Sunday, March 13, 2011

What does attaining a ranking of Shodan validate?

  I was reading some posts on “ranking”(in general), and was surprised at the presumed authority/knowledge being attached to the “rank” of Shodan. I have always been of the opinion that Shodan, was nothing more than the acknowledgment that the individual then had a recognized understanding of the basics (of what-ever system).
  When I received my Shodan (30yrs ago,..Yikes! LOL), I barely (really) understood the basics of What Taika was teaching. What I was teaching at that time was (merely) repetitions of what I had been shown up to that point, and was attempting to learn how to apply that knowledge to what I was doing to my own actions. I (in no way) believed that I had any (real) command of the techniques that I had been shown, other than the mechanical reproduction of them. Being able to physically reproduce a motion, does not equate to an understanding of how to apply that motion in a real situation.
  The Kyu ranks, amount to being given as (only) a reference for the instructor's benefit. Granted, they also provide short-term goal's for the student, but they represent little beyond that(to anyone else). Kyu rank requirements vary, from school to school and system to system (within Oyata's teachings, it's the instructor's preference as to what is taught at each kyu level). To myself (you know enough to be dangerous to yourself), it's equivalent to attending college for 2 year's (“guilty”, LOL), you've acquired some information, but it don't mean shit until you get the full 4 year's(and a degree to prove it). Conversely, I (personally) don't feel that multiple Dan ranking's (even within a single system) are any guarantees of having any greater knowledge (or even ability).
  My own feelings being, when (or if) one is awarded a rank of Shodan, then those persons (doing the awarding) have found you (in their opinion) to be knowledgeable of the basics of that system. No more, and no less. I believe this is why many systems don't condone a (solo) “Shodan” starting, and teaching a class (on their own). I don't necessarily agree with that ideology. When one has to (actually) teach someone else, who has no experience, that situation then forces that instructor to provide a complete and detailed explanation about what-ever it is that their teaching. This forces the individual to understand what it is that's being done in the action (often causing the individual to review the motion with a different perspective, than when they learned it). Knowing “one” way to explain a motion/technique is not sufficient, they need to have (at least) 4 ways of explaining the same motion/technique/concept. If not, then they will lose 80% of their student's. Until one begins teaching, they don't appreciate the different ways that different people learn and/or understand.
  Basically, it becomes a sink or swim situation. Not necessarily fair (to their students), but that's part of being an instructor. You have to know what your teaching, ,and be able to provide that knowledge to your student's. There's already plenty of self-righteous/Bad instructor's out there. It's up to you (their present instructor), to teach them the difference, and hopefully, they will avoid becoming (yet another) one of those bad instructor's.
  I (usually) wind up teaching a lot of student's, who are already of Shodan (or higher) rank (in which-ever system) when they come to me. This eliminates a lot of the “teaching” guidance that I usually (burden, LOL) bestow upon my nikyu and ikkyu students. But because of (their having) that previous instruction, in order to teach them the manner that Taika performs those motions, it will often require them to modify previously learned/taught manners of performing those motions. This can often turn into being no small task. The Re-training of previously learned (and practiced) motions, is no minor feat. It's been stated (and is generally accepted) that it requires 3-5 times the amount of time required, to do so. For this reason alone, it makes it understandable that instructor's (generally) prefer to teach new (and untrained) students (in preference to previously Dan-ranked one's).
  When one of my own student's goes before Taika to test, my concern, is that the student is familiar with all of the basic kata and technique motions. I have little concern that they be (completely) fluent and knowledgeable of (all) the intricate details of each and every motion, only that they are familiar with them. As long as they have this basic understanding, then Taika can work with them (on those intricate details).
  Of course this fly's in the face of those that (actually) believe that to acquire that rank (a “black belt”) one should be some sort of master. Though generally understood, it's rarely recognized (by the new black belt) that one's training has only then (actually) began. As with any other endeavor, one has to first be familiar with the basics, before they can attempt the application (of those basics). Student's often (mistakenly) believe that (acquiring) a “black belt” somehow bestows (unknown) knowledge upon themselves (including, the ability to utilize it). Black belt's are sold at numerous martial arts outlets, and no requirements are made for their purchase (this should be a clue as to their value, LOL).
  When someone receives a black belt (in my experience), their ability to learn, is diminished. This is one of the reasons I prefer that my own student's (upon receiving a Yudansha ranking) begin teaching their own class. Once someone begins that teaching process, their own appreciation of what they don't know, then becomes apparent (to themselves). Again(IMO), by having one's own student's (who look to you for their guidance), one will begin to ask questions (that you had never even thought of). This instills the understanding, that they (also) are still learning. Having student's will often expand one's desire to understand even simple motions.
  I believe some systems attempt to convey this understanding through the practice/use of “student instructor's”. I'm not a big fan of this practice, but I do understand the reasoning behind it. I don't condone this course of action (in my own classes), but I can see how some would find it useful. I tend to fall into the previously mentioned “sink or swim” category. It's harder, there's bound to be mistakes made, but I believe that greater lesson's (for that instructor) will be learned. It can become more of a “humbling” experience than most would presume it to be.
  This is true for experienced black belts also. For us, what Taika teaches, has been consistently modified/improved upon. Having been witness to his teachings for the past 30 years, I can testify to the fact that what was taught 30year's ago, is vastly different from what he teaches now. Not that the curriculum has changed (basic's are still basic's), but the content is (much) more involved than it was then (hell, it's been added to greatly in only the past 6 year's!).  

  When one has (finally) received their yudansha ranking, it easy to believe that one can simply rest on their laurel’s and teach what they want to and/or know (and many do just that). For my own students, it's my desire that they surpass what-ever knowledge level that I (may) have. I am constantly striving to improve my own level of understanding, while also (hopefully) increasing that of my students. To me, the greatest testament to one's teaching career, is when your student's surpasses your own level of understanding. 



Anonymous said...

So will it be a testament to Taika's teaching when your level of understanding surpasses his?

FossMaNO1 said...

This is humbling for someone who has only recenty earned their shodan (me). Still, I knew this going in and I have no illusions that am an sort of master. The only thing I feel has really changed is now have more freedom to focus on those areas I desire to. That's not to say that I won't still be taugt new kata, waza, & bunkai, but I think I've also been granted approval to truly self-study. It's as if I know just enough to know what is bad technique, and with that knowlede comes the responsibility to explore wisely.

Joe said...

Good post.
One of my previous instructors had similar feelings.
He said:
"Black belt and white belt are the same, white belt is the beginning of technique -Black belt is the beginning of understanding. Both are beginner belts."