In Judo, the attainment level of your child will generally be indicated by the awarding of a Judo Grade and accompanying coloured belt. This can be the cause of some confusion, especially when some systems are different between clubs and associations, not to mention countries and age groups. In this article, we shall look at the area quite generally and try to cover the fundamentals of the the grading systems work in Judo.
Unlike other sports, Judo is also a martial art.
As such, Judo uses a grading system and belts to indicate attainment. Although there are variations, the order of grades generally follows the following rough order:
The more common variations are to include a red belt for absolute novices. The red belt is often used as red is associated with danger and is used as a visual reminder that the person wearing the red belt has no (or very little) experience and must be looked after by other students. A red belt would normally only be worn for a very short period of time (a few weeks).
At the other end of the spectrum, so to speak, the Black Belt is worn at the attainment of the “Dan Grade”. In the western world, the Black belt is often seen as the pinnacle. In Judo culture however, the Black Belt is often regarded as a sign that you have integrated Judo into your life and are ready to truly begin learning. Opinions vary and every Judo club and Judo person has their own personal view on what getting a Black Belt means.
A Judo Black Belt (Dan grade) will take about 10 years on average to attain. Again systems vary and many factors must be considered; for example, an exceptional competitor may grade quickly. it is worth noting that the founder of Judo (Jigoro Kano), reportedly graded people who made contributions in other ways as (if not more) quickly than those who were physically adept ( In an interview about Jigoro Kano’s Life). many systems operate similarly and your child’s knowledge of say the names of throws can be as important as their ability to throw in competition.
Between White and Black are the “Kyu” grades, which count downwards to Brown which is normally “First Kyu”, with Blue as second and so on. When your child is awarded for example 5th Kyu, they will be allowed and expected to wear a Yellow belt (In this example system, it may be different where you are).
The wearing of belts helps everyone know what level each person is at. The Black Belt wearers in the club will be careful with the Yellow Belts and help them with their techniques. In Randori (free practise) the Yellow Belts can go at 100% against the Black Belts, comfortable that they are of a level to be safe. The Black Belts obviously will not go at 100% against a lower grade.
The belts system helps ensure that everyone is kept safe and has people of appropriate level to train with. During practise sessions, the Blue belts might work together to practise the techniques they need for their Brown belt. In Randori, two players of the same grade should have a even match.
Most grading systems have either a formal or informal method of dividing each Kyu grade into typically two or three partial grades. This is very common with children as it helps to make the steps between belts smaller and ensure that your child progresses regularly and gets that positive feeling from getting “graded up”. These partial grades are often indicated with “stripes”, which often are sewn onto the end of the child’s belt. Your child may be “Blue Belt, 3 Brown stripes” for example, which would mean that they are a Blue Belt, but very close to obtaining their brown belt.
The Kyu grade system (especially when used with “stripes”), provides a very visible indication of progression. Your child will be able to desire and achieve the coloured belts (or stripes) quite quickly and quite regularly. This provides goals to strive for, and rewards for their hard work and dedication.
It is worth discussing the grading system with the coach at your child’s Judo club. There are many many systems and each have their own variations. By gaining a knowledge of the system, you can help ensure your child does not have unrealistic expectations of when they will next be graded. This is a really common cause of upset so as a parent you can ensure that your child gets excited about getting a new belt at the right time, not the wrong one.
As your child progresses through the grades, they come less and less frequently. From a few weeks or months, to several years. The requirements for each grade become more demanding and there are age restrictions and “time in grade” restrictions often. Again, make sure you speak with your club coach or obtain a recent copy of the grading system so you know what restrictions might affect your child.
Teenage boys, often reach brown belt quite young and are forced to wait long periods until they reach the age restriction. This can be an unexpected delay at a difficult age and often results in them dropping out of the sport.
The grading system in Judo, is a great tool to help give your child a sense of progression and achievement. Having a good understanding of the grading system structure (and of course the requirements for the grades) is one way you as a parent can help keep your child enthusiastic about Judo.