Why do we have ranks?

What purpose does rank serve? This is not a rhetorical question, I would really like an answer that makes sense. So far I don’t have one. Rank is so deeply imbedded in the culture of the Okinawan martial arts (interestingly enough even more so in the West than in Okinawa, but that is another topic) that it is impossible for many people to conceive of the arts without it. But remember, rank in Okinawa is a pretty new thing. Funakoshi awarded his first dan rankings in 1924 and those were probably the first in any karate system. It took a while, really until after the war, before they became common in Okinawa. So they are not very old. And in all seriousness, what purpose do they serve?

Some people say that they help in teaching, letting the instructor know where the student is supposed to be. To that I reply that if your teacher does not know where you are at, go somewhere else, they are not paying attention. And if classes are so large such a system is needed you are not learning real karate anyway.

I have heard that they give people motivation for learning. OK. That may be good, for kids. But not for adults. In my opinion one of the main points of karate training is self motivation, and self discipline. If you have those you don’t need an external measure to keep going. Indeed, striving for such an external measure runs contrary to the ideals of the art.

But they are really really popular. People invest a lot of themselves in their rank. So much so that some people lie about it, switch teachers just to get rank, and do a variety of other things that say that the rank is somehow the real goal. They display it, insist on being referred to using it, and often seem to think that it says something about their personal attributes and ability, even outside the dojo.

But does it? Rank in one dojo seems to be unrelated to rank in another, at least in terms of ability. Certainly there is no universal measure of what any rank means. What about an out of shape former yudansha who has not trained in 10 years? Is his higher rank a measure of his greater ability compared to someone who has been training regularly the last 5 years? If rank is a measure of skill shouldn’t it be tested periodically and then shouldn’t people who have slipped in skill lose rank? If that is not the case (and I have never seen that done) then it is not a measure of skill. If it is a measure of time training couldn’t we just skip the idea of testing and give people a new rank every x years? That would make more sense anyway. I have literally seen a black belt get hit by a lower rank and say “you can’t hit me, I’m a black belt”. Really? Your rank now means more than the reality of training?

So rank doesn’t help with teaching, is not a real indicator of skill, and is not universal. I still can’t see the point. It seems to breed ego, and can hold people back, letting them think their rank defines what they can do along with what they should be able to do. I can’t think of any way rank makes things better, and honestly we would probably be better off without it. I have trained in arts that do not have a ranking system, or have a much simpler one (instructor and student, for example). In many ways they are clearer training environments. The only measure of status is skill, which can only be demonstrated on the floor. The teacher is the teacher because he or she can both do and teach, and because they have earned the student’s respect, not because they have more stripes on their belt, or a cool title, or some other nonsense. That makes more sense to me. It strips away a layer of obfuscation and puts it out there- what can you do, not what rank are you.

Isn’t that more important anyway?

The Heart of the Matter

It was a great 10 days training with Liu sifu. The weekend seminar went well, and the private and evening class trainings were also good- plenty of sweat, new (and old) things to work on, and of course getting to spend some time with a friend and teacher. As usual everyone helped make the visit go off well. Thank you to everyone who turned out to train with us, and to everyone who helped make the event go so well. Special thanks to Corey Tedrow and Jim Baab for helping make Sifu’s stay comfortable, to Mirakian sensei for hosting the seminar in his dojo, and of course to Liu sifu for coming this far to work with us. It has been good as always to see him and I’ll miss him between now and his next visit (or mine there, depending on which happens first) but I am glad he is headed home to spend some much needed time with his family after a long trip.

廣心館

But while the visit was great and it is always good to see a friend and teacher I am really looking forward to a very special event tonight. Tonight is….. regular training at our dojo! Special events and visits like this are a wonderful part of what comes with pursuit of an art like ours. They help us correct our practice, give us things to work on, and can both introduce new ideas and give a different perspective on what we are already doing. They also give us a chance to spend some time with friends from far away- from Taiwan for sifu, but from a variety of places for our other kung’fu brothers and sisters. This too is a wonderful benefit of martial practice. But while the special events are great, and time with one’s teachers absolutely necessary for improvement in any martial art, the meat of it, the day in and day out sweat, pain, and joy of practice, happens here at home. In the dojo or in the backyard, basement, or park, this is where it happens. I am really looking forward to seeing dojo mates and students and just practicing. That’s the real stuff!

A Successful Seminar

We had another great weekend training Feeding Crane with Liu sifu. Interesting material, excellent instruction, and a great group of people to share it with. We had folks from as far away as Colorado join us, as well as people from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and around Massachusetts, including Belchertown and Rockport as well as folks from closer in to Boston. One fun thing about these seminars is that we also get a real mix of styles here- people who train in Uechi Ryu, Goju Ryu, and a couple of different Chinese arts were here, among others. Some have a good deal of background in Feeding Crane, some none, but everyone worked hard, and brought what they already knew to the table (in a good way!). It was especially nice to see some new faces and introduce them to the system. We always have a group of committed people at these weekends, and this was no different- the energy and focus in the room was great to be a part of.

Feeding Crane Seminar, Watertown, MA November 2014

Feeding Crane Seminar, Watertown, MA November 2014

Thank you again to Liu sifu for his instruction, and to all the folks who came out for their effort and energy. I am already looking forward to the next time!

Feeding Crane in Boston

Hello all,

just a reminder that it is 2 weeks until Liu sifu is here! If you have not gotten me your sign-up paperwork, or at least let me know you are definitely coming, please do! It is going to be a great weekend, and I am looking forward to seeing and training with everyone, and to Liu sifu’s instruction!

Good People Make For Good Budo

We just had a really fun weekend with the OKDR folks. The training was excellent and I always look forward to seeing everyone when we get together. Neil Stolsmark sensei does a fantastic job leading the group, and the rest of the group is just plain good people- fun to train with and fun to hang out with afterwards. (Just don’t ask about the cow joke.)

Weekends like this also remind me what a great group we have here in Boston. I’m lucky, and honored, to have such great students; their hard work speaks for itself. I am even more lucky to have such good friends and training partners.

Looking forward to the next get-together, and especially to training here tomorrow night!

Feeding Crane Seminar, November 8&9 2014

Hello all,

Liu sifu’s seminar here in Boston is just a month away! As usual, it will be a great weekend of training- good people to work with, interesting and challenging information, and of course excellent instruction from Liu sifu. The seminar is open to both experienced Feeding Crane practitioners and first-time participants- there is plenty in the power generation (ji bei gong) and sensitivity training alone for all levels to work on, and the seminar will also be covering other material, including application, reaction training, and forms.

Ka tsen application

Ka tsen application

If you have not signed up yet there is still space. If you have friends or training partners that are interested please feel free to pass the seminar information (it is here) on to them. The seminar is limited to 35 people, so if you have not signed up yet please do!

Looking forward to seeing everyone for a great weekend of training in November!