The topic of ranks and belts in Aikido is something that can be sort of over-complicated. Those who have not studied or practiced the art might think that it is much like other forms of martial arts, which in general consist of five different belt colors and a plethora of ranks to choose from. It’s really not like that at all, and it tends to get a little complex with Aikido because students are ranked in what I like to call “sub ranks” within the main ranks (belt colors).
There are really only two Aikido belt colors, which are white and black, but there are several ranks that fall within each color. Also, keep in mind that Aikido belts and ranks can differ from one place to the next, so what you are about to read is merely a general idea of how it works – it may be different in your area. In fact, in many areas, it is.
In general, the original belts and ranks in Aikido are as follow (from beginner to advanced):
- 6th Kyu (Rokukyu) – White
- 5th Kyu (Gokyu) – White
- 4th Kyu (Yonkyu) – White
- 3rd Kyu (Sankyu) – White
- 2nd Kyu (Nikyu) – White
- 1st Kyu (Ikkyu) – White
- 1st Dan (Shodan) – Black
- 2nd Dan (Nidan) – Black
- 3rd Dan (Sandan) – Black
White belt – this category is called “Kyu” and consists of 6 ranks (or degrees).
Black belt – this category is called “Dan” and, in general, consists of 3 ranks (or degrees).
- More advanced or professional Aikido students are awarded the black belt, also referred to as “Dan”. In Japan, only students with the highest level in the martial art are allowed to wear a 3rd Dan black belt.
If you’re not already actively involved in the martial art of Aikido, the different belts and ranks can seem confusing. It is best to learn as you go. However, I am aware that a lot of beginners want to understand the ranking and belt system a little more before they get involved.
Keep in mind that most Aikido schools don’t subscribe to multiple belt colors. Most merely stick to the standard white and black belts. Continue reading to find more information on both of the belt ranks and their “sub ranks” or degrees below.
Aikido Belts and Ranks: A Brief Explanation
As you might already know, Morihei Ueshiba created the martial art of Aikido and back then, black and white colored belts were the norm. The white belt indicated that a student was still in the development and beginner stages (almost like a clean slate) whereas the black belt indicated that a student had leveled up to
At the beginning stage, the ranks move in the opposite direction to what one would think. For instance, a white belt student will begin on the 6th Kyu (or degree) of the rank and work their way “down” to the 1st Kyu (or degree). After that, they continue with the category of Dan, where the use of black belts begins
In some areas, especially in western schools, it has been the norm to wear different color belts to signify the different degrees within each rank. You will find that these colors have no standard meaning as there is no regulation in place that governs what these other belt colors mean – it is usually up to the school, class, or Sensei to decide how belt colors will work
Generally speaking; the darker the color of the student’s belt, the higher the rank, or the longer they have been training in the art of Aikido.
How to Progress from One Aikido Rank to the
When you start Aikido, you will not be given a white belt immediately. Some students will look back on their training and wonder why they haven’t received a belt yet, after several months. The thing is, belts can be awarded (or tested for) but only after being practiced for some time. If you practice once a month, you cannot consider that 30 days of practice, can you?
You will need to train for a period of time before the Sensei can decide if you are ready. Your Sensei or instructor must grant you permission to test for a particular rank or belt color too. To progress from one degree to the next and from one belt to the next, students must go for periodic testing. Tests can only be done at certain periods, and once a student has trained for a particular time, so you cannot rush through the ranking process, even if you want to.
Many beginners want to know how long it will take to work their way through the various ranks and belt degrees. It’s different for every student, but we can look at the American standards for testing to give you an idea of what to expect.
According to the United States Aikido Federation, below, is a rough idea of the requirements of testing to level up from one rank to the next:
- 6th Degree or Kyu (this is called the Rokukyo degree and is the very first level of achievement in the art of Aikido). This is probably the easiest Aikido test you will have when compared to what’s to come in the future.
- 5th Degree or Kyu (this is called the Gokyu degree). You can test for this belt or rank after 40 days of practice after achieving the 6th degree
- 4th Degree or Kyu (this is called the Yonkyu degree). You can test for this belt or rank after 80 days of practice after achieving the 5th degree.
- 3rd Degree or Kyu (this is called the Sankyu degree). You can test for this belt or rank after 100 days of practice after achieving the 4th degree.
- 2nd Degree or Kyu (this is called the Nikyu degree). You can test for this belt or rank after 200 days of practice after achieving the 3rd degree. Students are also expected to attend at least one seminar before testing for this rank.
- 1st Degree or Kyu (this is called the Ikkyu degree). You can test for this belt or rank after 300 days of practice after achieving the 2nd degree. Students are expected to, at least, attend 2 seminars per annum before testing for this belt.
When you enter black belt training, things become more complex, and so do the tests. Students have to demonstrate their abilities in attacking and defending, and the competition out there is certainly challenging. They must be versatile and effective as Uke (the attacker) and Nage (the victim or defender).
Here’s what to expect in terms of testing for each of the 3 black belt Dans:
- Shodan – 1st Dan of Black Belt Aikido. You can test for this black belt ranking after 300 days of practice after achieving the 1st Kyu. Only students who attend 2 seminars each year can test for this black belt. Realistically, it can take around 6 years of regular and consistent training for a student to reach this particular belt and grading/ranking.
- Nidan – 2nd Dan of Black Belt Aikido. You can test for this black belt after 600 days of practice after achieving the 1st Dan of Shodan. You must be dedicated to at least 2 seminars annually in order to test for this belt.
- Sandan – 3rd Dan of Black Belt Aikido. You can test for this black belt after 700 days of practice after achieving the 2nd Dan of Nidan. You must also attend no less than 2 seminars per year to test for this ranking. It can take many years to reach this level.
The Meaning of Aikido Belts and Ranks
You might wonder what it all really means when you receive a belt representing your new rank. In simple words, the rank and belt that a student holds is an indication of how much they have studied and practiced the art and how advanced their techniques are. It is also quite useful for pairing students for sparring just by referencing their current ranking.
In America, most tests are carried out according to the United States Aikido Federation guidelines. Students are expected to show their skills in all roles and also demonstrate just how meticulous their Aikido techniques are.
Students cannot simply decide for themselves when they want to test for a belt ranking. It is really something that is discussed with the Sensei, which means that you must work closely with your Sensei to hone your skills and ensure that you are truly ready.
To sum up
While there are only two main belts and ranks in Aikido, there are interim ranks and belts that do crop up in different schools and training centers. Originally, though, Aikido has two belt colors: white (for beginners) and black (for advanced).