The Goshin Ryu Belt System

The traditional dojo is a place of beauty and simplicity which its Sensei or Shihan plays out the role of Teacher, Counselor, Father, friend, and under certain required circumstances even Judge! The Sensei (honorable teacher) or Shihan (Master) often weaves the blanket of a dojo from his Sempai (senior Students), or other instructors below his rank, and the community within the vicinity of his dojo to form a close family of Karate-Ka (Karate persons). Who recognize each other on a hierarchy of standards set forth by their senior instructor and it is by this Sensei's or Shihan's virtue, the students of the dojo set their Do (way or path).

Belt rank is relative in martial arts training and the methods used to determine one's abilities vary from style to style. There are black belts that might be brown belts in other schools. And there are black belts that couldn't tell you name of the founder of their system without looking it up in a book.

Until the early 1900's there was no need for a belt ranking system. Since there was only one sensei everyone in small dojos knew who the senior students were. In the early days of Martial Arts, all Karate-Ka started out with a white belt.

Actually, the black belt was first used in Kodokan Judo to designate rank and skill slightly more than one hundred years ago. Judo founder Jigoro Kano, Sensei was the first to use the black belt or sash as a symbol for dan or graded rank students at his school, the Kodokan, founded in 1882 in Tokyo. Before this, Jujutsu schools, like most other traditional Japanese arts of that period, used a complicated ranking system as a form of grading students to different skill levels. The ranks were usually designated by specially created certificates or handwritten documents from the licensing teacher or founder. Often, the higher ranks were also accompanied with the presentation of scrolls of manuscriptual instructions or records of secrets by the founders of the various schools.

The origin of the colored belts and the significance of the particular colors, is still shrouded in mystery and may be permanently lost to history. As martial arts students advance in their training they receive different color belts from their "Sensei". To move from one rank to another there are periodic examinations given in which the student must perform basic techniques and the kata relevant to their grade. This method used to evaluate the students progress, understanding and technique is known as the "belt system". With the different belt colors, one achieves different levels or "belt rank". The requirements for each belt level vary in each martial art style and in each dojo. At the earliest stages basic blocks, punches and strikes are required on the test; later kata as well as sparring are a requirement and as one advances good form, power, speed and accuracy all become mandatory for performing all karate techniques.

The color of the belt or "obi" indicates the grade and experience of the wearer. The color of belt worn by kyu grades (below black belt) vary from style to style, with only the white belt being universally used for beginners. Those that don't practice any type of martial art might be called invisible belts. Beginners are known as white belts, it usually takes about three to four months to go from white belt to yellow belt; (the yellow belt is not used in all dojos), green belts have at least six months training, purple belts one year, brown belts two to three years of serious training. Most styles also use the brown belt for the color just before black belt.

10th Kyu
White Belt

6th Kyu
Green Belt

4th Kyu
Purple Belt

3rd Kyu
Brown Belt

1st Dan
1st Degree Black Belt

2nd Dan
2nd Degree (Instructor)

3rd Dan
3rd Degree (Sensei)

4th Degree Black Belt

5th Degree Black Belt

6th Degree Black Belt

7th Degree Black Belt

8th Degree Black Belt

9th Degree Red Belt

10th Degree Red Belt

In the kyu grades the progression is from highest to lowest, 8th kyu white belt to 1st kyu brown belt. Almost all Japanese and Okinawan styles dan grades wear a black belt.These dan grades usually progress from 1st to 10th degree black belt, tenth being the highest level in most styles.

For black belt, a thorough knowledge of martial arts history, as well as free sparring, kata and basics are mandatory. Some styles insist on elements such as breaking for rank advancement especially at the black belt level. Also many styles judge an aspiring black belt on his or her character, spirit, confidence and ability to fully control all their movements, which include stopping techniques just inches from its intended target.

First degree black belts usually train a minimum of three or four years. All dan levels wear black belt, except for various combinations of red, white and black used on ceremonial occasions, usually for fifth degree black belt and above. Some systems also show dan ranking by using stripes on one belt tip, the number of stripes indicating the grade. There are five levels before the black belt level in belt-ranking system used in Goshin Goju Ryu. There are also eight degrees of black belt and two degrees of red belt, which are for the 9th and 10th degree levels.

The first and second degree black belt denotes an experienced martial arts student. It is at this level that students are ready to open up their minds and start serious training.

The third degree black belt is a qualified teacher; below the second degree is considered an instructor (there is an important difference between an instructor and a teacher). The third degree (sandan in Japanese) is usually called "Sensei" and the Sensei is the head of the Dojo (school) and certified teacher. There are also 3rd degree black belts that hold the title "Kyoren", which denotes a 3rd degree black that is not associated with teaching or not designated to do so. It generally takes around ten years to reach the third degree black belt

Next we have the fourth and fifth degree levels, whose position is that of "Renshi". In traditional Japanese and Okinawan styles some black belts have titles which denote teaching grades as well as indicating the different levels of achievement. The color of the renshi belt is black on one side and red and white on the other side. The fourth degree wears the belt with the red facing down, the fifth degree wears the red and white belt with the red facing up.

Fifth dans are "Skilled Experts", considered master level and the holders of this level are entitled to the honorific title of "Godan Renshi". Most reach the grade of fifth degree black belt in about fifteen years and have several black belts that train under them. It should be noted that when a person receives a dan rank it does not always mean that they receive a title along with it. The rank is tested for and the title is bestowed upon a person. A 4th dan is not necessarily a "Yodan Renshi", that is not to say that he or she is not deserving of such a title however it is a separate teaching certificate all together. Must know all 12 Goju Kata. Must have 14 years of continuous study in Goju Ryu Karate. Other requirements plus special permission of promotional board. Oral test on "Book of Five Rings".

In some Okinawan, Japanese and American systems the title "Shihan" is used at the 6th degree black belt level. The sixth degree level may be seen wearing a black belt with a red stripe on one side going down the middle. Shihan denotes master instructor or teacher of teachers which makes sense considering most of those who hold such levels usually teach black belt students who have black belts under them.

The seventh and eighth degree black belt levels are known as "Kyoshi", recognized teacher of teachers. Teachers at this level may also wear black belts with a red stripe going down the middle. A recognized leader, organizer, teacher of other master level instructors. This level is reserved for the very few individuals who dedicate their lives to the teaching of martial arts. A recognized leader and exemplary member of the martial arts community.

The ninth degree black belt level is known as "Hanshi", which means "Model Teacher". In our system this level is reserved for the "Headmaster".The ninth degree black belt level is also considered "Grandmaster" level and the holder of this rank may wear a red belt with a black border on the outer edge. Even with thirty or fourty years of training in the martial arts very few individuals ever attain this level.

A solid red belt may worn by the "Founder and Grandmaster" of the system, usually a tenth degree red belt. Has furthered the teachings of Karate to a level of unquestionable accomplishments and recognition. There is usually one "Tenth Dan" in the system at a time! This tenth degree is also known as "Hanshi " (Teacher by Example).
Many martial arts masters and grandmasters belong to an association made up by their peers from different sytles. There is a very strict process for the recognition of a master and for their appointment to the association. One's appointment is finally determined by a collective vote by the association's "Board of Governors". One of the greatest accomplishments is when a 10th Dan is recognized by their collegues, and is inducted into the very select group of masters and grandmasters called 'The World Head of Family Sokeship Council' and 'The World Martial Arts Sokeship Council'.

This page was created by Glenn Perry, Goshin Ryu.