What are karate belt levels

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child karate student
Karate belts mark progress on a journey to maturity
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Karate belt levels show skills progression in this martial art

Learning martial arts can change your life, but it's frustrating when you can't tell if you're progressing or if your skills have plateaued. Karate belt levels were adapted from Judo to give students and instructors a way of measuring progress. Today's system is similar to Japan's and includes 20 steps in all.

From the student's perspective, the belt system gives you something tangible to work for whether you're an adult or child learning. When you're feeling too tired to go to class, determination to reach that next rank is enough to get you out the door. As you rise through the ranks, the belt boosts confidence on off days and serves as a reminder that learning takes time.

Levels indicate rank and ability. The first 10 are the minor and called Kyu. Outside of Japan these are each a different color. Inside Japan different styles typically use black, brown and white only.

Students at the minor levels aspire to achieve a black belt, the first rank at the Dan level. Advanced students continue to gain knowledge while also sharing what they know and helping others with their practice. Those who intend to become instructors themselves must first rise through the Dan system to earn certification.

Origin of the colors

The specific color for each level was not selected arbitrarily. The "dirty" myth goes back to a time before students purchased a new belt for each level. They always started with a white one and if they practiced long and hard enough it changed colors, eventually turning black.

The other, more believable, origin of colors is that a student's first white one was repeatedly dyed as she improved over time. The order gets progressively darker  for the practical reason that light colors get darker as you dye them.

A closer look at karate belt levels


White is the beginner with no skills or knowledge in the art. Students must all begin at the beginning.

Gold / Yellow

Gold or Yellow is the second step. The exact color may vary by school as some (gold, yellow and orange) in the system have changed in recent years. The second rank indicates overall awareness that the student has potential to grow. This is where students develop their basic skills and learn about their body. You'll discover muscles you didn't realize you have and will start noticing improved balance and hand-eye coordination.


The third color symbolizes a rising sun, a new day. Flexibility and upper body strength significantly improve. The student begins consciously working harder in class and enjoying it because he feels in better shape and has a stronger sense of well being. This is where control comes into play, where he doesn't show exhaustion, discomfort or pain.

Blue / Purple

Blue or purple is the color of ambition, symbolic of the sky. The student is more assertive as she learns to focus and concentrate her power. This is the first rank that delves into the psychological element of mind-body coordination. This is also the final beginners rank before karate becomes a part of her life and environment.


Green is the first of the advanced karate belt levels. Students become far more serious and begin training with advanced students.


Brown is an interesting step because the student begins finding ways to express himself through his technique and combinations. His personality and practice begins to merge.


Black is made up of all colors so it embodies the deepest knowledge the student attained at every minor level. Black belt is what many students aspire to, but it's not the highest level. It's only the beginning of the 10 advanced Dan ranks.

As with the other martial arts, karate teaches self discipline, mental strength and fortitude - on top of impressive combat skills. Karate students learn early on that the different colors are not a destination, but a marker of progress along their journey to maturity.


Kreimer's Karate Institute


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