Karate Black Belt Levels

One question I am always asked about is how many levels of black belts are there in Karate?

Typically there are ten levels of Black Belt.
The following list of Black Belt (Yudansha) ranks are often used in Okinawan/Japanese Karate clubs.
Shodan-Ho: Probationary Black Belt Black and white square sectioned belt


NOTE: I have not seen this one used in Shorinjiryu clubs

Shodan First Degree Black w/ one stripe

Nidan Second Degree Black w/ two stripes

Sandan Third Degree Black w/ three stripes

Yondan Fourth Degree Black w/ four stripes

Godan Fifth Degree Black w/ five stripes

Rokudan Sixth Degree Black w/ six stripes

Nanadan Seventh Degree Black w/ seven stripes

Hachidan Eight Degree Black w/ eight stripes

Kudan Ninth Degree Black w/ nine stripes

Judan Tenth Degree Black w/ ten stripes

However, in Ishino Shorinjiryu Genbukan Karate, Shihan Ishino does not use stripes to indicate rank level. Instead the rank is indicated in Japanese kanji (i.e. San Dan) on the belt above the black belt’s name (see image below ~ belt end on your right above label).



I have noticed that some Shorinjiryu clubs in the U.S.A. have been using for their fourth degree black belt, (Yondan),  a half red and half white on one side and a solid black on the opposite side belt, sometimes referred to by martial arts suppliers as the “Renshi” belt. For Yondan, the half red and half white side is worn showing on the waist. I have also noticed that Shorinjiryu Kenryukan Karate also uses the “Renshi” belt for third degree black belt but with the black side showing on the waist.


There are some Shorinjiryu clubs that have been using for the fifth degree black belt, a red and black square panelled belt.


In Ishino Shorinjiryu Genbukan Karate, Shihan Ishino does not use the “Renshi” belt or the red and black panelled belt.

Many Karate clubs follow the Judo tradition of wearing special belts for sixth, seventh and eight degree black belt by using a red and white square panelled belt, sometimes referred to as a “Rokudan belt” or “Kohaku” belt.


It should be noted, that even though Hanshi Masayuki Kukan Hisataka, the president and chief instructor of Shorinjiryu Kenkokan Karatedo, was himself a high ranking Judo black belt and is familiar with the required qualification of sixth degree black belt in Judo to wear the “Rokudan belt”, he has decided to allow fifth degree black belts in Shorinjiryu Kenkokan Karatedo to wear the “Rokudan belt”, for whatever his reasons are ?!?!

Even more strangely I have noticed that in some Jiu Jitsu clubs they have been awarding the “Rokudan belt to fourth degree black belts ?!?! I would have expected that they would follow more closely to the Judo’s belt designations.

Shihan Ishino is currently seventh degree black belt and wears the red and white panelled belt.



In Judo, the solid red belt is worn by ninth and tenth degree black belts. This is the same for most Karate styles including Shorinjiryu. However that being said, I have seen children in open Karate tournaments with red belts. In those clubs, the red belt is used as the next belt colour following the first promotion from beginner white belts. This makes me wonder what is the coloured belt their style uses for tenth degree black belt?!?


The Korean martial arts styles are different, as some taekwondo clubs use a red belt in place of the brown belt.

In the World Karate Federation Karate (WKF) competitons, they use blue belts and red belts for black belt team competitions to distinguish one team from the other. Possibly because red vs blue are the best two basic colours that can be used to indicate opposing teams.


So reader are you confused yet?


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I teach Shihan Shigeru Ishino's Shorinjiryu Genbukan Karate in Kingston Ontario Canada since 1983. Shihan Ishino was an original student of Kaiso Masayoshi Kori Hisataka in Tokyo Japan, who came to Canada in 1969 to assist with the Shorinjiryu Kenkokan Karate dojos in Montreal Quebec Canada.

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