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Jeff R. 05-21-2003 10:44 AM

Rank
 
What does rank mean or do for you? What are benefits and drawbacks of having a rank in the martial arts?

I don't have any ranking any longer. I decided to stop testing altogether several years ago for several reasons. But I am curious to know about everyone else's standpoint on the concept of ranking.

sanosuke 05-21-2003 11:00 AM

to me, rank is merely a milestone, just a sign of how improved we are in training. Remembering that help boosting up my motivation in training because by having some ranks I can see how much I have improved my skills.

The drawback, of course, will be setting the rank as a main goal for training. a bit ironic, I felt, seeing people training just up until attaining some ranks before they left, claiming that they already know the art by reaching that rank.

Old masters saying, not only in aikido but other arts as well, that martial arts is a way of life. That is, its a lifetime process to really master the art, which can't be measured by the color of the belt, hakama, or even how many strips on your black belt.

Daniel Blanco 05-21-2003 11:02 AM

Jeff ranking is a positive because it shows the student andinstuctor how that student is advancing. It is also a good safety tool it shows immediatly to senior students if someone is a begginer so they can train slower.

Veers 05-21-2003 01:15 PM

I think it's good as a milestone...a sort of record for yourself, though I can understand why one might wish to not advance in rank.

There's no substitute for good old fashioned experience.
Quote:

Jeff ranking is a positive because it shows the student andinstuctor how that student is advancing.
Except that if you stick with one instructor they wouldn't be needed, seeing as your sensei would know how far you've come. Then again, if you travel to other dojos often, rank would be useful so that they would know where to put you.

Personally, I don't care about rank, except that if I were to move to another dojo, I would not want to start back from square one. I'm going to be gone out of town when Kato Sensei is coming here, anyway, so I won't get to test until November or December...(how much do you want to bet I'll be out of town then, too?)

DCP 05-21-2003 01:21 PM

Rank is only as important as people let it be.

The main importance of rank (IMO) is that a minimum rank should be acquired before teaching. If a certain level isn't achieved by the instructor, many folks wouldn't want to train in that person's dojo anyway.

I think I may want to have a dojo some day (in the DISTANT future), but I don't think I'd want to teach if I didn't feel qualified (rank) and have the "blessings" (including rank) of my sensei and shihan.

I hope this sounds the way I intend it to . . .

Larry Feldman 05-21-2003 01:34 PM

Rank dictates who starts to practice first (Sr. student), and if there is any question about the technique being practiced, who to defer to.

Mallory Wikoff 05-21-2003 02:10 PM

Rank to me is, as people have already said, a milestone. it's fun to look back at your previous ranks and see how much you have improoved. it's also fun to brag about it to your friends at school (lol). I dont realy have a set rank as my goal befor i quit, my goal is to just see how good i can get.

Nacho_mx 05-21-2003 02:10 PM

I think rank is a good indicator of both progress and commitment. IMHO and I mean no disrespect to anyone, but IŽd rather practice with someone who works hard for his/her yudansha (when the true learning really begins) than with someone stuck in the same kyu rank for an indefinite period of time.

Dave Miller 05-21-2003 04:17 PM

These are all excellent responses. I would only add that in America, we seem to be enamored with achievement. This leads to 2 extreme perspectives about rank:
  • The person for whom rank is everything. They work hard with no other goal but to acheive rank.

    The person who wants to avoid this entirely so they suppose that the best way to do this is to forget about rank, often writing it off as simply an "American invention".
What both these perspectives miss is that rank has always been a part of the martial arts. Granted, colored belts probably started with Kana (judo) and do indeed fit into our culture's desire for visual progress very nicely. However, even before colored belts, budokas still advanced in rank as they learned more about their art.

A good parallel would be in yudanshas today. You can't look at a black belt and determine their rank and yet it's still important. The kyu ranks are no different.

Rank is an opportunity for you to see how much you really know and for your sensei and your dojo to see how your are progressing. As such, it is as important to the community within the dojo as it is to the individual Aikidoka.

paw 05-21-2003 04:36 PM

I have what would be politely described as a "minority" view of rank (perhaps "heretical" would be more accurate).
Quote:

Rank dictates who starts to practice first (Sr. student), and if there is any question about the technique being practiced, who to defer to.
This assumes that rank is an accurate indication of ability. I submit it is not.
Quote:

Granted, colored belts probably started with Kana (judo) and do indeed fit into our culture's desire for visual progress very nicely.
That would have been Kano, and rank was for the benefit of the instructor so that a lesson plan could be formulated, to the best of my understanding. Modern Olympic judo uses rank as a means of assigning competitive brackets in shiai.
Quote:

What both these perspectives miss is that rank has always been a part of the martial arts.
I disagree. Wrestling is one of the oldest martial arts and has typically assigned no rank throughout it's history. Neither does rank exist in JKD, muay thai, boxing or sambo, just to name a few other martial arts.

Koryu assigns licenses that denote permission to instruct, but I'm not so sure that's the same as rank.

In my experience, rank does not accurately measure technical skill in performing aikido, nor excellence in teaching aikido, even within the same organization. Across organizations, using rank as an indication of anything is even more dubious. In another forum, a discussion of rank went several dozen pages and several hundred posts...you have been warned...

*dons flame retardant suit*

Regards,

Paul

Kevin Wilbanks 05-21-2003 05:02 PM

I agree with Paul, as usual: as with grades in school, rank is merely an indicator of time and energy applied to following a bunch of rules and procedures laid out by a teacher or organization - fulfilling requirements. If the teacher is good, and the plan is good, it may have a correlation with some kind of knowledge or skill. If not, it is merely a measure of how much time someone has spent following rules and kissing ass. Most people I've known who were straight 'A' students weren't weilding the brightest and most imaginative intellects at all, but they were great at doing all their homework and showing up on time. My predilection is to believe that really excellent teachers are very rare. Otherwise, the best stuff usually isn't on the required reading list. Being a skilled martial artist involves different attributes, of course, but I don't see why any of these would necessarily correlate with industriousness and eagerness to please one's superiors.

Dave Miller 05-21-2003 05:21 PM

Perhaps we do it differently...
 
but in my dojo, we don't "test" for rank but rather "demonstrate" for rank. What this means is that it has been observed that the student has not only the requisite time and skill but also the maturity required to advance in rank.

It's more than just how well they do on one particular day but a sign that they have demonstrated the qualities necessary to move on in rank. That's why we refer to it as a demonstration and not a test. It's been decided that the person is ready to advance, the demonstration simply formalizes this before the dojo.

paw 05-21-2003 07:26 PM

Dave,
Quote:

but in my dojo, we don't "test" for rank but rather "demonstrate" for rank. What this means is that it has been observed that the student has not only the requisite time and skill but also the maturity required to advance in rank.
That's how I've seen it done as well. A "demonstration" --- in other words, a completely subjective measurement with a cooperative partner is used to determine rank. (Ok, I'm being overly harsh... But, seriously, "maturity" is completely subjective. As is a "demonstration". I'm sure you've seen some people give phenominal "demonstrations" while others give aweful "demonstrations". The result (pass/fail) is based on? Cooperative partner? Well, from what I've seen, it's almost always someone the "demonstrator" has trained with and someone who isn't going to try their level best to thwart the technique, provided the technique is reasonably good --- yeah, "reasonably good" is subjective.)
Quote:

It's been decided that the person is ready to advance, the demonstration simply formalizes this before the dojo.
Then why have the demonstration? If the criteria is met (and the outcome nearly assured), why not just assign rank?

In the spirit of honesty, I'll say upfront, that I would prefer no aikido organization anywhere on the planet assign rank. I'll further add that, yes, I'm hypocritical as I haven't returned my ranking certificates.

Regards,

Paul

Jeff R. 05-21-2003 07:57 PM

I can see rank being useful in a structural way.

It does make sense that students might carry rank in order to facilitate identification by new students, to determine a degree of training intensity, or especially as an instructor, for some "proof" of credibility, as this society tends to favor Graduate Certification Papers to keep things metered.

However, I have to pose these scenarios.

If there was no one else in your dojo, just you and the instructor, would you still need rank?

Would it be solely to measure your progress in retaining the information?

As a tool of measuring progression, rank may suggest that a person has learned and retained the basic principles of some techniques that are required for advancement.

But if we turn the camera around, we might ask the person holding the rank what the motivation might be. Is it a goal? A measurement of personal progress? Something to hold and display as a model for other students?

As Aikidoka, we train to learn how to separate the concept of self from the techniques. This is so that we recognise that Uke and Nage are not individuals at the time of interaction, whether it's physical or spiritual. We remove the concept of self from our existence so that we become free of bias and available to embrace the whole of existence. With 'self' in the way, we may see an attack as personal, we let emotion get in the way of purity, we have regret and fear, and then we cannot find a pure connection with Uke, a real-life attacker, or hardship. Our Aikido is inhibited.

If you are a Shodan, and you go to class with a white belt on, does it change your technical application? Does it make you spiritually inferior? Do the other Aikidoka say, "Oh, he changed his belt, now he is weaker, less capable."

And if they did say it, would it matter?

So, I guess the extension to the initial question would be:

Do you wear a rank because YOU want it, or because you are required to have it?

Please, in the Kyu ranks, I see ranking as a benefit to progression for many. I Think this may be more appropriately posed toward the Shodan and higher. I wouldn't suggest that the Kyu ranks need to take on the burden of my curiosity.

Bronson 05-21-2003 09:56 PM

Quote:

Do you wear a rank because YOU want it, or because you are required to have it?
More the latter. Rank is a hoop I must jump through to do what I want to do, which is teach. I love teaching. Not only to share aikido but for selfish reasons too. I've found that the best way for me to learn something is to teach it to someone else.

I find rank is most useful for those "other" people in the world...the non-martial artists. They don't know anything about martial arts or what it's about. But many people have heard that a black belt is supposed to mean some level of proficiency. If I were to go to a YMCA, college, community or recreation center and tell them I would like to start teaching aikido there, one of the first things they'll probably ask me is if I have a black belt and through what organization. In that sense I equate it with a bachelors degree. It's the piece of paper registered with an organization that says I've put in the time and effort. I don't equate it with skill. There are high kyu ranks out there that are better than some yudansha. I know a person who has no rank who's technique would shame more than a couple shodans. I also know a man who is a very talented self-taught mechanical engineer. But he can't get a job as one because he doesn't have that degree.

Hope all that makes sense.

Bronson

paw 05-22-2003 05:02 AM

Jeff,
Quote:

I can see rank being useful in a structural way.
Rank as structure is one of the biggest abuses. I've heard more than one person on the mat justify abusive behavior by saying, "since I am your sempai...."


Bronson,

Quote:

I find rank is most useful for those "other" people in the world...the non-martial artists. They don't know anything about martial arts or what it's about.
Ironically, I agree with your last statement, which causes me to disagree with your first. Because non-martial artists have so many misconceptions about martial arts, I have found any notion of rank to be completely unhelpful.

Regards,

Paul

editted because I omitted Bronson's name. (Sorry, Bronson)

aikidoc 05-22-2003 08:50 AM

I view rank as a way for students to test themselves against a standard-organization, dojo, or instructor set. This provides a gauge of progress for the student and I encourage video taping tests to give feedback. People are often more critical of their own performance than the instructor.

Also, eventually a student is going to move. It is difficult for the student to transition into another dojo after training for several years if they have never been tested for rank. This provides some form of yard stick for the new dojo to assess the students previous training, although it can be quite variable. I always ask for documentation of previous rank-had some claims that were not verifiable. I generally accept the rank from the other school and even other styles but make the student meet our requirements for the next level.

Don_Modesto 05-22-2003 09:29 AM

Re: Rank
 
Quote:

Jeff Rychwa (Jeff R.) wrote:
What does rank mean or do for you? What are benefits and drawbacks of having a rank in the martial arts?

As a classroom teacher, I have problems with tests in general. As has so often been quipped, they often best measure test-taking ability. Students who are fluent in spoken English, bomb on tests meant to measure that while the clams who can't utter a word excel.

Early in my teaching, I gave as few tests as possible. Later, I came to realize that, despite the fact that they often don't measure well, they do motivate.

In classes in which I tested and quizzed a lot, the students evaluated the class higher, meaning they perceived more return for their time. Similarly, it seems to me that the process of passing to the next level, or here getting rank, seems more important than being in the next level or having rank.

Kevin Wilbanks 05-22-2003 12:03 PM

In Aikido, I think it is precisely the influence on motivation that goes with testing that I find most disturbing. Whenever it comes time to train independently - whether after class, or during open mat periods - it is almost always about cramming for the exam or helping someone else who is. I would rather spend independent time doing something exploratory, investigative, or playing just for the joy of it - as an end in itself, yet I have almost never found others with similar interest/motivation. It's always about doing the same testing techniques and getting rank... if not, they simply aren't interested in extra training. Perhaps it is a necessary motivation tool, but if so, it says something pretty depressing about the spirit of those who need it.

Don_Modesto 05-22-2003 02:25 PM

Quote:

Kevin Wilbanks wrote:
Whenever it comes time to train independently - whether after class, or during open mat periods - it is almost always about cramming for the exam or helping someone else who is. (1)

I would rather spend independent time doing something exploratory, investigative, or playing just for the joy of it - as an end in itself, yet I have almost never found others with similar interest/motivation. (2)

Perhaps it is a necessary motivation tool, but if so, it says something pretty depressing about the spirit of those who need it. (3)

1) A feature perhaps and not a bug. One can take your argument further and ask why THOSE techniques on the tests. Probably the importance of KIHON and our natural inclination to do something more "exploratory, investigative, or playing just for the joy of it".

2) Actually, when I moved from karate to aikido, I noticed this big time. The karate dojo was still busy 45 minutes after class ended. In aikido, most are showered and walking out the door before that.

3) Alas! Human, all too human!

Kevin Wilbanks 05-22-2003 03:20 PM

Quote:

Don J. Modesto (Don_Modesto) wrote:
1) A feature perhaps and not a bug. One can take your argument further and ask why THOSE techniques on the tests. Probably the importance of KIHON and our natural inclination to do something more "exploratory, investigative, or playing just for the joy of it".

I admit that a lack of solid footing in terms of Kihon is my weakness. However, I only attribute part of that to my independent, investigative propensities. I think it would be possible to have time for both.

How you view this probably has a lot to do with the quality of the instructional situation available to you. The fact is, I've never had a training situation in which this stuff was covered systematically and consistently. My old dojo had a committe of teachers who each had different and sometimes at least seemingly conflicting views of various basics, and in my current club situation there is no real teacher who knows them, so we just go through various opening/technique combinations, mostly skimming the surface.

In general, when I see people in 'cram for exam' mode, I don't see a lot of work on penetrating to the essentials anyway - I see a lot of piecing together all the superficial elements to an extent that is sufficient to fulfill some rote requirements. One of the reasons I like exploratory time is that it allows me to sometimes stumble into grasping something more fundamental on my own.

I don't know if I can really conceive of pairs or small groups of lower ranking students getting much Kihon on their own any other way. Attempting to grill basics without an exploratory attitude tends to just be one student repeating things they've been told, and neither really having the perspective to give the proper corrective feedback. It seems to me like a class led by a good sensei or shihan in which one technique is focussed on for a prolonged period is where you get Kihon.

So I guess I'm saying that, in terms of really getting some understanding, I think exploratory, investigative playing is the most productive way to use independent training time, unless one trainee is quite advanced. Cramming for exam training, by comparison is just about getting by, doing what's required, getting another certificate....

Don_Modesto 05-23-2003 11:34 AM

Quote:

Kevin Wilbanks wrote:
In general, when I see people in 'cram for exam' mode, I don't see a lot of work on penetrating to the essentials anyway - I see a lot of piecing together all the superficial elements to an extent that is sufficient to fulfill some rote requirements.(1)

One of the reasons I like exploratory time is that it allows me to sometimes stumble into grasping something more fundamental on my own. (2)

Attempting to grill basics without an exploratory attitude tends to just be one student repeating things they've been told, and neither really having the perspective to give the proper corrective feedback.(3)

1) Hmm. I have to agree. But you also see the finest writers are folk who don't sit around waiting for inspiration, but often journalists cranking out product for deadlines. Hemingway and Royko come to mind.

2) It's probably ironic that I should argue against exploratory training because I do far too much of it in the mind of the gentleman with whom I now train. He frequently comes over to tell me that, "That's not what I demonstrated." What I find, though, is that usually the simplest things--KATATE DORI TENKAN--blossom into techniques of their own. There is something in the very numbing quality of repetition which inclines one to creative response. I think with you and me, the words are getting in the way and we agree fundamentally.

3) I would use different words here. To me one has to stay awake every moment. The attack can't be just to let UKE throw you. It has to be genuine with intent. Aikido is not choreography despite its training method. I find this excruciatingly difficult myself.

Grappler 05-24-2003 08:10 AM

Color of belt means little to me. Fight history is a better indication of abilities. If a fighter has solid record of tournament victories, he has my respect.

I dont like the belt system. It gives higher belt holders a false sense of confidence and importance. I've seen so many weaker higher belts reluctant to spar with strong white belts because they are afraid to be beaten by a lower belt... thats not good.

Josh Manning 05-24-2003 08:53 AM

Andrew,

although I understand your perspective in spirit (actions speak louder than words)I find myself disagreeing with you in practice. Tournament combat is not street combat, and you will certainly find that Dojos that train for tournament produce less effective fighters in real world application. I have watched olympic tounament fights from a style which shall remain nameless and been disgusted with the knowledge that If they fought for their lives in the same fashion in which they fought for their medals, they would be annihalated. Tournament always implies ludicrous restrictions to safeguard safety. So much for tournament as an indicator. I am sincerely hoping that you are not going to point to UFC as a benchmark, its not either. You are not free to escalate into victory, as safety precautions diminsh realism.

Josh Manning 05-24-2003 08:56 AM

Andrew,

although I understand your perspective in spirit (actions speak louder than words)I find myself disagreeing with you in practice. Tournament combat is not street combat, and you will certainly find that Dojos that train for tournament produce less effective fighters in real world application. I have watched olympic tounament fights from a style which shall remain nameless and been disgusted with the knowledge that If they fought for their lives in the same fashion in which they fought for their medals, they would be annihalated. Tournament always implies ludicrous restrictions to safeguard safety. So much for tournament as an indicator. I am sincerely hoping that you are not going to point to UFC as a benchmark, its not either. You are not free to escalate into victory, as safety precautions diminsh realism.

As a second thought process, rank is to give students something to strive for, give everyone progress benchmarks and to allow students a bit more in the way of motivation, not to delineate who could whoop who. There will always be people of differing ability at any rank level and clearly people of differing levels of ego.


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