View Full Version : 'Honorary' dan ranking.

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05-24-2002, 10:11 AM
How do you feel about peoole being awarded an honorary dan ranking? I guess this question could be extended to any ranking, kyu or dan, that is honorary.
I have been curious about this 'honorary' thing, since an incident occured in our dojo a short time ago. About a year ago, one of our senior memembers (and by senior I mean age) was awarded his shodan. This was not too much of a problem until recently when his actions had a negative result in our club. Irregular attendance and physical limitations cause his technique to suffer, but he seems oblivious to that fact. Recently, he pulled a lady aside who was new to aikido (testing the aikido waters, if you will), to give her some personal instruction. Needless to say, his personal attention resulted in scaring her away. I want to add add two bits of info which might help the discussion: one, her leaving was the result of our honorary dan, as she told me directly. And two, circumstances prevented our sensei (and other senior memembers) from intervening until it was too late.
So, my opinion of honorary rankings at this point is not very high. In addition to my first question, could anyone tell me if honorary ranking is common place? Are there any positive stories of individuals who've received honorary rank?


Richard Harnack
05-24-2002, 11:39 AM
The problem is not the "honorary ranking", rather it is the person. I strongly suspect that your sensei is now in the difficult position of having to explain to this person their responsibility to reflect well on the dojo because of their "honorary shodan".

From my perspective, this person betrayed the trust your sensei put in them in conferring this "honorary" status on them.

"Honorary" degrees are meant to honor the person because of their achievements, they do not convey skills or knowledge. Our current president can receive all of the honorary doctorates from Yale he wants, yet he will not be one lick "smarter" than before.

Carl Simard
05-24-2002, 01:05 PM
Simply want to add to any dan above the 4th are more or less honorary and doesn't necessarely reflect the skills... For example, a difference between a 4th and 5th may simply be that the 5th open a dojo in a region where there was none and, so, contribute to spread aikido (and bring new members to the associated federation)... That doesn't meand that the 5th is certainly a better aikidoka from a techical skills... He may then get his 6th because he write some books on aikido... And so on...

05-28-2002, 09:12 PM
Hi Carl;

That really depends on the organization but yeah promotions beyond a certain level depend on a lot of things including how much said person is concerned with rank. Personally speaking Serge, based on time, skill, knowledge, background and attitude, should be the ranking Aikidoka in your region - please give him and all my regards.

When I joined the dojo there was a 63 year old man who was there about 6 months previously. We both did our Dan grade togeather (I nearly killed him when he was my uke) and while I was in Quebec he did his nidan. He did all that was required and worked hard but physically he was no where near the 25 year olds. He has a habit of over-explaining things and when I grumbled about this to one of the seniors (just for grumbling sake) the comment was that he had an old man dan grade and doesn't reallize it. So is this honorary or adapted to circumstance. The story is positive because annoying habit aside the man is an inspiration and he can do the full splits.

Originally posted by Carl Simard
Simply want to add to any dan above the 4th are more or less honorary and doesn't necessarely reflect the skills... For example, a difference between a 4th and 5th may simply be that the 5th open a dojo in a region where there was none and, so, contribute to spread aikido (and bring new members to the associated federation)... That doesn't meand that the 5th is certainly a better aikidoka from a techical skills... He may then get his 6th because he write some books on aikido... And so on...

06-08-2002, 04:51 PM
It is hard to say without knowing what the 'honorary' shodan did... did he throw her too hard (I've seen 'real' yudansha do this), talk her to death (ditto), explain something incorrectly (ditto), hit on her (ditto, ditto, ditto).

Is it rather that he doesn't measure up to 'real' standards? We had an 80 year old get his shodan at my previous dojo, the year before I joined. I'd only been doing Aikido for a few months when I joined, and yet, I could tell he was an 80 year old shodan, and did not expect the same from him as a 25 year old one (which goes back to my belief that rank is not absolute, but based on the individual and his potential). Yes, I had to remind him which technique we were doing, but it was inspirational that he was doing them.

06-13-2002, 10:02 AM
There are many ways/criteria to obtain some "honorary" rank. That is up to the person promoting.

Worry less about their "honorary" rank and more about the "honor" you have in your own.

Until again,


Bruce Baker
06-13-2002, 11:48 AM
There are two storys I have for this occasion, and one is about Muhammed Ali the boxer, the other about an elderly blackbelt who is in his eightys.

One of the stories that George Dillman relates when he gets a new group at a seminar is his sparring days when he was a sparring/training partner of Muhammed Ali. Of course Ali had a few different people to train with but George is no more than five feet eight whild Ali is six feet four with longer reach and weight advantage. Still, as a young man, George trains and spars with Ali as he is advancing in the Dan ranks in his particular martial art. When the time came to home Ali, George Dillman gave him a first dan black belt in his style of Karate. Many people would ask how Ali could qualify to earning a black belt, but George would simple say," You get in the ring with Ali in his prime and tell me he doesn't deserve a black belt!"

Story number two.

I met an elder citizen in Piscataway, NJ ( an old indian name in case you are wondering) who had just earned his black belt after eight years of constantly attending karate classes.

To me, he didn't look like he could with stand even a marginal assault from an attacker, and most days, that is probably true. At least one time, he was so distracted with the great number of people at the seminar, that he didn't notice his belt had come undone, so I tightened it as we talked. Indeed, he was having a "Senior Moment" which is what the dazed wandering and lack of attention is referred to these days. All the same, this very old man had gone through the same testing, the same training, and the same sparring (although I do believe most of it was modified to not injure his body with showed advanced age and brittleness) to earn his prized black belt!

I guess in days of old, he would have taken out to the woods with his blanket and possessions, left to sit for a while, then killed and buried in the forest with sadness, tears, and the ten day mourning period for a loved one who dies. But our society is not the old society of living off the land in bark huts, is it?

So, the point of both stories is that true champions are found in our hearts, and sometimes their flaws are more apparent as they grow older and the grasp of reality/ or the ability to properly think starts to slip away.

The honorary belts are to show our appreciation, but even as they extole the virtues of these people we still must live with their excentricitys and foibles? Go figure?

Being able to teach Aikido is really not in the arena of Honorary, but maybe there was something else there ... either the new student or the honorary blackbelt did not grasp what each was trying to say so a personality problem was more the cause than the private lesson.

But if it was a "Senior Moment" ... then the senior members of the class should be aware of how to handle these moments and the instructor should make this person aware of how they want to handle students or have a procedure to make this person aware of his/her "Senior Moment".

There is a lot of wisdom and knowledge to be gained from Seniors, sometimes by our handling of their weak moments gives us new insight into ourselves and their lives. Don't let your anger cloud your judgement because you think seniors should be a better person than yourself. They are just human beings who have had a little more time to make mistakes than you.

If I was you, I would talk this situation out between the instructor and senior members, and if there was an improper handling of a new student, make a plan to signal or alert the teacher, or have a general plan for two students to assist in being demonstrators as the honorary black belt explains and instructs. That way there are people to assist in catching a new student who is more likely to take falls too hard, or the ukemi the wrong way.

Hey, it works for gymnastics and tumbling, and it is the best way to teach ukemi with new students who don't fall correctly too.

Always consider both sides ... even if the other side is wrong.

06-13-2002, 02:02 PM
Originally posted by Unregistered
...he pulled a lady aside who was new to aikido to give her some personal instruction....I think the real problem here is not about honorary rankings, it is about what really constitutes being an instructor. A lot of people think that dan ranking gives the priviledge of teaching. That should not be the case. My teacher emphasizes over and over that shodan means a committed beginner and has nothing to do with instructional ability. If I am in an instructor role, it is through the auspices of my teacher. I give a lot of feedback and "opinion", but "personal instruction" at my level (below 4th dan) is kind of a no-no, and I make sure the people I am working with understand that. (This is really a different issue if the kancho is a shodan or nidan, and I don't mean to upset anyone if that is their situation.)

Jim Vance

06-13-2002, 02:50 PM
I'm not sure what you mean by honorary. Universities bestow honorary degrees to those persons who have acheived high success in thier life's work, but did not go to that college or university. This practice usually makes it clear to the recipient that is what they actually have.

Unless the dan rank that was awarded to this student was like the honorary degrees universites give, I wouldn't necessarily say that just because someone is a senior (age) who recieved a dan rank that their rank is honorary. What makes a senior citizen's worth, as an aikido practitioner, less than the 25 year old? It sounds like you are more upset at him receiving a dan grade because of his irregular attendance and physical limitations. Maybe he has overcome a lot of them, and you are just not aware of it. Maybe he is much stonger in the areas where he is not limited.

Aikido doesn't require us to have perfect bodies to practice it. Aikido allows us to work around our limitations. We all have limitations to some extent and we all eventually will be limited by age one day. Once we do, will that make someone's dan rank less than others? One of my fellow students is in his sixties and his aikido is great. Yes, he has limitations, but that doesn't mean his 3rd kyu rank is "honorary". He can take me down in kotegaeshi as well as anyone else, and his iriminages are lethal.

The other issue about over teaching isn't indemnic to old guys with dan grades. It's part of a general ego problem that most of us have been guilty of at some point -- especially when we are proud of obtaining a new rank. A little word from his sempai or sensei will keep him focused.

06-13-2002, 03:46 PM
I personally don't care much for "honorary" ranks/degrees in the way that Anne describes above -- one which is given to people who have not been through the entire process that others have undergone of attaining that rank. Oftentimes, it seems to me a sort of advertisement for the people who "give" them (which reminds me of the "Honorary Members" of the World Head of Family Sokeship Council (http://www.bushido.org/~whfsc/roster.htm) -- ugh).

Steven Spielberg recently received his bachelor's degree (http://abcnews.go.com/wire/Entertainment/reuters20020531_378.html). His spokesman is quoted as saying, "I would say this meant more to Steven than the honorary doctorates because, after all, they are honors and they're very nice to have, but this (the degree) is something you achieve and you go back and do something your parents really wanted you to do."

As people have pointed out above, it's not the result of the rank that's important but its process. Personally, I wouldn't want to receive a rank in some art which I never studied, even if I could "excel" at it. I wouldn't want to receive a rank in the deadly art of FooBarBaz-do, even if I could whup every member in the art. Receiving such a rank to me would seem degrading to those who have gone through the process of training, understanding the precepts of the art, learning its history, and so on.

There are, of course, people who do go through the process but may not seem "deserving" as their physical manifestation in the art may be "lacking" to some people's eyes. But, as others have already pointed out (I feel like a broken record here), there are often other criteria other than athleticism that comes into play.

In any case, I think the problem here isn't the "rank" but the actions that the person took. I'm pretty sure that whether that person were an "honorary" 1st dan, a regular 3rd kyu, 80 years old, or 25 years old, the same actions probably would have repelled the new student away. Personally, I think it would be best to let the person know about the ex-student's comments so that he can understand and continue to grow...

-- Jun

PS: I agree with Jim, too: a dan ranking doesn't equate a teaching license...

06-13-2002, 04:39 PM
I would tend to agree with Jun san.

Recently, I attended a seminar with a friend in a "true" budo style. I had trained with them once or twice before for fun and I was awarded a shodan in their style because I "moved" like a shodan.

Does this make me think I am competent or even a practitioner in their style...No.

I would consider this honorary. And really it doesn't mean a heck of a lot to me.

06-13-2002, 11:18 PM
The one fellow that I know who holds an honorary shodan rank disgraces his rank every time he performs a technique. He has practiced for a very long time in Aikido but made little technical progress. To my surprise, I have seen him at seminars inquire of unranked students what the technique is that was just demonstrated! He seems in a perpetual state of uncertainty on the mats, his movement is tight and rigid, he is poorly balanced, and easily exhausted. Consequently, there is little honor in his honorary rank, for his ineptitude has made his rank the subject of joking and scorn among his peers.

I believe one demonstrates one's understanding of Aikido through the performance of the physical techniques of the art. As far as I'm concerned, being a veritable font of knowledge about Aikido history and philosophy, or having a wonderfully pleasant personality, or having practiced for a long time, have little to do with deserving a particular rank. If one can perform the techniques of Aikido with a level of proficiency commensurate with a given rank then one deserves that rank. If not, then no rank. No amount of well-informed pontification, or friendly smiles, or training longevity replaces good technical skill.

mike lee
06-16-2002, 01:13 PM
Perhaps the teacher was wise in giving the student an "honorary" rank instead of an "official" rank. Perhaps the teacher knew that the student, while technically proficient enough to be promoted, was not yet mature enough to handle the responsibility of being officially promoted.

Perhaps the teacher is using the honorary promotion as a test. If the student learns his lessons, perhaps the teacher will then officially promote the student.