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

Kyū ( ?) is a Japanese term used in martial arts, chadō, ikebana, go, shogi and in other similar activities to designate various grades or levels of proficiency or experience.

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".

Kyū ranks in Japanese

Some martial arts refer to the kyū ranks entirely in Japanese. The list from tenth to first is as follows:

(Note: kyū ranks progress from the larger number to smaller. For example, a first kyū outranks a fifth kyū.)

  • 10. Jūkyū (十級:じゅうきゅう)
  • 9. Kukyū (九級:くきゅう)
  • 8. Hachikyū (八級:はちきゅう)
  • 7. Nanakyū, Shichikyū (七級:ななきゅう, しちきゅう)
  • 6. Rokkyū (六級:ろっきゅう)
  • 5. Gokyū (五級:ごきゅう)
  • 4. Yonkyū (四級:よんきゅう)
  • 3. Sankyū (三級:さんきゅう)
  • 2. Nikyū (二級:にきゅう)
  • 1. Ikkyū (一級:いっきゅう)

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 seeing colored belts as frivolous, as anyone without at least a first-level black belt is still very much learning the basics. Supporters 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

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