A Little About Rank
Updated: Dec 16, 2022
Don’t be concerned about rank.
I say this often. Yet, how rank is used at some other schools, and what people have learned through popular culture can cause misconceptions about rank in martial arts. This can lead to needless frustration. This post is intended to help you understand the idea of rank in the martial arts- at least at Kodokai Dojo.
At Kodokai Dojo we may award rank certification in the several types of the training we offer; karate, udundi, kobujutsu, kenjutsu, or goshinjutsu. It all depends upon the individuals’ training focus.
So …what is rank for?
Rank, according to The Oxford Dictionary, is “a position in a hierarchy”.
Your placement, in the hierarchy of the Dojo, is identified by a belt which indicates your rank. This photo shows the nafudakake (name tag rack) in Takamiyagi Sensei's Dojo. It illustrates the order of rank of each black belt level student so there is no doubt of anyones position in the Dojo.
Rank is not a reward. Rank is simply about the hierarchy of the Dojo and a tool for managing classes. In some ways martial arts rank is like the grade system used in schools and colleges. Each grade prepares you for the next. The education system, however, has time constraints. Students are required to complete their course of learning during the school year or semester. When the school year ends, students are graded. Some get an A, others get some other designation. That way of doing things can be great for some and not so good for others as it rewards those who can excel within that given time frame. But suppose the school year was more fluid and students advanced not when June came around but only when they have developed a strong competency in their studies. For instance, perhaps a C student could advance to the next grade as an A student if only they had a couple more months. Since we don’t have these time constraints at Kodokai Dojo we don’t need to pass people into the next level with a C, setting them up for difficulties with new material. We can wait until that person is fully ready to advance. And that is what we try to do. We give you the time you need, wether you want it or not!
Our classes are divided by rank and designed to methodically expose students to material that is more challenging, more physically demanding, faster paced, and higher risk. Rank, our curriculum, and our schedule of classes are all related.
So, how de we go about awarding rank?
Several factors are considered when assessing someone for a rank promotion:
1. Does the student have a degree of comfort, consistency and accuracy with the material taught at their current rank? Or, do they still have much to learn in their current classes? For example, in beginner classes students learn basic skills such as timing of the hands and feet, footwork, etc...... We do not focus on these things at the next level because they should already be learned and we have other things to address. A person may ‘know’ all they need in order to advance but they may still be struggling with applying these concepts and would benefit by staying at the beginner level a while longer.
2. Is the student physically and emotionally ready for more, harder and faster? Will they find themselves in a situation that is unsafe, too physically demanding, or requires a technical ability that is too great a leap from where they are. Do the students’ practice habits give me confidence that they will efficiently and safely be able to learn the additional material/skills expected at the next level or will their presence detract from the more advanced class?
3. Is the person demonstrating the restraint, behavior, respect, consistency and skill expected of the higher rank? As one rises in in the Dojo hierarchy there is a greater expectation of supporting the overall mission of the Dojo, helping others, etc... The Dojo requires active involvement in the development of it's members- not just in technical skills but also in passing on the etiquette, philosophy and customs of our tradition. Students seeking higher rank within the hierarchy should demonstrate an understanding of this fundamental concept.
Don't Compare Yourself To Others.
Rank should never be a goal and there is no promise of rank, no guarantee of receiving any belt. If you focus on developing (and maintaining) the things you have been taught you will eventually progress. Of course it is nice to gain access to new material, and a rank promotion can be encouraging, but stay focused on the work, not the belt.
Sometimes people get frustrated when someone else gets promoted but they do not. This is not helpful as someone else's’ progress is not a reflection of your own. You are responsible for your own learning and development. Others are responsible for their own learning and development.
There are people who may feel that they have been at a certain level for a very long time. But time has little to do with promotions. Experience matters, but time and experience are not the same thing. It is possible to spend a lot of time working in ways that do not contribute meaningful experience.
Also, you will obtain different results if you attend one class once a week compared to three classes per week. Or, let’s say that you are coming twice a week but taking one weapons class and one Palace Hand class. You are still only attending one class a week in either discipline and must understand that it likely will take longer to develop those skills. It will require extra practice to learn the different skills simultaneously. You may squeeze in more hours of practice each week, or you may not.
Sometimes people spend a long time at a given rank because of lapses in training, difficulty embodying the more challenging material, less time available for training consistently, health issues, etc… Either way, if you have been training for, let’s say, two years, and average five or six classes a month you will have received less instruction than a person who attends class three times a week for only one year. Of course, this doesn’t factor in how quickly you may or may not learn, how fit you are, how effectively you practice, etc… In other words, you cannot compare yourself to others and shouldn’t focus on how long you have been involved in martial arts. It is commendable when people participate for long periods of time, but time is not necessarily a reflection of ones skill or experience.
Since we practice self protection arts, it is ability that matters. No bad guy will care how many years you’ve been doing martial arts. And they won’t care about your rank. They may take notice, however, if you have effective skills.
Sometimes I get it wrong. From time to time I think someone is ready to move forward when they actually would have been better off with more time at their previous rank. And sometimes the student gets it wrong. You are never required to accept an advancement in rank. If you don’t want the pressure, have the interest, time or discipline to take on additional work you should find contentment right where you are. There is an expectation that you will do the required work and rise to the next level when you accept a rank promotion. And there is absolutely an expectation that you will put forth serious effort toward retaining the minimum skill level for whatever rank you are holding.
Focus on what you have been taught, practice with discipline, enjoy your training. Don’t be concerned about rank. Let me worry about it.