The ranking used in Karate-Do was not always as it is now. Early in the history of Shotokan Karate, there was no real concept of belt color. There were only two types, white and black. A karate practitioner’s belt was simply something worn around and to hold the gi.
Unlike the gi, which is always kept in pristine condition, Okinawan dogma stated that the belt was left unwashed as it contained the fighting spirit and soul of effort put into training. Effectively, a white belt would just get dirtier over time and eventually give the appearance of being black. This could mean that someone who had been training for two years would often wear the same belt as an absolute novice. Only highly proficient and long standing Karate students would have belts that were literally black.
It later became practice for a new black belt to be presented to a student whom the teacher thought to be highly skilled. When Master Funakoshi brought Karate to Japan from Okinawa, he introduced a green and a brown belt to structure the progress from beginner to those deemed highly skilled. The belt system was later modified by Master Nakayama to include a number of other colors that allowed a more structured progression.
As Karate was becoming more of an international art it had to appeal to as many people as possible. The people of Japan were more patient and repetitive in their Karate training. Due to the differences in culture, the western world predominantly wanted to learn a lot in a short time and wanted to see evidence of progress. The colored belts offered short-term goals to suit those people looking for quick results.
The order of colored belts is often different between associations with the exception of white belts for novices and the brown belts prior to black. This is the current progression of colored belts/Kyu grades within the JKA.
10th Kyu -White belt
9th Kyu – Orange belt
8th Kyu – red belt
7th Kyu – Yellow belt
6th Kyu – green belt
5th Kyu – Purple belt
4th Kyu – Purple white belt
3rd Kyu – Brown (1st) belt
2nd Kyu – Brown with one stripe (2nd) belt
1st Kyu – Brown with two stripes (3rd) belt
Sho Dan – First Degree Black Belt
Check here for December 2012 – junior Gradings