Judo Belts and Grades.

my Judo yellow beltIn 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:

  • White

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.

This entry was posted by lancew on Monday, January 19th, 2009 at 10:43 am and is filed under Judo . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


  1. Ray says:

    My name is Ray, I have been a Judoka for 18+ years. I currantly hold the Sr. rank of Sankyu (3rd degree Brown belt). I have been in Judo as a child til now. I had to take a 14 year break due to family issues, but I am in it again and I am furthering my education in Judo. I was reading this artical and I agree with most of what the writer says. But there are some things I dissagree with. First In the Jr. division there are White, Yellow, Orange, Green, Blue, Purple and brown. Striped belts that have a white or black stripe in the center of the entire belt from one end to the other is most commonly used for children in the girls division. If a child starts and tests at the age of 5 or 6 and stays in Judo he or she will be 1st degree Brown (Ikkyu) by the age of 15 or 16. And at the age of 17 to 18 the student may test for Shodan 1st degree Black at the teachers (sensei) descression. Second he or she stated that RED belt is used for new absolute novices. This is not true in the case of USJA the United States Judo Association and IJF the International Judo Federation and USJF the United States Judo Federation. In USJA ranks and 99% of IJF, USJF clubs, the RED belt is held by absolute masters. Masters being 9th and 10th Dans. Even thew Dr. Kano stated there is no limit to what you can accomplish, and very few have ever reached 10th Dan (15 Judokas have been recorded to reach this rank)or Kudan as it is called, that is the belt that one is permitted to wear when one reaches the rank of 9th degree Black. The first level of black belt in Japanese is called Shodan. It literally means “first level” or “beginning step”. Sho (first) is an ideograph that is comprised of two radicals meaning “cloth” and or “knife”. To make a piece of clothing, one first cuts out the pattern on the cloth. The pattern determines the style and look of the final product. If the pattern is out of proportion or in error, the clothes will look bad and not fit properly. In the same way, your initial training to reach black belt is very important because it determines how you will eventually turn out as a black belt. After years of training you have cut the pattern and learned the basic techniques. The promotion to black belt is a recognition of this hard work and a level of accomplishment that one can be proud of. On the other hand, Shodan is really just the beginning, the base, for learning Judo or any martial art. Earning a black belt is like graduating from high school. It indicates you have achieved a basic level of proficiency, learned the fundamental skills and can perform them in a functional manner, and you are now ready to pursue Judo on a more serious and advanced level as a professional or a person seeking an advanced degree would. Of course, the rankings also represent progress towards the ultimate objective of judo which is to improve the self not just physically, but morally as well. Around 1930 the Kodokan created a new belt to recognize the special achievements of high ranking black belts. Jigoro Kano chose to recognize sixth, seventh, and eighth degree black belts with a special obi (belt) made of alternating red and white panels (Kohaku obi). 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. Dont get me wrong there are many differant rules in each DOJO (school) but the guidelines in USJA, IJF and USJF are just about set in stone. Some clubs have inclub promotions that are not recorded in IJF, or USJA or USJF records. Many of these organizations require you to purchace a membership to there organization so they may have your rank nation wide sometimes world wide. Just as the writer stated “It is worth discussing the grading system with the coach at your child’s Judo club. There are 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”. Judo much like life has it’s ups and downs, but if one stays with it like life they may be able to do the unexpected in anything they do.

  2. owen paterson says:

    I am 9 years old my teacher is called Carlos he was in the olympics for spain. I take a serious amount of time in Judo it is my pride and joy. I have been doing Judo for 8 weeks and have already attain a “dan” and was wondering how long it is normally until you attain a “yellow belt”

  3. LanceW says:

    Well come to the Judo family! Sounds like you are amazingly lucky and have found a club with a great level of coach.
    How long it takes to attain each grade depends on your country and club… and of course on you!
    Work hard and attend regularly and you will progress.

    Normally we refer to Yellow Belt as a “Kyu” grade rather than a “Dan”.
    Dan being for Black belt and above, but perhaps it is different when translated across from Japanese to Spanish and the into English. 🙂

    Have fun and ask lots of questions!


  4. raoul castro says:

    My son wanted to sign up for BJJ classes and I talked to educators and did some looking around and wasnt impressed by curriculum offered.. if any!!

    The school next to our place did a local news human interest story and they were showing kids 8-10 learning how to do rear naked chokes. A neighbour whose kids competed in judo explained to me the restrictions that are put during competitions and even teaching of dangerous moves in judo.

    I preferred the structure that judo seemed to offer over BJJ.
    This might be totally wrong but too much seemed ‘left to discretion’ of the teachers when it came to BJJ classes. Sort of like the McDojos of the 70s used to do.

    I will definitely pass this post along to people when Im asked more about judo, it has very good information that parents would need.

  5. John @ Electric piano Reviews says:

    I have just started Judo. Would also learning Freestyle Wrestling be good for my Judo, self defense and weight?
    Really great post, enjoyed reading it. Thanks

  6. Gra says:

    Can anyone recommend a judo club for 7yr boy just starting around Dundrum/Ballinteer

  7. LanceW says:

    sorry not sure exactly where you are. And sadly my knowledge of clubs is not extensive.

  8. sophie says:

    hey i just started back judo after 13 years im 24 now. i was a green belt when i left due to moving and not been near a club :(. i enjoy it. my trainer says ive still got it in me and i did really well to say i havnt been for that long. in a few week i will be back to myself.. its all in the head you never forget. but i was doing junior training.. but now it senior and its all new to me.. hopfully i will get back on track 🙂

  9. marie says:

    My children have been judoka since the age of 5 which was the youngest they were allowed to start. Initially they progressed through the mon grades with a grading about every 3 m with the rest of their class. Their classes are divided up so that children of about the same age/size/rank are together as much as possible. Unfortunately my children are all small for their ages so they have tended to stay in lower classes for longer. The end result was that they did not move up classes as soon as other children that started at the same time and so did not get graded as often because they were in classes teaching things well below their level. Also the children who had been coming for shorter periods caught them up in ranking and then they all progressed together from there. This meant that over time I struggled to keep them encouraged and as they got discouraged they lost enthusiasm. They could not see any point in trying hard as it did not result in progression. There was no drive to stay top of the class. Now after several years of continuing to go they don’t even really try at all and have dropped in ability to the bottom of their classes. Two have kept going only because of the physical workout and self-discipline practice and one has stopped going altogether. My youngest is still a 9th mon after starting 7 years ago at the age of 5y. Does this sound normal to you? Their sensei is very experienced and very good and I have a lot of respect for him. But I am not convinced that this is normal practice in British Judo.

  10. Justin says:

    Hi everyone,
    I started Judo at the age of 20. In my early days of studying Kinesiology at university I took a night class in Judo offered by my institution because I wanted something that varied from the norm of volleyball, basketball, and other courses that always had quick-filling rosters. I loved Judo, and after taking both Judo courses available to me I joined my University Judo club and the dojo that partnered with my university to offer the course I initially took. Judo was tough though, and it took a toll on me. My dojo was an incredibly competitive one, and I dislocated a shoulder, was dropped on my head by peers in my university class on two distinct occasions, strained my wrist, and got choked unconscious by a brown belt judokan at a tournament. He was about 100lbs heavier than I was and I tried to tap out, but the guillotine he put me in seemingly effortlessly left me unable to move my arms and panicking with seconds of consciousness remaining. More to my concern however, I broke my big toe while participating in randori with a 2nd dan black belt who was visiting the club I practiced at. I don’t recall exactly how it happened, but it hurt very badly and I ended up in a foot cast for two months. Even worse though, the night I broke my toe was the night before I was scheduled to leave for another tournament that I poured a great amount of effort into preparing for. I was 22 by that time, and while my foot healed my senseis allowed me to attend judo practice, though I wore athletic clothes and participated in weight training while the rest of my class did their standard activities. During the time my toe was healing I was promoted to orange belt, and I was offered a far more lucrative job than the miserable one I had as a pizza delivery boy. The job paid twice my average wage (tips included), fit well with my university schedule, and has since helped me advance my career now that I have graduated. The downside, however, was that my new hours meant that I had to give up Judo. I left the dojo behind with a weak shoulder and a pained toe, and never picked up my orange belt when it came in with the dojo’s order of belts. I’m now 26, I have stable daytime hours, I’ve been working out alot in the past years and feel great, and I live in a new city. I’m thinking about whether I should start Judo but I’m apprehensive. Should I try to pick up where I left off? My problem is that I have forgotten many of the names of all but a few select techniques, and I feel that I should either hand in my yellow belt to a new sensei and tell him/her that I’m a quitter and don’t deserve it any more, not mention the orange belt, or I should just leave those days behind me and try something like Tai Chi or Aikido instead. Do you have any thoughts on this matter? I’d really like some friendly advice! Thank you

  11. Casey says:

    Yes rhyl judo club GRA.

  12. Linda Wadsworth says:

    How many stripes on your yellow belt are needed before orange? Ty in advance

Leave a Reply