What do the different Black Belt Dan grades mean?
1st Degree means you now have a black belt and are recognized as a senior student (sempai) and in some cases an assistant instructor.
2nd Degree means you are now recognized as an instructor (sensei).
At 3rd degree level you can now open your own club or organization and be recognized as the Chief Instructor of that club or organization as well as becoming an expert in Karate technique (taisho). This last item however is a little debatable nowadays.
4th Degree means you are continuing all of your good work in Karate and are now a very experienced instructor who is able to adapt Karate to each student’s strengths plus one’s own strengths.
Upon obtaining 5th Degree you have now become something special. You not only have great experience as an instructor and club figurehead but you have also reached your physical peak in many cases. From now on you have to rely on adrenaline, stubbornness and sheer willpower to do the things that once came naturally to you.
At 6th Degree you are still fighting with the fact that the physical aspect of Karate is starting to become more difficult yet your knowledge and insight have become deeper and more profound. You have obtained a very high level of Karate and in some cases have been recognized as Master Instructor (Shihan).
7th Degree Black Belts are relatively rare and are entering into the realm of being a highly sought after commodity. They have experience, skill, insight, as well as still having phenomenal technical ability that will put any 3rd degree in his prime to shame. They command respect and generally have been practicing Karate for about 35 years. The average 7th degree is about 50 years old, could be your Dad or Uncle (depending on your age) and scares the **** out of you.
The 8th Degree Black Belt is in his mid 50s or approaching 60 and has come to terms with his decline in physical prowess. However his movements are now more fluid and efficient. He has vast experience and many stories to tell about fellow masters and teachers. Listen to every word he has to say with a tempered mix of awe, respect and a mild pinch of salt. He is on the verge of being a revered Master.
9th Degree Black Belts have made it in Karate terms. They are everything you dream of becoming.
10th Degree Black Belts know everything yet claim to know nothing. They have been wearing their black belt for so long that it has become white once more and they think they are beginners all over again (or so they say).
*Please take this article with the pinch of salt that is meant to accompany it. I am still only a 4th degree black belt and as such I really have very little idea of what each black belt degree really means. My assumptions are based on pure observations of my own instructors and other high ranking Karate-ka and what I learned from them! My purpose in writing this article was purely for a little fun. My gut feeling however on this whole charade of rank is that it really doesn’t mean much to anyone but the person holding the rank and the person who gave the said rank to them!