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Grade Rank & Titles Part 4
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Articles Home » 剛柔流 Editors Commentary » Grade Rank & Titles Part 3
Grade Rank & Titles Part 3

Kohai, Sempai, Sensei, Shihan Shuo-go & Fuku Shidoin Menkyo.

Try saying all that three times fast!

When receiving a new belt and or Dan grade, such is done in another ceremony [Reishiki], which differs, from Dojo to Dojo. Generally students are called to the front of class. They kneel before their Instructor in Seiza, bow, and under whatever ceremonial circumstance receive their award. Again, the structure of this ritual will vary from Dojo to Dojo, association to association.

As you will notice the grading starts with 10th Kyu [denoting lower grades], a grade obtained by merely being accepted into a Dojo, since it is you who have made the decision in seeking out formal training. Grades descend down in numbers from 10th Kyu until it reaches Ikkyu [1st Kyu], the highest level of brown Belt and after passing the rigorous Shinsa [Audition for Grade] of Black Belt and fulfilling the requirements set forth, you struggle your way back up through the grades of Yudansha ascending to 8th Dan, [10th Dan being the highest achievable grade and bestowed after you have passed from this life to another].

By following a structure of merit, such as the Belt system, instructors have a way of understanding the development and progression of skill of students and can teach them according to a set of standards. This is, as well, an important part of the Dojo [Reishiki] and will later relate to Dankyu Seido [rank grading], which some may call Shihan Shuo-go or Fuku Shidoin Menkyo depending on who you are speaking to.

In modern times, a dan-ranked practitioner of a style is usually recognized as a martial artist who has surpassed the kyu, or basic, ranks. They may also become a licensed instructor in their art. In many styles, however, achieving a dan rank means that, while one is no longer considered a beginner, one is not yet necessarily an expert. Rather, it indicates a high degree of competence across a reasonable range of techniques.

The total number of dan ranks is style-specific (1st through 5th and 1st through 10th are common in Japanese martial arts). In Karatedo we use only 1st to 8th Dan grades for the living. The grade of 9th Dan is reserved for the deceased and 10th Dan grade is reserved for the senior most of the deceased.

The lower dan grades can normally be attained through a grading examination. The higher dan grades usually require years of experience and contribution to the relevant modern martial art in addition to a grading examination. This may be through instruction or research and publication. These grades can only be awarded by a steering committee. Ranking systems are specific to the school or style, so ranks do not necessarily translate across different martial arts styles. In fact, dan ranks do not necessarily indicate one wears a black belt. In martial arts such as Iaido, Kendo or Jodo, no external signifier of rank is worn, though a black belt is by far the most recognizable symbol to the general public. 

Many styles and associations use between one and ten dan levels, reserving the 9th and 10th dan for those no longer living. 

Degree  1st Dan 2nd Dan 3rd Dan 4th Dan 5th Dan 6th Dan 7th Dan 8th Dan 9th Dan 10th Dan
Pronunciation Shodan Nidan Sandan Yodan Godan Rokudan Nanadan Hachidan Kudan Judan
Japanese 初段Formally 初段

二段Formally 弐段

三段Formally 参段 四段 五段 六段 七段 八段 九段 十段

In some associations, black belts are worn at all dan levels. In other arts, the highest rank [8th dan] wears a red belt. In Karatedo and Judo, 5th to 7th dan may wear a red/white or red/black patterned belt depending of the traditions of the association and club or dojo.

In many styles Shodan implies that all the basics of the style have been mastered. At approximately Sandan, a practicioner is deemed capable of teaching independently as a teacher or instructor. At Godan, the Karateka may receive certification as a master level practitioner. Generally, the lower dan ranks are validated on the basis of knowledge and physical skill. The higher the dan rank, the more leadership ability, teaching experience, and service to the style play a role in promotion.

In Karatedo and Kendo using the dan structure, again only 8th dan is the highest attainable rank for those still living. Dan grades are awarded for technical ability, there is a parallel Shogo 称号 structure awarding Renshi, Kyoshi, Hanshi License, against suitability as a role model to some members of a given association to those holding a grade of 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th dan. Renshi and Kyoshi may be awarded on recommendation or written examination and Hanshi by nomination and election.

Although the dan structure is distinctly Japanese, it has been adopted by many other martial arts styles in Korea. The dan structure and the well-known symbol of a black-belt have been absorbed into common usage to represent a person with above-average or highly trained skills in a particular discipline.

The following is a guideline of titles and credentials commonly used:

Terminology, Honorific, Shogo 称号 or Menkyo [License] Meaning Credential & Grade [Dan 段 or Kyu ]


Sacred Fist.

  • No credential,
  • Honorific Credential in reference of Miyagi Chojun Sensei.

Kancho 館長

  • Master of the house.
  • Highest instructor of a specific Ryuha or Kaiha
  • Owner of the Dojo.
  • Honorific title.

Not necessarily of grade.

Kaicho 会長

  • President / Chairman of a specific association or Kaiha.
  • Regional Head
  • Director

Also Branch / Regional Representative per association.

Kaiso 開祖

  • Founder
  • Senior Advisor

Honorific title.

Shibucho 支部長
  • Area or regional Director
  • Branch or regional representative.
Or / and
Dai Sensei
  • Greatest Teachers,
  • Highly regarded
  • Respected teacher
  • Honorific title in reference.
  • Honorific title spoken in reference of those deceased.
  • Sensei that are living cannot and should not be referred to as O’Sensei.
Soke 宗家
  • Master
  • Founder of a Ryu-Ha.


Saiko Shihan
or / and
Shuseki Shihan
Head Shihan.
Head Shihan to a specific group or organization.
Shihan 師範
Expert License / Master Teacher of:
  • Hanshi
  • Kyoshi
  • Renshi
5th Dan and higher [4th Dan as Jr Shihan in some groups] designated by the qualification of virtue and endorsement by the:
  • Association of Chief Instructors or
  • Administrative Head of an Association.
License [not title] is by award and certification or letter, not by Dan grade alone.
Hanshi 範士
  • Model Expert" or "Teacher by Example"
  • Senior leader to Model Instructors, to be modeled after
  • Exemplary Illustrious.

  • Shihan License Certification,
  • Separate from that of Dan grade alone.
  • Minimum of 7 years after Kyoshi License is received.
    • Possibly longer with different organizations.
  • Minimum of 60 years of age. 
    • Older in some organizations.
  • Of being 8th, 9th & 10th Dan.
Some Japan based Karatedo associations, Hanshi license holders may wear belts w/ all Red facing out and Black facing in.

Also within such associations, the Chief Instructor themself may wear an all red belt.

Some Okinawa based Karatedo association Hanshi License holders wear Black Belt with three Red or Gold stripe.
Kyoshi 教士
  • Teaching Expert.
  • Master, Teaching instructor [teacher of teachers]
  • Eminent Instructor; Master Instructor.
  • Can be preceeded by: Tasshi 達士.

  • Shihan License Certification,
  • Separate from that of Dan grade alone.
  • Minimum of 5 years after Renshi License is received.
    • Possibly longer with different organizations. 
  • Minimum of 45 years of age.
    • Older in some organizations.
  • Of being 6th Dan and above.
    • Of being 7th and 8th Dan in some organizations.

Some Japan based Karatedo associations, Kyoshi license holders may wear belts with a Red stripe above Black stripe facing out and all black facing in Belt [Japanese].

Some Okinawa based Karatedo association Kyoshi License holders wear Black Belt with two Red or Gold stripes.
Renshi 錬士
  • Well Trained or Skilled Expert.
  • Senior Expert,
  • Highly trained; High Attainment,
  • Polished practicioner.

  • Shihan License Certification,
  • Separate from that of Dan grade alone.
  • Minimum of 3 years after 5th dan is passed.
    • Possibly longer with different organizations.
  • Minimum of 30 years of age. 
    • Older in some organizations.
  • Of being 5th & 6th Dan.
Some Japan based Karatedo associations, Renshi license holders may wear belts with a White stripe above Red stripe facing out and Black facing in.

Some Okinawa based Karatedo association Renshi License holders wear Black Belt with one Red or Gold stripe.
Renshi Menkyo Dai Nippon Butoku Kai
*Note that the DNBK issued Renshi Shihan Menkyo shown has no mention of grade, 5th Dan or Godan!
Meijin 名人 
  • Brilliant Man
  • Enlightened Person
  • Only awarded by a special board of Examiners
Sensei 先生
  • San Dan & higher instructors,
  • License [not title] is by award and certification or letter,
  • Not by Dan grade alone.
Jokyo 助教
Upper Grade Yudanasha
  • Experienced Grade Sensei Menkyo;
  • Preamble to Shihan Menkyo structure,
  • 4th to 5th dan.
Shidoin 指導員
Middle Grade Yudansha
  • Beginning Grade Sensei Menkyo;
  • Preamble to Jokyo Menkyo;
  • 3rd to 4th Dan.
Kyosei [Kosei]
Student Teacher
Fuku Shidoin
  • Lower Grade Yudansha
  • Assistant to Sensei.
  • May be of either Ni [2nd] Dan or San [3rd] Dan
  • Acting as an assistant to Sensei.
Kyoshi no Joshu
Teachers Assistant
By assignment and designation
  • This is not a title
Kyoren [Koren]
San Dan, not of/or becoming Sensei
Senpai 先輩
  • Senior Student
  • Senior to yourself.
  • Sho, Ni & San Dan, Black Belt,
  • Those senior to yourself.
Student equal to your own grade, status and level.


Shodan Ho
Conditional Black Belt
Having met the requirements of Shodan grading however under review [usually for one year] for continued dedication to training and to fulfill moral and other standards.
Shonenbu Shodan
Junior Black Belt.
  • Under Sixteen years of age
  • Meeting the requirements of Shodan.
This grade holder should re-audition for Shodan when they come of age.
Students below Dan Level.
Mudansha, 9th to 1st Kyu.
Kyohai [Kohai] 後輩
  • Junior Student.
  • Junior to yourself.
Meaning Junior to yourself.
Uchi Deshi
Personal [or inside] Student.




Chukyu [Chukyu Sha]

  • Post Secondary Grade
  • Intermediate Kyu Level
Intermediate Level Learning Grade.
Regarding a person[s] holding Dan grade.

  • Shodan & higher,
  • Black belt holders.
Shokyu [Shokyo Sha]
and / or
  • Secondary Grade or Grade two
  • Lower Kyu Level
  • Secondary Level Learning Grade, As in
  • Shodan, Of advanced Kyu grading.
1st Kyu to 10th Kyu.
Non Black Belt Holder.


Entry Level Learning Grade.
Mukyu or Shodo

Beginners Grade.
Non “kyu” Grade Holder.

Please note the following terminology:


  • Audition for grade.
  • Examination.

You audition for grades in all Budo. It is a pass or fail examination, not a test with final scores.


Your style of Karate Do

Examples of Ryuha that study Karate-Do include however are not limited to:

  • Goju Ryu
  • Ryuei Ryu
  • Shorin Ryu
  • Wado Ryu
  • Shotokan
  • Chito Ryu
  • Uechi Ryu
  • Shindo Jinen Ryu
  • Wado Ryu
  • Chinto Ryu
  • Shorinji Kenpo
  • Ryukyu Kenpo
  • Shindo Yoshin Ryu
  • Iishin Ryu
  • Shito Ryu
  • Shudokan
  • Motobu Ryu
  • Kyu Shin Ryu



Your association name of your style.

Examples of Kaiha that study Gojyu Ryu include however are not limited to:

  • Eibukan Goju Ryu Karatedo
  • Eidokan Goju Ryu Karatedo
  • Jitsuei Kai Goju Ryu Karatedo
  • JKGA [aka IKGA]
  • JKF Goju Kai
  • Jundo Kan Goju Ryu Karatedo
  • Kenbu Kan Goju Ryu Karatedo
  • Koyu Kai Goju Ryu Karatedo
  • Kuyu Kai Goju Ryu Karatedo
  • Meibu Kan Goju Ryu Karatedo
  • Nishinaka-Ha Goju Ryu
  • Okinawa Goju Ryu Kyo Kan [OGKK]
  • Seigo Kan Goju Ryu Karatedo
  • Seishi Kan Goju Ryu Karatedo
  • Seiwa Kai International Goju Ryu Karatedo
  • Shi-Sei-Kan Goju Ryu Karatedo
  • Shudo Kan Goju Ryu Karatedo
  • Uchiage Kai Goju Ryu Karatedo
  • Yuishin Kan Goju Ryu Karatedo

Shihan Menkyo [Shogo]

License structure originated by the Dai Nippon Butokukai

Examples of Menkyo in Budo include however are not limited to:

  • Shihan
    • Renshi
    • Kyoshi
    • Hanshi
  • Sensei 先生
    • Jokyo [preceeds Shihan]
    • Shidoin [preceeds Shihan]


By: Johnpaul Williams

#1 Paul Coleman
on October 25 2006 09:38:10
I think most people wear a colour of embroidery purely from colour preference and are not aware of it representing rank. But ..... Seichii Fujiwara's belt is with silver embroidery and he certainly isn't a shodan or nidan!
#2 gojuryu
on December 09 2008 01:10:43
Revision forthcoming. Please remember that Gojuryu.net is a forum open to criticism and contribution. You are welcome to include your input here in the comments section. You input and comment will be considered for inclusion to the referred articles.
#3 martin
on November 01 2009 22:12:34
This summer in japan we ordered a Go Ju Ryu belt for our sensei. Our Sihan (George Chan) was there as we were ordering it from our Sieko Sihan (Osama Hirano) I suggested the embroidery be red and Shihan George said "No! I'm red, he can be something else" Big laugh we decided on gold. It seems in our club colour is a matter of preferance.
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