Originally posted by H. Trinh
This is my first post on this forum. I'm relatively new to the world of Aikido.
I am fortunate to be a part of Karl Geis' school. Great instructors and students.
Anyway, I know "Dan" is a ranking but does it translate to "degree"?
So, a 4th Dan would be a 4th degree?
KAMI : The need for a kyu/dan grading criteria emerged in the last century with Kano Jigoro Sensei in the Gendai Budo or Shin Budo systems.
One of the better explanations is this one by Malcom Tiki Shewan, rokkudan and disciple of Nobuyoshi Tamura Shihan :
"The KYU-DAN system is a relatively recent innovation in the disciplines known as Shin-Budo. It dates from the last century and the beginnings of the current century. We owe its popularization to Judo and Kendo. This system of ranking has its origins in the Neo-Confucionist philosophy known as Chu-Hsi.
[ Dan/ Kyu often miss integrity because they are often granted for other reasons than the real technical capacity of the practitioner. Thus they become the source of much dissension and internal fights within the discipline on behalf of ambitious people seeking titles and prestige. The modern disciplines too often attach an excessive importance to ranks. The result is that the main drive is the acquisition of ranks, whatever the means. Often it is the individual himself which chooses to be examined and he who makes the request of the rank he wishes to obtain, due to the tolerance of the examiners with respect to the appreciation of the techniques necessary for accession to the required rank.]
The text above was taken from the writings of Donn F. Draeger, one of the most qualified japanese budo researchers of our times. It exposes, in a explicit manner, the very common situation we find nowadays. Either we agree that this was the "original spirit" of those who created the Dan/Kyu system or we have to admit that it is a component of today's system. In any case, we see that participants are "running for grades", ignoring the deeper objectives of Budo, since if they knew about them, the attaining of grades would hold second place. From the moment such disciplines were open to the public, it became necessary to have a system to acknowledge technical capacity (not necessarily teaching ability ) of pratictioners at all levels. The total absence of real combative situations, in conditions of life and death (Shinken Shobu), allowed the evaluation of an individual in the midst of large groups, a thing impossible to understand in the past and that further developed today's error of equating that with teaching ability. This is all the more so due to the fact that the founders of most modern budo wished to disseminate budo to the masses throughout the world.
The beginning of competition also reinforces the need for a Dan/Kyu system in the expansion of those disciplines and almost all of them adopted competition as a means to rank practitioners. To understand better the reasons for the Dan/Kyu system, it is interesting to think about the rigid prejudices in japanese society. But it is enough to say that, in Japan, people are culturally obsessed with "titles", "rewards", "acknowledgement" and "levels" of an individual in society and so martial arts are understood and structured according to the model of japanese society.
Graduation in Aikido, as in all other disciplines, were decided by the founder, Morihei Ueshiba. O-Sensei, as we know, has evolved spiritually through his life and due to that modifications ocurred in his points of view. It is also clear that in no moment of his life he was preocupied with organizational or material questions.
The grading of his students was therefore given at the moment's inspiration and subject to his sole authority.
O-Sensei himself never received Daito-Ryu's Menkyo Kaiden and he didn't have, strictly speaking, in that period of his life, the habilitation to atribute the ranks of that school (this question isn't completely clear and there are some indications that he possessed that habilitation, even without a Menkyo, that is, the formal right to atribute grades. That would be typical of some situations we find in japanese budo history. ) Anyway, we know that he gave Aikido's Mokuruku to some of his first disciples and the presentation of a copy of his book, "BUDO RENSHU", often symbolized a "teaching certificate".
In 1931, Ueshiba Sensei opened Kobukan Dojo and since that date he had instructors that teached in other places. Those teachers had need of official grades and beginning from that time he began to give dan certificates. But it wasn't until Aikikai's foundation in 1948 that a formal Dan/Kyu system was implanted.
It is obvious that Master Ueshiba considered the 8th Dan as corresponding to the ancient Menkyo Kaiden and as such he bequeathed it to his better disciples, before and after the 2nd Word War. Some of his 9th Dan were given to people he loved or that had asked him.
This is something we must not forget : Due to his spirit of disinterest from material considerations, the question concerning the grades given to his great disciples -- I mean who really received what, when and why -- will never be completely known. But exactly because of that, he gave us, by his attitude, a wonderful teaching as to what should be our attitude concerning grades. The system exists (created by O-Sensei himself); it is adopted by Aikido throughout the World; and it can be of great value, provided that we are able to manifest the attitude of human beings spiritually free and guided by the spirit of Non-Attachment."
I guess this sums it up.