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Articles Home » 剛柔流 Editors Commentary » Grade Rank & Titles Part 4
Grade Rank & Titles Part 4

Sho-go - Shihan; A re-clarification

Dan grades have Sensei and Sho-go ["Shihan"] or teaching credential system for those people qualified and wishing to pursue a teaching career as explained previousely.

Sho-go was originated by the Dai Nippon Butokukai and consist three levels or license being Renshi, Kyoshi and Hanshi.

The awards of Shogo are based on an individual’s knowledge, teaching ability and the outstanding development of character through the study of their Martial Art dicipline. Sho-go does not come at the same time as grading alone. Sho-go or Shihan Menkyo are seperate in achievement from Dan grades and are not assigned with rank or seniority. The holder of these titles must also have made significant contributions to the karate community at large.

  • Renshi [who is ‘a man of high character ‘Well Trained or Skilled Expert’]. 
    • The character "Ren" means "polished, tempered" and "shi" means "person". Thus Renshi indicates a "polished instructor" or expert. 
    • Renshi may be awarded to the modern rank of 5th Dan or above.
  • Kyoshi [Meaning ‘a teacher’ or ‘teaching master’]. 
    • The "Kyo" in Kyoshi means "professor" or "philosophy". Therefore, Kyoshi equals a "professor" capable of teaching the philosophy of the martial arts. 
    • Kyoshi may be awarded to the modern rank of 6th Dan and above.
  • Hanshi [a ‘model for all masters’]. 
    • The "Han" in Hanshi means "example, model" and indicates "a teacher that can serve as an ideal model for others", or a “senior master”. 
    • Hanshi may be awarded to the modern day rank of 8th and above.

Polish, Train,
Academic Suffix

"Ren", "Kyo" and "Han" license designatios are those of Shihan who rightfully could be called a master of a Budo and a role model. Shihan also denotes teacher of teachers, which makes sense considering most of those who hold such license have Black Belts who have Black Belts under them. The suffix term "Shi" is commonly noted for those with academic degrees.  

Sen Sei   Sen Pai   Ko Hai
Teacher Senior brother or sister Junior brother or sister

It should be emphasized that because a person receives a grade it does not mean that they receive a title, license or you should call them different [i.e.; Renshi, Kyoshi or Hanshi] along with it. The grade is tested for and the Shihan License is bestowed upon a person after the grade has been received and an application has been filed for such license. In other words, a person holding the grade of 5th Dan is not necessarily a Shihan. That is not to say that he or she is not deserving of such a license [title] however it is a separate certificate [actually a license] all together. This common misconception is not to blame on those who refer to themselves with such titles because for the most part they were never told of how such titles came about or how to acquire them. Of course the titles of Deshi, Uchi Deshi, Hokai, Senpai, Kyoren, etc and possibly Soke, O'Sensei and Kensei do not require further certification because these titles are honorific or in reference to and not of outstanding nature in position to the Dojo or association [except Soke and Kensei].

There is also Kyoren, which grades to 3rd Dan [is a practictioner] but is not associated in teaching or designated to do so. Shidoin, another 3rd Dan, is the status of an instructor assigned to a Dojo as qualified by Honbu Dojo. Jokyo, 4th Dan or higher, is an instructor designated to a Dojo

Kanji, Hiragana, and or Katakana writing on belts are usually saved for Dan holders. One end reading their name [neither grade or title or license should EVER be written on your belt or Gi] and worn on the right hand side. And the other reading either their style or their association [which can denote their association such as either Gojuryu or Gojuryu Kai, which is made up of Gojuryu Karate-Ka] and worn to their left hand side. The traditional and most common colors of writing on the Belts are Yellow [Gold], and Red.


It is interesting, that over the years operating Gojuryu.net, I've read so many messages from practicioners writing to verify or quantify and validate gradings. Almost always, I have asked them to simply submit the certificate of which they are submitting or validating and, almost always, I have seen the wrong writing on said certificates for the rank described. Although either formal or common can be used, it is rare that an instructor would simply put a 'dash' for 1st Dan because such would make the said certificate too attractive to modify to 2nd Dan or 3rd Dan simply with additional 'dashes'. See the following chart for an explanation.


The diagram above displays the formal Kanji for one through ten. Formal and Legal Kanji for one, two, three and four are significantly different than the common writing. They differ because to change it to either 2 or 3 would simply take adding another line or to change one or two to four is simple as adding a few more lines as well. We created this diagram because many westerners are not aware that there is a legal version as well as a counting version. Adding a line would prove an easy way for counterfeiters to fake certifications. Certifications NEVER come with the grading listed as one two or three lines.


It would be great if all styles had their grade requirements spelled out specifically so you could know exactly where you stand and what is expected of you by comparison to all the other styles however, this is not the case. The syllabus of Dan grading from traditional Dojo to other Japanese traditional Dojo is usually similar if not the same, that being the minimum age for Sho Dan [1st Dan] level is 16 years of age [maturity, size, and competence outside of Karate] and must perform both kihon, all basic Kata, Shitei [mandatory] Kata, Jiyu or Ippon Kumite within an advanced level of competence equal to that of which they are grading for, and have a thorough level of knowledge in the basics of their style including history. The grade of Sho Dan may also include requirements for junior Certification. The requirements may change from Dojo to dojo and on individual basis however for the most part are semi-standardized. For this reason we've created a guideline for Shinsa which may be found in the downloads section of www.gojuryu.net.



By: Johnpaul Williams

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