A Little About Rank
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 my thought process for awarding rank.
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 let’s discuss this…what is rank for?
First, don’t be concerned about rank. Yes, I know. I am repeating myself. It sometimes seems necessary. But as a student you just need to focus on what you have been taught. Rank is something that I need to concern myself with when managing the training process, it is not something you should worry about.
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.
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. But the education system 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 sometimes people have problems such as illness, family problems, food or housing insecurity or other challenges that cause a setback. 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. At Kodokai we don’t have these time constraints. 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 do. We give people the time they need, wether they want it or not!
Our classes are divided by rank and designed to methodically expose students to material that is more technically and mentally challenging, more physically demanding, faster paced, harder contact and sometimes higher risk. Think about how rank, our curriculum, and our schedule of classes are all intertwined. Our instruction is not arbitrary. We plan what is taught at each level, and how many classes we can/should have each week based upon the number of people with the rank qualifications to attend these classes. Again, the schedule, learning material and rank are interwoven.
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?
2. Is the students current placement in classes/hierarchy no longer serving them well? In other words, do they still have much to learn in their current classes? For example, in blue belt classes we focus on the use of hips, looseness and correct body mechanics for generating power. 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 blue belt may ‘know’ all they need in order to advance but they may still be struggling with these challenges and would benefit by staying at the blue level a while longer.
2. Is the student ready for more? Or, will they find themselves in a situation that is too fast, 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 learn the additional material/skills expected at the next level or will their presence detract from the more advanced class?
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. Practice martial arts for the sake of practice and free yourself from confused notions about promotions. 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. Working at the forward edge of your current level will provide the experience you need. Coming to classes below your level can be helpful and necessary at times, but may not provide the experience you need in order to advance your skills.
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 do this and choose to spread out the required skill development over a period of months or years.
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 care, 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.
Remember that another person’s progress has nothing to do with yours any more than another person’s lack of progress has any bearing on you. You are all separate individuals and there is no need to compare yourself to another or to expect to keep up with someone else.
Focus on what you have been taught, practice with discipline, enjoy your training. Don’t be concerned about rank. Let me worry about it.