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#168862 - 07/19/05 02:07 PM Ranking Systems
WADO Offline
Enthusiast

Registered: 04/23/04
Posts: 900
Loc: denver co usa
We have been talking a great deal about ranking systems in martial arts I thought it might be helpfull to talk about some of the different ranking systemsfrom a historical perspective to see where Karate fits in. If you look at ancient greece there were two types of ranking athletic and military. If you look at ancient Greek sports every single one was considered a martial art and was considered to be military training. If yo look at the ancient pentathalon it was intended to be a general purpose test of martial aptitude. Sprinting, Long Jump, Discus and wrestling were al military tests. Boxing for the Greeks was considered extreme agony and was a good test of military discipline, because even in loss you were expected not to surrender a larger percentage of Greeks died in boxing than Roman gladiators died in the arena. The Greeks ranked every athelete 1-10 and down the list sloely based on performance and although awards were only given for first place every fighter knew his or her own rank relative to eah other. In military officer rank was based on social class and enlisted rank was based on fighting ability, although the went by different names they generally had officers and enlisted. The Roan military was based on the same general system with officer rank dependant on social class then on victories, while enlisted rank was based on years of service. If you look at the term rank it really refers to what line you stood in in combat.
In Europe throughout most of the middle ages knights were ranked based on tournament performance and military rank was still based on social status. For example the Europeans kept rolls of the best knights while even the best knights were subordinate to their lords. The rank of knight technically was supposed to be conferred by clergy but knights ignored that tradition in favor of accepting their rank from the highest ranked fighter that would knight them, it was almost considered a brotherhood and rank depended on reputation not award. A medieval knight was ranked as high as his reputation allowed, and there were disputes over ranking just like we now argue over who is the best basketball player.
If you shift to Asia in the Chinese and Japanese military systems Rank was again based on social class, if you look at the history of Japanese combat Samurai would pick members of their same social class and a battle would be a disorganized series of single combat between aristocrats with foot soldiers fighting in what would resemble a European mele'. A samuai's fighting ability would be measured by his combat record while his military rak would still be determined by fighting ability. One difference between Japan and the west was that exceptional fighting ability could easily lead to social promotion. Oda Nobunaga began as a footsoldier and advanced himself to the highest level possible in Japanese culture.
Japanese Sumo ranked based on fighting ability victories alone but Sumo by the 1600s was not military related and became a sport.
The Japanese also had a dan kyu system for measuring artistic development with, the kyu ranks representing roughly apprentice ranks the Sho dan representing something like jorneyman, and 5th dan and above representing master. Even though belts did not come into martial arts untill the 20th century the Japanese ranked martial artists by the dan/kyu system, as they recognized artistic elements in martial arts. A fighter with a 1st Dan rank may be militarily superior to a fighter with a 5th Dan rank and based on social class may be a 5th dan's commander but would be recognized as having a lower artistic development.
In the 20th century military training seems to have been split from military training, the last modern military sport was the modern pentathalon created by Napolean, it involved shooting, horsebakc riding, fencing, and a couple others I forget right now, but military rank does not seem to still be based on social status.
With the arrival of Karate to Japan the Japanese seemed to have adopted the dan/kyu system to this art just like they did with every oter art.
So here are my questions.
Should Karae ranks be based on fighting ability?
Should they be based on artistic development?
Should they be based on personal development?
Should they be based on reputation/ ie you are a black belt when people recognize you as a black belt?
Should they be based on a combination of any of those or something different?
Finally do we still want to follow the pattern of Medieval knights where we would prefer a rank awarded by a higher ranked instructor, or is testing for Sho dan with a 3rd dan the same as teting with an 8th dan?

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#168863 - 07/19/05 02:36 PM Re: Ranking Systems [Re: WADO]
WADO Offline
Enthusiast

Registered: 04/23/04
Posts: 900
Loc: denver co usa
I forgot to post my opinion, I hope I am changing this saying just enough to not be stealing.
For someone who doesn't train in Karate a belt is just a belt.
For the intermediate a belt is more than a belt and rank is very important.
For the expert a belt is just a belt.
My exmmple is when I trained in the kyu ranks gread deference was given to higher ranks especialy black belts, the whole senpai/kohai relationship, when I advanced other black belts are my peers to a certain level some I call by first name and some I call senpai. We had a visit to our Dojo from Master Arakawa and someone asked our teacher whose name is Sadaharu Kurobane if Arakawa was his teacher, our teachre responded, he is my tomodachi. At the highest levels there is no competition in karate just a universal respect and friendship among practitioners. I see most of the ranking tak come from people in the 8thkyu to 1st dan level, above that nobody I know seems to care much except for certain ceremonial reasons. I really like the ranking system in Karate but ultimately, we aren't going to need karate in war anymore I respect any rank and rather than try to compare one system to another I look for ideas. I think anyone you can learn from can be your teacher and I look for good things I can learn from anyone. For example I adapted my running by studying student who are good at running, I look at students who punch or kick hard to learn how to improve power, I look at good fighters to look at footwork and movement, as well as tricks I can use. I look at gutsy fighters to learn guts. I try not to dismiss any idea based on its source. I don't always succeed but I don't think I have found a single person from the earliest beginner up that I couldn't learn from. Ultimately I really like being a black belt but I only wear that belt a few hours a day the rest of the time what I value is the pursuit of individual excellence and assisting others in achieving personal excellence, I hope to never criticize a person or system based on the ranks it conferrs because who you are to yourself it the most important rank.

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#168864 - 07/19/05 03:12 PM Re: Ranking Systems [Re: WADO]
Victor Smith Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 06/01/00
Posts: 3219
Loc: Derry, NH
While I understand the need for rank in rank conscious Japan, in its origins rank was not used in Okinawa, because first most the training was kept private.

In the dojo everyone knew who was the instructor, they each knew their abilities and why they were training. They had no need for rank.

When Karate started moving into the schools rank eventually became a consideration, and the experiment in Japan borrowed from Kano's Judo, but on the whole it doesn't seem that Okinawa really adopted Dan and or Kyu ranking till the 1950's.

If the purpose of rank is to show the larger society everyone's place then many different testing means might be used.

If the purpose of rank is to motivate the student that the more you learn the more you have to keep learning, in an open-ended study for life, then rank serves some use for new students to motivate them till they get it, and are training for the vast knowledge to be acquired, and as it is infinite, never to be reached.

The real problem with rank is in the long run everyone wants to be at the top. Japanese Karate discoved this long ago as people kept splitting away forming new groups and new ranks. The rest of the world wasn't privy to those problems till the rank issues rose in their areas, and infinite more problems.

Is there a value to taking someone at a static instant in time and ranking them, and having them maintain it till another static instant in time comes up again?

As I see the world, it really doesn't care about the martial arts, it really doesn't care how we rank ourselves, and too often considers our efforts a joke (when dealing with those outside of the MA world).

I think rank is useful if it motivates us to keep growing.
_________________________
victor smith bushi no te isshinryu offering free instruction for 30 years

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#168865 - 07/19/05 03:25 PM Re: Ranking Systems [Re: Victor Smith]
WADO Offline
Enthusiast

Registered: 04/23/04
Posts: 900
Loc: denver co usa
There is also I think a larger purpose to ranking, my instructor said it can serve as a sort of letter of reference in dealing with people who may not know you but may know your instructor. For example if I went to most Wado Dojo's and told tem my rank and told them my instructor and who signed my cert they would most likely accept me at that rank with no further questioning. If I went to a Japanese Karate school and told them my rank and who conferred it they would pretty much know what it means. Almost like if you were trying to get drafted in the NHL as a defenseman, and Ray Borque told a coach this guy doesn't have a reputation but man he can play hockey, many coaches would take his word.

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#168866 - 07/19/05 04:39 PM Re: Ranking Systems [Re: WADO]
Kintama Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 04/17/05
Posts: 2724
Loc: Massachusetts
look at the history of how rank in Karate was used during the past 100 years:
1st generation
Rank was used as a means for standardization in order to 'legitimize' Karate as a Martial Art. why did they want to do this? Japan was buying, Okinawa was selling. plus a way for Okinawa to respectfully get on the international map.

2nd generation
completely arbitrary curriculums for rank requirement/advancement were fabricated in order to further 'legitimize'. The resident masters were not able to reconcile curriculums across all Ryus to form a standard 'kara-te', there was simply too much material for one lifetime to pack into a single syllabus.
different ryu's and ryuha's means different learning sets, different requirements/benchmarks.

3rd generation
as Ryu's spread througout the world after WWII, a difference between locations is inevitable. (ie: a sho-dan of GojuRyu in Denmark might be at a very different level in material of a Goju guy in Australia).
So now we have a different definition of rank per Ryuha and per dojo. decentralization.

4th generation
additional ranks are created once marketers get a grasp of the benefits of selling larger quantities(belts) of smaller portions(increments per belt). This solved a few problems at once...people are less bored when taking a test every 3 months for a new shade of belt color. why? because for the most part, consumers are shallow - marketers understand this and give them what they want...shallow things.

so now we have 10-15 hues of the rainbow, each level of which has no meaning in any other dojo. To solve this problem, organisations started popping up like walmarts to regulate requirements...how do they enforce the requirements per rank? tournaments! mo money mo money.

so here people are paying a corporation so that they will regulate rank level by giving a piece of paper to you saying you are a real-deal sho-dan IF you pay your dues on time and show up and sponsor touneys X times per year.

now, we can create uses for rank all we want, all of which will be peripheral and consequential to the simple fact that RANK=MONEY. Always has, always will. Which is by the way, why Okinawans never needed it until the 20th century...making money from Karate? thats absurd. why is it absurd? tradition from a time that being skilled in karate saved your life, teaching it saved your family/neighbors lives.

The way rank will change in the future will be in a way to make more money. Before getting depressed, try to realize this...there are people in MA that have unbelievable skill and number of years in their Art and yet have no rank whatsoever....what do THEY use to measure their progress?

don't get depressed....just look deeper.

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#168867 - 07/19/05 06:32 PM Re: Ranking Systems [Re: Kintama]
WADO Offline
Enthusiast

Registered: 04/23/04
Posts: 900
Loc: denver co usa
I see some of the arbitrayness in ranking when you look at the different organizations worldwide but I wouldn't say it is completely arbitrary. I recognize Funakoshi's words that young people rush from kata to kata for the purpose of telling what katas they know, while some okinawan masters spent a lifetime only learning ever one or two katas. He according to our styles history only taughe 10 katas to Otsuka and he claimed he taught all the general principles in those 10 kata, but if you look at JKA or JKF for eample the letter organizations seem to be dirt words in the U.S. but at least through 3rd Dan they have standard curriculum for member schools. I have some trouble with regard to the JKA figuring out what the standards are above 3rd Dan I have seen some excellent JKA 6th Dan's and some JKA 6th Dans that are lower quality instructors but I would be able to tell if someone told me they were a JKA 2nd Dan what they should know. I know from the economic side that a Dojo run with integrity is a break even proposition at best and I know teachers that feed theri families from modest testing fees seminar fees, and tournament fees but I have also seen instructors who run schools like businesses and charge any fee they can. Some teachers see students as customers, some may even lie about their rank, but in my opinion a Law degree from Harvard is better than a degree from La'salle extension school, and if you trust the organization you can trust the rank to some extent.

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#168868 - 07/19/05 06:49 PM Re: Ranking Systems [Re: WADO]
Kintama Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 04/17/05
Posts: 2724
Loc: Massachusetts
There are no levels of arbitrary. I think you mean it's not random. no it's not random, very capable people in their arts probably set the marks...but when you have sensei defining the marks in relation to their own sub-skill, well you know what happens. yes, some organisations are legit...but not enough.

It's a luxury being able to teach karate as a profession full-time to feed your family. I can think of much worst conditions than doing something you love and breaking even.
Before test, competition, seminar and contract fees how did people make a living? A full-time career sensei was almost unheard of 30 year ago. I think it is BECAUSE of those fees and extra income that make more people want to go into that profession. I also think some claim breaking even but when you work the numbers a different picture emerges. every 'soke' of a mcdojo chain that I have seen always has a high quality headpiece. lol

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#168869 - 07/19/05 07:08 PM Re: Ranking Systems [Re: Kintama]
WADO Offline
Enthusiast

Registered: 04/23/04
Posts: 900
Loc: denver co usa
The chain schools are a different story, with long term sontracts that get more expensive if you want to advance, what I am talking about is the non-profit dojo where members see the books and pay the teacher a salary for runing the school, there are a few schools like that in Dever, one is supported by a japanese restaraunt they run the other does weekend bingo to support the activities, but in both cases there are no customers just members. In our dojo for example every student who trains one year becomes a member can see all the financial statements of the school if they attend the annual meeting. I still have seen some strange things with the high end ranks, for example when I began training our cheif instructor was 7th dan Wado Karate Federation and Japan Karate federation somehow he went down to 6th Dan back in 1990 now he is back up to 8th Dan, I think some of that rank represents a control by the guys in Japan. We had two assistant instructors when I began one was 4th Dan one was third. 18 years later the first is a fifht Dan and the third is now 4th. If it takes 18 years to go from 3rd to 4th it shouldn't be quicker to go from 7th to 8th. My belief is that ranks by JKA or JKF are good up to a point but I think above a certain rank they are based on something that I don't completely understand. On the other hand I know how our cheif instructor trained in High school and College and I havn't found many who train that way today.

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#168870 - 07/19/05 09:51 PM Re: Ranking Systems [Re: Kintama]
Victor Smith Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 06/01/00
Posts: 3219
Loc: Derry, NH
Hi Kintama,

I'm not entirely comfortable with your 1st generation assessment that :1st generation
Rank was used as a means for standardization in order to 'legitimize' Karate as a Martial Art. why did they want to do this? Japan was buying, Okinawa was selling. plus a way for Okinawa to respectfully get on the international map."

I think it is fair to say those instructors like Funakoshi, Mabuni, Miyagi, Motobu, etc. who shared their teaching with Japan might have seen it that way, but I don't see their efforts made any inroads on what was happening on Okinawa at the same time.

Okinawa always had karate, wasn't especially trying to sucor Japanese appetites to martial discipline, they just did it and continued in their practice of each generation doing what they really felt was right (such as continually playing with the kata).

In fact it was only after WWII some of what happend in Japan filtered into Okinawa and a clear case can be made as the decades passed they moved in different directions, such as the latest Okinawan World Championships not having kumite competition for as far as Okinawan Karate (in general) was concerned, that competition had nothing to do with karate develoment, and instead was just an indvidual dojo perogative.

On the other hand I think there is some merit to the rest of your assessment, but the reality was it happend almost instantly in Japan, not just after WWII.

Funakoshi reported attending a tournament and seeing head instructors in systems he never heard of before WWII. Ranking issues have always been part of rank usage.

Harry Cook's work on Shotokan gets into this to some extent as well.
_________________________
victor smith bushi no te isshinryu offering free instruction for 30 years

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#168871 - 07/20/05 12:26 AM Re: Ranking Systems [Re: Victor Smith]
Kintama Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 04/17/05
Posts: 2724
Loc: Massachusetts
Thank-you for the corrections, Victor.
Quote:

I think it is fair to say those instructors like Funakoshi, Mabuni, Miyagi, Motobu, etc. who shared their teaching with Japan might have seen it that way, but I don't see their efforts made any inroads on what was happening on Okinawa at the same time.

Okinawa always had karate, wasn't especially trying to sucor Japanese appetites to martial discipline, they just did it and continued in their practice of each generation doing what they really felt was right (such as continually playing with the kata).



It's true that it is unfair to generalize. I should have qualified what I said with the fact that most contemporary practitioners of Karate outside of Okinawa can trace back to one or more in the generation of masters which endeavored (in one way or another) to promote their Art. They did so via the only means available...by having their style recognized by Japan. Of course there were many (if not most) Okinawans during this same generation that had to have followed their own path as you described.
An interesting path was that of Hohan Soken. Moving to Argentina in 1924 and coming back to Okinawa in 1952, his Karate was one of the few which was (eventually) taught openly yet was virtually unfiltered by Japanization. This is the core argument of Matsumura Orthodox Shorin-ryu karateka stating it's Kara-te is closer to the original intent. For the most part, it's a strong argument except I can't help wonder when I see photos from pre-1930's of Okinawans wearing gi and obi. Obviously there was some Japan influence already in play prior to Soken leaving the country, however he states he only taught to family at that time so who knows. It is known (Soken Sensei himself as quoted) that he decided to change his teaching and training methods to stationed American soldiers during/after the Korean war, since his original methods were considered too severe.
As far as ranking, even this style has fully embraced belt color/rank...probably by mid-1950's. I think if we try to find the reasoning behind this decision to adopt rank into this style, we can find some other important insight about the role of a rank system.

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