To many, the black belt is a sign that one has mastered the art of karate. However, holding a black belt, while a very impressive accomplishment, does not mean that one has reached the upper echelons of karate skills. Once a person tests into the black belt rank, there are still 10 levels that must be accomplished before he will get his final belt.
Prior to getting your black belt, you must climb the ranks through the 10 "kyu" levels. The first five levels, or ranks, are signified with colored belts: white, orange, red, yellow, and green. The sixth and seventh levels are signified with a purple belt, and the eighth through tenth levels are represented with a brown belt. After your last brown belt, you'll achieve your first black belt, or dan belt. Your first degree black belt earns you the title of "sempai" or assistant teacher. While this may seem like the end of the journey, it's the beginning of a new one. There 10 dan levels or black belt degrees to achieve. All 10 dan levels require continuous training.
First Five Dan Levels
Each level of dan, along with the numerical designation, has a name. The first through fifth levels of dan are designated, respectively, shodan, nidan, sandan, yodan and godan. Each of these levels is achieved through continual training; it can take upwards of 29 years of study and practice to reach the fifth level of dan.
Levels Six Through Nine
Black belt dan levels six through nine are named, in order, rokudan, nanadan, hachidan and kyuudan. These levels of dan include continued practice of your martial art skills as well as the practice of the tenets of the martial arts for the betterment of mankind. These tenets include secrecy, humility of the heart, courtesy in all matters, charity in giving, high moral character, martyrdom -- or sacrifice directed to the right causes -- unconquerable spirit and certain victory. All in all, getting to a ninth level black belt can take up to 40 more years of training and following of the martial arts tenets.
Dan Level Ten
Achieving the final dan level of judan is an exceptional accomplishment. You must first gain your ninth dan belt and then be chosen by a group of ninth- and eighth-degree belt holders for the final belt. Tenth-degree black belts are chosen from a larger group of high-ranking black belts as means of establishing a hierarchy within the art, according to the Tao International Martial Arts Association.