Titles and ranks

Receiving a new Belt and or grade is done in another Reishiki, which differs, from Dojo to Dojo. Generally students are called to the front of class. They kneel before their Instructor in Seiza, bow, and under whatever ceremonial circumstance receive their award. The structure of this ritual will vary from Dojo to Dojo, association to association.

As you will notice the grading starts with 10th Kyu [Kyu meaning “boy”, denoting lower grades], a grade obtained by merely being accepted into a Dojo, since it is you who have made the decision in seeking out formal training. Grades descend down in numbers from 10th Kyu until it reaches Ikkyu [1st Kyu], the highest level of brown Belt and after passing the rigorous Shinsa [Audition for Grade] of Black Belt and fulfilling the requirements set forth, you struggle your way back up through the grades of Yudansha ascending to 10th Dan [10th Dan being the highest achievable grade, and very rare!]. By following a structure of merit, such as the Belt system, an instructor has a way of understanding the development and progression of skill of students and can teach them according to his set standards. This is as well an important part of the Dojo Reishiki and will later relate to the Shihan Sho-go and Fuku Shidoin Menkyo.

Shihan Expert License of:     Renshi     Kyoshi     Hanshi 5th Dan and higher if designated by the qualification by virtue of endorsement by the:     [A] Association of Chief Instructors or

[B] Administrative Head of an Association.

License [not title] is by award and certification or letter, not by Dan grade alone.

Hanshi Senior leader to Model Instructors, to be modeled after.

Exemplary Illustrious.

Shihan License Certification,

Separate from that of Dan grade alone.

Of being 8th, 9th & 10th Dan.

Japanese associations Hanshi license holders wear Black Belt w/ Red facing out-Black facing in.

Okinawa association Hanshi License holders wear Black Belt with three Gold stripe.

Kyoshi Master, Teaching instructor [teacher of teachers].

Eminent Instructor; Master Instructor.

Shihan License Certification,

Separate from that of Dan grade alone.

Of being 6th & 7th Dan.

Japanese associations Kyoshi license holders wear Red stripe above White stripe facing out-Black facing in- Belt [Japanese].

Okinawa association Kyoshi License holders wear Black Belt with two Gold stripe.

Renshi Senior Expert, Professional, Training instructor.

Highly trained; High Attainment

Shihan License Certification,

Separate from that of Dan grade alone.

Of being 5th & 6th Dan.

Japanese associations Renshi license holders wear White stripe above Red stripe facing in-Black facing out- Belt.

Okinawa association Renshi License holders wear Black Belt with one Gold stripe.

Sensei Teacher. San Dan & higher instructors,     License [not title] is by award and certification or letter, Not by Dan grade alone.
Jokyo Upper Grade Yudanasha. Experienced Grade Sensei Menkyo; Preamble to Shihan Menkyo system,      4th to 5th dan.
Shidoin Middle Grade Yudansha. Beginning Grade Sensei Menkyo; Preamble to Jokyo Menkyo; 3rd to 4th Dan.
Fuku Shidoin Lower Grade Yudansha     Assistant to Sensei. May be of either Ni [2nd] Dan or San [3rd] Dan Acting as an assistant to Sensei.
Kyoren Practitioner. San Dan, not of/or becoming Sensei
Tasshi Secretariat to a Senior Instructor. Usually of San Dan or higher grade.

Either Administrative or Instructional.

Senpai Senior Student Senior to yourself. Sho, Ni & San Dan, Black Belt, Those senior to yourself.
Dohai Student equal to your own grade, status and level.
Shodan Ho Conditional Black Belt. Having met the requirements of Shodan grading however under review [usually for one year] for continued dedication to training and to fulfill moral and other standards.
Shonenbu Shodan Junior Black Belt. Under Sixteen years of age     Meeting the requirements of Shodan.This grade holder should re-audition for Shodan when they come of age.
Hokai Students below Dan Level. Mudansha, 9th to 1st Kyu.
Kohai Junior Student. [meaning Junior to yourself].
Uchi Deshi Personal Student.
Deshi Student.
Chukyu [Chukyu Sha] Post Secondary Grade Intermediate Kyu Level Intermediate Level Learning Grade.
Yudansha Regarding a person[s] holding Dan grade. Shodan & higher,      Black belt holders.
Shokyu [Shokyo Sha]and / orRyodo Secondary Grade or Grade two Lower Kyu Level Secondary Level Learning Grade, As in Shodan, Of advanced Kyu grading.
Mudansha 1st Kyu to 10th Kyu. Non Black Belt Holder.
Nyumon Entry Level Learning Grade.
Mukyu or Shodo Beginners Grade. Non “kyu” Grade Holder.
[Please note the following:]
Shinsa Audition and incorrectly called or known as a “Test” for you grade. You Audition for grades in all Budo. You do not take a test. A test indicates a score where-as in an audition you are either awarded the part or you are not.
Ryu-Ha Your style of Karate Do Examples of Ryuha  that study Karate-Do include however are not limited to:
Goju Ryu
Ryuei Ryu
Shorin Ryu
Matsubiyashi Shorin Ryu
Chito Ryu
Uechi Ryu
Shindo Jinen Ryu
Wado Ryu
Chinto Ryu
Shorinji Kenpo
Ryukyu Kenpo
Shindo Yoshin Ryu
Iishin Ryu
Shito Ryu
Motobu Ryu
Kyu Shin Ryu
Kai-Ha Your association name of your style Examples of Kaiha that study Gojyu Ryu include however are not limited to:

JKF Goju Kai

Okinawa Gojukai

Nishinaka-Ha Goju Ryu

Menkyo License Examples of Menkyo in Budo include however are not limited to:

Dan grades have Sensei and Sho-go [“Shihan”] or teaching credential Belt system for those people qualified and wishing to pursue a teaching career as listed above.

Sho-go was originated by the Dai Nippon Butokukai and consist three levels or license being Renshi, Kyoshi and Hanshi.

The award of Sho-go is based on an individual’s knowledge, teaching ability and the outstanding development of character through the study of their Martial Art dicipline. Sho-go does not come at the same time as grading alone. Sho-go or Shihan Menkyo are seperate in achievement from Dan grades and are not assigned with rank or seniority. The holder of these titles must also have made significant contributions to the karate community at large.

  1. Renshi [who is “a man of high character “training master”]. The character “Ren” means “polished, tempered” and “shi” means “person”. Thus Renshi indicates a “polished instructor” or expert. Renshi may be awarded to the modern rank of 6th Dan or above.
  2. Kyoshi [Meaning “a teacher” or “teaching master”]. The “Kyo” in Kyoshi means “professor” or “philosophy”. Therefore, Kyoshi equals a “professor” capable of teaching the philosophy of the martial arts. Kyoshi may be awarded to the modern rank of 7th Dan and above.
  3. Hanshi [a “model for all masters”]. The “Han” in Hanshi means “example, model” and indicates “a teacher that can serve as an ideal model for others”, or a “senior master”. Hanshi may be awarded to the modern day rank of 8th and above.
Polish, Train, Teach Higher Instructor,Example, Academic Suffix Model,Example, Higher Instructor,Example,

“Ren”, “Kyo” and “Han” license designatios are those of Shihan who rightfully could be called a master of Karatedo and a role model. Shihan also denotes teacher of teachers, which makes sense considering most of those who hold such license have Black Belts who have Black Belts under them. The suffix term “Shi” is commonly noted for those with academic degrees.

Sen Sei Sen Pai Ko Hai
Teacher Senior brother or sister Junior brother or sister

It should be emphasized that because a person receives a grade it does not mean that they receive a title, license or you should call them different [i.e.; Renshi, Kyoshi or Hanshi] along with it. The grade is tested for and the Shihan License is bestowed upon a person after the grade has been received and an application has been filed for such license. In other words, a person holding the grade of 5th Dan is not necessarily a Shihan. That is not to say that he or she is not deserving of such a license [title] however it is a separate certificate [actually a license] all together. This common misconception is not to blame on those who refer to themselves with such titles because for the most part they were never told of how such titles came about or how to acquire them. Of course the titles of Deshi, Uchi Deshi, Hokai, Senpai, Kyoren, etc and possibly Soke, O’Sensei and Kensei do not require further certification because these titles are honorific or in reference to and not of outstanding nature in position to the Dojo or association [except Soke and Kensei].

There is also Kyoren, which grades to 3rd Dan [is a practictioner] but is not associated in teaching or designated to do so. Shidoin, another 3rd Dan, is the status of an instructor assigned to a Dojo as qualified by Honbu Dojo. Jokyo, 4th Dan or higher, is an instructor designated to a Dojo

Kanji, Hiragana, and or Katakana writing on belts are usually saved for Dan holders. One end reading their name [neither grade or title or license should EVER be written on your belt or Gi] and worn on the right hand side. And the other reading either their style or their association [which can denote their association such as either Gojuryu or Gojuryu Kai, which is made up of Gojuryu Karate-Ka] and worn to their left hand side. The traditional and most common colors of writing on the Belts are Yellow [Gold], and Red.


Sometimes the color of the writing can also denote the grade of its wearer. In some schools there is a standard color of embroidery which denotes the grade of Yudansha, white writing being that of Sho and Ni Dan, Yellow being San and Yon Dan, and Red being Go Dan and above. These colors can also denoting some type of leadership. This format of Belt recognition is that currently adopted by many Dojo. Most schools and styles use all Red or Gold writing and then there are some that use no writing at all while still others might implement white or silver writing. Those that implement red only obviously use it exclusively and the same goes for Gold. Those that implement both Red and Gold generally use Gold for Sho Dan and Ni Dan holders and follow with Red embroidered writing for San and Yon Dan Holders. And finally there are those who prelude with Silver for Sho and Ni Dan, Gold for San and Yon Dan and Red for everything else above. This embroidery applies to Ryuha / Kaiha Logos embroided on the left Lapel or your Gi as well.In the diagram above is the formal Kanji for one through ten. Formal and Legal Kanji for one, two, three and four are significantly different than the common writing. They differ because to change it to either 2 or 3 would simply take adding another line or to change one or two to four is simple as adding a few more lines as well. We created this diagram because many westerners are not aware that there is a legal version as well as a counting version. Adding a line would prove an easy way for counterfeiters to fake certifications. Certifications NEVER come with the grading listed as one two or three lines.


It would be great if all styles had their grade requirements spelled out specifically so you could know exactly where you stand and what is expected of you by comparison to all the other styles however, this is not the case. The syllabus of Dan grading from traditional Dojo to other Japanese traditional Dojo is usually similar if not the same, that being the minimum age for Sho Dan [1st Dan] level is 16 years of age [maturity, size, and competence outside of Karate] and must perform both all basic Kata, Shitei [mandatory] Kata, Jiyu or Ippon Kumite within an advanced level of competence equal to that of which they are grading for, and have a thorough level of knowledge in the basics of their style including history. The grade of Sho Dan may also include requirements for junior Instructor Certification. The requirements may change from Dojo to dojo and on individual basis however for the most part are semi-standardized. For this reason we’ve created a guideline for Shinsa.

Some of the budo kotowaza or old sayings (proverbs).

  • Bun bu ryo do, the balance of the physical and non-physical
  • On ko chi shin, study the old to understand the new
  • Ryu sui fu kisu wazu, water flowing down a stream never competes with anything in it”s way
  • E ken nyu kon, put all your energy into training
  • Do mu gen, there is no end to learning the way