What is a karate black belt

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What is a karate black belt and what do you do to earn the right to wear it

What is a karate black belt? How does one achieve it? And once you've attained the highest mark, has both your mental and physical learning come to an end? Let's find out below.

Kyu Ranks

To answer the first question, we must understand the basics. A student -- or initiate -- must go through ten levels, known as kyu levels. These will include mastering different and diverse skill sets as you move through the belts: white, orange, red, yellow, green, purple, and brown. These correspond to each rank you attain.

Depending upon classes, location, and club chosen for training, there may be slight differences in methods and even colors (or combinations) ascribed for the different levels. Case in point: the University of Minnesota Shotokan Club offers less colors in an effort to save college students some money in the process. But, in essence, fighters will progress from the white toward darker variations as they learn higher level skills and this won't change no matter which club or institution on which you decide to enroll.

The kyu levels progress backwards, so at kyu rank one, the practitioner may then test for his or her first black belt. These requirements must be met before moving into the next phases.

Dan Ranks

The USA National Karate-Do Federation's Dan certification program -- based off of the World Karate Federation's guidelines -- offers insight into the ten dan levels which can be attained by kyu "graduates."

The Dan ranks will count upwards; hence, you will be starting as a first degree black belt, or shodan, and working your way up from there. The levels include:
  • Shodan (1st dan) level
  • Nidan (2nd dan) level
  • Sandan (3rd dan) level
  • Yondan (4th dan) level
  • Godan (5th dan) level
  • Rokudan (6th dan) level
  • Sichidan/Nanadan (7th dan) level
  • Hachidan (8th dan) level
  • Kyuudan (9th dan) level
  • Judan (10th dan) level
To find out specific age requirements and skill sets necessary for each level, head over to the USA Karate website. There, you can click on Member Resources and then move the cursor down to Dan Certification. A PDF will open giving the reader insight into a whole wealth of information -- testing protocol and requirements -- for practitioners.

For example, the shodan 1st dan level ranking requires candidates to be at least 16 years old and able to perform different Kata and Shitei techniques in order to progress to the next rank. At the godan 5th dan level, candidates must be at least 30 years of age and have spent at least 5 years in the previous level (yondan). They will need to show their knowledge for a variety of skill sets, as well as pass a written exam that includes a 1 hour essay on the principles and history of the sport.

Highest Levels Attainable

For complete information, head over to the USA Karate site to find out more on all ten levels. According to the University of Minnesota Shotokan Club site, the levels beyond a 5th dan ranking offer more in the way of political postings than anything else. With levels six through nine, candidates will learn about secrecy, humility, charity, morality, and matters of both the heart and spirit.

These are levels that take many years to fully accomplish, with the minimum age requirement for the hachidan (8th level) dan being 55 years old. To attain the 10th level (judan) is an amazing accomplishment of both mind and body. To do so, one must be chosen from a group of eight- and ninth-degree karate black belt holders for this final achievement.

Thus, to earn your stripes can be a lifelong challenge that test mind, body, and spirit. But, in the end, the hard work, dedication, and will to be the best pays off -- You are, quite simply, a master.


Livestrong.com: The Levels of Karate Black Belts

UMN.edu: Belt Ranks.

USAnkf.org: USA Karate

Above photo attributed to Spirit-Fire

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