The Bujinkan Dōjō has a series of nine kyū (grades) below the level of shodan, starting with mukyu (“without grade”) and then from kukyu (9 kyu) to ikkyu (1 kyu), with 9 kyu being the lowest rank and 1 kyu being the highest. Unlike other Japanese martial arts, such as karate and judo, unranked (mukyū) practitioners wear white belts, kyu grade practitioners, green belts, and those with ranks of shōdan and above wear black belts. In some dojos Kyū level practitioners – especially in children’s classes – wear colored belts, though the actual color of the belt varies from place to place. In Japan, it was once customary for kyu-level men to wear green belts over a black gi and women to wear red belts over a purple gi; however, this practice has largely been abandoned. Now, both male and female Bujinkan practitioners wear green belts at most Japanese dōjō. Outside of Japan, some countries still follow the green for men/red for women custom, while others use green for all practitioners.
There are fifteen dan grades in the Bujinkan although only ten are formally recognised. After attaining the rank of Judan (tenth Dan) the further five grades up to fifteenth dan consist of advanced study in individual schools or Ryu-ha. The study of Tenchijin Ryaku No Maki (The arts of Heaven Earth and Man) forms the foundations of 9th Kyu to Shodan (1st Dan) and comprises all the fundamental techniques required for advanced study after obtaining the Shodan rank. It was previously stated that Ten Ryaku No Maki, Chi Ryaku No Maki and Jin Ryaku No Maki are divided amongst the Dan grades but this was incorrect.
The practitioner’s level is displayed by the color of the art’s emblem, called wappen (ワッペン), inscribed with the kanji “bu”(武) and “jin” (神). There are four kinds of wappen (9 to 1 kyū, 1 to 4 dan, 5 to 9 dan, and 10 to 15 dan) sometimes augmented with up to four silver, gold or white stars (called hoshi) above or around the emblem, representing the individual ranks.
At 4 dan (yondan), practitioners submit to a test before the sōke to establish that they are able to sense the presence of danger and evade it, considered to be a fundamental survival skill. This is called sakki. This is the test for 5 dan and after passing, a practitioner is considered to be under the protection of the ‘Bujin’, or Guiding Spirits. A practitioner with the level of godan or above is entitled to apply for a teaching license (shidōshi menkyo). A shidōshi (士道師) is entitled to open his own dōjō, and grade students up to the level of 4 dan. A practitioner with the level of between 1 dan to 4 dan may become a licensed “assistant teacher” (shidōshi-ho), if backed by and acting under the supervision of a shidōshi 5th to 9th dan or a person who holds the level of 10 dan (jūdan). In the Bujinkan a person who holds the level of between 8 dan and 15 dan is often referred to as a shihan.
In addition to the kyū/dan system, a few practitioners have earned menkyo kaiden “licenses of complete transmission” in individual schools. These menkyo kaiden essentially establish that the master practitioner has learned all that there is to learn about the particular lineage. Whereas the kyū/dan ranks are often made public, those select practitioners who have earned menkyo kaiden rarely divulge their status, sometimes even being reluctant to recognize their actual dan ranking to outsiders.