View Full Version : Rank! Good or bad?

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06-22-2000, 04:05 AM
I've been a member in 2 dojos (well, sort of in one of them) where eliminating ranking has been actively discussed.

On one level there's an argument to be made for owning your experience and the responsibility therein. I think this or it's like is a good thing.

On another level, who gives a damn, lets cut out the crap and practice. If you are good it will show.

On still another level, the more senior you get the less regularly you get feedback. There's good, bad and ugly here. The good is that you are good. The bad is that people tend towards subserviance around authority and rank represents such. The really bad is when you bashed someone who gave you feedback (even when it was really stupid).

Then there's all the really negative crap that can come into play: power, abuse, money and the like.

In my own case, my best practices have come about when rank was a non-issue: beginners who didn't know any better or at seminars where no one knew what anyone was.

Enough prattle, and it's really late.

Your thoughts?

[Edited by Erik on June 23, 2000 at 12:09am]

06-23-2000, 02:42 AM
I have only been practicing aiki for a year with 6 months in two separate dojos. Each dojo has two different approaches to rank. The first school I started with(Juko-Kai Dai-yoshin Ryu aikijutsu) had the colored belts and stripes to mark our progression. My second school (Aikikai Aikido, Florida Aikido) has the white belt/ black belt system. And the ranks are posted on the wall.

I really got myself caught in that trap of ranking when I saw someone get promoted before me in my first school. This really is more of a character issue for me since I do have a competitive nature. But I have found in the Aikikai school that I forget about who is what rank and that I am able to focus on my training.

07-11-2000, 08:46 PM
the Uni of West Australia Aikido club uses a coloured 5 belt system.

i wore a white belt from 1991 until 1996 when our head teacher came over from japan and ended up grading me purple (2nd kyu). while i could have kept wearing the white belt i was beginning to feel needful of a badge of some sort, qualifying myself in the eyes of novices that i had something to teach.

there was a deficit of teachers after our japanese sensei left, an irony because he'd graded 6 shodans. most of them were heading overseas at the time, a weird coincidence. there were times where i was the most senior person on the mats and i knew that the aikido club was going to need some senior students, just to hold things together and train the rank beginners.

this accompanied the beginnings of my sense of our dojo's special style and my role/responsibility - giri - in transmitting that style in the way i learned it. i choose that latter phrase carefully as i doubt i can ever transmit it in the way i was taught it, i cannot hope to be the confluence of teaching influences that have shaped my aikido to what it is today. i can simply transmit what i've learned, i.e. what's important about aikido to me.

nowadays i am not nearly so opinionated, but back then i was making a personal statement: i wasn't interested in grades or hierarchies, therefore i wouldn't take on the trappings of an experienced student. i insisted on being at the far left of the class lineup. the only people i let sit to my left were people in civvies who understood and felt embarrassed that someone more experienced than them was sitting to their left.

one of the advantages of being at the far left of the class in a white belt, was that for training i felt compelled to get to a senior grade as quickly as possible. i consciously chose my training partners, and there was no stigma placed upon me for selecting the most senior people i could find because i was a white belt and in theory everyone was more senior than me.

being at the far left also made me feel more humble. i somehow felt closer to a beginners perspective if i sat with them. i enjoyed making complete newbies feel welcome, showing them what to do and stuff like that.

with hindsight i wonder if i was also afraid of being graded. perhaps i didn't want someone to tell me that i wasn't the "bestest and fastest" learner of aikido ever. maybe i didn't want to feel like there were any limits to my abilities. or that if i failed a grading that i'd wasted the previous seasons' training time for nothing. historically speaking our sensei would be lucky to hold one grading per year.

dunno really why i didn't get into the grading system. but whatever those reasons were, they began to become less important as i saw the grade/belt not as an achievement yardstick but rather as a teaching tool. the grade doesn't mean that my aikido is better or worse than someone else's, i get less and less certain that it's possible to compare people's aikido anyway. it does mean that i've been on the path longer than a beginner though, and that i can show the path ahead for the beginner's first few steps.

one strong reason for my taking on a coloured belt and a grade was because of my experiences in another dojo during all of 1994. the belt system was a black and white affair. the number of times i got told what was good and what was bad by idiots who thought i was a newbie, convinced me that some sort of visual prompt denoting seniority would be helpful. i guess i always could have asked people what their grade was, but i was too shy.

while the white/black system may work in some dojos, i think coloured belts can be helpful if they're not focussed on the competition, as giriasis and erik said.

Uni of West Australia Aikido

07-12-2000, 12:54 PM
This is a very good issue. Personally, I can see both sides of the coin here. While there are very vaid reasons for rank, such as allowing visiting senseis to quickly spot uke's with more training time! oh boy...... I think people sometimes place way too much emphasis on rank and situations like the one giriasis described can then develop and really interfer with a persons training.

I didn't get involved in Aikido or Iaijutsu with the goal of attaining rank. I don't track my hours of practice and I could really care less if I ever test again. In fact, I made the mistake of telling a senior student I wasn't going to test at all anymore because I didn't think testing and rank was that necessary or important. Well, this person felt obligated to pass this info along to my sensei. That Monday night, for some strange reason, sensei felt it necessary to open class by having me test. Big fun.... After this, it was explained to me that the test and promotion (rank) was not just for my benefit, but it helped everyone else in the dojo as well.

How can this be? Well, newer students SEE what techniques you should be capable of doing at that particular level (rank). Sensei and the senior students that help teach see their reflection in your movements which help them adjust their teaching methods (as in: who the %$&* taught you that crap?) HA! just kidding! . You also receive excellent feedback on your techniques, which hopefully you implement on your way to the next rank.

With all that in mind, I changed my view on rank and testing. I didn't really care for it before, at least now I can tolerate it......


Chuck Clark
07-12-2000, 02:06 PM
As with all things, rank has both positive and negative aspects.

I think the responsibilities which are involved in rank are the most important part we should think about.

07-12-2000, 04:37 PM
Chuck Clark wrote:
As with all things, rank has both positive and negative aspects.

I think the responsibilities which are involved in rank are the most important part we should think about.

I like your post here...ranks do serve a purpose, but not every purpose.


07-12-2000, 09:42 PM
dbgard wrote:
I like your post here...ranks do serve a purpose, but not every purpose.


Drew, I liked your post. Excellent way to say it. Rank obviously can serve different purposes for different people, and should all those purposes be served?

07-13-2000, 12:40 AM
I was told a story by my late Sensei, about the origins of belt colors.

You see, in my dojo, we are taught not to wash our belts. Nor drag them on the floor, or wear them outside of training. We always wrap them in furoshiki when they are not in use. The common understanding in our dojo is that any wear and tear on the belt be gained through honest training. My Sensei's belt was so old and tattered that you could literally see the threads hanging from it, and he had to effect repairs, for it had started to part.

The story he told was of the first judo dojo in Japan, which was really not that long ago. The dojo floor was of wood and only 10 feet square. At that time, all of the belts were white. Of everyone.

One accidental and interesting thing is that the belts that they had were made of flax. Flax is strong enough, but it weakens and falls apart when you wash it. So they learned not to wash their belts, unlike their gi's which they took pains to keep crisp and white.

Over time, the belts of the more experienced judo-ka became quite grimey. Eventually they became downright dark. New students quickly came to realize that when they are faced opposite someone with a dark belt, look out.

After some time, the Dai Nippon Butokukai was formed. This was an eclectic organization of many different martial arts; judo, karate, etc. It was from this organization that many of the war leaders of the second world war would eventually get their schooling.

Well, the interesting thing about getting all of these different arts together, is that often a judo-ka had a difficult time determining exactly how good a karate-ka was at his art; or a karate-ka, a kendoist.

So from the judo experience, they adopted a ranking system. Black belts for those who are certified as "proficient" in their art, and a white belt for those who were still working on it.

The different colors of belts as we have today did not come into existence, as I understand it, until the West got involved. You see, Westerner's are impatient -- we need those little bits of encouragement along the way.

I like having colored belts for the younger ranks. I DO think that it makes a difference in OUR culture for many people. It helps them feel they are accomplishing something along the way.

And somewhere along THAT way, you stop giving a damn.

07-13-2000, 09:40 AM
Ronald wrote:
I like having colored belts for the younger ranks. I DO think that it makes a difference in OUR culture for many people. It helps them feel they are accomplishing something along the way.

Where I come from there is only OUR culture, and my dream is for OUR culture to keep a sense of open communication. If some white belt is obviously more advanced than me, I will simply ask him / her, "What rank are you?" or perhaps the more British prim and proper "Which rank has been bestowed unto you m'lady?" The point is, I can go into any martial arts store I want and buy a black belt for $10. Whoop dee doo. I think belt colors are great for the more sport-oriented martial arts, but not for aikido. Aikido is not a sport, it is a way to reconcile the world and make all human beings one family.

Watching the practitioners of a Vietnamese form of karate (Chung Nu I think is the spelling), I said to myself, these guys and gals are having an intense mental, physical, and spiritual workout, and they look like they are having a hell of a good time as well. I don't know if they have colored belts or not, but -if so- maybe that is good because it helps remind them that they are partaking of a sport, and not training to be some kind of bone-breaking, real life heroes. If every martial art was aikido, I fear the world would be kind of a boring place. In conclusion, I vote white and black belts for aikido, and I've never done another martial art, so I have no fair vote in their decisions.


07-13-2000, 12:46 PM
My understanding of belt colors, which I think is supported by the literature, is that there were only white and black in arts, if there were belts at all.
Jigoro Kano is credited with instituting belt colors with judo, and the color idea was based on awards in swimming competitions in Japan.