Students at belt levels below black belt are referred to as "kyu" grades, and black belt levels are called "dan" grades. There are ten kyu levels and ten dan levels.
Children under the age of 16 have intermediate grades at the higher belt levels as the difficulty and intensity of the skills increase. Gradings are priced on a sliding scale reflective of the level of difficulty.
In our western world there is a need to have a measure of our accomplishments. This differs to the original way of martial arts training, where there were no belt levels and the improvement of self was the reward. However, in karate training today the belt system helps to categorise groups of students to focus on learning the techniques in the syllabus.
Even so, the belt worn indicates not that the student has attained a certain level, but that they are studying at a certain level. A black belt means that a student is a good brown belt student, a green belt student is a good yellow belt, and a blue belt student is a good beginner. The aim always is not to rest on accomplishment, but to continually polish and improve.
Many people who begin karate lessons believe the goal is to attain a black belt. Those who stay with the training and do achieve this soon realise that a black belt is only the beginning; the journey continues.
At each belt level students are required to attend enough regular lessons and courses, and practice enough outside of the dojo that they genuinely achieve the skill sets. Grades are not awarded lightly, they must be earned or they have no value. While a student may apply to take a grading, the Chief Instructor or Dojo Secretary may advise that the student would benefit from more training to be better prepared.
Advancing through the grades is an indication of the student's commitment to improvement of the self.