Many people who have never been exposed to the martial arts often ask what is the significance of our belts. Aside from being a visual marker of where you are in the curriculum, it has other meanings to the depth of your knowledge. Like in school, we are tied to a curriculum and a student’s ability reflects where they will go in the span of achievement. Here is an analogy of our ranks:
White belt, Yellow belt and Orange belt → Elementary School
We all start here regardless of income, intellect or special opportunities. We are all learning the same curriculum, expected to memorize, repeat, and demonstrate what we have learned.
Blue Belt, Green Belt, Brown Belt → Middle School/ High School
We are all able to attend this level of school and build on the things that we learned in previous years at with continued repetition, memorization and demonstrate things at a higher level and with different applications.
Black Belt (Shodan, Nidan, Sandan) → College/Undergraduate Degree
In school, not everyone goes on to attend college just as not everyone earns a black belt. To gain acceptance to universities, there are strict academic achievement requirements and you are evaluated by your instructors/teachers and against your peers. This is the same for the dojo and these ranks. These students are in a relentless pursuit of knowledge and train themselves constantly.
You will never see a nidan or a sandan NOT training. They are usually the ones that say very little in the dojo and are constantly in motion. Unlike these students, a shodan will either sink or swim in the dojo, just like a freshman in college. They will either discipline themselves to become better and take advantage of their opportunity or they will fail or achieve very little.
Yondan, Godan, Rokudan → Graduate School/Master’s Degree
At this level, only the superior students move on to pursue this level of education and succeed at it. This is studying at a total application and analysis level that requires that the foundational knowledge is superior and requires little to no correction.
Nanadan, Hachidan, → Doctoral School/Doctorate Degree
The level of a 7th degree or 8th degree level could be related to a professor at an institute of higher learning. This person is a “teacher of teachers” and although the learning process never ends for anyone, they are highly knowledgeable in their field.
Kudan, Judan → University Chancellor
These very rare individuals have been appointed to this rank for their years of training, the quality of their teachers and students and for what they have done for the proliferation of their art.