Rank in Judo
For those of you unfamiliar with Judo’s rank system it is divided into two sections. The Kyu grades called collectively in Japanese Mudansha and Dan called collectively in Japanese Yudansha.
There are normally 6 levels of kyu grade with 6th being the lowest and 1st being the highest. Referred to in Japanese as:
Rokkyū – 6th kyu
Gokyū – 5th kyu
Yonkyū - 4th kyu
Sankyū - 3rd kyu
Nikyū - 2nd kyu
Ikkyu - 1st kyu
There are 10 levels of dan ranks with 1st being the lowest and 10th being the highest.
Referred to in Japanese as:
Shodan – 1st dan
Nidan - 2nd dan
Sandan – 3rd dan
Yondan – 4th dan
Godan – 5th dan
Rokudan – 6th dan
Shichidan – 7th dan (Also called Nanadan)
Hachidan – 8th dan
Ku-dan – 9th dan
Jū-dan – 10th dan
6th dan and above are considered high grades and are sometimes referred to as Kohaku grades.
The Origins of the Kyu and Dan system:
The Kyu and Dan system was invented for the Japanese board game Go in the 17th century by Honinbo Dosaku, a grandmaster of the game, and is now widely used throughout many Japanese disciplines not just the martial arts, for instance, Ikebana or the art of flower arranging.
The kyu and dan system was also adopted by the Japanese school system and a black sash was used in swimming to denote advanced swimmers from novices, which is where Callum has got the misconception of the coloured belts originating in swimming.
Kano adopted the kyu and dan system in 1883 issuing two dan grades to Shiro Saigo (Sugata Sanshiro of Yama Arashi fame) and Tsunejiro Tomita. Kano's move was part to help integrate Judo into the Japanese education system as was his aim and to differentiate from Jujutsu which used certificates or licenses to rank.
Shoden (entry level), Chude (middle level ) and Okuden (“secret teachings”). Different levels could be also included in each major level
to designate further achievement depending on the Jujutsu school, schools had between 3 and 5 total levels some stretched up to 9.
Normally these ranks weren't indicated on the gi in anyway, but plaques would hang on dojo walls indicating level with the owners name. Some Jujutsu schools used black sashes to indicate advanced practicioners and some Jujutsu schools such as Tenjin shin'yō ryū (Kano possessed Okuden in this ryu and Kito ryu) used different colour stitching and fabric on gi to indicate rank.
Kano's adoption of the kyu and dan system and abandonment of the certificate system was part of his attempt to set Judo apart from Jujutsu, which had developed a thuggish reputation during the 19th century.
Until 1886 no black belt was worn to indicate dan rank in Judo all practicioners wore a white sash which was a common practice in Jujutsu for average level students and as such some saw the Kodokan as an inferior school of Jujutsu. The black sash was introduced to indicate senior Judoka in time for the famous Tokyo metropolitan police contest between the Kodokan and Jujutsu schools.
The black belt as we recognise it today was introduced to Judo at the same time as the modern Judogi in 1907.
Finalising of the Dan system:
In 1931 Kano wrote that 6-9th dans were to wear a kohaku (red and white panels) obi and 10th to 12th dans were to wear a solid red obi. All others were to wear white.
For those of you who speak or read Japanese here is the original quotation:
"十段以上を紅帯とし、その以外は白帯とする帯は修行の段階に依って色を異にし、初段より五段ま で を黒帯、六段より九段までを 紅白のだんだら、十段以上を赤帯とし、その以外は白帯 とする"
Kano thus specified that Judo would have 12 ranks, however, there was room left open for the possibility for more ranks which the quotation indicates would likely have worn a white belt. Other sources indicate that this would likely have been a double width white belt, presumable in order to distinguish it from a beginners white belt.
Upon Kano’s death this open ended 12 dan system was subsequently revised. As Kano only promoted up to 10th dan it was decided that no one could override Kano and so no rank higher than 10th dan would be awarded from the moment onwards. The belt colours were then altered from only 10th to 12th wearing a red belt to 9th to 10th dans being able to wear a red belt and 6th to 8th dans being able to wear a kohaku belt. The standard belt for randori and day to day Judo activities remained black, however.
A mistranslated Kodokan pamphlet Q&A section contains a line indicating that the colour for 10th dan would be ‘purple’, however, this is a mistranslation from the Japanese into French and then French into English.
Coloured kyu belts:
The origins of coloured kyu belts are often believed to have originated with Mikinosuke Kawaishi. It should be noted also that contrary to popular belief Kawaishi did not study Jujutsu or Aikijujutsu or any other form of Koryu. He attended Himeij Middle School and then Waseda University, where he studied Judo and some Kendo. He was awarded shodan in Judo from the Dai Nippon Butokukai in February 1918, but his early Judo studies were in Himeji. He started at Waseda University in 1919, and in the following year enrolled at the Kodokan, where he became a 4th dan in 1924. He left Japan in 1926 for the US where he taught Judo and graduated from Columbia university. He then travelled the Amazon in Brazil before arriving in London in 1931 due to disagreements and a court case he left England for France in 1935 where he proceeded to fall out with more people.
Gunji Koizumi is actually the likely originator of the coloured kyu belt system, whilst teaching at the London Budokwai.
The coloured belts for Kyu grades as we now know them were instituted in 1927 at the Budokwai in London. Then it was decided that 5th kyus would wear a white belt, a 4th kyus would wear a yellow belt, a 3rd kyus would wear a green belt, a 2nd kyus would wear a blue belt, a 1st kyus would wear a a brown belt. It was later decided that the number of kyu grades would be expanded to 6 and so orange belt became 4th kyu, yellow 5th kyu and white 6th kyu.
In 1927 Kawaishi was still settling into life in America and would not reach France where he is normally supposed to have developed the coloured kyu grades until 1935. Budokwai minutes also detail that at the 9th annual Budokwai display in 1926 Baron Hayashi and Prince Chichibu under the guidance of Koizumi and Tani, Hayashi awarded 3 dan grades and "belts of vaious colours". So the Budokwai was issuing coloured kyu grade belts in 1926 the year Kawaishi left Japan and had codified their issue by 1927.
The probably reason that the origin of coloured kyu belts in Judo is attributed to Kawaishi is because he not only produced the famed Kawaishi method, by which techniques were numbered rather than named and so it was ease for people to conflate coloured kyu grade belts into the Kawaishi method. Also because the Budokwai was a private and clique organisation and there was little Judo teaching outside of the Budokwai. Whereas in France Judo was far more widespread under the likes of Abe Ichiro and so when Kawaishi arrived in 1935, presumable bringing the Budokwai’s kyu belt system with him, it found a network of clubs nationwide which adopted the new belt practices and so became far wider spread and instituted in France than in England.
Japanese cultural origins of rank colours:
The colour white is associated with new life a.k.a beginnings through its association with womanhood and birth. This is why traditionally in Japan women have worn belts with a white stripe on them the joshi obi. White is also the funeral or Ososhiki colour in Japan so it's associated with endings. Hence why it was chosen to be both the beginning belt and the ultimate belt- 12th dan and above.
White is also associated with purity, pure intentions and honour, think Jita kyoei... This is why it is the colour of the Judogi and why in Japan it remains the only acceptable colour for Judogi with blue gi being tolerated in certain situations and dojo.
The colour red signifies happiness, the sun and completeness. The red belt signifies one who is complete or close to becoming complete in their mastering and/or knowledge of Judo. The kohaku obi shows that one is beginning the process of trying to accomplish becoming complete in Judo, the combination of white - beginning and red completness.
The colour black being an abscence of colour symbolizes emptiness, an abscence of individualism and opening the mind and body to absorb knowledge and to "start a new chapter" in one's life. In Japan traditional wedding dress is black for the groom and guests. Black is considered a unique colour and shouldn't be combined with other colours except white.
How modern dan ranks are awarded in Judo:
As has been the subject of much recent discussion on this forum dan ranks are issued by the national governing body (NGB) for Judo in each country and its affiliated organisations. The NGB is always the recognised governing body for Judo by that nations Olympic committee. All national NGBs are members of continental unions – EJU, AJU, JUA, PJC and OJU. These continental unions are all members of the International Judo federation, IJF, which is recognised by the International Olympic Committee as the world governing body for Judo. As well as each countries’ respective NGB and affiliates two other organisations issue dan ranks globally the IJF and the Kodokan.
In national NGBs dan ranks from 1st to 5th dan are awarded either on the basis of contest results and technical exams or purely on technical exams.
Awards for 6th dan and above are generally given for advancement and understanding of the principles and philosophy of Judo, not for fighting prowess.
At present there are 7 legitimate Judo 10th dans worldwide. The Europeans; Anton Gessink of Holland who was awarded by 10th dan by the IJF. Henri Courtine of France, George Kerr of Great Britian and Jaap Nauwelaerts de Agé of Holland who have all been awarded 10th dan by their respective NGB. However, many consider the only ‘true’ 10th dans to be those issued by the Kodokan, the three current Kodokan 10th dan are pictured below.
(From L to R: Ichiro Abe -87- 10th dan, Yoshimi Osawa -83- 10th dan and Toshiro Daigo -84- 10th dan)
Impressive writeup out of nowhere.
Damn forgot to put the bit about what it was a reply to, was having an OT convo about Judo ranks with Larus Marinus and others in this thread:
Originally Posted by marcusdbrutus
and so started a new one where we could discuss it properly and others could join in if they wanted as well.
Excellent research there. I wish there was a rep system on here so I could give you some.
I tried to +1 you for this but the system now thinks that I have a crush on you.
Seriously - great writeup. Enjoyed reading it.
So, do the martial arts that use the Dan-Kyu system generally have ten Dan ranks (I *think* that most of them do) basically because Judo decided to use ten Dan ranks following Kano's death?
Awesome post mate! Simply amazing!
Thank you that was incredibly informative :)
To Judoka_UK, thanks for the write up, very informative.
I currently wear a Red Belt myself but alas I am a 6th Kyu and not a 10th Dan. Do you have any idea why we in the UK have Red as our first belt?
Thanks for all the positive comments guys, I only hope it was informative lead some of you to do further and better research than mine.
Also thanks to DCS for correcting me, via PM, about the early Japanese Judoka in France. Abe Ichiro, of course, didn't arrive in France until the 1950s, I can't remember the name I originally intended to write but DCS informs me that Aida Hikoichi and Ishiguro Keishichi were the key figures at the time.
I have tried to amended the original post, but came seem to for some reason...
For the same reason people wear blue gi to training, for ceremonial events and wear kohaku or aka obi with blue gi, they either don't know or don't care or don't know and don't care about traditional Japanese colour aesthetics and symbolism and their importance in Judo.
Originally Posted by bigstu31s
Last edited by judoka_uk; 8/03/2010 11:15am at .