Gradings provide a measurement system that enable students to gauge their progress towards a goal.
They are a useful tool but should not become the goal itself.
Historically, there were fewer recognised grades and were granted by means of Menkyo, which was a certificate from the master of the style. They were in 2 main categories:
Technical Skill – Dan Grades
Dan grades began at Shodan (1st black belt) and worked through progressively to Judan or 10th dan. A Judan would normally only be presented to somebody of extremely high ability who had been studying that martial art for many decades. Kokusai Budoin, for example still have a rule that the rank of 8th dan can only be awarded to a person a minimum of 10 years after the 7th dan was awarded to that person. Given that there is a time period between each senior grade, very high ranks are usually only awarded to very experienced martial artists. They also have a regulation that all grades above 4th dan must be examined and awarded in Japan. These regulations are to maintain authenticity and value within the grading structure and are not observed by all modern martial arts organisations.
Professor Kano, when he developed the judo curriculum early in the 20th century made a departure from the recognised Menkyo structure. Kano recognised that westerners were impatient and liked to see regular recognition for their efforts. He therefore created the Kyu-Dan system which introduced a set of grading levels before the black belt. These are the kyu grades and are depicted by a coloured belt that represents the grade of the wearer. These normally go in the order of
white – yellow – orange – green – blue – brown
before the shodan grade is achieved.
Above shodan, the first 4 levels of Dan grade are usually represented by a black belt. In Japan, a 5th Dan is also represented by black belt with 6th, 7th, 8th Dan represented by either a black belt or a red & white belt. 9th & 10th Dan are represented by a red belt. In some Western styles, a 5th Dan may also wear the red/white belt. It is also permissible in some styles (eg Jiu-jitsu International) for a 4th Dan to wear a red & black belt.
Even the Dan grading system as described with coloured belts is a relatively modern development. In ancient times only a black obi would be worn by a qualified martial artist as humility was one of the traits and qualities of the samurai.
Prior to this a more traditional system was applied whereby different terminology was used. for example, the first black belt was termed Hyaku-E, the second Ren-e, third, Ji-e, fourth Toku-I and so on. The grading system in use by the International Shinkendo Federation follows this pattern. There are no coloured belts.
Teaching Ability, Seniority – Title
Menkyo designating a title were certificates that represented seniority, teaching level and experience. Once again, some, more traditional organisations retain the value of these titles by requiring a certain skill level and period of time teaching a dojo to pass before a given title is awarded. This approach is to be applauded as the qualifications retain their prestige and status. Some western martial artists have been known to award themselves either a technical grade or a title in order to impress others, however this practice is to be discouraged if we are to retain any worth in a grading system.
A typical structure for the awarding of grades and titles is as shown below. It is very important to note that the terms “Shihan” does not appear in the list. Shihan is a term that refers to the head of a division and is not a formal title. Similarly terms like “Soke” which are today becoming popular are used to designate the founder of a particular style or school and are not grades in themselves:
Promotion Regulations, Schedules, Dan Grades & Titles
1st Dan –Shodan
Individuals who have passed an examination, and successfuly completed the course requirements as set by each division. Older than 15 years of age when promoted to 1st Kyu.l
2nd Dan –Nidan
Same as above. More than a year and a half after promotion to shodan(1st Dan).
3rd Dan –Sandan
Same as above. More than two years after promotion to nidan(2nd Dan).
4th Dan –Yondan
Same as above. More than three years after promotion to sandan(3rd Dan).
5th Dan –Godan
Same as above. More than four years after promotion to yondan(4th Dan).
6th Dan –Rokudan
Same as above. More than five years after promotion to Renshi.
7th Dan –Shichidan
Same as above. More than six years after promotion to rokudan(6th Dan).
8th Dan –Hachidan
Same as above. More than ten years after promotion to shichidan(7th Dan).
9th Dan –Kudan
By Special Award of the Executive Board of Examiners
10th Dan –Judan
By Special Award of the Executive Board of Examiners
Minimum of two years since promotion to yondan(4th Dan). Written essay or publication required.
Minimum of two years since promotion to rokudan(6th Dan). Written essay or publication required.
Outstanding service for development of Martial Arts. Minimum age, 50 years of age. Minimum rank, hachidan(8th Dan). A person of outstanding character and proven leadership credentials. Written essay or publication required.
Individual that has attained the highest rank of 10th Dan. Conferred by decision of the Executive Board of Examiners.