Various legends surround the origin of karate's coloured belt system of grading. One legend says that belts started white and as they became dirtier they began to darken -- and students who were the most dedicated, eventually had belts that were stained black. No matter how karate belts originated, they are used today as a grading system to signify kyu, or rank. Different karate styles use slightly different colour rankings and sometimes particular karate schools have customised belt systems. Shotokan karate uses a kyu system that starts with white and ends with a striped brown belt. Black belts signify that a karate student has completed the karate system and has attained the next level of mastery -- known as dan.
The white belt is the first belt given to a Shotokan karate student. The only requirement to receive this belt is being accepted by the instructor. It usually takes three to four months to reach the next belt kyu.
The 9th kyu, indicated by an orange belt is the first rank a student has to earn. Students must learn beginning kicks, blocks and punches to reach this kyu. They must also begin to learn a karate kata, or basic form.
A red belt indicates the 8th kyu level. Karate students can usually reach this after four months of training in the 9th kyu. Students will practice and improve upon their 9th kyu skills to earn a red belt. They may also have to practice basic sparring with other students.
It takes about four months of training in the 8th kyu to reach yellow belt, the 7th kyu. Reaching this kyu may require students to show mastery of the first kata they have learnt and demonstrate a new kata. They may also engage in a more advanced sparing technique.
Students can reach the 6th kyu and wear a green belt after about four months of training in the 7th kyu. Students may have to begin training in another more advanced sparring style.
A purple belt represents the 5th kyu, typically earned after four months of training in the 6th kyu. Advancement requirements to this kyu include countering several different types of attacks during sparring.
Purple and white
The 4th kyu is indicated by a purple belt similar to the purple belt of the 5th kyu, but with one white stripe on each end. Students must demonstrate kata and other skills for this kyu.
After four months of training in the 4th kyu a student can reach the 3rd kyu and wear a brown belt. Students may begin semi freestyle sparring, allowing them to move more freely than in previous sparring forms.
Brown and white
The 2nd and first kyu belts are brown with white stripes. The 2nd kyu brown belt has one stripe on each end while the 1st kyu brown belt has two stripes on each end. It usually takes four months of training in the 3rd kyu to reach the 2nd kyu and six months to reach the 1st kyu. These kyus are earned through mastery of all previous techniques, more extensive sparring and new katas.
The black belt represents a different system of belt grading. Each black belt level is called a dan. Unlike the kyu grading system, the dan system uses larger numbers to indicate increasing skill. And instead of reaching the next dan in a matter of months, each advancement in dan typically takes years. The highest dan in Shotokan karate is the 10th degree black belt. Advancing in dan requires continued mastery of all previous skills and students must spar against consecutive opponents at the black belt level before gaining higher dans.