Friday, December 17, 2010

The Growing Irrelevancy of “Rank”

 When I first began learning a martial art, my short-term goal was earning my next kyu rank. Completing those minor achievements provided me with the motivation to drag my ass to each successive class.
 There were certain aspects of those classes which I enjoyed, and some that I dreaded. The amount of (actual) knowledge that I acquired with those rankings was debatable (at best). Though at the time, I thought I was (really) “learning” what was necessary to achieve what I believed that I was participating in the class to become proficient at (I.E. how to “protect myself”, though a more accurate description would be preventing someone else from “kicking my ass”). 
 It took me approximately 4 years to earn that Yudansha rank. I spent the following 4 years teaching “that” system of karate, and “thought” that I was competent in it's execution. During that “stint”, I was introduced to Taika, and was promptly convinced (albeit “begrudgingly”) that I had been wasting my time with what I had been doing.
 After testing under Taika for a Yudansha ranking in “his” system, I began teaching his methods of technique application. Even though I was teaching his methods, “I” was (still) discarding my previous training (habits?). It took me about 10 years to (completely) discard them, much of which dealt with the “sparring” aspect of training (and it's irrelevancy to what I was now teaching).
 Once I had (finally) abandoned those previous “habits”, my own training (and teaching) took a much more productive turn. During (all) that time, (and for the next 20 years) “Rank” (at least the “testing” aspect) never really entered into my thoughts as being “relevant” to my own training. When I attended any “training” with Taika (at his Yudansha classes, or at a seminar), every one in attendance (regardless of “rank”) worked on the same techniques.
With that being my history of training, I see, read, and encounter individuals who hold (supposed) “high” dan rankings, often in various systems.
 It's gotten to the point that when someone “boasts” about having (some) “high” ranking, I (immediately) loose interest in what-ever they have to say. If/when I choose to engage an any dialog with them, I usually discover that they are under 30, have “trained” in multiple systems, and (usually) advocate what-ever the latest “trend” happens to be. 
 Although I don't (necessarily) agree with many of the so-called “traditional” method's that are commonly utilized, there are numerous one's that I do. My own #1 “disagreement” is with “minors” being awarded “black belts”. It's not that I believe that they aren't capable of “doing” the physical requirements, but more that they are incapable of answering the (numerous) questions that will come from student's (I.E. “be” an instructor).
 They lack the experience (of “life” knowledge) to be able to answer those questions competently. Having the (physical) ability to perform the physical aspects of a system's requirements, is (or should be) only 40% of what an instructor teaches student's (unless your essentially running a “black belt mill”). Shodan, really only means that you have learned the “basic” motions (of the system). It's only after attaining that rank, that you can commit the time to learning application of what has been learned. 
 The fact that there “are no standards” (for awarding any Yudansha rank), of course makes this an “irrelevant” point for most people. Every system/school sets “it's own” standards, and because of that (and the pursuit of “cash”) schools will do what is necessary to generate that “money flow” in order to stay open, and retain students. I'm only aware of a couple of schools that the owner/instructor has a “real” job.
 More often than not, those schools that the owner doesn't have a “real” job, will offer some “gimmick”, like “cardio” karate classes (?) and such. They're attempting to be a “fitness” gym. Sorry, I don't buy it. If your wanting to become more physically “fit”, GO TO A FITNESS GYM. “They” (generally) have trained individuals that know (much more effective) manners of training your body to become more physically “fit”. Training in a martial art might be considered a good “supplemental” (physical) training method, but certainly shouldn't be considered a main one. (Sorry, I got side-tracked, LOL). 
 With the general “devaluation” of Yudansha ranking, there has been a growing presence of (so-called) “experts”. At one time, “rank” could be used as a consideration for training with someone. Even in my (own) late “teens”, early twenty's, instructor's with a San dan ranking were considered “high” ranking. Now, if you don't have a Go Dan rank(or higher), you ain't considered shit. If/when I (actually do) “query” these “higher ranking” person's, I commonly find that they hold no more knowledge than most “Shodan” (or even higher “kyu” ranked students). 
 When I was younger, I would attend seminars offered by numerous styles/systems/individuals, who purported to “offer” (for a price) some form of knowledge/information. Most often, these amounted to “sparring” tips (despite what was advertised). When (actual) “technique” was demonstrated/taught, I was always disappointed with what was shown. At the very least, I learned how “Not” to teach a seminar. These individuals also (advertised that they) held some “high”ranking (in what-ever style) yet were (IMO) completely incompetent as “instructors”. Granted, that was then, this is now, I'm just not seeing much difference.
 As far as “any” Dan rank goes, the only “value” is in regards to one's self. That ranking will (generally) only be acknowledged within your own (little) “system”. I've had people “flaunt” their certificate(s) around, as if they were “proof” of their abilities/knowledge. I'm more than capable of “brushing one up” (a “certificate) to “claim” anything you’d like upon it, but that would hardly offer any “proof” of ability (and it would be just as “valid” as any that you may have). There are no standards for certification. They are presented by an individual instructor/organization, and the only “value” is in regards to that instructor and/or (sometimes) system. Which (of course, LOL) is “how” the vast majority of these (so-called) high-ranking individual's attained their ranking, they did it themselves.
 (Apparently) as long as your starting your own “new” organization, “you” need to be the highest ranking individual within that system (and are never to be surpassed). Is it just me, or doesn't that (automatically) “limit” the level of knowledge attainable by each successive student of that instructor? (gradually dropping that level to the knowledge of the standard Shodan?).
 It was (usually) when individual's “surpassed” the level of their instructor's, that they began their own “system”. But now, it's whenever someone want's to start making (more) money for themselves, regardless of their own knowledge level (either real, or presumed). Occasionally, individual's would develop “their own” method/way of doing things, but from my own observations, I've only seen about 4 or 5 “different” methodology's (in all) actually being employed.
 I realize that it has it's own problems, but at least the organizations in Okinawa consisted of a number of (equally) ranked individual's (who would then rate a student as being an “equal”).
In my own “perfect little world” (I.E. when “I” become “emperor of the world”, LOL), the rank of “Shodan” would be limited to person's over the age of 18 (only since that's the age someone is “considered” to be legally responsible for their actions), “Dan” ranking would be limited to Godan(?) with each level restricted by age, and/or # of years within a (single) system (to “me”, multi-system ranking amounts to “Jack-off of many, and master of none”).
 “Dan” testing, being done by (only) multiple individual's (with “3” or more individuals doing the examination). No use of “Black belts” (which is already done within RyuTe, much to my own pleasure) along with any elaborate adornment (“multicolored” gi's, patches, belts etc. these are pointless, if not “belittling” to other student's). Restriction of being considered an “Instructor” to 3rd Dan, face it, the average “Shodan” is not capable of being an “instructor”. When I've mentioned these “personal preferences” to individual's, I've usually received numerous complaints/disagreements (and usually because someone's “authority position” would be “compromised”, LOL). 
 Now most of my complaints are in regards to what “I” am teaching (“self-protection”). For systems that focus on the “sport” aspect of martial arts, none of this would make any difference. That instruction is only focused on individual's that are interested in the competition form of “karate”. I share none of that interest. I tend to view “sport” karate, as being similar to WWF wrestling, where “everybody” seems to be some form of “champion/master” (and more often than not, is neither). 
 Of course it isn't a “perfect world”(much less any version of “my own”), so none of my preferences will probably ever come to fruition.



Man of the West said...

Years ago, I stopped studying Taekwon-do when I was about six months away from testing for my black belt. Part of the reason was that I joined the Marine Corps Reserve. Another part was sparring with my sixth-dan TKD teacher and becoming very much aware that I was manhandling him--that is, that despite his undeniably superior skill at TKD, he simply couldn't cope with my size and strength.

It didn't help that any idiot could see that he and I were doing exactly the same thing as the yellow belts, the only difference being that we were better at it.

With hard work, I hope to be testing for shodan in the summer of 2012, but as I have told my son, I am quite confident that with what we have already learned, I could walk into any TKD class in the city and pass myself off as a jujutsu instructor--which makes it darn hard for me to take a lot of systems' rankings seriously. Rank only has relevance within a given system, and often not even then.

Just my two cents.

Anonymous said...

Your right on target, great blog.