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Old 01-23-2014, 10:13 AM   #1
Peter Boylan
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What is Martial Arts Rank?

I let myself get sucked into another discussion of martial arts rank the other day. I really should know better by now, but I guess I'm a slow learner.

For me, rank is a reflection of a person's responsibility to the art, not of their ability to win matches or defeat other people. My full thoughts are a little long, and are posted at

http://budobum.blogspot.com/2014/01/...arts-rank.html

What does rank mean to you?

Peter Boylan
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Old 01-23-2014, 03:17 PM   #2
FusionMa
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Re: What is Martial Arts Rank?

Hi Peter. I like your post - it sparks true thought and requires an individual to look into themselves to see if 1. they want to answer honestly or if they want to answer in a way that shines the best kind of light upon them (maybe that is their honest answer but that is a mute point) and 2. they really are doing what they are doing for the reasons they believed themselves to be doing it.

My answer to your question is this: Rank is a means in to gauge experience and nothing more, an individual may demonstrate ability during a grading beyond their experience and attain a double grade, but that rank is not awarded hastily; a ranking awarded reflects the experience and expertise of both the student and the grader, if a double grade is awarded then the grader feels that an experience ranking higher than the grade taken has been displayed.
A rank means absolutely nothing in the real world, you may the highest ranking student ( we are all students regardless of rank ) in the world and can still get your butt handed to you by a nobody with no rank at all, there is after all always someone better. It is this that drives us to become better ourselves, because we realise that we are not trying to become better than the person who bested us, but we are trying to better ourselves to make everyone else better around us.
Rankings are useful though, they allow us to see the progress we are making and the progress of our students, they allow us to make contests fairer by grade matching contestants and the very best thing of all, a belt is very good at keeping our trousers above our hips and our Gi's closed and presented nicely. )
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Old 01-23-2014, 04:25 PM   #3
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Re: What is Martial Arts Rank?

I played table tennis for two to three hours a day for ten years when at school ... and beyond. I never had any rank. I did not need ran to teach me or to motivate me. I won several competitions and team events etc. We just enjoyed it. Rank is, to be honest, ridiculous.

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Old 01-23-2014, 04:45 PM   #4
Michael Hackett
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Re: What is Martial Arts Rank?

Rank only means responsibility to me; to our dojo, the art, our teacher, our students. In my mind today, the higher the rank, the greater the duty. Discounting the idea of responsibility, rank has no value.

Michael
"Leave the gun. Bring the cannoli."
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Old 01-23-2014, 06:11 PM   #5
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Re: What is Martial Arts Rank?

What about rank being dynamic? For example, if someone takes a couple years off the dojo should they be reduced in rank for non-activity? If rank is an indicator of skill related to a prescribed curriculum, is it unethical to for someone to proclaim a certain rank if they don't recall all the items in the curriculum, or have a diminished capability to execute technique?

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Old 01-23-2014, 08:39 PM   #6
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Re: What is Martial Arts Rank?

Quote:
Adam Huss wrote: View Post
What about rank being dynamic? For example, if someone takes a couple years off the dojo should they be reduced in rank for non-activity? If rank is an indicator of skill related to a prescribed curriculum, is it unethical to for someone to proclaim a certain rank if they don't recall all the items in the curriculum, or have a diminished capability to execute technique?
Makes sense to me - in fact, just check out how Sumo rankings work.

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Old 01-24-2014, 01:47 AM   #7
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Re: What is Martial Arts Rank?

Quote:
Adam Huss wrote: View Post
What about rank being dynamic? For example, if someone takes a couple years off the dojo should they be reduced in rank for non-activity? If rank is an indicator of skill related to a prescribed curriculum, is it unethical to for someone to proclaim a certain rank if they don't recall all the items in the curriculum, or have a diminished capability to execute technique?
Dear Adam,
Rank is not purely a matter of skill level. If a person has reached a certain rank and does not train perhaps due to injury or a change of circumstances would you reduce this persons rank ? One other point everybody gets old. Using you logic you would diminish a high ranking teacher to a lower level simply because the person is much older.Hardly a respectful action. Do you feel that this is the right approach?Perhaps you need to reflect on what you are saying. It seems to me that you do not value the work of senior teachers who may well have contributed to aikido for many years.
Cheers, Joe.
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Old 01-24-2014, 02:00 AM   #8
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Re: What is Martial Arts Rank?

Quote:
Rupert Atkinson wrote: View Post
Makes sense to me - in fact, just check out how Sumo rankings work.
Dear Rupert,
Aikido is not a sporting activity. Would you consider ranking you own instructors? By whose authority would you have in doing so? If you were a junior rank in your dojo, would you consider demoting your own senior instructor ? Once again I see a potential breakdown in teacher /student relationships, a lack of respect.Senior instructors have paid their dues. Some have spent a lifetime training in aikido. Is the work done by these people have no value? Do you simply measure a person by how well he /she does waza? What a way to judge anybody.
Cheers, Joe.
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Old 01-24-2014, 05:59 AM   #9
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Re: What is Martial Arts Rank?

rank is in many sense illusory I agree. It can be a measure of ability, dedication to the art, teaching skill ............the list goes on & on.
However, for rank to be legitimate it must, in my opinion, be subject to an "external" review. For example in some associations rank is awarded as a consequence of time served, in others senior ranks are awarded to instructors by their students (who then increase the students rank).
One way to avoid this is from a HQ such as the various Hombu or by peer review of other senior ranks, but then who awards those senior ranks?
As for dynamic ranking - probably not possible in a non-competitive art.

Just my thoughts obviously.
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Old 01-24-2014, 06:06 AM   #10
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Re: What is Martial Arts Rank?

Best explanation I have ever heard.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jaq72-rAqJU
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Old 01-24-2014, 08:03 AM   #11
sakumeikan
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Re: What is Martial Arts Rank?

Quote:
Philip Smith wrote: View Post
rank is in many sense illusory I agree. It can be a measure of ability, dedication to the art, teaching skill ............the list goes on & on.
However, for rank to be legitimate it must, in my opinion, be subject to an "external" review. For example in some associations rank is awarded as a consequence of time served, in others senior ranks are awarded to instructors by their students (who then increase the students rank).
One way to avoid this is from a HQ such as the various Hombu or by peer review of other senior ranks, but then who awards those senior ranks?
As for dynamic ranking - probably not possible in a non-competitive art.

Just my thoughts obviously.
Dear Philip,
Junior students awarding grades to their seniors? Anybody we know? This is where the rank /grading system is abused. Before we know it some people will be 10th Dan[or higher]. Cheers, Joe.
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Old 01-24-2014, 09:34 AM   #12
Peter Boylan
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Re: What is Martial Arts Rank?

Your comments just strengthen belief that the koryu system of not having ranks, but only teaching licenses for various levels of the curriculum, is the right way. The whole dan rank thing was a huge mistake on Kano Shihan's part. All the questions and debate I see here vanish with a licensing system.

Peter Boylan
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Old 01-24-2014, 09:49 AM   #13
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Re: What is Martial Arts Rank?

In the lower kyu ranks I think it's suppose to reflect an understanding about the principles being taught for that particular level. However how that gets interpreted within the dojo is probably in the eye of the beholder. As you get into to the higher ranks, especially Dan ranks, it takes on a bit more weight and responsibility. I do agree that testing in front of folks outside the immediate circle of the dojo is a good thing. I also agree that the rank reflects your dedication the art. In our dojo its ultimately the responsibility of the individual to step up and prepare himself/herself for testing.

B
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Old 01-24-2014, 11:33 AM   #14
Fred Little
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Re: What is Martial Arts Rank?

Quote:
Peter Boylan wrote: View Post
Your comments just strengthen belief that the koryu system of not having ranks, but only teaching licenses for various levels of the curriculum, is the right way. The whole dan rank thing was a huge mistake on Kano Shihan's part. All the questions and debate I see here vanish with a licensing system.
Just to add to Peter's remarks:

It's worth pointing out here that koryu licenses are just that: licenses. And just like drivers' licenses, they may be issued with conditions. Some koryu licenses are merely authorization to practice a defined body of material within the school's syllabus. Others are supervised teaching licenses. Others are full teaching licenses. Others may even allow the holder to modify the school's teaching as s/he sees fit. There is a great deal of variation.

In almost every case, those licenses can typically be further conditioned, suspended, or revoked, should a headmaster see it as necessary for any reason, whether that be technical, behavioral, or simply in the best interest of the school.

Beyond revocation of training/teaching licenses, one can be expelled from a ryu, or made "hamon." (Some measure of the gap between gendai and koryu arts can be seen in the current thread titled "Banned from Aikido," in which various posters have expressed their amazement that someone could even think such a thing possible.)

The simple fact that licenses can be revoked and individuals can be expelled from an art creates a very different mindset among koryu practitioners. Conversely, the situation which seems to obtain in most gendai arts is that there is apparently no offense sufficiently grave to cause either revocation of dan-i or expulsion from the association in which one trains.

My view is that this comparative lack of clear license control in gendai systems creates both technical and moral hazards which have diminished the integrity of the modern systems, both functionally and more broadly. Inasmuch as aikido is a modern art, it is not immune; and the increasingly common situation of a group of senior practitioners finding themselves unable to keep the dojo full is the long-term effect of several generations of junior practitioners voting with their feet when they bump into rigid hierarchies of rank and authority which are not backed by technical competence (even if they once were) or moral authority (as they may once may have been).

None of which is to say that the license system can't be abused. But that's a different can of worms for another venue.

YMMV,

Fred Little

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Old 01-24-2014, 01:19 PM   #15
Demetrio Cereijo
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Re: What is Martial Arts Rank?

Rank? External ex-post recognition ... mostly meaningless.

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Old 01-24-2014, 01:49 PM   #16
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Re: What is Martial Arts Rank?

Quote:
Peter Boylan wrote: View Post
Your comments just strengthen belief that the koryu system of not having ranks, but only teaching licenses for various levels of the curriculum, is the right way. The whole dan rank thing was a huge mistake on Kano Shihan's part. All the questions and debate I see here vanish with a licensing system.
It seems to me that there is enough politicking and infighting over licenses to negate that point. Apples and oranges they may be but they are both fruit. If anything there are more dan ranks per school so maybe its a matter of degree. <-- pun alert.

Peter Rehse Shodokan Aikido
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Old 01-24-2014, 03:35 PM   #17
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Re: What is Martial Arts Rank?

Quote:
Students who are only interested in learning the system for themselves and who don’t take responsibility for the system should be, and usually are, slowly frozen out of the school, and sometimes even simply expelled.

This is the way it should be.
I have to disagree with this. I don't see anything wrong with someone practicing an art just because they like it.

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Old 01-27-2014, 08:29 AM   #18
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Re: What is Martial Arts Rank?

Quote:
Matthew Story wrote: View Post
I have to disagree with this. I don't see anything wrong with someone practicing an art just because they like it.
Matthew: I don't think that's what it means. Of course you should practice because you enjoy it - but with increased time in any budo and with increased rank should follow an increased awareness of your own responsibility towards carrying the budo on to new students and to live up to the standards that come with the specific rank.

Otherwise it may be a martial art - but it will not be a Budo (in my opinion).

To the original poster: I have linked your blog in a facebook discussion where it was relevant. It has received some very positive comments so I hereby pass the kudos on to you I quite enjoyed reading it. It put some of the thoughts I have been struggling with into words in a very nice and precise way.

JJF

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Old 01-27-2014, 08:41 AM   #19
Peter Boylan
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Re: What is Martial Arts Rank?

Jørgen

Thank you very much. I appreciate the feedback.

Peter Boylan

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Old 01-27-2014, 09:41 AM   #20
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Re: What is Martial Arts Rank?

Quote:
Jørgen Jakob Friis wrote: View Post
Matthew: I don't think that's what it means. Of course you should practice because you enjoy it - but with increased time in any budo and with increased rank should follow an increased awareness of your own responsibility towards carrying the budo on to new students
The idea of this kind of obligation is popular among martial artists, and I've never bought it. I don't believe taking part in an activity obligates me in any way to introduce others to the activity. Sure, it behooves to to help keep up the supply of training partners, but I think you're talking about more than that.

Quote:
and to live up to the standards that come with the specific rank.
I don't know what your organization is like, but every organization's rank standards that I have ever seen is a list of martial arts techniques. To suggest that there are standards of morality and character that go along with rank is, by extension, to suggest that a martial arts instructor is a moral authority who is qualified to teach, train, and test for moral virtues. And that doesn't make sense to me.

Quote:
Otherwise it may be a martial art - but it will not be a Budo (in my opinion).
Is what is and is not a budo really a matter of personal opinion? Someone who knows Japanese better than I do can correct me if I'm wrong, but my understanding is that it wouldn't make sense in Japanese to subjectively say that one person's aikido (or karate, or judo, or kendo, or whatever) is a budo and another person's is not.

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Old 01-27-2014, 02:51 PM   #21
Fred Little
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Re: What is Martial Arts Rank?

Quote:
Matthew Story wrote: View Post
The idea of this kind of obligation is popular among martial artists, and I've never bought it. I don't believe taking part in an activity obligates me in any way to introduce others to the activity. Sure, it behooves to to help keep up the supply of training partners, but I think you're talking about more than that.

I don't know what your organization is like, but every organization's rank standards that I have ever seen is a list of martial arts techniques. To suggest that there are standards of morality and character that go along with rank is, by extension, to suggest that a martial arts instructor is a moral authority who is qualified to teach, train, and test for moral virtues. And that doesn't make sense to me.

Is what is and is not a budo really a matter of personal opinion? Someone who knows Japanese better than I do can correct me if I'm wrong, but my understanding is that it wouldn't make sense in Japanese to subjectively say that one person's aikido (or karate, or judo, or kendo, or whatever) is a budo and another person's is not.
Mr. Story,

Oh, it would make sense. It would be terribly, terribly rude to say so to someone's faces, but I've heard -- on more than one occasion -- just such remarks made by senior practitioners about other practitioners' and their arts.

I think it's safe to say that if you don't believe that you have a responsibility toward the art and its transmission that you have so sharply circumscribed the traditional understanding of michi or do that you've changed the fundamental meaning of the usage and moved into the category of what po-mo literary scholars call "creative appropriation."

That said, I share your skepticism about the moral authority of most martial arts instructors and, yeah, the gap between the glorious high-tone rhetoric of budo and the habitual conduct of its most vocal proponents is usually quite wide enough to jaundice the view from even the most innocent and trusting of observers.

YMMV

FL

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Old 01-27-2014, 04:30 PM   #22
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Re: What is Martial Arts Rank?

Quote:
Fred Little wrote: View Post
Mr. Story,

Oh, it would make sense. It would be terribly, terribly rude to say so to someone's faces, but I've heard -- on more than one occasion -- just such remarks made by senior practitioners about other practitioners' and their arts.
Thanks for that. Good information.

Quote:
I think it's safe to say that if you don't believe that you have a responsibility toward the art and its transmission that you have so sharply circumscribed the traditional understanding of michi or do that you've changed the fundamental meaning of the usage and moved into the category of what po-mo literary scholars call "creative appropriation."
There are many, many people who have a better understanding of Japanese terminology than I have. My opinions are based on my own experience and my own understanding of logic, not on any "traditional understanding of michi or do".

I have a problem with the idea of having "a responsibility toward the art". An art is an activity, not a person; you can't owe an activity. You can owe your training partners and your instructors, but to say that you owe the activity, I believe, is to falsely imbue the activity with characteristics of a person.

Quote:
That said, I share your skepticism about the moral authority of most martial arts instructors and, yeah, the gap between the glorious high-tone rhetoric of budo and the habitual conduct of its most vocal proponents is usually quite wide enough to jaundice the view from even the most innocent and trusting of observers.

YMMV

FL
You're absolutely right; that is exactly what has happened to me. The result is that I have stopped expecting martial arts instructors to teach me anything but martial art, and have stopped treating martial arts as moral entities, or in fact any kind of entities at all. And I, for one, am much happier for it.

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Old 01-27-2014, 07:34 PM   #23
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Re: What is Martial Arts Rank?

Present ranking system is already deeply rooted into the consciousness of occidental people. It will stay, independently of its strengths and weakness, do we want or not. Most people must have some landmarks to situate themselves, where they are in an abstract scale of ‘progress’.

So one may choose to live in some kind of wishful thinking world (and ignore or fight against) or use it wisely to improve. One use of rank can be to express the relation with his/her own teacher. Other, as Michael stated, the degree of responsibility toward an art, dojo, students….I see it as an excellent tool to motivate people to continue a training and improve quality of their practice. Most beginners see ranks as very important in their practice, may be later they will change their motivation, but for the moment it keeps them coming to the dojo. Some advanced instructors see a rank as kind of recompense for many years of practice and organizational efforts and it keeps them coming to the dojo despite of injuries and age issues…

There is yet another aspect of ranks – preparation for tests. I haven’t seen it until I started my dojo. In fact, this preparation plays very important role not only for given individual, but for dojo as a group. Somehow, during preparation the relations between students are getting tighter, group become more and more consolidated, coherent, may be because they suffer together? In the same time, everybody benefice from advices of instructor, even people who don’t prepare the test. Beginners are being impressed by the fact that during preparation students are being push beyond the limits and start to believe that one day they can do it also. Also the true respect is earned, yes, it is not a test itself or rank, it is a suffering during preparation that earns respect. It reminds the rituals in the culture of primary tribes where a teen became an adults.

Also for the peoples outside of budo community, it is the only way to evaluate a student or instructor, we like it or not.
I’m far from glorification of rank but I can see its utility in the present society.

Nagababa

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Old 01-27-2014, 08:38 PM   #24
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Re: What is Martial Arts Rank?

Quote:
Szczepan Janczuk wrote: View Post
Present ranking system is already deeply rooted into the consciousness of occidental people. It will stay, independently of its strengths and weakness, do we want or not.
There was another system that deeply rooted in the people's consciousnesses - until Jigoro Kano came along and it wasn't anymore.

Everything changes.

Best,

Chris

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Old 01-28-2014, 02:25 AM   #25
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Re: What is Martial Arts Rank?

I'm not a terribly huge fan of the dan system, in the absence of some sort of levelling test that is (mostly) consistent across the board such as a Judo competition there is no way to say definitively that this dan ranked person is better than this other one. As to it reflecting duty to your art then that surely means you can get promoted for painting the dojo. Not that I don't feel the burden of responsibility increase toward aikido and my teacher with every promotion, just saying that it isn't something that enables fair comparison between two 5th dans.
The only time I've ever seen it make sense is when it was mapped onto a scroll/licence system as I've seen done with one koryu, they take the view that everybody uses dan ranks so they are easier to understand, but they have a strong tradition of the older koryu licencing system and so started with the premise that a particular scroll is equivalent to a particular dan, with menkyo kaiden being an effective 8th dan. Which only goes to show that the dan system doesn't work without the older system backing it up.

Mike

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