Rank in Judo

In Judo, improvement and understanding of the art is denoted by a system of rankings split into kyū and dan grades. These are indicated with various systems of coloured belts, with the black belt indicating a practitioner who has attained a certain level of competence.

In jūdō, rank is denoted by colored belts.

The Kōdōkan Kyū-Dan ranking systemEdit

Kanō's original kyū-dan grading system
Rank Senior Junior Japanese name
Sixth kyū
rokkyū (六級)
Fifth kyū
Fourth kyū
gokyū (五級)
yonkyū (四級)
Third kyū
Second kyū
First kyū
sankyū (三級)
nikyū (二級)
ikkyū (一級)
First dan
Second dan
Third dan
Fourth dan
Fifth dan
shodan (初段)
nidan (二段)
sandan (三段)
yondan (四段)
godan (五段)
Sixth dan
Seventh dan
Eighth dan
Ninth dan
Red and White
rokudan (六段)
nanadan (七段)
hachidan (八段)
kudan (九段)
Tenth dan
Eleventh dan
Twelfth dan
and higher
jūdan (十段)
juichidan (十一段)
junidan (十二段)

Practitioners of Judo (柔道家, Jūdōka) are ranked according to skill and knowledge of the art. Their rank is indicated by the colour of belt that they wear. There are two broad categories of rank: those who have attained a level of competency at which they are considered worthy of a black belt (黒帯, kuro obi) and who hold dan () grades and those who are yet to attain that level and who hold kyū () grades. Those who hold dan grades are collectively termed Yūdansha (有段者) (literally "person who has dan") and those with kyū grades are Mudansha (無段者), literally "person without dan".

This ranking system was introduced by Kanō Jigorō, the founder of judo, in 1883. However, the current system is not the original one, but based on Kanō's last system introduced between 1926-1931, with some modification shortly after Kanō's death in 1938. The first dan grades were awarded to his students Saigō Shirō and Tomita Tsunejirō. Since then it has been widely adopted by other modern martial arts.[1]

In the current system as in use in Japan, there are six student grades ranked in descending numerical order. Beginners were given the rank of sixth kyū (六級, rokkyū) and wore a light blue belt. Once they had passed an elementary level of instruction, they were promoted to fifth kyū (五級, gokyū), when they would adopt the white belt. This they wore through fourth kyū (四級, yonkyū). The remaining three grades (third kyū (三級, sankyū), second kyū (二級, nikyū) and first kyū (一級, ikkyū) were all indicated with brown belts (for seniors) or with purple belts (for juniors).

1st kyū is the last kyū rank before promotion to first degree black belt (shodan). There are (in practice) 10 dan ranks, which are ranked in ascending numerical order.[2]

Highest ranking jūdōkaEdit

Kōdōkan-graded jūdan holdersEdit

The ninth (kudan) and tenth degree black belt (jūdan) and, theoretically, those higher, have no formal requirements. Only 15 individuals have been promoted to the rank of Kōdōkan 10th dan. On January 6, 2006, three individuals were promoted to this rank simultaneously: Daigo Toshirō, Ichirō Abe, and Ōsawa Yoshimi. This is the most ever at the same time, and the first in 22 years. No one has ever been promoted to a rank higher than 10th dan, but in theory the Judo rank system is not limited to 10 degrees of black belt. As an educator by profession, Kanō believed that there should be no end to an individual's learning, and therefore no limit to the number of dan ranks. The English language edition (1955) of Illustrated Kodokan Judo, edited by the Kōdōkan, says:

There is no limit...on the grade one can receive. Therefore if one does reach a stage above 10th dan... there is no reason why he should not be promoted to 11th dan.

This statement was later clarified, however. Essentially, the dan-rank system was capped at 10 after the death of Kanō. In that respect, in the November 1963 issue of Jūdō, the Kōdōkan's official magazine, the Kōdōkan responding to the question "Do the 11th and 12th Dan really exist?" clarifies that the hierarchy now stops at 10 and that the Kōdōkan does not envisage any nominations to these grades.[2]

There have only been fifteen 10th dan promotions awarded by the Kōdōkan itself in the history of Judo.[1]

Kōdōkan graded tenth dans (十段, jū-dan)
Name Lived Date of promotion
Yamashita Yoshitsugu 1865–1935 1935 posth., antedated
Isogai Hajime 1871–1947 1937
Nagaoka Hideichi 1876–1952 1937
Mifune Kyūzō 1883–1965 1945
Iizuka Kunisaburō 1875–1958 1946
Samura Kaichirō 1880–1964 1948
Tabata Shotarō 1884–1950 1948
Okano Yoshitarō 1885–1967 1967 posth.
Shōriki Matsutarō 1885–1969 1969 posth., antedated
Nakano Shōzō 1888–1977 1977 posth., antedated
Kurihara Tamio 1896–1979 1979 posth., antedated
Kotani Sumiyuki 1903–1991 1984
Abe Ichirō 1922– 2006
Daigo Toshirō 1926–2021 2006
Ōsawa Yoshimi 1927– 2006

Variations in rank structureEdit

Although dan ranks tend to be consistent between national organizations there is more variation in the kyū grades, with some countries having more kyū grades. Although initially kyū grade belt colours were uniformly white, today a variety of colours are used. The first black belts to denote a Dan rank in the 1880s. Initially the wide obi was used; as practitioners trained in kimono, only white and black obi were used. It was not until the early 1900s, after the introduction of the judogi, that an expanded colored belt system of awarding rank was created.[1]

Belt colorsEdit

See List of judoka

Judo belt colors in Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc.

For dan ranks, the first five are colored black, 6th, 7th, and 8th dan have alternating red and white panels (dandara), and for 9th, 10th dan and above, the belts are solid red.[3] In judo's promotion system as originally finalized by Kanō around 1926 there was no maximal dan rank, and judoka holding 10th dan (and above) would normally wear a red belt, but also could wear a white belt (the same color as the lowest kyū rank), or a black belt. However, since the highest dan rank reached in judo for a living person or conferred posthumously remains 10th dan, any judo dan rank higher than 10th dan is now considered as a merely historical theoretical option. Some time after the death of Kanō the promotion system essentially became capped at 10th dan.[4] Furthermore, holders of a dan rank above godan (5th dan) will often wear a plain black belt during regular training practice and outside any ceremonial duties.

Examination requirements vary depending on country, age group and of course the grade being attempted. The examination itself may include competition and kata. The kyū ranks are normally awarded by local instructors (sensei), but dan ranks are usually awarded only after an exam supervised by independent judges from a national judo association. For a rank to be recognized, it must be registered with the national judo organization or the Kōdōkan.


In Japan, the use of belt colors is related to the age of the student. Some clubs will only have black and white, others will include a brown belt for advanced kyū grades and at the elementary school level it is common to see a green belt for intermediate levels.


In Europe the belt system is white, yellow, orange, green, blue, brown and black for both senior and junior practitioners. Judokas who have attained the 6th Dan may also use a red-white paneled belt, and judokas who have attained the 9th Dan may wear a solid red belt. In some countries a red belt is used between the white and yellow belts to signify full membership of the judo club or the countries judo association. More commonly the red belt is, however, reserved only for 9th and 10th Dan practitioners.

In some countries junior practitioners have an extra system in place to show the progress in between two kyū grades. The sub rank is symbolized by a small piece of fabric on the end of the belt. The colour of these are yellow, orange, green, blue or, brown. The piece added to the belt can never be of a lower or the same colour as the belt worn by the judoka, so an orange belt can’t have a yellow piece, but it can have green, blue or, brown.

In other countries, such as Finland, junior sub ranks below a certain age are denoted by one to three red stripes on both ends of the belt. They are also used to signify that joint locks, chokes or strangles may not be performed upon the wearer as those as not taught nor applied to juniors below the age of 15 due to safety reasons.


In Israel the following belt colors exist:

Judo kyu belt colors in Israel
White   Japanese Kyu 6
White-Purple   Japanese Kyu 6
Purple   Japanese Kyu 6
White-Yellow   Japanese Kyu 6
Purple-Yellow   Japanese Kyu 5
Yellow   Japanese Kyu 5
Yellow-Orange   Japanese Kyu 5
Orange   Japanese Kyu 4
Orange-Green   Japanese Kyu 4
Green   Japanese Kyu 3
Blue-Green   Japanese Kyu 3
Blue   Japanese Kyu 2
Brown   Japanese Kyu 1
Black   Dan 1–5
Black or Red-White   Dan 6–8
Black or Red   Dan 9+


Judo belt colors in Brazil
9th kyu (junior)
or 7th kyu (senior)
7th kyu (junior)
6th kyu
5th kyu
4th kyu
3rd kyu
2nd kyu
1st kyu
1st to 5th dan
Red & White
6th to 8th dan
9th and 10th dan

Brazilian belt rankings are normally white, grey, blue, yellow, orange, green, purple, brown and black (6th, 7th, and 8th dan may wear alternating red and white panels, and 9th and 10th dan holders may wear solid red belts).[6] As in some European countries, young judoka in Brazil have an extra system in place to show the progress in between two kyū grades. The sub rank exists between white and orange belts and is symbolized by the ends of the current belt being the color of the next rank.


In Canada belt rankings for Seniors are, in ascending order: white, yellow, orange, green, blue, brown and finally black. Belt rankings for Juniors use, white, white-yellow, yellow, yellow-orange, orange, orange-green, green, green-blue, blue, blue-brown, and brown.[7]


In Australia belt rankings for Seniors are, in ascending order: white, yellow, orange, green, blue, brown and finally black. Belt rankings for Juniors follow the same ranks and colours (up to and including brown), but have either 1, 2 or 3 white bars (depending upon age) at each end of the belt, as follows:
If the judoka is aged up to 10 (Mon), there are to be 3 white bars.
Between 10 and 13 (Yonen), there are 2 bars.
Finally, for 13 to 16 years of age (Shonen), there is a single bar.[8]


In Ireland the senior belt system is white, yellow, orange, green, blue, brown and black. A practitioner must be at least sixteen before being eligible to grade for blackbelt. For white, yellow, orange and green belt gradings are held in the practitioners club and are based on demonstration of a syllabus and kata. For promotion to blue and brown the judoka must compete at a national grading against players of their own rank and win at least two fights by ippon or wazari. To achieve black belt a judoka must earn 100 points i.e. 10 points for every ippon or waza-ari victory against a brown belt.

United KingdomEdit

In the United Kingdom, the British Judo Association Kyu Grade system is as follows:[9]

  • Novice - white belt
  • 6th Kyu - red belt
  • 5th Kyu - yellow belt
  • 4th Kyu - orange belt
  • 3rd Kyu - green belt
  • 2nd Kyu - blue belt
  • 1st Kyu - brown belt

A practitioner must be at least fifteen before being eligible to grade for black belt.

United StatesEdit

Judo kyū belt colors in the United States
kyū names
USJA Junior
level names
Junior 12th Class
Junior 11th Class
Junior 10th Class
Junior 9th Class
Junior 8th Class
or USJA Senior
Junior 7th Class
Junior 6th Class
Junior 5th Class
Junior 4th Class
Junior 3rd Class
Junior 2nd Class
Junior 1st Class

In the United States only senior players (usually those age 16 and over) are allowed to earn dan levels, signified by wearing a black belt. The United States Judo Federation (USJF) and United States Judo Association (USJA) recognize dan grades awarded by the other organization. Advanced kyū levels can be earned by both seniors and juniors (children under the age of about 16) and are signified by wearing belts of various colours other than black. The order of belt colours can vary from dōjō to dōjō, depending on the dōjō's organizational affiliation.


For senior players, both the USJF[10] and the USJA specify six kyū, as listed in the table. The USJA requires "Beginners" (not a kyū) to wear a white belt until they test for yellow belt. The USJA also recommends wearing a patch specifying the practitioner's level. This is true for both kyū and dan levels.


The USJF Juniors ranking system specifies ranks to 11th kyū (jūichikyū). The USJA Juniors ranking system specifies twelve levels of kyū rank, beginning with "Junior 1st Degree" (equivalent to jūnikyū, or 12th kyū) and ending with "Junior 12th Degree" (equivalent to ikkyū). As with the senior practitioners, the USJA recommends that juniors wear a patch specifying their rank. When a USJA Junior reaches the age of 17, their conversion to Senior rank is:[11]

  • Yellow belt converts to 6th kyū (rokkyū)
  • Orange belt converts to 5th kyū (gokyū)
  • Green belt converts to 4th kyū (yonkyū)
  • Blue belt or higher converts to 3rd kyū (sankyū)
The style of belt commonly worn in modern judo


  1. ^ a b c Ohlenkamp, Neil (March 25, 2007). "The Judo Rank System". JudoInfo.com. Retrieved 2007-10-15.
  2. ^ a b "Judo: 20 questions responses according to the studies and documents published by the Judo review of the Kodokan in Tokyo". Kōdōkan. 1963: 3/2573. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  3. ^ 柔道帯の最高位は、何と紅!? "紅帯"所持者に投げられてきた! (in Japanese). R25.jp. 2008-05-15. Archived from the original on 2008-05-19. Retrieved 2008-11-11.
  4. ^ Dominy, Eric (1958). Judo. NEL four square.
  5. ^ "Ordem das Faixas no Judô".
  6. ^ "FJERJ (Judo Federation of Rio de Janeiro) - Judo Graduation".
  7. ^ "Judo Canada - National Kyu Grading Syllabus" (PDF).
  8. ^ "Judo Federation of Australia Inc. GRADING POLICY, PROCEDURES and GUIDELINES MANUAL (November 2014)" (PDF).
  9. ^ https://www.britishjudo.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Kyu-Grade-Promotion-Syllabus-05.2016.pdf
  10. ^ "United States Judo Federation Rank Requirements" (PDF).
  11. ^ "United States Judo Association Senior Handbook".