In many Asian martial arts, the color of the martial artist’s belt expresses the wearer’s skill and rank. In judo, a Japanese martial art that centers on throwing and catching, there are a combined 16 belt levels. There are six colored-belt levels designated grades and 10 levels of degrees for black belts. White is the universal color that symbolizes a novice practitioner, while black denotes a specialist with fluctuating degrees. The greatest rank in judo is the 10th-degree black belt.

Let´s go back in time for just a minute.

Back in the days before Jigoro Kano created Judo, there was no kyu/dan ranking scheme in the martial arts. A more traditional way of recognizing achievement was the presentation of certificates or manuscripts, often with the secrets of the school inscribed. Kano started the modern rank system.

In 1907, Kano introduced the modern judogi and its modern obi. Nevertheless, he still only used white and black belt ranks. The white outfit symbolized the values of innocence, avoidance of ego, and simplicity. It gave no visible indication of any social class so that all students began as equals. The student begins empty but fills up with knowledge.

Professor Kano was an educationist and used a hierarchy in setting learning objectives for Judo students, just as students typically pass from one rank to another in the public school system.

The Judo rank system represents a sequence of learning with a program and a corresponding grade indicating an individual’s level of knowledge. Earning a black belt is comparable to a graduation from high school or college. It indicates you have completed a basic level of proficiency, learned the key skills and can perform them in a functional manner, and you are now equipped to continue with Judo on a more sober and advanced level as a professional. Of course, the rankings also serve as a progress sign towards the latest objective of judo which is to enhance the self not only physically but morally as well.

The modern times.

Mikonosuke Kawaishi is ordinarily considered as the first to include various colored belts in Europe in 1935 when he started to teach Judo in Paris. He felt that western students would manifest greater improvement if they had a noticeable system of many colored belts acknowledging accomplishment and providing regular incentives.

Grades and Degrees.

In judo, colored-belt ranks are designated “kyu” in Japanese and black-belt ranks are designated “dan”. There are six grades ranked in descending numerical order, with the first grade being the last before promotion to black belt. There are commonly 10 black-belt degree ranks in ascending numerical order, though there is no limit to that number.

Belt Colors.

Depending on the country and the school’s judo association/federation, there are different colored belt levels. White is the universal belt color that outlines a beginner. As the judo practitioner progresses through the six grades or kyu ranks, he will wear colored belts that include yellow, orange, green, blue, purple, brown and black.

Promotion terms for each rank change according to the sensei and the national association that you are affiliated with. There is no global standard for each rank, although it is commonly accepted that a black belt has had numerous years of preparation and can perform at least the nage-no-kata, the gokyo-no-waza and the newaza techniques.

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