Karate Belt Levels

Karate Belt Levels Explained

Karate belt levels indicate the level of understanding or expertise a student, or teacher of the martial art has achieved. Beginners in the art wear a white belt, while very advanced students, including instructors, usually have a black belt ranking. The black belt signifies a student has reached a very advanced stage of the art. There are usually several karate belt levels associated with being a black belt, and the actual color of the belt at the very highest levels is often a color other than black. A purely black belt normally signifies the initial level in the advanced stages of the art. As the black belt student gains experience and expertise, stripes, indicating higher levels will normally be added to the back belt, and the belt color itself may change at a given level.

Martial Arts Are Not Only For A Favored Few - Karate is a wonderful art to learn and participate in. Almost anyone can practice it, including both men and women, and children as well. It can of course be too physical for some, but there are other forms of martial art which feature many similar techniques though done more slowly, such as in tai chi, which is very popular among many older people.

Most of the time, karate moves are practiced against an imaginary opponent, or a set of different movements are strung together in what is known as a kata. A student, and the karate belt level that student achieves, is graded not only on physical prowess but the mental aspects of the art as well. One the one hand, a student will learn powerful moves, punches and kicks designed to fell an opponent with a single blow. One the other hand, to achieve one of the higher ranks, a student must learn calmness of mind, the ability to "empty" one's mind and become one with one's surroundings. It is not uncommon for an athletically talented student to fail to achieve black belt status because he or she has not fully grasped the mental aspects of the art.

Working to achieve higher karate belt levels does not mean learning how to beat someone up more easily. One of the principle lessons of karate is, the best defense is to avoid a fight if you can. My instructor, a 5th Dan black belt, was fond of saying: “If you try to pick a fight with me, I'll walk away. If you chase me, I'll run away. If you catch me, too bad for you!”

Numerous Forms Of Karate - There are many different schools of Karate besides Japanese, Okinawan, Korean, Shotokan, and Seishin Ryu. Many schools and instructors teach forms of karate that are an amalgam of several styles. Consequently, the number and colors of karate belt levels can vary widely from school (dojo) to school. In virtually all schools however, the beginner starts white belt, advances thorough several other colors, eventually attaining a brown belt, and from there works towards a black belt.

Levels And Colors Vary - In some schools the only colors may be white, purple, green, brown and black. Other schools have yellow or blue belts as well. The white through brown belt levels are referred to as "Kyu" levels, with the lowest (white) being 10th Kyu, and the highest (brown) being 1st Kyu. Once one has gained a black belt one has advanced to the "Dan" level and at this level is often given a title such as Sensei (teacher) or Shihan (master). One starts at the 1st Dan level as a black belt, and work up towards higher Dan level, perhaps as high as 10th Dan, though few ever graduate beyond 4th or 5th Dan. Only the true masters of the art achieve higher Dan levels.

Since the both the quality of instruction and the instructors set of standards can vary from school to school, the colors of karate belt levels are not always indicative of the true abilities of the student, though in a given school or system, the green belt is going to be more accomplished in the art than the white belt, and much less so than the black belt. In some schools one could achieve black belt status in a year, while in another school or learning a different style of karate, a student may labor for several years and perhaps not achieve black belt status at all. One bit of irony about learning karate is, in practicing fighting, sometimes called sparring, sometimes called play fighting, it's safer to fight against a black belt, who has learned to control and pull his or her punches, than against a green belt who has not mastered that element of the art and may mistakenly deck you with a punch or kick.