black belt dan 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 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...


shodan sandan karate belt test standard curriculum level

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 dan would 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). 

black belt certificate dan standard grading karate

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.

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