black karate belt tied across someone's waist
What Does a Karate Black Belt Really Represent?

Karate is a form of Japanese martial arts with a long history dating back several centuries. The word “karate” means “open hand”, which signifies hand-to-hand combat.

Much like other forms of martial arts, karate today has a ranking system that indicates the skill level of its wearer. If you’ve heard of karate black belts, you’ll probably know that this is the highest ranking possible. But what does the road to achieving this black belt look like?

In this article, we explore all the details around the different karate grading systems and discuss the black belt as well, so that you can have a deeper understanding of the ranking system involved in this profound form of martial arts.

What is a karate belt called?

In karate, practitioners wear a “dogi” or “gi”, which is their uniform or exercise outfit. However, what holds this “gi” together is an “obi” or a karate belt. These belts come in different colors, representing the skill levels of the practitioner.

If you are interested in the origin of karate belts, it’s worth noting that colored belts were introduced around the 1800s by Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo. In the tradition of karate belts, black and white belts were previously the norm. The white ones were meant for students while the black belts were reserved for instructors.

However, several other colors were added in the 1930s by other forms of martial arts practitioners as a way of recognizing the skill levels of the students. What is more, these colored belts offered a way of distinguishing between beginner, intermediate and advanced students.

How many belt colors are there in karate?

In short, there are nine solid color belts in karate with each color representing a different level of skill and experience. Beginners start with white while expert practitioners culminate in a black belt. However, there is more than meets the eye when acquiring a black belt. That’s because there is more than one black belt level in karate. We’ll cover this in some more detail below. And now, without further ado, here are the belt colors and their meaning in karate you should know about:

  • No belt: An absolute beginner starts without a belt. In essence, they are considered a blank slate, ready to acquire martial arts knowledge.
  • White belt: This belt rank is achieved after the student learns the basics of karate. As the first rank, it symbolizes that they are a real karate student, who is at the beginning of their martial arts journey.
  • Gold belt: After being introduced to a more advanced curriculum, that includes a classical form, the gold belt is awarded. It symbolizes light or the fact that the student is open to facing new challenges, techniques, and methods.
  • Green belt: The green belt comes next and it represents growth and progression. At this stage, the student will be introduced to sparring or fighting with controlled contact.
  • Purple belt: Representing the sky’s colors at dawn, karate students who receive the purple belt are considered intermediate students.
  • Blue belt: This belt represents the sky and is a representation of students aiming to refine their skills. Their knowledge of karate will be more advanced and they will have mastered some of the basic techniques. In addition, this belt is also about increasing one’s speed and power, while mastering new moves.
  • Red belt: Often called the “self defense belt”, it signifies the strength of the sun, basic and intermediate techniques have now been mastered. Students with a red belt are now at an advanced level.
  • Brown belt: This belt shows a student who is maturing in their martial arts training. The color represents a mature and ripened seed and students are ready to enjoy the fruits of their efforts.
  • Black belt: Achieving the rank of black belt can take anywhere from three to five years or more. It signifies that the student has moved up the ranking system, achieving an important milestone in both their mental and physical experience. Students who wear a black belt are considered teachers to others in karate techniques and philosophy. However, it is not the last rank that one can learn.

In addition to the already mentioned belt colors, it’s important to note that all the belt levels in karate, apart from the white one, can have dashes on them to indicate further progress within the karate belt ranking system.

How can you get a black belt in karate?

Having covered the basic karate belt order, we now move on to how you can get a black belt in karate. Normally, the process takes around five years of dedicated training, focusing on wisdom, spiritual growth, and physical ability.

As part of the testing and black belt requirements, students must display a strong commitment to their practice, which is evaluated in terms of the standard of their school. However, while the karate black belt meaning is generally considered that of an expert, it is worth knowing that there are numerous dashes or levels within the black belt system that one can achieve.

There are 10 degrees of black belt in a lifetime of commitment to self improvement. Here are a few of the criteria for passing the karate black belt test and moving up the ranks:

  • First degree (Sho-dan): considered a beginner within the black belt ranking system
  • Second degree (Ni-dan): the period of training is usually two years
  • Third degree (San-dan): achieved after three additional years of training as a second degree back belt
  • Fourth degree (Yon-dan): achieved after four more years of training as a third degree 
  • Fifth degree (Go-dan): at this level one earns the title of “Master”
  • Sixth degree (Roku-dan): achieved six years after fifth degree or 20 years as a black belt. It involves training and teaching others.
  • Seventh degree (Nana-dan): achieved seven years after sixth degree or after 27 years as a black belt. 
  • Eighth degree (Hachi-dan): it is earned after eight years as a seventh degree or 35 years as a black belt.
  • Ninth degree (Kyu-dan): earned nine years after eighth degree or 44 years as a black belt. 
  • Tenth degree (Ju-Dan): considered the highest and most prestigious rank, awarded to masters who have given a lifetime to the furtherance of the martial arts and have demonstrated a lifetime of significant achievement.This rank takes a minimum of 54 years as a black belt. 


The practice of karate as a martial art is progressive and starts with an absolute beginner to an absolute master. You can practice karate for self-enrichment and self-development, alongside acquiring important self-defense skills. If you envision yourself achieving a black belt in karate and pushing your limits to new heights, then take the first step by joining Action Karate’s karate classes today. Experience firsthand the realization of your true potential, both physically and mentally.

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