Allowing Rank to Simplify Our World

Nice belt, Dude.

  • A beginner feels anxiety going for a grading to win his next rank.
  • A senior student feels like he needs to put the brakes on because he's 'ranking' too fast. 
  • A shodan feels unworthy of his rank. 
  • A black belt young in the arts feel the weight of expectations to get his next rank. 
  • Qualifying instructors compare the 'quality' of their rank against their peers and others in the arts. 
  • Teachers suddenly become aware that they're climbing the rank structure and start to look around for peer support from people who might understand their stage of development
  • There is huge dissonance between your expectations of rank and titles you might start to receive. This gets more acute when you receive titles that are 'honorary.' Are you really worthy? Or are these awards actually worthwhile?

In my opinion, there are many martial artists out there that have a set view of rank. Many understand rank only through the lens of a beginning practitioner. Rank is something to struggle with for a number of months, and then there is the need to 'work on' the next rank. The world is simple, uncomplicated, and directed; it is a world where rank is associated with incremental physical challenges.

Pretty soon, the notions of rank and the idea of how it works collides with other expectations and assumptions, and the world becomes less simple. The most major event that arrives is the stereotype of a black belt that everyone has. Yet people in the know understand that a first dan or shodan has really only started the journey. Truthfully, I knew jack when I got my first black belt. Not to belabour a point, the  shodan needs to leap over this mountain of expectations built up within himself. It is far from the small incremental challenges previously faced.

I think the internet has been both a boon and bane to rank, the value of your own effort, the quality of your skill, credibility of your lineage, and the validity of your claims. Everyone makes comparisons and seeks to benchmark themselves. But in a world in which there is no standard, you will eventually find yourself on a slippery slope trying to ascertain who is making more progress. But the internet will not tell you who is traveling upwards or downwards on that slope. Eventually you will only see what you were expecting to see.

This was never how rank was supposed to work. It was supposed to be a simple method to structure a 'coloured belt' class, and motivate people to work harder. All black belts were given deferential treatment and duly respected, both for their unrelenting focus on progress and then on their deepening skills and knowledge. No need to jostle for a bounty of rank or title, but if it came, they would graciously accept and take it in their stride. The fuss does not detract from quality or purpose. And the world becomes once again simple and clear.


Colin Wee
Joong Do Kwan Chung Sah Nim
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supergroup7 said…
I hate to say it, but humans love to compare, and contrast. I believe that it is part of our survival instincts. I think that it comes from a basic need to know if the food/water source is better in that part of the world, and whether or not we need to go there in order to eat. For whatever reason we have, we feel a deep need to look at things, and qualify/quantify. Rank is a tool to help someone see progress in themselves. IF a person is achieving this rank for any other reason than that of honestly achieving the skills, and knowledge of that rank, then they will be revealed as fakes by their own bodies. Anyone with experience in that level will be able to tell that this person is deceiving him/herself. Words might not be said out loud, but the body movements of that person does not lie. It is never a question of worth ( in my opinion) There will always be people who feel that they deserve a higher rank, or that they are "unworthy". What I've seen is that rank is beyond perceptions, it is earned through dedication, skill, attitude, effort, and diligence. Place a black belt around the waist of a passerby on the street, and see if he/she could suddenly defend themselves any better than before. It's not the color around your waist, nor the rank level that counts, it is what you can do, how well you can do it, and the reason WHY you do it.

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