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Karate Belts Order UK - Gradings & Structure

Karate Belts Order UK - Gradings & Structure

Understanding Karate Belt Order and the History of the Grading System in the UK

Karate, a martial art that originated in Okinawa, Japan, has become a global phenomenon, appreciated for its physical, mental, and spiritual benefits. An integral part of karate's structure is its grading system, which is visually represented by the coloured belts worn by practitioners. In the UK, as in many parts of the world, these belts indicate the proficiency and rank of the karateka (karate practitioner). Here we will highlight the order of karate belts in the UK and the history behind this martial arts grading system.

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The Order of Karate Belts in the UK

In the UK, karate practitioners progress through a series of belts that signify their level of expertise and commitment to the art. Please remember different karate organizations may have slight variations in the belt order so it is always worth checking with your sensei first. An example of the martial arts ranking system of two organisations within the UK are:




10th Kyu



9th Kyu


White belt / yellow tip

8th Kyu



7th Kyu



6th Kyu



5th Kyu



4th Kyu

Purple / white stripe


3rd Kyu



2nd Kyu

Brown / white stripe


1st Kyu

Brown / two white stripes


Dan Grades

Black belt

Black belt


Dan grades typically wear a black belt. The black belt may remain plain for lower Dan ranks, but as practitioners achieve higher Dan grades, additional markings such as stripes or embroidered kanji (Japanese characters) may be added to indicate their specific rank within the Dan system.

1st Dan


2rd Dan


3th Dan


4th Dan


5th Dan


6th Dan


7th Dan


8th Dan


9th Dan


10th Dan



The History of the Grading System in Karate

The concept of a belt ranking system was not originally a part of karate. It was introduced to karate through the influence of judo. Here's a brief history of how the grading system came to be:

The Early Days of Karate

Karate as a martial art developed on the Okinawan islands, influenced by indigenous fighting styles and Chinese martial arts. In its early days, there was no formalized ranking system. Training was personal and individualized, often conducted in secret.

Introduction of the Kyu/Dan System

The formal ranking system in karate owes much to Jigoro Kano, the founder of judo. Kano introduced the kyu/dan ranking system in judo in the late 19th century. This system consisted of kyu (student) grades and dan (master) grades, which provided a structured way to measure a practitioner's progress and skill level.

Gichin Funakoshi, often regarded as the father of modern karate, adopted Kano's ranking system when he brought karate to mainland Japan in the early 20th century. Funakoshi recognized the benefits of the kyu/dan system for motivating students and providing clear goals. Initially, karate did not use colored belts; practitioners would simply wear a white belt, with black belts reserved for higher grades.

Evolution of Coloured Belts

The use of coloured belts to signify different kyu ranks began to spread in the mid-20th century. Different karate styles and organizations adopted their own variations of coloured belts, leading to the system we see today. The colours chosen for the belts were often symbolic, representing the journey and growth of the practitioner.

Significance of the Grading System

The grading system in karate serves multiple important purposes:

  1. Motivation: It provides clear, achievable goals for practitioners, keeping them motivated and engaged.
  2. Structure: It offers a structured path of progression, ensuring that students learn techniques and principles in a systematic way.
  3. Recognition: It recognizes and rewards the hard work and dedication of students, instilling a sense of pride and accomplishment.
  4. Standardization: It helps maintain standards within the art, ensuring that a black belt from one school meets a similar standard as a black belt from another.

The karate belt system in the UK, like elsewhere, is a testament to the art's evolution and adaptation. From its origins in Okinawa to its spread across the globe, karate has embraced the grading system as a way to honour tradition, motivate students, and maintain high standards. Understanding the order of belts and the history behind the grading system not only enhances our appreciation of karate but also deepens our respect for the dedication and discipline required to progress through the ranks. Whether you are a white belt just starting your journey or a black belt continuing to refine your skills, the belt around your waist is a symbol of your ongoing commitment to the art of karate.


Belt Representations

  1. White Belt (10th Kyu): The starting point for all beginners. It symbolizes purity and a blank slate, ready to absorb new knowledge and skills.
  2. Yellow Belt (9th Kyu): The first step of advancement, representing the seeds of knowledge starting to grow.
  3. Orange Belt (8th Kyu): Indicates further growth and a deeper understanding of basic techniques.
  4. Green Belt (7th Kyu): Signifies the development of skills and more complex techniques.
  5. Blue Belt (6th Kyu): Represents the sky and continued growth, with more advanced techniques being learned.
  6. Purple Belt (5th Kyu): Shows significant progress and a higher level of understanding and skill.
  7. Brown Belt (4th, 3rd, 2nd Kyu): Typically split into three levels, brown belts represent maturity and a deep understanding of karate principles.
  8. Black Belt (1st Dan and above): The pinnacle of basic karate training. Achieving a black belt is a significant milestone, but it also signifies the beginning of a deeper journey into the art. Black belts are ranked from 1st Dan (Shodan) to 10th Dan, with higher Dans representing years of dedication, teaching, and mastery.





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