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WadoBen's picture
Black belt syllabus

I was talking to a friend who trains in goju ryu the other day about syllabus for black belt grades between the dan grade and I was interested to see the difference between the syllabus' we both train in (I study wado ryu) 

I began to wonder what other groups expect between dan grades. If any one feels like sharing their experiences of dan grade syllabus' I'd be interested to hear about them.

within my original style we are expected to perform more complex kicking techniques, jumping spinning kicks. Chinto and seishan kata, 3 man  kumite for 2nd dan

large numbers of multiple kicks (6-8 with out placing foot down etc.) rohai and jion kata, kumite. For 3rd dan

after this they are awarded grades 

My original instructor is very much a 3k instructor :(

please share are your dan grade syllabus experiences 

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

I did a couple of podcasts on this topic a few years ago which may be of interest:

The Black Belt and the Grading System

I cover the origins of the black belt; how the grading system can encourage the pursuit of things that have no bearing on combative function; how the grading system can both encourage and discourage the inappropriate rise of ego; what could happen if we got rid of the grading system; the lack of standardisation in grading criteria (which I think is a good thing); what grades are legitimate; and many more of the issues surrounding the grading system: http://iainabernethy.co.uk/content/black-belt-and-grading-system

What a Black Belt Should Be (as Iain sees it)

The podcast is split into two halves. In the first half, I discuss the topics that I feel a holistic and pragmatic syllabus should include and why they are so important. I think it would be fair to say that the majority of martial arts syllabuses omit these things so I hope it provides some food for thought. The second part of the podcast discusses how my personal syllabus (which I keep private) is set up and the podcast also breaks down what we do for 9th kyu and 1st dan: http://www.iainabernethy.co.uk/content/what-black-belt-should-be-iain-sees-it

I hope they are of interest.

All the best,


Black Tiger
Black Tiger's picture

Do you include written tests?

WadoBen's picture

Black Tiger wrote:

Do you include written tests?

I'd like to include written tests but my fellow instructors don't see the relevance of writing about karate, I belong to, in my opinion, a narrow minded group.

Tau's picture

I can't talk about Karate Dan grades but I'll certainly give my thoughts on the Jujitsu Dan grades in the organisation that I've come from the direction that I'm going in now.

My experience is that most styles have most of their syllabus esyablished up to 1st Dan and in the 21st century this means increasing depth and breadth of the Kyu grade syllabus, possibly at the detriment of quality. This means the Dan grade syllabus is often lacking new meaningful material and instead is focussed on continual improvement or, if you have an open-minded organisation, student's self-directed learning for the greater good of the style.

The organisation that I've just left after twenty years felt a need to have a Dan grade syllabus so as to continually stimulate it's members. Unfortunately, in my oppinion, the Dan grade syllabus was a disjointed set of fun but unrelated extra skills such as "groundwork" and Nunchaku. I was frustrated at a lack of depth to our forms work. I felt that students were never allowed to learn beyond a fairly shallow level and where the Dan grades could have promoted greater study they sadly failed. Our low Dan grades were hellish good at the fundamentals but weren't allowed to progress beyond these.

I've therefore set my syllabus such that students reaching Shodan have solid fundamentals and a comprehensive skill set but the Shodan is the gateway is greater understanding being able to apply these skills. I am determined that no aspect of my syllabus, Kyu- or Dan- level will be isolated from the bigger picture. Everything is geared to continually stimulating the practitioner, even at Dan level.

Mark B
Mark B's picture

My syllabus is built around 3 kata only. The spine of my system is Naihanchi. Students will begin their study of Naihanchi from day one to include Bunkai and impact . Passai and Seisan are introduced and reintroduced as the syllabus progresses , also to include Bunkai and pad exercises. In my opinion this avoids "learning" a kata to grade and nothing more. Dan advancement is based on "actual" skills. By this I mean the student will be able to actually apply freely,regardless of the opponents intervention or obstruction.The student , once Shodan is achieved will choose a kata other than Naihanchi , Passai and Seisan and do independent study. In time they will be expected to present their findings to include pad exercises , Bunkai , two person drills etc. The length and depth of the presentation will increase with Dan rank. I realise my approach may not be too everyone's liking but it's getting results - students who understand kata , how to dissect and apply and deliver significant impact with different striking options. All the best Mark

senshido's picture

I operate to a pretty standard Kyokushinkai syllabus, in addition to the earlier techniques (every time we grade, we start from 10th kyu and work up).

For shodan, there are new techniques along with Tensho kata, Saiha kata & Gekisai Sho kata, candidates must also prepare their own (ten sets of) ren raku and ippon kumite, there is a mandatory tameshiwari using seiken and another with the candidates choice of technique and a minimum of ten two miinute rounds of Jiyu kumite.

Nidan includes further techniques such as tobi-ushiro-mawashi-geri, toho uchi, keiko uchi etc. along with Kanku Dai kata and Sienchin kata

Sandan includes: the katas Sushi-ho, Garyu and Seipai, along with the candidates own kata that they must devise.



Andi Kidd
Andi Kidd's picture

I wrote a chapter in my book about teaching pragmatic karate, a small part of which is how we work Dan grades in our syllabus. I have copied this below. Dan grades certainley should be more progressive than they are in most syllabi that I have seen and we have tried to address this.

Dan grades

A lot of syllabi seem to put all of their effort into getting people to black belt but after this they lose focus in development. Maybe this is because the majority of people leave before or once they achieve their dan grade.

I think it is important that you have a plan for developing people after they get to shodan. This does not mean that they just learn more kata and do extra sparring, but they start to be able to do things for themselves. As a teacher you should be looking for your pupils to excel, equalling you and one day passing your ability. At the very least you should be hoping that they will get close enough in ability and knowledge that you can train together with a  two way flow of information and ideas.

The way that we have structured our syllabus is as follows

  • 1st Dan – benchmark
  • 2nd Dan – working out stuff on your own

·         3rd Dan – understanding and passing on knowledge                      

  • 4th Dan – Looking at other styles/arts
  • 5th Dan – your karate


We have already talked about shodan, this is the benchmark, you have a good idea of the system and you understand a bit about everything.

Nidan is where you start to explore, for us this is done by letting the student pick a kata, working out bunkai and drills from it. Instead of the instructor just feeding information, the student starts to take responsibility for their own progress. Obviously there is help and guidance from the instructors but people will find that they are   pretty capable and come up with some really interesting stuff. It also gives them permission to research their own karate, something that seems to lack in many organisations who can only do what the head instructor tells them.

Sandan is when we start to get people passing on knowledge. Teaching is an excellent way of learning. If you try to show someone something and they pick a hole in it, you have to find out why that thing doesn’t work, or why there is a hole or even if there is a hole. Some teachers don’t like to be questioned but I find it is the best way to make sure what you are teaching is actually of use. We do comparisons of kata at this level and this again helps a deeper understanding of the subject matter.

Yondan is when we branch out and look at other styles or arts. By this level most people have already done this or are doing it, but this formalises the process. Looking at other styles and arts gives you a fresh perspective and can lead to new understanding of your karate.

Godan is where you should be striving to get. Karate is personal and everyone’s should be personalised. For this grade you will be looking at making up your own kata, drills and putting forward your view of how karate fits into your life.

I see these grades as having different goals and will cause the student to grow to a point where they no longer need a teacher and can be totally independent.

karate10's picture

My Shihan does the following for our Syllabus in Kyokushin...For example:

1 kyu-1st Dan: 10 men Kumite, Naihanchi Nidan,Pinan/Heian Katas Uras 1-5, 100 Push up, 100 squats, basic understanding of self protection bunkais for the kata of his choice and perform it depending of the attack.