In kendo, as in any martial art, there are a number of degrees that you can achieve but, unlike many of the other martial arts, in kendo there are no external signs to show it. I mean, there are disciplines where as you progress in level you change the color of a belt, however, in kendo, the only way to reflect the degree you have is proving it in every workout. These grades are divided into:
- Kyu: This is the name to the lower grades and, therefore, the first to be attained.
- Dan: This is the name to the upper grades.
When you start kendo you start without any degree, and from there you should achieve, in order, the following degrees:
- 6º Kyu (Rokkyu): white-yellow belt
- 5º Kyu (Gokyu): yellow belt
- 4º Kyu (Yonkyu): orange belt
- 3º Kyu (Sankyu): green belt
- 2º Kyu (Nikyu): blue belt
- 1º Kyu (Ikkyu): brown belt
Getting these 6 degrees takes approximately 3 years. After you’ve got 1st Kyu you can go for the Dan degrees. The Dans, like the Kyus, are accomplished in the following order:
- 1º Dan (Shodan).
- 2º Dan (Nidan).
- 3º Dan (Sandan).
- 4º Dan (Yondan).
- 5º Dan (Godan).
- 6º Dan (Rokudan).
- 7º Dan Nanadan).
- 8º Dan (Hachidan).
- 9º Dan (Kyudan).
- 10º Dan (Judan).
Despite this, it is important to note that, at present, there is no 10th Dan, since this degree has only been awarded to five people in history, none of whom are alive and, in the case of the 9th Dan, there is only one sensei alive graded with it, and after him this degree will disappear. Both grades, unlike all the rest, could not be obtained by examination, but by a committee, which made it harder than any exam. Attaining these grades represents a substantial investment of time and effort, which increases as the aimed Dan is higher. Therefore, the Spanish Federation of kendo has set the minimum term that must be met to attain each degree. I.e.
- If you want to attain the exam of 1st Dan, you must wait at least one year since attained 1st Kyu.
- If you want to attain a 2nd Dan, you must wait at least two years since attained 1st Dan.
- If you want to attain to 3rd Dan, you must wait at least three years since attained 2nd Dan
And so on, so you should always wait the same number of years than the number of the degree which you are trying to achieve. However, this term is not so in the rest of Europe, where you have to wait a year less than in Spain for each degree, i.e., getting the 2nd Dan only takes them a year, to get the 3rd Dan only 2, and so on with each one. While this does not seem much at first glance, if you do the math calculation, we find that, for example, two people who achieve the 1st degree on the same date but one in Spain and one in another country, when the Spanish practitioner examines for 3rd Dan, the European practitioner has already passed two years with that degree and will be ready for examination of 4th Dan within a year. This, of course, implies a clear and unavoidable disadvantage.
Grades are attained by examination, in which judges must be teachers who have qualifications and degrees depending on each grade exam. Finally, as to the exams, of course, each one is more difficult than the one before, but the difficulty will depend on oneself, the training that is conducted between scheduled exams and your own efforts. There are practitioners who after passing an exam, get relaxed and do not think about it again until a couple of months before the next one. In this case, above the fact that he/she it will not be well prepared and therefore has a higher risk of failing, as I said at the beginning, in kendo there are no external signs to make clear to the others what degree you have, so that daily work is a basic requirement if you want to be recognized as someone of your level.