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Grading play a large part in measuring the progress of a Karate student.

Each Grading is made up of three elements:

Kihon (Basic Techniques)

This is where the examiner will ask the student to perform a series of fundamental techniques so that he can see if they are done correctly.

Kata (Pre-arranged Movements)

A Kata is a set of pre-arranged movements which demonstrates blocking and striking against an imaginary opponent. There are 26 kata in the Shotokan system. Students are expected to learn a new one for each grading up to 1st Kyu level. Beginner kata is very simple and consists mainly of just one type of block and punch. Advanced kata is far more complicated and is made up of open handed strikes, different kicks and even jumping techniques. 

Kumite (Sparring)

At beginner level this is a set of pre-arranged punches and blocks. For senior grades it involves free sparring.

Like any progressive exam system, the gradings become harder the further the student progresses through the belts. The student must demonstrate to the examiner that they have trained hard and reached the correct standard between each belt before they will be awarded the next grade.

If your goal is simply to have fun, get fit and meet new people, then progress through the belts will not be your primary motivation. Please note that students are always encouraged but never forced into taking a grading.

Try to remember that Karate is for life. It is not a race and your personal progress should never be considered as such. Karate is a journey in the pursuit of perfection of both technique and character.

Kyu Grades

The Kyu ranks start at 10th Kyu (White Belt) and proceed up to 1st Kyu, the rank just before 1st Dan black belt. The belt system is explained in detail later on in this section.

Dan Grades

These ranks are granted to individuals who have cultivated their minds and bodies through years of training in Karate-Do. The Dan ranks start at 1st Dan (black belt). 

The Belt System

The belt system used in Karate-Do was not always as it is now. Early in the history of Shotokan Karate, there was no real concept of belt colour. There were only two types, white and black. A karate practitioner’s belt was simply something worn around the gi.

Unlike the gi, which is always kept in pristine condiion, Okinawan dogma stated that the belt was left unwashed as it contained the fighting spirit and soul of effort put into training. Effectively, a white belt would just get dirtier over time and eventually give the appearance of being black. This could mean that someone who had been training for two years would often wear the same belt as an absolute novice. Only highly proficient and long standing Karate students would have belts that were literally black.

It later became practice for a new black belt to be presented to a student whom the teacher thought to be highly skilled. When Master Funokoshi brought Karate to Japan from Okinawa, he introduced a green and a brown belt to structure the progress from beginner to those deemed highly skilled. The belt system was later modified by Master Nakayama to include a number of other colours that allowed a more structured progression.

As Karate was becoming more of an international art it had to appeal to as many people as possible. The people of Japan were more patient and repetitive in their Karate training. Due to the differences in culture, the western world predominantly wanted to learn a lot in a short time and wanted to see evidence of progress. The coloured belts offered short-term goals to suit those people looking for quick results.

The order of coloured belts is often between associations with the exception of white belts for novices and the brown belts prior to black. This is the current progression of coloured/Kyu grades:


Colour of Belt

10th Kyu White
9th Kyu Orange
8th Kyu Red
7th Kyu Yellow
6th Kyu Green
5th Kyu Purple
4th Kyu Purple + One White Stripe /
3rd Kyu Brown
2nd Kyu Brown + One White Stripe /
1st Kyu Brown + Two White Stripes //
Shodan 1st Black Belt



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