If your goal is to earn a black belt one day, congratulations, you are finally here. This will be the most challenging grading and probably the most physically demanding event that you ever participate in your life.
By now, your basic techniques should be in very good shape, your katas from Gekisai Dai Ichi to Shisochin should be polished down to the fine detail, and you should possess characteristics of a good fighter (agility, speed, power, accuracy, and endurance). You should have a very good understanding of karate terminology, Goju Ryu history, and dojo etiquette.
Being a black belt is no joke. People have a high regard and high expectation of a black belt and you should be at such a level that you deserve that respect.
This post provides a summary of the Goju Ryu grading syllabus for shodan (first level of black belt) based on the grading syllabus of the International Okinawan Goju-Ryu Karate-Do Federation (IOGKF), a few other Goju Ryu schools, and my personal experience.
As every Goju Ryu organization has its own grading requirements and your own dojo may follow a curriculum very different from this one, the following is just for general reference purposes only so that you know what to expect at each grading. However, I believe if you can blitz through these requirements, you will be ready for whatever they throw at you.
Below are the grading requirements at the shodan level:
- Minimum training time
- Karate terms
- Ukemi waza
- Other requirements
Minimum training time
Generally, you will need to train for at least 10-11 months or 100 sessions since your last grading to be invited to grade to shodan. You will have trained for at least five years in total. Some people with exceptional athletic ability, having trained in another martial art previously or being especially committed to their training may get to shodan in a shorter period of time. However, for most people who train 2-3 times a week, it will take a lot longer than 5 years to get a black belt in karate.
You should know all Japanese terms for all the techniques and stances as well as general terms that you learn since the white belt level up to now.
Standing basics and moving basics for shodan grading are largely the same as for 1st kyu grading. However, the examiners will look for an exceptionally good form in all basic techniques.
As with all previous grading, you will be examined on all the techniques that you have learned from the white belt level up until now.
At the shodan grading, you will need to demonstrate the following techniques from the stationary heiko dachi stance.
- Jodan tsuki (face level punch, aiming at around the jinchu area)
- Chudan tsuki (middle-level punch, from your chin to suigetsu area)
- Gedan tsuki (lower level punch between suigetsu and groin)
- Sanbon tsuki (triple punches: jodan, chudan and gedan tsuki)
- Ura tsuki (middle-level short punch)
- Furi tsuki (roundhouse punch/swinging punch)
- Kagi tsuki (hook punch to the body)
- Age uke (rising block)
- Yoko uke (block from inside out)
- Soto uke (block from outside in)
- Gedan barai (downward sweeping block)
- Sanbon uke (triple blocks: age uke, yoko uke, and gedan barai)
- Hiki uke (pulling hand block)
- Kake uke (hook block)
- Jodan ko uke (upper-level wrist block)
- Tora guchi (tiger mouth block, also referred to as mawashi uke)
- Jodan haishu age uke (upper level back hand rising block)
- Chudan haishu otoshi uke (middle level back hand dropping block)
- Ura uchi (back fist strike)
- Hiji ate (elbow strike)
- Mawashi hiji ate (roundhouse elbow
- Ushiro hiji ate (back elbow strike)
- Tetsui uchi (hammer fist)
- Shuto uchi (knife hand strike)
- Teisho uchi: palm heel strike (also called shotei uchi)
- Nukite tsuki or nukite uchi (knife hand punch/spear-hand strike at jodan and chudan levels)
- Kin geri (groin kick)
- Mae geri (front kick)
- Kin geri and mae geri (double kick, same leg)
- Mawashi geri (roundhouse kick)
- Kansetsu geri (stamping kick)
- Yoko geri (side kick)
- Ushiro geri (back kick)
- Kaiten ushiro geri (spinning back kick)
- Kin geri, mae geri, mawashi geri, and ushiro geri (four kicks, same leg)
- Mae tobi geri (jumping front kick).
You will have to perform at least 30 reps for each technique and are expected to have a very good fitness level.
As you are only one step away from becoming a black belt, you are expected to show exceptionally good forms for all basic techniques. You should show hip engagement throughout and technically correct techniques with full speed, power and good kime.
You will be required to perform the following moving basics (kihon ido):
- Jodan age uke and jodan gyaku tsuki (moving backward in sanchin dachi stance)
- Chudan yoko uke and chudan gyaku tsuki (moving backward in zenkutsu dachi stance)
- Gedan barai and chudan gyaku tsuki (moving backward at a 45-degree angle into shiko dachi stance and shifting front foot to zenkutsu dachi for the chudan gyaku tsuki)
- Chudan yoko uke and chudan ura tsuki (moving backward into sanchin dachi stance)
- Joge uke and morote tsuki (moving backward into sanchin dachi to perform double block and double punch)
- Hiji ate and gyaku tsuki (moving forward into zenkutsu dachi and performing elbow strike and reverse punch)
- Hiji ate, ura uchi, gedan uke, and gyaku tsuki (moving forward at a 45-degree angle into shiko dachi stance and performing elbow strike, back fist strike, lower level block and reverse punch)
- Chudan uchi uke and haito uchi (moving backward into sanchin dachi stance and executing middle-level block to the side and ridge-hand strike using the same hand)
- Hiki uke (moving backward at a 45-degree angle into neko ashi dachi stance and executing hiki uke)
- Hiki uke and kizami kin geri (moving backward at a 45-degree angle into neko ashi dachi stance and executing hiki uke and kin geri with the leading leg)
- Hiki uke and gyaku tsuki (moving backward into a neko ashi dachi and executing hiki uke then shifting the front foot across into zenkutsu dachi and performing gyaku tsuki)
- Chudan haishu otoshi uke (moving backward into neko ashi dachi stance and performing middle level back hand dropping block)
- Chudan hiki uke, kizami kin geri, gyaku tsuki, and chudan hiki uke (moving into neko ashi dachi stance to block hiki uke and kick kin geri with the leading leg, shifting to zenkutsu dachi to perform gyaku tsuki and then shifing back to neko ashi dachi stance to perform hiki uke again)
- Chudan haishu otoshi uke, kizami kin geri, chudan gyaku zuki, and chudan haishu otoshi uke (moving backward into neko ashi dachi to block chudan haishu otoshi uke, kick kin geri with the leading leg, shifting the front leg into zenkutsu dachi to perform chudan gyaku tsuki, shifting back to neko ashi dachi to perform chudan haishu otoshi uke again)
- Gedan tetsui uchi and ura uchi (moving forward at a 45-degree angle into shiko dachi stance and performing lower hammer strike and back fist strike)
- Jodan shotei uchi and shuto uchi (moving forward into sanchin dachi stance and performing palm heel strike and knife hand strike)
- Jodan mawashi hiji ate, jodan uraken uchi, chudan ura tsuki (moving forward into sanchin dachi stance and performing round elbow strike to the head level, back fist strike (with same hand), and close-range straight punch with palm facing upwards (with the other hand))
- Age tsuki, ura uchi, gedan uke, and gyaku tsuki (moving forward at a 45-degree angle into shiko dachi stance and performing rising punch or uppercut, back fist strike, lower level block and reverse punch). This combination is taken from the Seyiunchin kata
- Mae geri and chudan kizami tsuki (kicking mae geri, landing into sanchin dachi stance, and punching with the lead hand)
- Mawashi geri and gyaku tsuki (moving forward and landing into zenkutsu dachi stance)
- Mae geri, hiji-ate, ura uchi (also known as uraken), gedan barai, and gyaku tsuki (after kicking mae geri, landing into zenkutsu dachi and executing hand techniques). This sequence is taken out of the Gekisai Dai Ichi kata).
- Kansetsu geri (also known as Sokuto geri) and gyaku tsuki (kicking kansetsu geri and landing into han-zenkutsu dachi, then punching gyaku tsuki)
- Mae geri, mawashi geri, and kaiten ushiro geri (moving forward into sanchin dachi after each kick)
- Mae geri, mawashi geri, yoko geri, kaiten ushiro geri (moving forward into sanchin dachi after each kick).
In addition to the above moving basics, the examiners may throw some random and meaningless combinations of techniques at you just to confuse you and see how you perform under intense pressure.
For your shodan grading, you are required to perform Gekisai Dai Ichi, Gekisai Dai Ni, Saifa, Seiyunchin, Shisochin, Sanchin and Tensho.
You are expected to perform all katas from Gekisai Dai Ichi to Shisochin with very good form (technically correct techniques, right timing, good speed and power, good kime points, and demonstrating a good understanding of the meanings of the kata techniques).
You should have a good structural foundation for Sanchin kata by now and will be subjected to shime testing during your performance.
You are expected to show a good sequence for the Tensho kata at this stage.
For your shodan grading, you are required to demonstrate bunkai for Gekisai Dai Ichi, Gekisai Dai Ni, Saifa, Seiyunchin, and Shisochin (both left and right sides and both defense and attack sides).
At your shodan grading, you are required to perform:
- Sandan Gi numbers 1 to 4 drill
- Two-person Gekisai Dai Ichi drill, and
- Free-style sparring (one against one, one against two, and one against three) with partners of both lower and higher ranks.
You are required to demonstrate basic kakie form (sticky hand practice) as well as techniques taken from Gekisai Dai Ichi, Gekisai Dai Ni, Saifa, Seiyunchin and Shisochin kata.
At the shodan level, you are required to demonstrate advanced break-fall techniques for both left and right sides, including:
- Shoulder roll forward from a standing position
- Shoulder roll forward over an obstacle from a standing position
- Shoulder roll to side break-fall from a standing position
- Side break-fall from a simple throw.
As mentioned in the previous post of this series, most Goju Ryu dojos include some form of fitness test either at the end or at the beginning of the grading and it will get tougher as you move up the ranks.
As an example, at the brown belt level, you may be required to perform 70 to 100 reps of each of the following:
- air squats
- star jumps
Generally, you will be pushed to your limit in the fitness test. However, your age and specific health conditions will always be taken into consideration to avoid injury and ensure the safety of all students.
At the shodan level, you should be able to confidently run a class (opening and closing ceremonies, warm-up, and kihon training) and help teach beginner and intermediate students.
Some Goju Ryu organizations may require a certain level of participation in regional/international seminars and/or tournaments as a pre-requisite for shodan grading. For example, the IOGKF requires at least 3 regional, national, or international gasshukus during the brown belt period (from 3rd kyu to before your shodan grading).
Other posts you might be interested in:
An Overview of the Goju Ryu Karate Belt System
Goju Ryu Grading Syllabus: White Belt with a Stripe (9th Kyu)
Goju Ryu Grading Syllabus: Yellow Belt (8th Kyu)
Goju Ryu Grading Syllabus: Orange Belt (7th Kyu)
Goju Ryu Grading Syllabus: Green Belt (6th Kyu)
Goju Ryu Grading Syllabus: Blue Belt (5th Kyu)
Goju Ryu Grading Syllabus: Purple Belt (4th Kyu)
Goju Ryu Grading Syllabus: Brown Belt (3rd Kyu)
Goju Ryu Grading Syllabus: Brown Belt (2nd Kyu)
Goju Ryu Grading Syllabus: Brown Belt (1st Kyu)
A Complete List of Goju Ryu Stances
What to expect when you undergo a EGKA/IOGKF Grading
English Goju Ryu Karate-do Association – Student Handbook
The IOGKF/EGKA Grading Syllabus Library
IOGKF KYU GRADING REQUIREMENTS
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