I found a graphic detailing belt colours according to ranks. In there, the last two judo ranks are red and white for 6-8th dan ranks and full red belts for 9 and 10th dan.

Is the highest judo belt really red? I thought it was black...

8 Answers 8


It is, and it takes a LONG time to reach.

If you ever reach your 9th Dan, you are awarded a red belt to wear. The white-red belt is awarded at 6th Dan.

At this stage, you need to wait for 8 to 10 years between each test, and it's not automatically given to you; the federation will only give the highest Dan to people who actually have an impact on judo as a whole. In the history of judo, there have only been 15 people who were awarded a 10th Dan.

In Canada, there have been only 4 people with a 9th Dan:

  • Raymond Damblant
  • Hiroshi Nakamura
  • Yeiji Inouye
  • Yoshio Senda.

Dr. Senda was the first ever, and died in 2009.

  • Removed the word 'internal' before federation. Was it supposed to mean "national federation" (internal to the country), or "international federation"?
    – Mike P
    Commented Feb 28, 2018 at 15:51
  • Where did you get the idea that there are tests for those ranks from? Afaik they are 100% honorary. Commented Feb 28, 2018 at 16:26
  • My coach was Hiroshi Nakamura. He had to go take a test to get his 8th and 9th Dan. He didnt talked much about the test, and I doubt it was a physical exam mind you .. and as for the international federation, it was update since I last answer : "There have only been seventeen judan (tenth dan) judoka in history, fifteen promoted by the Kodokan (japan federation) and two by the International Judo Federation" Commented Mar 3, 2018 at 14:49

3 10th Dan grade holders at the Kodokan

Ichiro ABE, 10th Dan | Yoshimi OSAWA, 10th Dan | Toshiro DAIGO, 10th Dan

The image above can be found on the website of the Kodokan. It shows three holders of the 10th dan with their red belts.

I guess this settles it with an appropriately authoritative source.


To add to the (excellent) answers already provided:

Black is an arbitrary color for an arbitrary level. This is why I've told people to be very, very dubious of special "black belt tracks."

There are two reasons for this:

First, "1 dan" (or its equivalent) is an arbitrary designation within the art. It indicates that you have learned whatever set of principles they think you should know to be whatever they consider a 1 dan. This isn't flippant: It is part of why some arts get you to "1 dan" relatively quickly where others it can take years and years to get there.

This means that while comparing 1 dans within a single art is fairly effectively, it breaks down somewhat even between schools in the same art and almost entirely when you transition between arts.

The second reason is that, even within different schools within the same art, they will use different belts. I've seen a "brown belt" and a "red belt" mean the same kup rank simply because the organization as a whole had no prescription and the individual schools used different belt color ordering.

Basically what it boils down to is that if an individual is a "black belt" or a "red belt" it doesn't mean a whole lot without knowing how long it takes/what it takes to get there and where that particular school/tradition considers that belt color in whatever ranking system they use.

…which of course all assumes they even use a graded ranking system and that it is represented by belts, neither of which are even entirely universal.


9th-10th dan red belts

The colour of belt associated with each kyu / dan grade depends on the organisation awarding the grades, which differs from country to country. However, it is generally standard across all organisations that:

Belt colour Grade
enter image description here 1st - 5th dan
enter image description here 6th - 8th dan
enter image description here 9th - 10th dan

Though the latter two are optional and often dans of any grade wear solid black belts in regular training.1

6th kyū red belt

Note that in e.g. the BJA's grading system in the UK, a red belt is also awarded to 6th kyū (級) (i.e. the lowest grade). Equivalent beginner grades are normally awarded a white or yellow belt in other organisations.

I presume the introduction of the 6th kyū red belt was to mirror Kano's zen/"beginner's mind" like remarks on those that may progress beyond 10th dan:

... when one reaches this stage, one transcends such things as colours and grades and therefore returns to a white belt, thereby completing the full circle of Judo, as of life.

12th dan white belt

The full quote above implies that the (currently hypothetical) rank of 12th dan would receive a white belt from the Kōdōkan, but twice as wide as an ordinary belt to avoid confusion with a mudansha (無段者):

If he should be of such mettle as to deserve further recognition he would be raised to 12th Dan and given the title of Shihan, which until now has only been applied to our founder... For the purposes of recognition, however, it has been decided that the white belt worn by a Shihan should be about twice as wide as the ordinary belt, so that there is no chance of a beginner, for example, making a terrible mistake.

  • Ibid.

However, according to Wikipedia the Kōdōkan have since stated that the dan hierarchy now effectively stops at 10, and that they do not envisage any nominations above this.2

Historical development of grading systems

Year Development
1883 Kano awards shodan (初段) "first degree" rank to Shiro Saigo and Tsunejiro Tomita.
1886 Kano starts tradition of yūdansha (有段者) "person who has dan" wearing black obi.
1907 Kano develops modern style judogi/belts (as opposed to kimono/obi)
1920 c. Aikido, Karate etc start adopting judo style clothing and belts for training.
1930 c. Kano introduces optional kōhaku (紅白) "red and white" belt for 6th-8th dan.
1935 Mikonosuke Kawaishi introduces coloured belts in Paris.
1943 Kano introduces optional red belt for 9th, 10th dan.


"The Judo Rank System", Neil Ohlenkamp
Histoire de Judo, Judo Kodokan Review, Vol.XII No.5, (Nov. 1962)
1. BJA Dan Grade Promotion Syllabus:

Promotion with the Dan Grades does not carry a change of designated colour until 6th Dan is reached. Even then it is customary for the holder to continue wearing a black belt in everyday practice, reserving the official colour for instructing, coaching, presentations and ceremonial occasions

2. "Do the 11th and 12th Dan really exist?", Jūdō Vol.XIII, No.5 (Nov. 1963)

  • History of the Grading System, Mike Callan Commented Sep 15, 2019 at 14:21

Yes it is.

It actually goes Black -> Red White -> Red

Those Upper ranks tend to be more about service to the art.


You are correct. Red belts are the highest level that one could obtain, 9th Dan being the highest level a normal person could become and 10th Dan which is reserved for the Head of the foundation or Ex Heads..

Usually for 3rd DAN and above, any promotion would no longer be based solely on your technical skills, but by your contribution to the JUDO society. Contributions such as organizing international Judo events in your country, participating in international seminar or competitions, and other activity that would uplift the image of JUDO.

Mind you these were verbal explanation of my sensei who's a 5th Dan belt holder.

Aside from that, Judo and BJJ also share similar belt grading system and according to the official belt ranking system, if you obtained your black belt at the age of 19, you would only be getting your 9th dan belt (Red) at the age of 67yrs old.

Quoting the Super Awesome BJJ Foundation:

Current IBJJF regulations places the time it takes to progress from a 8th degree red-and-black belt to 9th degree red belt at 10 years. In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, the red belt is reserved “for those whose influence and fame takes them to the pinnacle of the art”. It is awarded in lieu of a 9th and 10th degree black belt (identical to the art of Judo). Assuming that someone received his or her black belt at 19 years old (the minimum age to receive a black belt under the IBJJF’s graduation system) the earliest they could expect to receive a 9th degree red belt would be at the age of 67. Examples of 9th Degree Red Belt holders include the late Carlson Gracie, Oswaldo Fadda and Geny Rebello. The 10th degree red belt is permanently reserved to the pioneers of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: Carlos, Oswaldo, Jorge, Gastão and Hélio Gracie.

  • Relson Gracie is red belt and he is 62 years old. At ibjjf.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/… they said nothing about the age to get red belt. It's 31y at black, 7y red and black, 10y red and white.
    – AFetter
    Commented Jul 11, 2015 at 11:54
  • 1
    You are wrong about the highest belt one can reach in JUDO. It is literally 10th Dan. The founder of judo was given a 12 to signify no one surpasses the founder. In this way the founder of the art will outrank all. Judo was the first art to use a colored belt system . No other art had belts before judo.
    – Logikal
    Commented Apr 11, 2018 at 21:27

The Red colour is used to show the intense desire to train and the sacrifices made in achieving it. Since getting a white/red or pure red belt meant you invested a large portion of your life to your chosen art.

Also a lot of (Japanese Martial Art) systems theoretically have unlimited rankings so there could be 11th or even higher DAN ratings. It is just that no one has ever achieved it. :-)

But different organisations have different rules about what ranks you could achieve and what the requirements are. But all martial arts using this system got it from JUDO.

  • judoinfo.com/obi.htm
    – AquaAlex
    Commented May 29, 2014 at 12:30
  • 1
    This has several inaccuracies. Shodokan Aikido has red belts for 8th, 7th, and 6th kyu grades, the colour having nothing to do with investing a large portion of your life. Not all martial arts use Kano's grading system, Muay Thai and Capoeira to name but two. Commented May 29, 2014 at 12:56
  • 3
    Also, many (if not most) karate/tkd styled systems only have 9 dan grades, with the 9th dan being reserved for head of the art. 10th dan (if used) is more ceremonial than achievement based.
    – JohnP
    Commented May 29, 2014 at 14:19
  • 1
    I suspect some of the criticism of this answer is due to the first paragraph making an assertion about judo, and it not being clear whether "some systems" in the second paragraph is "of judo" or in general, but a little googling of my own shows claims of 11th and 12th dans in judo: budokan-vernier.ch/eng/histo/ceintures.html. And for the last paragraph, @Sardathrion seems to have missed the "all martial arts using this system" (true), and if red means other things at other levels in other arts, so what?. So +1 from me.
    – Tony D
    Commented Jun 1, 2014 at 4:52
  • 1
    He is right in saying there are no dan limit in judo. You could technically advange higher, but no one have ever. Commented Jun 3, 2014 at 11:27

To achieve 10 Dan status under traditional Judoka lineage from Japan can only be awarded by Soke Kano's grandson/descendants . Judan is the most difficult level ever, and VERY few from the Kano line have achieved that over the last 120+ years.

Other International organizations have acknowledged or promoted a 10th Dan level outside of Kano.

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