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Ranks & Gradings

Karate has a grading system, where each student has a 'grade' or rank, reflected by the colour of their belt, which represents the level of skill and knowledge they have attained. Colour belt ranks are called 'kyu' grades and black belt ranks 'dan' grades. The full progression of grades and belts in JKA Shotokan karate is shown below:

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Once a student reaches first dan the belt they wear remains the same regardless which dan rank they hold. There are no adornments or insignia that indicate their dan level.

Students can be promoted to the next kyu grade, up to 1st kyu, at a 'kyu grading'. These are usually hosted at local clubs several times a year. Smaller clubs may combine together to host a grading. JKA England also hosts kyu gradings twice a year during their international courses.


Kyu gradings are typically conducted by a visiting qualified examiner who will deliver a karate training class followed by the official grading itself. During a grading, students, usually in groups of four, will perform basic techniques from a pre-defined syllabus, one kata and a set-sparring exercise with a partner.


Once all students have been examined, they will be given their results. Students are given a pass, fail or 'temporary' pass. Passing students are promoted to the next kyu grade. Failing students may attempt to re-take a grade after a minimum of two months. Students receive a 'temporary pass' at the discretion of the examiner, usually when they show excellent effort but there are technical issues with their performance. Students with a 'temporary grade' are permitted to wear the belt of the next rank but are expected to re-take that rank's test before they attempt the next rank. A student must obtain a full 1st kyu rank before they can attempt 1st dan.

The Stripy Belt Test


Gradings are a very formal, independent assessment of a student's skills and it can take quite some time for students reach a level of skill for even the first, orange belt, grading. Very young members may be training for over a year before they are able to take their first kyu grading. To help those members feel rewarded for their progress up to their first grading, we conduct informal, stripy belt tests during normal classes where white belt students are awarded a white and orange stripe belt.


These tests are usually held during the weeks after a kyu grading and are offered to students who have attended at least ten classes, have learned their basic punches, blocks and kicks and who were not yet ready for a formal orange belt test. There is no fee charged for the test, or belt and nothing to book.


Managing Expectations


As mentioned above, gradings are formal. When students gain a new rank they become eligible to attend more advanced classes and national courses and compete in tournaments at a higher level. The level of skill required for each level is considerable and so is the amount of training between gradings. Students training at a higher level engage in more dangerous practises. It is therefore important, for their own safety as well as others, that a student has the required level of ability before they are awarded the next rank. This is why it is important that students are examined, objectively, by an independent assessor.


Eligibility to take a grading is not automatic. Students who want to take a grading must obtain permission from their instructor. Permission is given once a student has attended a minimum number of classes and will, in the opinion of the instructor, obtain a full pass. To this end, during the weeks before a grading, students will be informally assessed during class for their level and invited to grade when appropriate.


Stripy belt: minimum 10 classes attended

Orange belt: minimum 20 classes, 2 months training

Red to Brown belt: minimum 24 classes and 3 months since last grading

Brown belts: minimum 48 classes and 6 months training since last grading


Whilst we host several gradings a year, we don't expect students to grade at each grading. Typically, we aim for students up to brown belt to have the following expectations:


6-9 years old: Grading once a year

10-15 years: Grading once or twice a year

15+: Grading twice or three times a year


Grading Fees


A one-off fee of £25 is charged for kyu gradings. This fee includes the training class with the examiner, the grading itself, the registration of the grade with JKA England and a new belt. Members with a monthly membership will receive a discount equivalent to the cost of the training class.


Black Belt Gradings


Tests for 1st to 2nd dan are conducted on national courses held around the country several times year. Tests for 3rd to 5th dan and above are held on international courses twice a year. Tests for 6th dan and above are held at international JKA courses in Japan.


The requirements for black belt tests are taught during our advanced classes. Students wanting to take a dan test should discuss and arrange this with their instructor.

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