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Karate Belt Stripes Meaning – Revealed

In many popular martial arts such as karate stripes are used on belts. You will see them either on the very tip of the belt or running down the middle of the belt. I did karate and martial arts for many years, and today I will explain what the belt stripes in karate mean.

Overall, the stripes signify a student is halfway in between one belt to the next in karate. For example, if a person is halfway in between a blue belt and a purple belt, they will get a blue belt with a purple stripe. Stripes are not used in all karate academies but it is quite common.

There is a specific way that karate belts and stripes are awarded, and there are requirements a person must meet to be awarded a stripe or their next belt.

Below, I will explain:

  • How stripes and belts are awarded in karate
  • How grading for a black belt is different from the other belts
  • The timing of a grading ceremony means that students can often skip stripes
  • Why are stripes and belts used in karate
  • Difference between karate stripes and stripes in other martial arts
  • Where do stripes go on the karate belt
  • What is the order of stripes in karate
Stripes on karate belts

How Stripes and Belts Are Awarded in Karate

Martial arts differ slightly in how belts are awarded, and there are different requirements.

For example, in some martial arts, the instructor will award a person a belt randomly at the end of a class, whereas in others you need to demonstrate techniques alone or in a group.

Here is how stripes and belts are awarded in karate…

In general, people are instructed to perform various techniques and kata in front of an instructor or panel of instructors. Provided a person performs the techniques well enough, their instructor will award them a stripe, or their next belt.

I attended a few grading ceremonies when I was learning karate, and they were very fun but often there is a bit of nervousness because you don’t want to forget something. Also, all your fellow students, and often parents are watching and cheering you on.

Typically, all the students from a particular belt line up in the middle of the room, and the instructor calls out various techniques.

At the later belt levels after green belt, knowing some sparring is required. This is known as ‘Kumite’.

As you may know, this is what is called sport karate and is an Olympic sport.

To demonstrate Kumite experience a karate student will need to demonstrate with a partner live touch sparring.

Another way that a karate student can demonstrate their level of Kumite skills, is by competing in Kumite karate competitions.

If they place well, or a karate instructor observes them sparring well, they can determine that they are competent enough in Kumite to be awarded their next belt.

However, they still may ask them to demonstrate their skills when they grade at the next grading ceremony.

Here’s a table that shows what stripe is used for each of the colored belts, and the belt order in karate:

BeltJapanese nameBelt order
White beltShichi-kyu (7th Kyu)1
White belt with a yellow stripe
Yellow beltRok-kyu (6th Kyu)2
Yellow belt with an orange stripe
Orange beltGo-kyu (5th Kyu)3
Orange belt with a green stripe
Green beltYon-kyu (4th Kyu)4
Green belt with a blue stripe
Blue beltSan-kyu (3rd Kyu)5
Blue belt with a purple stripe
Purple beltNi-kyu (2nd Kyu)6
Purple belt with a brown stripe
Brown beltIk-kyu (1st Kyu)7
Brown belt with a black stripe
Black beltShodan8

Many karate academies have a minimum time a student needs to be at a belt before they are eligible to grade for their next belt.

Below, is a table that shows how long a person needs to be at each belt:

BeltJapanese nameMinimum time at this belt
White beltShichi-kyu (7th Kyu)3 months
Yellow beltRok-kyu (6th Kyu)3 months
Orange beltGo-kyu (5th Kyu)5 months
Green beltYon-kyu (4th Kyu)5 months
BlueSan-kyu (3rd Kyu)4 months
PurpleNi-kyu (2nd Kyu)5 months
Brown beltIk-kyu (1st Kyu)6 months
Black beltShodann/a

(source: United States Martial Arts Federation)

The time it takes to go from one belt to the next is also about how long it takes a person to learn all of the techniques at each belt.

This is provided they train on average 3 times per week in most cases.

Grading For A Black Belt Is Different From Colored Belts

The grading ceremony for black belt ranks is different from the colored belt.

When a person is awarded a black belt or one of the black belt ranks after black belt – known as ‘dan’ ranks – a council of karate black belts grades the person.

On the other hand, for the colored belts, only one instructor will typically do the grading.

After a black belt, dan ranks are awarded. These take even longer than the colored belts to get. When a person is awarded with a new dan rank, the color of the belt does not change. 

Instead, the black belt is awarded a certificate.

In some cases, a completely new black belt will be awarded with some additions to it, such as embroidered lettering.

After getting a black belt, a person is eligible to teach, and start their own karate academy (dojo). Generally, the ‘dan’ ranks are to recognize a person’s commitment to teaching karate. 

It’s also possible for young people to get awarded a black belt in karate. Here’s a video that shows a black belt grading:

As you can see, they demonstrate live sparring-type drills and specific techniques, as well as kata.

The Timing Of Grading Ceremonies Often Means A Person Can Skip Stripes

Karate is a bit different to some other martial arts because the time in between each belt is reasonably short.

On average it takes 3 to 6 months to go from one belt to the next. Grading ceremonies are often held 3 times per year and at a minimum every 6 months.

Therefore, if a person doing karate has learned all the techniques for the next belt, by the time there is a grading ceremony they can go straight from one belt to the next.

Stripes are good for people who don’t train karate often. 

For a person to go from one belt to the next, it takes less time if a person trains 1 to 3 times per week. But, often things can come up in a person’s life and they will need to take some time off from training. 

When this happens, at the next grading ceremony they may have only learned half the techniques well. Or, they may be familiar with all of the techniques but don’t know all of them by heart, or have only practiced each technique a few times. 

Also, they may forget some of the techniques and need to be reminded. In that case, a stripe would be awarded. 

Stipes signify they have improved from the belt they have but have not learned the curriculum for the next belt well enough to be awarded the next belt.

Why Are Stripes And Belts Used In Karate

There are two main reasons that martial arts experts state are why stripes are used:

  1. To provide motivation to continue training
  2. So students and the sensei (teacher) know how to pair people up when drilling moves

When a person is recognized for their efforts, it motivates them to keep training.

This is more so a factor in martial arts that have a longer time requirement between each belt. For example, in BJJ and judo students can remain at one belt for a year or more.

In many cases, they can have the same belt for 3 years or more.

For example, in BJJ it’s not uncommon for a person to have a blue belt or a purple belt for 3 years or more.

However, the next belt after purple – a brown belt – only takes about 1 year or so before a person is awarded a black belt.

Due to this extremely long time in between belts, stripes go a long way to showing a person’s skill level.

Karate and martial arts are similar to other certifications such as a driver’s license, or a math exam. Provided a person has practiced enough, they will be able to effortlessly pass any tests. And the way to show that a person has this skill is by testing them.

Below is a table that summarizes the guidelines provided by the Japanese Karate Association (source).

It shows the minimum amount of time a person needs to be at each of the dan ranks after the black belt:

Dan ranking – after black beltCumulative time
1st Dan1 year
2nd Dan2 years
3rd Dan4 years
4th Dan7 years
5th Dan11 years
6th Dan17 years
7th Dan24 years
8th Dan31 years
9th Dan39 years
10th Dan48 years

As you can see, even if a person starts very early in karate, they will still be quite old by the time they are the highest rank in karate.

For example, if a person started when they were 10 years old, they would be about 60 years old when they get awarded a 10th dan on their black belt.

Difference Between Karate Stripes And Stripes In Other Martial Arts

Most martial arts use stripes. But, Brazilian jiu-jitsu uses white stripes only, regardless of what color belt a person has. They also use 4 stripes total before the next belt, rather than 1.

For example, if a person is a purple belt, they will get 1 white stripe on their belt until they have a total of 4 white stripes. Then, in the next grading ceremony, they will get awarded the next belt which is a brown belt. 

In karate, virtually all academies only use one stripe, and it’s the color of the next belt.

In judo, stripes are sometimes used, and sometimes not. If they are used, typically only one stripe is used.

Stripes down the middle of the belt

There are some martial arts that have a stripe that runs down the middle of the belt. The most well-known examples are Taekwondo, and Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ). 

In some Taekwondo academies, instead of the stripe being on the tip of the belt, a belt is purchased that has a stripe along the entire middle of the belt.

In BJJ, one of the most widespread academies is Gracie Barra (also called the International Brazilian jiu jitsu Federation) (IBJJF). They have two different colored stripes at each colored belt level. 

For example, gray belts start with a gray belt with a white stripe down the middle, and the next belt after that is a gray belt with a black stripe down the middle.

However, this is unique to IBJJF academies and is typically not done at any other BJJ academies.

Where Do Stripes Go on a Karate Belt

Martial arts belts typically either have stripes attached to the end or have one continuous stripe down the middle. Some karate academies use stripes, whereas others do not.

Here are where the stripes go on a karate belt…

Karate stripes go on the very end of the belt, on either end of the belt. When the belt is tied, the stripe can be seen on one tip of the belt which hangs down from the waist, or sticks out to the side. In general, only one stripe maximum is used per belt in karate.

In other martial arts additional stripes are added.

For example, in BJJ the highest rank is a red belt that has 9 stripes on it.

In karate, however, stripes are only used at halfway points in between belts.

What Is the Order Stripes Go in Karate

In karate, only one stripe is used for each belt color, before going to the next belt.

Not all karate academies use stripes, but for those that do here is what colored stripes are used, and what order they go in:

The first is a white belt with a yellow stripe, then a yellow belt with an orange stripe, orange belt with a green stripe, green belt with a blue stripe, blue belt with a purple stripe, purple belt with a brown stripe, and finally brown belt with a black stripe. After black belt, stripes are not used.

Only one colored stripe is awarded for each belt. For example, if a person is an orange belt with a green stripe, instead of getting an additional green stripe at their next grading ceremony, they will get the next belt which is a green belt. 

However, if they don’t meet the requirements to get a green belt, then they will stay at their existing belt, an orange belt with a green stripe. 

There are no guarantees that a person will get their next stripe or belt. But, in my experience, almost everyone that gets invited to a grading ceremony will get the next stripe or the next belt. 

Some karate academies will list the curriculum on the walls, or publish it online. This can be very helpful so you can be sure you will know all of the techniques required to get your next belt.