Judo Belts: The Complete Guide to the Judo Grading System

Welcome to the complete guide to Judo Belts. 

In this guide we are going to teach you every thing you need to know about Judo belts, from how to tie a Judo belt, to ​what the coloured belts mean, the requirements and we will also tell you about Neil Adams personal view of the Judo belt system!

Here we go:

Neil Adams Views on Judo Belts

​The purpose behind Judo Grades is that they should be an indication of the level of the Judo player and this really should be consistent from Junior grades all the way to the highest Dan Grades.

The lower grades in children's Judo should be based more on technical improvement and less on the actual competition side. In fact, I love the idea of 'technical' competitions. In many ways, we have become too focused on competitions for children and less  so on technical development. The grading structure needs to be balanced!

As a youngster, I wasn't allowed to take part in many competitions, and my training was focused more on technique. Sadly there seems to be a focus today in getting children to have as many competitions as possible, yes it is great to compete however the balance has to be struck.  

If we build a better technical base within our players they gain a better repertoire of techniques, and this leads to high levels of adaptability within competitions and this, in turn, will lead to more medals in high-level events. 

At higher level such as 6th Dan and above the grade should be like a degree course. You need to show you are proficient in every area of Judo. Sadly we see that now we have 'technical' high ranking grades. Competition people are expected to do katas and be technically proficient in order to get the grade. The reverse is not necessarily always the case.

Whilst I agree that we should have technical grades I feel that at some point unless you have shown your skills to a high level in competition then you cannot be given a grade above 5th Dan. Would you have a brain surgeon who can teach and award degrees on brain surgery but has never actually performed any actual brain surgery? 

You could argue the same case for Judo. ​

The grading structure or system in Judo is an excellent tool but we need to ensure it is balanced and used in the right way. Otherwise, we will have players who are more experienced, technical and tactical than their coaches who have much higher grades than they do. 

​The History of Judo Belts

​Judo belts are considered to be the originator of the 'belt' systems we see in many martial arts today. 

According to this site  Judo belts didn't have the wide variety of colours as we see today, in fact, the founder of Judo Jigoro Kano only started a formal ranking procedure in 1883 when he awarded 2 of his students the rank of Shodan (1st Dan) in 1883. However, even then this was not externally visible. He had not invented the modern Judo Gi or Belt (obi) yet, so it would have been similar to a boxing club. No one could tell from looking at clothing what grade people were as they all wore the same clothes which at this time was a kimono.

The actual grading system or the idea of the grading system is said to have originated from swimming where belts were used to grade the ability of a person. Although they were used in a variety of activities it was very prominent in swimming. 

In 1886  Kano was said to have made his Dan grades where their belts on their kimonos as the first visual sign of grade and in 1907 Kano invented the modern Judo Gi and Judo belt. 

The following terms for the various grades are seen below:​

English                 Japanese
6th grade               rokyu
5th grade               gokyu
4th grade               yonkyu
3rd grade               sankyu
2nd grade               nikyu
1st grade               ikkyu
1st degree              shodan
2nd degree              nidan
3rd degree              sandan
4th degree              yodan
5th degree              godan
6th degree              rokudan
7th degree              shichidan
8th degree              hachidan
9th degree              kudan
10th degree             judan

Coloured Belts​

One of the most interesting aspects of the Judo belt system is the use of colours. Almost everyone gets drawn into Judo by the thought of obtaining a black belt, but along the way, they will hold a variety of colours.

Although across the world there may be variations in gradings from National association to association here is the complete colour guide to Judo belts for senior and juniors.  If you wish to learn about the requirements in other countries go here:

​Kyu and Dan Grades

The below table is the grading structure as observed by the British Judo Association​

​10th Dan

9th Dan

 8th     Dan

7th   Dan

6th   Dan

5th Dan

4th Dan

3rd Dan

 2nd Dan

4th Kyu

3rd Kyu

2nd Kyu

1st Kyu

1st Dan

5th Kyu

6th Kyu

The journey for senior Judoka will start as a Kyu grade or Novice. This is perhaps the most difficult part of any Judoka's Judo journey and is especially tough if you start Judo later in life. 

The very concept of being thrown onto your back at speed and force can be very alarming.  However by spending time learning how to break fall this feeling will soon pass. 

Some tips for senior kyu grades-

Keep a training diary!- This really will help you to  get the most from your Judo experience. 

Focus on Technique- Senior kyu grades can be very strong and while having strength is an asset it can be a hindrance at an early stage in your Judo development. Focus on learning your technique.

Learn to break fall - sounds simple but this is the area that most senior kyu grades fear the most. As a result, focus on performing your break falls correctly, and you will reduce the fear of being thrown. This will help your Judo because you will be less defensive and attack more! 

Get Fit for Judo- As we know fitness training is specific for the activity, you are training for.  Just because you can run a marathon doesn't mean that you can last a few minutes of Judo randori. As such try and train in the gym to enhance your Judo. Our free and complete guide to Judo Fitness Training can help you. 

Train at Home- If you really want to improve quickly then you need to focus on your Judo skills when your off the mat. Our Uchikomi Bands are ideal for training in your own time at home. 

Study- Like anything in life you can't expect fantastic results unless you put the effort in. Judo training DVD's and books provide an excellent way to learn in your own time and our new Judo Excellence programme due out very soon can help with that! There are some fantastic resources out there, and Fighting Films have a range of educational DVD's and also have put together a lot of coaching books that any Judoka can benefit from.

Junior or Mon Grades

​In British Judo the Junior grades are referred to as 'Mon' grades. The grades are split by coloured Judo belts as you can see by our colour guide below.

  • Red belt (1st – 3rd Mon)
  • Yellow belt (4th – 6th Mon)
  • Orange belt (7th – 9th Mon)
  • Green belt (10th – 12th Mon)
  • Blue belt (13th – 15th Mon)
  • Brown belt (16th – 18th Mon)

18th Mon

17th Mon

16th Mon

15th Mon

14th Mon

13th Mon

12th Mon

11th Mon

10th Mon

9th Mon

8th Mon

7th Mon

6th Mon

5th Mon

4th  Mon

3rd Mon

2nd Mon

1st Mon

How To Tie a Judo Belt​

When it comes to learning Judo, the first battle is trying to get your Judo belt tied in the correct way. There are a variety of methods, however, check out the videos below to see a full range of these methods. In simple terms, you need to be able to tie your Judo belt quickly so it doesn't come off every time you perform a technique. 

Tie a Judo Belt Basic Version

​In the video below Top British Judoka Ashley McKenzie teaches you his method for tying your Judo belt which was filmed by Sport Relief.

​Now here is another video of the method from a different angle by British Judo

​If  you are still struggling here is another video worth looking at:

​A Different Way to Tie a Judo Belt 

​In this video we see a different way to tie a Judo belt, this might be a little advanced for some but it is worth a look. 

​Judo Gradings

Judo gradings vary from country to country. Some are done entirely inside a Judoka's club which can allow a player to quickly move up the grades. 

This brings its own set of problems and a 1st Kyu at one club can actually be a lot better than at another club simply down to standards. ​

​Dan Grade Promotion

In British Judo we have 3 ways that you can become a 1st Dan. 

  1. Via a technical grade
  2. Via accumulation of competition points
  3. Via a Line up

A line up is where a Judo player attends a grading and will have to fight for their grade. Each Judoka at a grading will want their 1st Dan, and this creates a very competitive environment.

If you win two matches via Ippon, you will be invited to a lineup. This will see you face three opponents in succession, and you will need to throw them each with an Ippon scoring throw. If you do this then the coveted 1st Dan will be yours.


So there you have it, a complete resource of information on the belt  system in Judo. We will be adding to this resource over the coming weeks and will let you know when we have more information for you.

A Judo grade is something you should have to work hard to achieve but it is well worth it!

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