Dec 10

How to Know What Belt You Are

You probably think it’s pretty easy to tell what belt or rank you are. And you’re right.

martial arts beltsBut there’s a little more to it than just the color that’s tied around your waist (see: How To Tie Your Belt).

In many martial arts systems, students wear either belts or sashes. Metamora Martial Arts uses belts, so that’s what we’ll stick with here.

Belts are divided simply as colored belts – kyu ranks – and black belts – dan ranks.

Within each of those, you can break down the ranks even further. For example, colored belts have multiple colors, and black belts have multiple degrees.

In our system, we use six colored belts at each stage. I will list them out here followed by how you would say it in Japanese.

  1. White (hachikyu)
  2. Yellow (shichikyu)
  3. Blue (rokukyu)
  4. Green (gokyu)
  5. Purple (yonkyu)
  6. Purple (sankyu)
  7. Purple (nikyu)
  8. Brown (ikkyu)

The Japanese numbering system for kyu ranks counts backwards from black belt. A brown belt, for example, is one step away from a black belt (ichi is one, so ikkyu is one rank), while a green belt is five steps away (go is five in Japanese).

Within each of the colored belts, we typically break it down even further. For example, white through green belts will earn three stripes on their belts before being promoted to the next one. In other words, white belts must earn three stripes before attaining a yellow belt.

Students earn these stripes by being taught and then practicing the requirements for each rank. Tests will be announced well in advance so that a student has a chance to earn a promotion.

Note that martial arts schools across the world have different belt systems in place, and ours is just one example.

Unlike colored belt ranks, the numbers go in sequential order starting at the dan ranks, starting from first-degree all the way through 10th-degree. I’m a nidan – a second-degree black belt – and ni is Japanese for two.

As a sign of respect, black belts should be addressed at least by using Mr., Mrs., Miss and then that person’s last name, unless they say otherwise. Many teachers prefer to be called by their teaching title. Frequently, you’ll hear this as “Sensei (first or last name here).” You may also hear such titles as joshu, deshi, kyoshi, hanshi, o’sensei, master, grandmaster, and more.

Tip: In Japan, this formal title is actually placed after the person’s last name. For example, one of our alumni is teaching in Japan, and is referred to as “Katch-sensei.”

Bonus tip: Some view referring to yourself as a sensei as being amateurish.

I will post a future blog that talks a little bit more about the history of the belts. This was meant as an introduction to belts and ranks, and I hope I’ve provided that for you.

Now that you’ve read a little bit more about our belts, do you have any questions? Leave a comment, as others may be wondering the same thing.

Adam Bockler

Sensei Adam Bockler is a 2nd-degree black belt in karate and the owner of Metamora Martial Arts. He's been in the martial arts since 2003, and has received instruction in tai chi chuan, Hsing-i chuan, judo, tae kwon do and XMA. Sensei Bockler was inducted into the 2014 USA Martial Arts Hall of Fame as Karate Black Belt of the Year. He is the communications manager for Float Mobile Learning.

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