Do Karate Belts Transfer Between Dojos?


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Many people start martial arts and then take a break. And they don’t always return to the same dojo they started in. In that case, do Karate belts transfer between dojos?

Here’s what I know from working with many students of other dojos:

Most dojos will allow a student from another school to continue to wear their old belt at least until their first test at the new school. As long as both dojos were teaching Karate, and especially the same style of Karate, the belt is likely to transfer though.

Does this mean that you would have to start afresh all over again in some dojos? Read on to know what usually happens. In this article, we’ll explore the following:

  • Do you get to keep your Karate belts?
  • Do different Karate schools use different belt systems?
  • How long does each belt take in Karate?
  • In what order do Karate belts go in?
  • Are black belts transferable?

Let the fun begin.

Do you get to keep your Karate belts?

Martial arts students do get to keep their belts and do not necessarily have to start over belt-wise after a break or when changing schools. However, it is wise to start over after a multi-year break as many of the techniques will have been forgotten.

So, even if you get to keep the belt color, it’s really to your disadvantage if you barely remember anything.

Why? The belt is a symbol. A genuine symbol reflects what it stands for. A Karate belt ought to show how skillful you are and also your level of self-mastery.

If you haven’t been honing your skills in this regard, wearing the belt is not a good idea.

Because there’s a gap that needs to be addressed through adequate training. It’s not the belt that shows how good you are. It’s your skills.

I understand why one would want to keep one’s belt. It takes a lot to earn it. I get it.

In a lot of cases, you won’t be “demoted” even if you’re not really at the expected skills level. But it’s the sensei in the dojo you are training at now who has the final say.

If you’re not immediately allowed to wear your old belt, don’t let it bother you one bit. See it as an opportunity to get better because that’s what it is.

Even a black belt, rightly understood, is an indication that the holder is on the path to mastery. It’s a measure of competence. This is why it has several degrees. So, all you need to do is be open to being graded again, and you can keep your belt.

And if you have a bunch of old belts, don’t get rid of them!

After all, each represented a milestone of where you were at in your life. A belt display like this one on Amazon is a great way to display them, feel that sense of accomplishment, and get them off the floor of your closet.

Do different Karate schools use different belt systems?

Karate schools, especially different styles of Karate, can use different belt systems. But, the differences are not substantial. The most common belt colors used in Karate are, in order, white, yellow, orange, green, blue, brown, and black.

And of course, in ancient times, they didn’t use belts at all.

But, there is no single standard. It varies between different school organizations and even countries. Despite the variations, the starting color is white, an indication of the purity of someone who is just trying to learn.

Purity in the sense of not knowing what’s involved.

And it ends in a black-colored belt. The latter has some gradations, degrees, known as dan. It is a reflection of competence, not mastery. Embroidered bars/stripes are often employed to indicate the dan that the holder of the belt has attained.

Let’s check out some schools and the differences

The Shotokan school, the first to adopt the belt grading system, has 10 different belt grades, made up of 7 different colors. There are two purple grades and two brown grades.

The Wado-Ryu school has 6 belt grades. Each has 5 kyu, but the black belt grade has 10 dans.

Kyokushin school has 12 grades. Each one, except for the black belt grade, has a senior and a junior level. While the black belt has only one dan.

Shido-Kan Shorin Ryu school has 11 grades. Here, there is a mid-way point between each color belt, and it is shown by having the next color to be attained depicted on the bottom half of the current belt.

In the Isshinryu school, red and purple belts are absent. Each grade has divisions. Say someone is moving from yellow to green. When the person has advanced substantially, some green stripes are marked on the yellow belt.

Keichu Ryu has 7 belt grades.

At one point, you’ve probably wondered why martial arts are expensive and if Karate is also expensive, right?

You’re in luck because a recent article of mine is a deep dive into the cost involved. In it, I explored why martial arts are expensive, whether Karate is expensive compared to other sports, and how to avoid schools that charge too much.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

How long does each belt take in karate?

As a general rule, it takes 3-4 months for the first Karate belt, and then it gets increasingly longer. About 6 to 9 months between belts in the mid-levels, and up to 1 year and 1.5 years for the higher belts as there is more to learn and master.

Let’s look at a school that has 7 belt grades.

  1. White – Starting
  2. Yellow – earned after 3 months
  3. Orange  – earned after 6 more months
  4. Green – earned after 6 more months
  5. Blue – earned after 9 more months
  6. Brown – Earned after 12 more months
  7. Black – earned after 1.5 years from the brown belt

So, on average, it would take about 5 years to go from white belt to black belt. All things being equal. But it also depends on how many times a week you go and how much you’re progressing.

For kids, they often award the lower belts just for showing up. 

But for adults, and particularly for the higher belts, if you aren’t progressing at the rate the instructor thinks you should, you don’t just get a belt.

And some schools take even longer than 5 years! You might be thinking, is it worth it? 

Are martial arts even worth the hassle? I bet you’ll enjoy reading a recent article where I shared the reasons why it’s important to learn martial arts. I looked at whether they make you violent and if they teach you discipline. But I also shared some of the downsides.

Just click the link to read it on my side.

In what order do Karate belts go in?

The order Karate belts go in are white, yellow, orange, green, blue, brown, and black. But this can vary from school to school and even country to country. In some, there are divisions in each grade and none in others. A ranking system with 7 grades is the most common.

In most schools, the black belt has divisions or degrees known as dans.

The number of divisions differs from school to school. The implication is that one does not stop learning after earning a black belt. In fact, in some schools, no one has ever reached the final dan! It would take too long.

Serious students of Karate don’t focus on how long it takes to attain a belt. The focus is on knowledge, skills, and self-mastery. They focus on the journey, not the destination.

One of the steps you can take is to augment training in a dojo with self-study or simply rely on it if there is no reputable dojo around. But is it advisable?

Can you learn Karate at home?

Check out a recent article of mine where I explained whether it takes longer to learn it at home, whether you could learn it on YouTube, and whether you could earn a black belt if you learned at home.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

Are black belts transferable?

A black belt from one martial art does not transfer to a different martial art. And it cannot be given to another person. But when transferring to a different school in the same martial art the school would typically recognize and honor the black belt earned elsewhere.

It is a tangible reflection of what an individual has attained in one martial art. It is theirs and theirs alone, and it covers that single art. No more, no less.

In ancient times, long before belts were being issued, certificates were issued by masters to exceptional students they have trained. It’s evidence that the student is competent in the martial art they have spent years learning.

The black belt is the same in spirit. It certifies a student’s competency in one single art. The key things to note: One student. One art.

This is easy to understand because each martial art is distinct, even if there are a few similarities. A black belt earned in Judo, for example, would not transfer to Karate, nor can the Judokan transfer it to a Karateka!

With that said, there are two exceptions:

In the same martial art, a black belt in one school (style) may be “required” to audit some classes in the new style they’re trying to embrace. They get to keep their black belt. But as masters, they are humble enough to learn what’s required of them.

Black belts can also be transferable if you moved from one location to another. A black belt in Texas doesn’t cease to be one in New York.

What about the Gi (uniform)? Can you use a Judo Gi for Karate?

In a recent article, I looked at whether you can, how they differ from each other if you’ll be given a Karate uniform, and whether you get to keep your Judo belt.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

Conclusion

In the article, we looked at whether you get to keep your Karate belts and if different Karate schools use different belt systems.

But we also found out how long each belt takes in Karate. Then, we saw the order Karate belts go in. And we wrapped things up by considering whether black belts are transferable?

Jeff Campbell

Jeff Campbell was Academy Director for a large martial arts school for over 7 years, and has trained extensively in a variety of martial arts including Brazilian Jiujitsu, different styles of Karate, the Russian Martial Art of Systema, Aikido, and much more.

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