Aikido Belts

When it comes to martial arts, most people instantly assume that there is a belt system consisting of different colors to show rank. White is the most basic, blue is intermediate, and black is the highest. However, in regards to Aikido belts, this is not always the case.

When people ask what the specific belts are in Aikido, the discussion becomes quite a mess because there are different standards across the globe. Unlike Judo or Brazilian Jiu Jitsu which basically rely on five colors, Aikido stands on just two: white and black. However, in some places, additional colors have been added.

Aikido Belts and Ranking System

Rank DegreeBelt Color

Kyu

6th DegreeWhite
5th DegreeWhite
4th DegreeWhite
3rd DegreeWhite
2nd DegreeWhite
1st DegreeWhite

Dan

1st DegreeBlack
2nd DegreeBlack
3rd DegreeBlack
4th DegreeBlack
5th DegreeBlack
6th DegreeBlack
7th DegreeBlack
8th DegreeBlack
9th DegreeBlack
10th DegreeBlack

The Original Colors of Aikido Belts

Back when Morihei Ueshiba developed Aikido, there were only two colors of belts that were in use. First there was the white belt, which showed the rank of a beginner or learner. These were referred to as grades or kyu.

There were several kyu that a student could reach, beginning from 6th kyu and then moving up to 2nd kyu. When they reach the next level above 2nd kyu they were awarded with a black belt, indicating they have reached the first dan or first degree.

Generally, there are three degrees as a black belt holder: 1st dan, 2nd dan, and 3rd dan black belt. In the original Aikido schools in Japan only the highest masters of the art could wear a 3rd dan black belt.

Adding Additional Colors

When Aikido reached Europe, the concept of just two colored belts became difficult to implement. It was hard for students to identify a 6th kyu student from a 3rd kyu student because they both wore the same color – plain white.

To show difference in rank, many British Aikido schools began implementing the use of different colors. It is unsure where the concept initially started but many point to the rising popularity of colors in Western Judo schools as the primary inspiration.

In many Western Aikido schools the belt system is similar to this structure:

  • 6th kyu – white
  • 5th kyu – yellow
  • 4th kyu – orange
  • 3rd kyu – blue
  • 2nd kyu – brown
  • 1st dan – black
  • 2nd dan – black with thin gold stripe
  • 3rd dan – black with red stripe

Sometimes these structures differ. Some tend to add more degrees of black, going all the way up to 9th dan. In Aikido schools where children are taught different colors are used because the age requirement to attain a black belt is 16.

Belts in the Aikido Federation

The Aikido Federation (from Singapore) uses a different system:

  • 12th-11th kyu – white
  • 10th kyu – yellow
  • 9th kyu – red
  • 8th kyu – green
  • 7th kyu – orange
  • 6th kyu – blue
  • 5th kyu – blue with gold tip
  • 4th kyu – brown
  • 3rd kyu – brown, single gold tip
  • 2nd kyu – brown, double gold tip
  • 1st kyu – black, gold tip

Upon reaching the 1st dan (dan degree in the Aikido Federation reaches up to 10th dan), the practitioner starts wearing a hakama with their uniform, signifying they have reached a higher level of expertise in the art of Aikido.

It is also important to note that in the Aikido Federation there are several levels of 6th kyu. There is 6th kyu I which is a plain blue belt, 6th kyu II which uses a blue belt with a single gold tip, and 6th kyu III which utilizes a blue belt with double gold tips.

Aikido Belts are a Modern Invention

As with the concept of belts in Judo, the use of white and black belts is a modern convention. Before Jigoro Kano started the concept of belts to indicate rank, traditional Japanese martial arts – particularly Budo – used written scrolls which served as official certificates.

Even Aikido founder Morihei Ueshiba initially did not want to use colored belts to indicate rank and skill. During his time studying the arts of Daito-ryu-aiki-jujutsu his only proof of advancement was the scroll he had with him, signed by his own master.

If you study traditional Aikido in a Japanese school then it is very likely that you will only encounter white and black belts along with the hakama as a sign of advancement. In Western schools, colored belts are more often used for children and fewer colors are used for adults.

Which System is Right?

There really isn’t a right or wrong system when it comes to Aikido belts. In international competitions it is common to use only white and black belts for adults and the colored belts for younger competitors. In some cases, belt colors are adjusted for uniformity.

For example: if a competition does not recognize the red belt, a red belt competitor will either wear a yellow or green belt for the duration of their participation.

Since Aikido belts differ from place to place, the ranking a person might follow will depend entirely on the school they enroll in. However, for uniformity, even colored belts are commonly categorized as “white kyu” and only black Aikido belts are recognized as “dan”.

 

4 thoughts on “Aikido Belts

  1. Where Are the Dan rankings? 1st dan is usually Black Belt, and you have it listed as A KYU RANK, I have never seen that anywhere, in any style. Even in the Paragraphs below the Ranking system, that shows just White (KYU) and Black is also 1st KYU. as far as I know (after 30-odd years in Martial arts) Black is always a Dan rank and then 1st-10th(Or 11th in JUDO) that wheres a red belt. Red is supposed to be given to Un-TESTED BEGINNERS and the to 7th-10th Dan, (Master or Grand Master Ranks Depending on style) They Then go back to RED BELTS , Signifying that they have come Full Circle in a life of Martial arts.

    1. Hey Jim, the Aikido belt ranking system is really not traditional in any sense. It is very much a modern innovation to sort of keep up with other martial arts.

      The red headings in the table above show the Dan and Kyu ranks. The Dan, which as you mentioned is the black belt, has up to 10 degrees in most rankings, while the white belt, the Kyu, has 6 degrees.

      Depending on different Aikido schools, they do have other colored belts as well, but white and black are the most common. However, it is pretty rare for Aikido school to award colorful belts to students such as those done in Karate, BJJ, etc…

  2. i have a red belt from about 1969 and i started when i was studying judo in 1940s i think i love aikido the most …
    i have finnally mastered the touchless touch. i saw my judo teacher do it when i was eight. he was a red belt….i hardly believed it . but there it was right in front of me….. now i can do it. and it is not just martial arts …it is in all
    beings…..!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. I enjoy Aikido too. I like the ability to follow up with harder or softer techniques. O’Sensei mastered the touchless touch but I dont think he provided much information about it. I have always wanted to learn it.

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