What Is The Judo Ranking System?

Achievement in Judo is recognised by a series of ranks or grades. The student ranks are called kyu and are usually differentiated by colored belts (obi). Different colors may be used around the world and in some countries there are more than 6 kyu ranks. The ten black belt, or expert, ranks are called dan. The traditional Judo ranks are:

English Japanese
1st grade ikkyu
2nd grade nikyu
3rd grade sankyu
4th grade yonkyu
5th grade gokyu
6th grade rokyu
1st degree shodan
2nd degree nidan
3rd degree sandan
4th degree yodan
5th degree godan
6th degree rokudan
7th degree shichidan
8th degree hachidan
9th degree kudan
10th degree judan

In the days before Kano created Judo, there was no kyu/dan ranking system in the martial arts. A more traditional method of recognizing achievement was the presentation of certificates or scrolls, often with the secrets of the school inscribed. Kano started the modern rank system when he awarded shodan to two of his senior students (Shiro Saigo and Tsunejiro Tomita) in 1883. Even then, there was no external differentiation between yudansha (black belt ranks) and mudansha (those who hadn’t yet attained black belt ranking). Kano apparently began the custom of having his yudansha wear black obi (belts) in 1886. These obi weren’t the belts karateka and judoka wear today — Kano hadn’t invented the judogi (Judo uniform) yet, and his students were still practicing in kimono. They were the wide obi still worn with formal kimono. In 1907, Kano introduced the modern judogi and its modern obi, but he still only used white and black belt ranks.

Around 1930 Jigoro Kano created a new belt to recognize the special achievements of high ranking black belts. Other arts such as the tea ceremony and swordsmanship provided recognition for their masters in the form of a special tea pot or sword. Jigoro Kano chose to recognize sixth, seventh, and eighth degree black belts with a special obi made of alternating red and white panels. The white color was chosen for purity, and red for the intense desire to train and the sacrifices made. The colors red and white are an enduring symbol of Japan, and they have been used in Judo since Jigoro Kano started the first Red and White Tournament in 1884. He also created the red belt to recognize 9th and 10th dans.