Coloured belts are worn by kyū ranked practitioners in many martial arts, including judo, karate, aikido, and taekwondo.
Japanese name
Hiragana: きゅう

Kyū (?)[kjuː] is a Japanese term used in martial arts, chadō, ikebana, go, shogi such as Japanese traditional culture, and academic tests and in other similar activities to designate various grades or levels or class of proficiency or experience. In China, kyū (級) is called "ji", and it is used for academic tests.



In 1882, Kanō Jigorō, the founder of Judo, established the system of Dan ranking to measure the Judo practitioners' ability. This system was referred to the Dan ranking system of Go which is a board game. Some organizations of academic tests started Kyū ranking system to measure the candidates' ability.

On the other hand, Metropolitan Police Department in Tokyo started ranking system with using Kyū to measure the police officers' ability of Japanese sword arts. There were from 8th to 1st. At this time, dan and kyū are at the same level.

In the end of 1890s, the Greater Japan Martial Virtue Society introduced dan and kyū ranking system to other martial arts in Japan.

Karatekas wearing different coloured belts

Martial arts usage

The certificate of 8th kyū in karate.

In Japanese martial arts, kyū-level practitioners hold the ranks below dan or black belt. The kyū ranking system varies from art to art and school to school. In some arts, all the kyū-level practitioners wear white belts while in others different coloured belts, tags or stripes are used; in kendo and aikido there are not usually external indicators of grade. Although some aikido schools do use a coloured belt system the norm is for kyū grades to wear a white belt, and for dan grades to wear a black belt.

Kyū-level practitioners are often called mudansha (無段者?), "ones without dan" and are considered as initiates rather than students. When practitioners have reached the ranking of first degree black belt, they become shodansha (初段者?). The holder of a black belt of any degree is a yūdansha (有段者?), "one with dan".

Academic tests usage

The certificate of Pre 2nd kyū Japanese Kanji examination.

The organizations of Martial arts are not only issuers, but the organizations of academic tests also issue Kyū grading system and dan ranking system. Some organizations of academic tests started Kyū ranking system to measure the candidates' ability. For instance, the Japanese Kanji Aptitude Test Association issue the gradings from 10th to 1st Kyū, and it also provides Pre-1st and Pre 2nd Kyū.

List of Kyū ranks

Some martial arts refer to the kyū ranks entirely in Japanese. Kyū ranks progress takes descending order system, so 1st kyū is the highest. For example, the first kyū outranks the 2nd kyū. Dan ranking system starts after 1st kyū.

Pre-1st kyū and Pre-2nd kyū are used in examinations of languages because it is often hard to pass the examinations at 1st and 2nd kyū.

Grade Pronunciation Japanese
1st (Highest)[1] Ikkyū [2] 1級 / 一級
Pre 1st Jun-Ikkyū[3] 準1級 / 準一級
2nd Nikyū 2級 / 二級
Pre 2nd Jun-Nikyū 準2級 / 準二級
3rd Sankyū 3級 / 三級
4th Yonkyū[4] 4級 / 四級
5th Gokyū 5級 / 五級
6th Rokkyū[5] 6級 / 六級
7th Nanakyū[6] 7級 / 七級
8th Hakkyū / Hachikyu 8級 / 八級
9th Kyūkyū 9級 / 九級
10th Jukkyū[7] 10級 / 十級
Non-Grade Mukyū 無級

The lowest kyū is sometimes called "Mukyū"(無級) which means "Non-Grade" in English. The lowest kyū depends on organizations. For instance, United States Judo Federation(USJF) provides 12th kyū is the lowest grade for junior class, and 7th kyū is the lowest for adult class.

In Japan, the difficulty is classified to 3 categories as the following list.

Grade Pronunciation Japanese
Highest Jōkyū 上級
Middle Chūkyū 中級
Beginning Shokyū 初級

Kyū ranks in China

The grading system of Kyū is imported to China too. Kyū (級) in China is called "ji" (same character different pronunciation), and 1st kyu is the lowest as same as descending order. For example, Chinese language test certified HSK explains 6th ji is the highest grade.

Coloured belts

In some styles, students wear white belts until they receive their first dan rank or black belt, while in others a range of color is used for different kyū grades. The wearing of coloured belts is often associated with kyū ranks, particularly in modern martial arts such as karate and judo (where the practice originated). However, there is no standard association of belt colours with particular ranks and, different schools and organizations assign colours independently, see judo for examples of variation within an art. However, white is often the lowest ranked belt and brown is the highest kyū rank, and it is common to see the darker colors associated with the higher ranks, i.e. the closest to black belt.

The system of using different colored belts to mark rank is not universally accepted in the martial arts, some (like Kyudo) seeing colored belts as frivolous, as anyone without at least a first-level black belt is still very much learning the basics. Supporters of the belt colors, usually the more competitive styles, point out the use as a simple visual key for experience, such as in matching opponents for sparring, allowing opponents to somewhat accurately judge each other's skill, and to split them for competitions.

Those who oppose the use of coloured belts are also often concerned that students will worry too much about relative rank, and become arrogant with trivial promotions and differences, while supporters feel that by providing small signs of success and recognition, students are more confident, and their training is more structured, and that the ranking system encourages higher ranked students to assist lower ranked ones, and lower ranked students to respect their seniors.

See also


  1. ^ 1st kyū is the highest grade in Japanese kyū grading system.
  2. ^ This is not pronounced as "Ichikyū".
  3. ^ Jun and Ikkyu are separated terms, so this is not pronounced as Junikkyu.
  4. ^ This is not called "Shikyū".
  5. ^ This is not called "Rokukyū".
  6. ^ This is not called "Shichikyū".
  7. ^ This is not pronounced as "Jūkyū".

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