Proper Martial Arts Ranks and Titles

Martial Arts Belts

Originally in Okinawa there were 15 ranks for Black Belt and these ranks ended with the Gold Belt. Yes, 15! In Japan, as martial arts became more popular, they decided to limit black belt rank to just 10, keeping Judo, Karate and Jiujitsu the same, with only 10 levels. Okinawa agreed and many masters backed up from 12 and 13th Degree to 10th Degree, although one in Hawaii refused and kept his 13th Degree til the day he died. Over, done . . .

The title of Meijin is a supreme title for any Grand Master. The belief is that for Meijin, you are in your 2nd or 3rd life as a martial artist and you must come up with studies and theories that are beyond the normal. The martial arts historian, Richard Kim, wrote me a letter after watching my first 11 dvds, (then it was VHS), stating that he thought I was the only man qualified for Meijin that he met in his lifetime. Naturally, I was honored.

There is a big fighting tournament in Japan called Meijin and if you can win this tournament 5 years in a row you receive the title of Meijin. I do not think anyone has done that.

Now the meat of this story is the final ranking system adopted in Japan on March 27th 1971.

Kyu Ranks:
No age required and everyone participating is a 10th Kyu White Belt
9th, 8th and 7th kyu are White Belts
6th, 5th and 4th kyu are Green Belts
3rd, 2nd and 1st kyu are Brown Belts
Below Brown (Identified by different colors)
All kyus ranks are considered White Belts relative to the Black Belt.

Black Belts:
1st, 2nd, and 3rd Dan have no title or age requirement. At 3rd you are considered teacher qualified.

4th, 5th, and 6th Dan (Japan rules age 35 and over for a 6th).
Title is RENSHI, and can be awarded (key word–can be) over 2 years after receiving 5th Dan if you are older than 35 years, so, you can be a master and not be a Renshi.

Grand Master:
7th Dan should be received 7 years after 6th Dan and when one is 42 years and older.
8th Dan can be received 8 years after 7th Dan. 7th and 8th Dans can be awarded title: KYOSHI only after 10 years of holding the title of Renshi and at age 40 and older.
9th and 10th Dan – THE BIG TITLE of HANSHI is reserved for 9th and 10th Dans, age 55, or older. To properly receive this rank you must have held the title of Renshi for 15 years.
9th Dans must be 60 years of age or older.
10th Dans must be 70 years of age or older.

The head of an organization with 50 or more dojos, can back the age requirement up by 5 years.

And then there is me . . your happy Meijin!

These are only guidelines, however, I do follow them (somewhat), but as you know not all martial artists do. Many run around calling themselves Hanshi, Renshi, etc., but I recommend that we just be cool and use our rank. Do not let titles bother you . . .

George A. Dillman