Black Belt (Dan rank) Standards

Video & Text Article: What standard is a Karate Black belt Test - 1st dan to 3rd Dan?

This page shows examples of a number of brown belts testing from different dojos/styles for Shodan (1st degree black belt) via the Traditional Japanese Karate Network. It discusses standards, curricula, expectations and hopefully serves as a reference point for students and sensei. Depicted dojo(s) include the USA, Australia and Japan. Below that is written recommendations around the 3rd Dan (sandan) rank.

Video 2: Unlike decades ago, we more often now see people in their late 40s and kids under 18 being active Dan ranks in karate. This footage shows snippets of a late 40s Sandan test & Junior 10yr old Black Belt test. More detail on Sandan level testing is at the bottom of this page.

Video 1: footage represents all sections of a belt test (karate grading, or "shinsa" in Japanese) from various dojos and styles (Shotokan, Goju, Shito-ryu). The sections shown include: Kihon, Ido (step over combinations), Kata, Bunkai, Ippon Kumite and free kumite (sparring).

Related links for Shodan & Nidan in our Network testing:

1. The online theory test & kata requirements for TJKN Dan ranks.

    • the above link includes the kata list for those testing for shodan or nidan in the lineage of Jason Armstrong Shihan.

2. Black belt theory manual and curriculum...

    • used in 5th kyu and Shodan tests for TJKN

3. Curriculum - its design and Karate & Street Fighting Statistics...

Video 3: Junior 10yr old Black Belt test - step over kihon section "ido".

Video 4: Mid-40s male Black Belt tests & Girls (15yrs) shodan test excerpts.

1st, 3rd and 5th dan are usually considered the 3 key ranks that one sits for on the way along the path of physical test. The common rule of thumb for time between Dan ranks is: The rank number you are going for determines how long you will be on that rank e.g. going for yondan means 4 years on sandan.

3rd Dan - Recommendations for this high level rank:

  • Text book style karate – this level shows one has a solid path down the road of “Shu” of Shuhari .

  • At least 10 years consistent training.

  • Instructor experience - should be able to guide and hold Shodans as students

  • Life experience – must be at least 21 year old given the maturity of life experience expected for the rank (based on recommendations from senior sensei panels of international note).

  • 3rd Dan theory exam must be completed.

  • Has a solid handle on terms, pronunciation, history, kata and karate lineage.

  • Capable of refereeing a kumite bout with appropriate terminology.

  • If under 40yrs of age, be as strong and fast physically as anyone in a dojo – but not possess the same experience as 4th, 5th Dan.

  • If under 40 has made the effort to continually compete in tournaments to gain the experience they offer.

  • A handful to deal with (partner work) for any instructor, regardless of their rank (in contrast, nidans are generally not a rank that a 4th and 5th danwould struggle to deal with in ippon kumite or kumite). The application of fudoshin is a differentiator here for sandan.

  • Have a solid handle on all the bunkai in their belt test kata (both "classical", and evidenced practiced when they differ).

    • Side note for those testing in the lineage of Jason Armstrong Shihan: A person testing for sandan must also know the patterns to the following kata: Seinchin, Annanko, Matsukaze, Basai dai, Naifanchin, Sanchin, Gassho, Rohai, Seipai & Jion. Pinan sandan must be performed in the test and a least one of the above mentioned advanced kata where a level of "ura" in performance & knowledge exists. As a sandan you are now on the road to being a potential successor to pass on the art of karate. For this reason there is a big jump from nidan in terms of classical & evidenced-based bunkai needing to be known & also the the number of kata known, at least at an "omote" level (we only search for true ura/competence in a few kata to stay in line with Mabuni Kenwa's 1934 book statement, "Simply knowing a kata does not make one strong, knowing a few kata is better...If you specialize and study only a few kata, then you will be a serious Karate-jutsu student").

  • A sandan sets the standard in the dojo technically, etiquette and attendance/support.

However, select sensei sometimes consider more the time in consistent training and may override the above if someone has been unable to grade for political, or other reasons i.e. a catch-up like scenario (there are many examples of this from different leading sensei).

Seienchin - the Book

Certificate templates

Belt Test Theory Manual

- the White to Black Belt Journey

Age and rank eligibility:

Finally, time in the art is by no means the only measure – just one. Promotion is not simply because someone has “put in their time”.

Life experience requirements and ranks – set by past examples from quality organizations recognized internationally:

  • 21years old for sandan

(Nick Lukich, Marcus Young)

  • 27 yrs old for yondan

(Sean Danaher - Young sensei's student;

numerous examples in Japan)

  • 33 yrs old for godan (Greg Story, Jason Armstrong)

  • 38 for rokudan (Iba, McCarthy, Armstrong & others).

  • mid-forties for shichidan in Japan (Sotokawa, Iba, Kimura in Japan). Mid to late forties in the West (Wayne McDonald, John Bartholomay, Jason Armstrong).

  • early-fifties for hachidan (Sotokawa, Iba, Kimura in Japan; Sells in the West).

Remember that the above time frames are by no means the norm, they represent the earliest, given what highly athletic, committed martial artists have achieved.

Dan Test Fees for The Traditional Japanese Karate Network

  • $175 for shodan (US$ or A$ depending on location)

  • $275 for nidan (US$ or A$ depending on location)

  • $375 for sandan (US$ or A$ depending on location)

  • $475 for yondan (US$ or A$ depending on location)

  • $500 for godan (in USA: US$500)

  • US$600 for rokudan in USA; A$800 in Australia

  • US$700 for nanadan in USA; A$1000 in Australia

The above guides for Dan rank advancement with a link to a Japanese heritage can be seen in the Shito-ryu Mabuni-Himeji line associated the Traditional Japanese Karate Network