- Purple w/Black Stripe (4/4b kyu)
- Brown w/White Stripe (3/3b kyu)
- Brown (2/2b kyu)
- Brown w/Black Stripe (1/1b kyu)
- Black Belt (first dan)
After a student achieves 1st kyu rank (brown belt with black stripe), that student has earned the right to test for their black belt rank. Black belt ranks are denoted by the term dan, and similar to the term kyu, means grade or stage of development. Black belt rank is counted in ascending order. A new black belt is a first dan. This is synonymous with the term first degree black belt. The next rank a student could attain would be second dan, or second degree black belt, etc.
Attaining a black belt is a significant plateau. A typical student can reach this milestone in 4 to 6 years, depending on their commitment to the training, ability and time off. Although karate is not a team sport, it is virtually impossible for any student to reach the black belt level without constantly training in the company of others. Those who achieve the milestone develop a bond with their fellow students and the instructors akin to a band of brothers. This bond helps motivate and invigorate each persons development as there will surely be obstacles to overcome during the training process. While many on the outside see the black belt as the end of the journey in martial arts, those who practice and study come to realize that this is just the beginning.
At Full Circle Martial Arts we recognize ten Dan levels. The ten Dan levels are awarded in the following order starting from the lowest rank, Sho Dan (1st Dan) and going to the highest rank Ju Dan (10th Dan):
Ni Dan or 2nd Dan
San Dan or 3rd Dan
Yon Dan or 4th Dan
Go Dan or 5th Dan
Schichi Dan or 7th Dan
Hachi Dan or 8th Dan
Ku Dan or 9th Dan
Ju Dan or 10th Dan
Training and time in grade requirements for progressing through the ranks is generally 2 years to qualify to move to 2nd dan from 1st dan, 3 additional years to 3rd dan from 2nd dan, and so on.
Students grading up through 5th dan rank require a physical component as part of their exam. Students achieving these levels are often some of the most highly skilled in the dojo as they are in their physical prime. Ranks beyond 5th dan may be awarded without the need for a physical element to the exam as determined by the association’s governing body. In lieu of the physical component, a student’s commitment to the school, teaching others, growth of the organization, martial arts related research and other factors are considered.
Full Circle Martial Arts’ name was chosen in some part based on the experiences of it’s most senior members and instructors. Upon reflection, we started out wearing a white belt. Through much hard work and sweat, we rose up through the ten kyu (color belt) ranks ultimately passing our grading; we are “black belt” at last. A new process begins, as we wear this belt for the remainder of our martial arts career. After countless trainings and years passed, our belts stained with sweat and blood, tied and untied a countless number of times, we look down and notice that all the black coloring has ultimately worn off. Our belt is now white again. We have come full circle, and are best prepared to share our experiences with others. These are the sensei, or the “One’s that go before you”, at Full Circle Martial Arts.