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The “Gentle Way” of Judo – The Judoka

Date Published: Last Update:2015/05/22 Traditional Culture ,

As we learned about the history of Judo in our previous post, this time we will learn more about the sport and martial art, particularly on the practitioners (called judoka).

The Judoka

Judo practitioners are called Judoka (柔道家). [Note: Judo and judoka are spelled as juudou/jūdō and juodoka/jūdōka respectively when written in romaji (Romanized Japanese, or Japanese written in Roman alphabet)] Traditionally though, only those who are in 4th dan (or rank) or higher, as the suffix –ka (家) when added to a noun (in this case judo 柔道) denotes a person with a special knowledge or expertise of the subject. Other judo practitioners below the rank of 4th dan used to be called kenkyuusei (研究生, trainees). The modern meaning of judoka in English refers to all practitioners, disregarding the level of expertise.

Just like any teacher (be it martial arts or any) in Japanese, a judo teacher is called sensei (先生). In western dojo, it is common to call any instructor of dan grade a “sensei”. By tradition, the “sensei” title is reserved for instructors of 4th dan and above.

Judo Ranking

In Judo, improvement and understanding of the art is denoted by a system of ranks split into kyū and dan grades. These are indicated with various systems of colored belts, with the black belt indicating a practitioner who has attained a certain level of competence.

Judoka are ranked according to skill and knowledge of the art. Their rank is indicated by the color of belt that they wear. There are two broad categories of rank: those who have attained a level of competency at which they are considered worthy of a black belt (黒帯 kuro obi) and who hold dan (段) grades and those who are yet to attain that level and who hold kyū (級) grades. Those who hold dan grades are collectively termed Yūdansha (有段者) (literally “person who has dan“) and those with kyū grades are Mudansha (無段者), literally “person without dan“.

This ranking system was introduced by Kanō Jigorō, the founder of judo, in 1883. However, the current system is not the original one, but based on Kanō’s last system with some modification shortly after Kanō’s death in 1938. The first dan grades were awarded to his students Saigō Shirō and Tomita Tsunejirō. Since then it has been widely adopted by modern martial arts.

In the current system as in use in Japan, there are six student grades ranked in descending numerical order. Beginners were given the rank of sixth kyu (六級 roku-kyū) and wore a light blue belt (obi). Once they had passed an elementary level of instruction, they were promoted to fifth kyu (五級 go-kyū), when they would adopt the white belt. This they wore through fourth kyu (四級 yon-kyū). The remaining three grades (third kyu (三級 san-kyū), second kyu (二級 ni-kyū) and first kyu (一級 ik-kyū) were all indicated with brown belts (for seniors) or with purple belts (for juniors).

judo belt

The style of belt (obi) use by judoka. The color show what rank the judoka is. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

1st kyū is the last kyu rank before promotion to first degree black belt (shodan). There are ordinarily 10 dan ranks, which are ranked in ascending numerical order, though in principle there is no limit to the number of dan ranks.

Kanō’s original kyū-dan grading system

Rank Senior Junior Japanese name
Sixth kyu
(beginner)
Light blue Light blue rokkyū (六級)
Fifth kyu
Fourth kyu
White White gokyū (五級)
yonkyū (四級)
Third kyu
Second kyu
First kyu
Brown Purple sankyū (三級)
nikyū (二級)
ikkyū (一級)
First dan
Second dan
Third dan
Fourth dan
Fifth dan
Black shodan (初段)
nidan (二段)
sandan (三段)
yodan (四段)
godan (五段)
Sixth dan
Seventh dan
Eighth dan
Red and White
or
Black
rokudan (六段)
shichidan (七段)
hachidan (八段)
Ninth dan
Tenth dan
Eleventh dan
Red or Black kudan (九段)
jūdan (十段

In some countries, kyū grades may vary because some has more. Although initially kyū grade belt colours were uniformly white, today a variety of colours are used.

References:

1. Judo. Wikipedia.

2. Featured Image from MelkiaD on Flickr

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