Below is the syllabus for the Atlantic County Shotokan Karate Club, provided as an example of how students may progress through their training. Each SKA club maintains its own syllabus, which is adapted to the specific needs of the club and the club director's preferences. Although the order of instruction may differ from club to club, the overall curriculum is fairly consistent throughout our organization and through all of the major shotokan groups around the world.
We believe that rank represents an individual's pursuit of certain knowledge and skills. Rank is not a prize that's awarded to tell everyone "how good at karate" you are, it's an individual indicator of where you are in the Shotokan curriculum. It reminds us all, every time we put our belt on, of what we're expecting of ourselves every time we train. Rank is about what you're doing right now, not about what you've done in the past.
Achieving a higher grade is a challenge to go further, push harder, and commit yourself to continuing on the path of karate-dō.
You can almost think of each rank as a textbook - advancing to a higher rank happens naturally when you've progressed to the point where you'll get more out of the next textbook than the one you're studying right now.
When you're invited to be reviewed for advancement, your instructor and other more senior karate-ka will look for "areas of the textbook" that you might get more out of before pursuing additional skills. If the judges agree that you have a thorough understanding of everything that your current rank represents, and also agree that you can demonstrate those concepts to the best of your individual ability, they'll recommend that you advance to the next step (kyu level) or rank (dan level).
As such, given enough time and effort, nearly everyone is able to make progress through our complete syllabus from 9th kyu to 5th dan.
The white belt level of training (9th, 8th, and 7th Kyu) focuses on the study of the five Heian Kata and introduces basic kumite concepts through the practice of gohon and sanbon kumite.
9th Kyu (White Belt)
8th Kyu (White Belt)
7th Kyu (White Belt)
The green belt level of training (6th, 5th, and 4th Kyu) focuses on the study of the Tekki Kata and refines the practice of kumite concepts through the study of ippon kumite.
6th Kyu (Green Belt)
5th Kyu (Green Belt)
4th Kyu (Green Belt)
The brown belt level of training (3rd, 2nd, and 1st Kyu) introduces students to advanced kata with the study of the Bassai Dai, Kanku Dai, Enpi, and Jion. Kumite skills are further developed through the introduction of advanced yakusoku and jiyu kumite.
3rd Kyu (Brown Belt)
2nd Kyu (Brown Belt)
1st Kyu (Brown Belt)
The black belt levels of training, comprising five technical ranks, completes the Shotokan curriculum for committed students.
1st Dan (Black Belt)
The rank of Shodan (1st Dan) is earned by demonstrating competency in the Brown Belt Curriculum. The ability to execute kihon waza correctly, the ability to demonstrate the required kata with the correct performance elements, and the ability to manage distance, timing, and control in kumite will be examined by a panel of qualified judges. Candidates for the rank of Shodan will also be expected to demonstrate knowledge of Shotokan's principles, history, and philosophy.
With regular attendance and sufficient effort, it will generally take about four years of training with the ACSKC to earn the rank of Shodan.
Upon reaching Shodan, you've acquired all of the tools necessary to begin exploring Shotokan (and other martial arts) from a solid foundation. To continue with Shotokan, at this level you'll want to complete your understanding of the core Shotokan kata. At the brown belt level, you began studying Bassai Dai, Kanku Dai, Enpi and Jion, having already demonstrated competency in the five Heian and three Tekki kata.
As a new Shodan, you'll be studying the remaining three kata in Funakoshi's original 15-kata syllabus - Hangetsu, Jitte, and Gankaku.
For Shodan-level kumite, we use jiyu ippon and jiyu kumite to examine theories of combat in greater detail. At the shodan level, your specific focus will be on developing greater skill with shikake waza, mi gamae, and ki gamae.
2nd Dan (Black Belt)
To reach Nidan, you'll be expected to demonstrate competence with Bassai Dai, Kanku Dai, Enpi, Jion, Hangetsu, Jitte, and Gankaku.
In jiyu kumite, you'll demonstrate your understanding of shikake waza, mi gamae, and ki gamae.
Kata training will focus on Bassai Sho, Kanku Sho, and Jiin.
The practice of kumite will focus on a deeper understanding oji waza, uchikiru, and kokoro gamae.
3rd Dan (Black Belt)
For Sandan, you'll demonstrate Bassai Sho, Kanku Sho, and Jiin, and compare and contrast their relationship to Bassai Dai, Kanku Dai, Jion, and Jitte.
For the kumite portion of this exam, you'll demonstrate the differences between shikake and oji waza, and how the elements of mi gamae, ki gamae, kokoro gamae, and uchikiru are applied.
Upon reaching Sandan, you've demonstrated your knowledge of 18 Shotokan kata. There are eight kata remaining in the complete Shotokan syllabus: Sochin, Chinte, Nijushiho, Gojushiho Sho, Gojushiho Dai, Meikyo, Wankan, Unsu.
You'll choose four of the remaining kata to study as a Sandan-level practitioner.
Kumite at the level of sandan is focused on further developing seme and applying your understanding of issoku itto no ma, san sappo, san satsu and shikai.
Assist two people with their progress from Shodan to Nidan
4th Dan (Black Belt)
You'll demonstrate the four kata you selected to study as a Sandan, explaining how each kata presents similar and different theories for responding to attacks.
For kumite, you'll explain and demonstrate your insight on the psychological elements of kumite and jissen.
You will also explain how assisting two people with their efforts to advance from Shodan to Nidan helped you better understand your own practice of karate.
Complete your study of the Shotokan kata syllabus with the four remaining kata.
Complete your study of kumite by understanding and applying the concepts of ki ken tai ichi and datotsu no kikai. Become able to consistently demonstrate gan soku tan riki and control shikai (kyo ku gi waku).
Assist two people with their progress from Nidan to Sandan.
5th Dan (Black Belt)
Achieving the rank of Godan represents the capstone technical achievement in our organization, typically requiring 20 or more years of consistent training and progress.
This is more of a thesis presentation than an examination. When you are invited to be examined for the rank of Godan, you will be free to choose how you demonstrate your understanding of Shotokan karate-dō to the most senior instructors and members of the Shotokan Karate Association. The two individuals you helped progress from Nidan to Sandan will be permitted to assist you with your presentation, and they will be asked to explain how their interaction with you shaped their understanding of karate-dō.
The stage is yours; you will have one hour to present followed by questions from the panel.
Upon reaching Godan, you will be responsible for charting the remaining course of your training, wherever your interests may take you - an ever deeper understanding of Shotokan, further examination of karate's Okinawan and Chinese roots, the study and incorporation of other martial arts, or other elements of budo. This is where your own insights and curiosity become free to manifest themselves, resulting in a practice that is personal and unique to you as a martial artist. In the spirit of shu ha ri, this is where ha begins, in pursuit of your own ri.
By this point, you will have friends and colleagues that you've trained with for many years to help you, inspire you, and encourage you to find new ways to contribute to our organization's understanding of dō.
6th Dan - Designating SKA Senior Instructors
7th Dan - Designating SKA Executive Director
8th Dan - Designating SKA Chief Instructor