· Rank and Titles Part 1 一 等級武術
· Rank and Titles Part 2 二 等級武術
Long ago we started writing this article after once having learned a quick lesson the hard way [I was, as you might call it, "reminded of my teachings"] about how and when speaking to or in reference to your seniors.
References for Grade and Titles
In Japan, when you address someone formally [Keigo], you should always start with the family name first and then whatever title succeeds. The correct context of speaking to your Sensei should be phrased as "Hirano Sensei, "Douglas Sensei" or “Kikuchi Sensei” or just “Sensei”. Only in Westernized countries has the mistake been made to call teachers “Renshi Brad” or “Hanshi Broc”. Another common ‘American only’ mistake is adding the formal title grade of said instructor to their title. “Soke Dave”, “Kyoshi Richard” or “Shihan Dan” are incorrect and in Japan might be regarded as ignorant or even defiant. I know - you are not in Japan however if you are going to practice Japanese Karatedo and use Japanese terminology it is appropriate to learn how to properly use the title. In Japan, Titles such as those described are use as spoken word mostly when or after people die! Yamaguchi Sensei was never referred to ‘Yamaguchi Kaiso as you might notice until after he passed away, and the same goes for “Chojun Miyagi Kensei [Sacred fist]. For the most part you shouldn't worry about being asked of your grade or title by lower grades. It is just as impolite to ask a woman of her age. If a senior in grade wants to know your own grade he may ask without hesitation or he may ask another senior.
The Kanji shown reads as ‘SHO’ translated as "Certificate / Proof"
Grades, ranks and titles are all relative and subject. There are green Belts that would be Black Belts at a different school. And there are Black Belts that couldn’t cross the street without endangering their health. In and under many circumstances grade is used to keep students motivated or to give them a sense of progression, of accomplishment and separates different levels of skill within a group. The student will be aware of the discipline within the class and with regards to grade. As each student progresses they receives grading beginning at 10th Kyu [being the lowest] and advancing to 1st Kyu or Ikkyu [being the highest of the Kyu levels] then onto the Dan levels beginning with 1st Dan or Shodan [the lowest of the black belt levels] and up to the 8th Dan [the highest level used for people still living]. Elevation there after normally is reserved for the deceased or extremely rare.
The myth of the belt system
Back when Kara-te was still known as Chinese hand or "Te." there was no need for a Belt grading system. Everyone in the Dojo knew who the senior student and Teacher or Master was. In the early days of Okinawan Martial Arts, all Karatedo practitioner started out with a White Belt. In time, and the change of seasons, spring would come about and with it green grass, pollen and dust. Since the Belt was never washed as a symbol of hard work put forth into ones Training [as is today] Spring could leave behind on your white Belt a tinge of green, since most Dojo of the day were exposed to the elements or simply outdoors, and depending on how much training you participated in. With the coming of fall and winter the muck of -Nature would further stain the once white Belt. After several turning of seasons, and repeated summer’s heat to bake and darken the colors, the Belt eventually turned Black - thus explaining the origin of the Black Belt.
Facts behind the belt / grading system
Endorsed by the Dai Nippon Butokukai 大日本武徳会, the wearing of sashes and Belts was conceived of by the late founder of Judo, Jigoro Kano. This is of record and history – not of the many many myths that pre-exist.
Kano first foresaw the need to distinguish the difference between the advanced practitioner and the different levels of beginners while organizing his Judo system and association; thus he developed the Dan / Kyu system. The Dan, or Black Belt, indicated an advanced proficiency level and those who earned it became known as Yudansha [Dan recipients]; the Kyu degrees represented the varying levels of competency below the Dan, and were known as Mudansha [those not yet having received a Dan].
Kano Sensei felt it particularly important for all students to fully realize that one's training was in no way complete simply because one had achieved the Dan degree. On the contrary, he emphasized that the attainment of the Dan grade merely symbolized the real beginning of one's journey. By reaching Black Belt level, one had, in fact, completed only the necessary requirements to embark upon a relentless journey without distance that would ultimately result in self-mastery.
After establishing the Kodakan Dojo, Kano Sensei distributed Black sashes to all Yudansha, which were worn around the standard Dogi [practice Uniform] of that era. Around 1907, the Black sash was replaced with the kuroi-obi [Black Belt], which became the standard still used. The ideology of adopting the Dan / Kyu system to Judo came to Professor Jigoro Kano after watching a swimming competition of which they called the seniors as Yudansha and the Juniors as Mukyu. This translated easily as white belt and black belt in the Judo system. Around 1958 the brown belt was added and in 1960 the green belt as well. This identification of hierarchy in training for Judo was adopted to Karatedo and many other budo styles.
Of clarifying this standard there was, of course, the white Belt and the Black Belt [still sometimes found to be the only two Belts in a Dojo such as many traditional Aikido Dojo]. Added to this was, the green and brown Belts, thus was known as the Traditional Belt system. In the Japan system of Karate-do is still found to be the most common system:
7th, 8th, 9th & 10th Kyu
4th, 5th & 6th Kyu
1st [Ikkyu], 2nd & 3rd Kyu
Sho Dan [Ho] and above
For Mudansha or Kyu level students.
For Yudansha of Black Belt level students.
From the Kodokan to the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai
The Dai Nippon Butoku Kai was originally formed in 1895 after Japans victory over China. In the long term its original membership, who were made up of police, military, very distinguished citizens, royalty and imperialists, would by the 1940’s have established and molded the people of Japan to:
a. Preserve martial virtue [Butoku] as represented by the traditional martial disciplines
b. Honor older Budo practitioners who had kept tradition and experienced a true warrior society.
c. To promote and propagate the classical martial ways as an education system to help instill Bushido in the minds and bodies of the nation’s youth [Watanabe 1970]. This in the long term strengthened the nation as a whole.
The Dai Nippon Butokukai 大日本武徳会 is the entity that governs all Martial Arts from Japan on an international basis. The Dai Nippon Butokukai 大日本武徳会 adopted and issued the first titles distinguishing modern day Budo practitioners [Budoka, those of “RYU” and not of “Jutsu]. These “Budoka” were determined either prominent or exceptional in their styles by their peers as well as the Dai Nippon Butokukai 大日本武徳会. In the Dai Nippon Butokukai, grading is the assessment of an individual's course toward the attainment of excellence through practice and tradition. This judgment is not based on mortal superior ability however includes the entire mortal, moral, and spiritual and developmental credentials and aspects. The first Shihan ["Master Teacher"] title was Hanshi ["Model Expert "or"" Teacher by Example, and Kyoshi, originally known as Tesshi ["Teaching Expert"]. In 1934, a third title was introduced, Renshi ["Well Trained or Skilled Expert"]. These are the same grades awarded to masters today.
The Dai Nippon Butokukai 大日本武徳会 as we know, mandated the ‘unification of various schools of Swordsmanship [Kendo] and standardized and issued to these schools formal and uniform grade. These schools were picked obviously because of their great numbers if brought under the influence of Budo and Shinto could help combat the onset of Western cultural influence and its ailments. The Butoku Kai soon after managed and consolidated the schools of Jujutsu, Archery, Naginata and other classic martial Arts until the Organization became a “Semi-Governmental agency by the 1930’s managing and Governing all forms of Budo, Also by this time the Butoku Kai was working hand in hand with Religious, Educational, Imperial and Recreational institutions as a ‘Cultural Nationalist Organization’.
With the advent of change came the introduction of a standardized structure that would separate students by levels of comprehension in their style of Martial Art. This structure had already been in place before “The meeting of the Masters” however standardized by the Okinawan Karatedo Jutsu and Karatedo Ryu-ha, the grade structure was not truly utilized in Okinawa until 1956, when Chosin Chibana formed the Okinawa Karatedo Association.
The Dai Nippon Butokukai 大日本武徳会 also concluded that the improvements it called for would bring about a single coalition under their decisions and rules, as had happened with Judo and Kendo. Prince Nashimoto Moriwasa empowered Gojuryu’s Chojun Miyagi to set up a Karatedo Kyoju-Kai [Karatedo Teacher Association] on behalf of the Dai Nippon Butokukai 大日本武徳会 in 1937. Sensei Konishi and Sensei Sannosuke were assigned to implement and oversee this transition. Another major transition that was however implemented was the adoption of “Te” or all Okinawan Bujutsu to become revised into a Japanese Budo. Of the rules or changes to take place were:
A. The implementation of a formal Belt system.
1. As already devised by Kano Jigoro Sensei.
2. Which included a formal Kyu and Dan System.
3. Which included a formal Title system of:
B. The adoption of a formal Uniform [GI or Dogi].
- When Karatedo was first introduced to mainland Japan from Okinawa, it was obvious that the traditional Kimono [the daily clothing worn in public] was too bulky and restrictive for the physical movements of Karatedo .
- In many old photographs, Karatedo practitioners are seen wearing underpants or long underwear. [I have been told they sometimes even practiced naked!]
- Premier members of the Dai Nippon Butokukai 大日本武徳会 included the Emperor, Prince and other top officials; both Military and Religious [also keep in mind the Emperors position in the Shinto Religion].
- It was considered highly improper to practice or perform before these delegates in such attire therefore the Dai Nippon Butokukai 大日本武徳会 adopted [mandated] a Gi made of a lighter weighted material for use in Karatedo.
C. Changing the various ‘TE’ from the ideogram [Kanji] meaning Chinese Hand to the Japanese meaning Empty Hand [Karate].
D. The style name had to be registered in Kyoto at the Butokukan [Butokukia Budokan].
Karatedo’s continued development was heavily deferred by the onset of World War II [which included the loss of Miyagi Sensei’s top student in battle], so much so that this universal set of standards failed to ever fully materialize. Today in each different Kaiha and Ryuha there are levels of rulings that do govern the credentials and teaching degrees.
The most discernible figures of Karatedo to receive the titles from the Dai Nippon Butokukai 大日本武徳会 have been:
o Chojun Miyagi [[Gojuryu] the first in 1937 with the title of Kyoshi] and his classmate
o Mabuni Kenwa [Shito Ryu], among others include
o Funakoshi Gichin [Shotokan] his son
o Funakoshi Giko [Shotokan],
o Konishi Yasuhiro [Shindo Jinen Ryu],
o Ohtsuka Hironori [Wado Ryu],
o Gogen Yamaguchi [Gojukai],
o Nagamine Shoshin [Matsubayashi Shorin Ryu],
o Shinzato Jin’an [Gojuryu],
o Higa Seiko [Gojuryu],
o Yagi Meitoku [Gojuryu],
o Ueshima Sannosuke [Kushin Ryu],
o Tomoyori Ryusei [Kenyu Ryu],
o Kinjo Hiroshi [Ko Ryu],
o Richard Kim who later separated from the Butokukai and formed his own Butokukai organization in North America [Shorinji Ryu], and
o Sakagami Ryusho [Itosu Kai Shito Ryu].
The Meeting of the Masters, October 25, 1936. The first ever of its kind held at the Showa Kaikan in Naha, Okinawa. It was sponsored by the Ryukyu Shinposha [Ryukyu Newspaper Co.] In attendance was:
o Hanashiro Chomo [1869-1945] The former disciple of the legendary Bushi Matsumura [1809-1901] and a prominent senior master of toudijutsu].
o Kyan Chotoku [1870-1945], Also a former disciple of Bushi Matsumura and a prominent senior master of toudijutsu.
o Motobu Choki, [1871-1944], having learned from several sources, was regarded as "The Fighter," and was the most controversial figure of toudijutsu during that era.
o Chibana Choshin, [1885-1969], a former disciple of Itosu Ankoh [1832-1915], and a highly regarded master who first coined the term Shorinryu to describe toudijutsu.
o Kyoda Juhatsu, [1886-1967], the senior disciple of Higashionna Kanryo [1953-1917], and a prominent master of toudijutsu, who founded the To’on ryu tradition.
o Chojun Miyagi, [1888-1953], the most well known disciple of Higashionna Kanryo, a respected master of toudijutsu, and the founder of the Gojuryu tradition.
o Gusukuma Shimpan.
Special guests included:
o Sato Koichi, the head of Educational Affairs;
o Shimabukuro Zenpatchi, the chief librarian for Okinawa Prefecture; Vice-Commander
o Fukushima Kitsuma, regional military HQS;
o Kita Ezio, a section chief from the prefectural police department;
o Goeku Chosho, a section chief from the Prefectural Department of Peace;
o Furukawa Gisaburo, director of the Prefectural Physical Education Board;
o Andoh Shigeru, an author; Ryukyu Shinposha president
o Ota Chofu, chief editor
o Matayoshi Yoshikazu, and the newspaper's director,
o Yamaguchi Zensoku, Mr. Tamaki, one of their journalists; Mr.
o Oroku Chotei, and the principal force behind the gathering,
o Nakasone Genwa [1886-1978 born in Okinawa and a graduate of the Okinawa Teachers College - 1929. At the 1936 meeting], a Karatedo writer / historian.
· Rank and Titles Part 1 一 等級武術
· Rank and Titles Part 2 二 等級武術