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Zaine
Black Belt
Black Belt

Joined: 31 Aug 2005
Posts: 2315
Location: Dallas, TX
Styles: Matsumura-Seito, Shobayashi-Ryu, Shudokan, Long Fist, American Street Karate, Southern Mantis, HEMA

PostPosted: Fri Mar 31, 2023 9:05 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sailor Sindbad wrote:
Not sure if it's already been stated, but the issue I would take with this is the fact that it has always been preached that "black belt is not the end; it's only the beginning."

If you get rid of dan ranks, then that adage is no longer true. Black belt, indeed, becomes the end.


I disagree. I think the abolition of higher dan ranks doesn't mean that black belt isn't the beginning. Just because there are no more trail markers doesn't mean that there isn't a trail to walk.
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Sailor Sindbad
Yellow Belt
Yellow Belt

Joined: 05 Dec 2019
Posts: 77

Styles: Kobayashi Shorin-ryu, Shotokan, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

PostPosted: Fri Mar 31, 2023 9:49 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Zaine wrote:
Sailor Sindbad wrote:
Not sure if it's already been stated, but the issue I would take with this is the fact that it has always been preached that "black belt is not the end; it's only the beginning."

If you get rid of dan ranks, then that adage is no longer true. Black belt, indeed, becomes the end.


I disagree. I think the abolition of higher dan ranks doesn't mean that black belt isn't the beginning. Just because there are no more trail markers doesn't mean that there isn't a trail to walk.


I suppose that if you're of the metaphysical mind, think in abstracts, etc... it's easy to look at it this way. However, for those who think strictly in the empirical (like myself), this is rather difficult.

The great thing about starting martial arts at a later age is that there are dan grades that I will NEVER reach. I don't know what those grades are, because I don't know when my time on this Earth is up. But what I do know is that when I die, I'll die when I'm short of that next grade that I had yet to make.

I can't imagine merely simply making "black belt" with nothing after that, and not being of the mind that "this is it."

I'll say this: I'm making the move from Shorin-ryu to Shotokan.

Shotokan (at least ISKF, don't know about others) does not use dan bars. There's no indicator of grade or tier on the belts of ISKF yudansha.

Shorin-ryu - at least Kobyashi under the Nakazato lineage - doesn't either, but does use the shogo belts for 6th dan and above, and a design that runs the length of the belt for 3rd and 4th dan.

I agree wholly with ISKF's stance on this. The only thing others need to know is that you're a black belt, and nothing more. But let the grades still be there.
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bushido_man96
KF Sensei
KF Sensei

Joined: 31 Mar 2006
Posts: 30275
Location: Hays, KS
Styles: Taekwondo, Combat Hapkido, Aikido, GRACIE, Police Krav Maga, SPEAR

PostPosted: Fri Mar 31, 2023 11:16 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think this is a rather typical view of those who haven't made it there yet. Those that have, the idea of the next dan grade tends to wane.

The problem I've noticed is that once hitting the black belt level, there really isn't anything new to learn as far as techniques go. Sure, you can learn new orders and combinations of these techniques (forms), but to what end? It becomes more stuff to memorize as part of a testing curriculum that I can then memorize and choose to pay a $700 testing fee to get to the next rank.
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Sailor Sindbad
Yellow Belt
Yellow Belt

Joined: 05 Dec 2019
Posts: 77

Styles: Kobayashi Shorin-ryu, Shotokan, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

PostPosted: Fri Mar 31, 2023 12:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

bushido_man96 wrote:
I think this is a rather typical view of those who haven't made it there yet. Those that have, the idea of the next dan grade tends to wane.


So I've got two responses to this, first in speaking solely for myself, and the other in general.

Speaking for myself

I believe that every straight masculine man (and by that, I don't mean anything toxic; I just mean a typical guy who's into guy stuff. Even a nerd who's into anime qualifies) likes martial arts and wants to practice at least one. What man doesn't want to "kick butt," or at least know how to effectively do so?

There's a reason I started martial arts so late in my life (at the age of 40): I have three degrees. A bachelor's, a master's, and an associate's (the order in which I got them, the associate's is in a major unrelated to the other two degrees).

I promised my wife that I'd give her the rest of my GI Bill, so that she could use it to earn degrees herself.

My dream of earning a doctorate? Gone.

So what can I do instead? The thing I believe it's in every man to want to do: martial arts. So now, I'll always be in pursuit of SOMETHING. And that's how I like it. The fact that there are dan grades beyond my life expectancy ensures this.

Speaking in general

In the three years and some change that I've been at the dojo that I'm now leaving, here's what I've noticed:

- People making black belt, and no longer showing up
- People making black belt, and coming far less often
- Random black belts that I've never seen or met before, who decide to randomly show up, and whom I've never seen again after that.

My point is this: no matter how much you drill it into people that "black belt is not the end, it's only the beginning," there are more people too many that don't believe this. That's why I worry about the effects that eliminating dan grades might have. Because even among those that stick around after getting their black belt, how many might not by eliminating grades?

Quote:
The problem I've noticed is that once hitting the black belt level, there really isn't anything new to learn as far as techniques go. Sure, you can learn new orders and combinations of these techniques (forms), but to what end? It becomes more stuff to memorize as part of a testing curriculum that I can then memorize and choose to pay a $700 testing fee to get to the next rank.


I personally would love to learn Gojushiho and all those those other advanced kata that are normally taught at sandan or higher. But then there are the higher grades that are awarded based on your contribution to the art.

I don't "need" my master's degree, as the job I've been working in for over a decade only requires a bachelor's. But I was really ecstatic when I got my master's, because of that sense of accomplishment and achievement. So that could be a motivator as well.

If I won the lottery jackpot, and no longer needed to work, you can bet that I'd be working on my doctorate.


Last edited by Sailor Sindbad on Fri Mar 31, 2023 12:43 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Zaine
Black Belt
Black Belt

Joined: 31 Aug 2005
Posts: 2315
Location: Dallas, TX
Styles: Matsumura-Seito, Shobayashi-Ryu, Shudokan, Long Fist, American Street Karate, Southern Mantis, HEMA

PostPosted: Fri Mar 31, 2023 12:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

One can still be in pursuit of something without there being a grade attached to it. The seeking of knowledge is the thing. The dan grades, at best, represent where you are on that path and, at worst, exist as a political tool within the confines of a dojo or organization. Why wait to learn a kata until you can test if you're already ready to learn that kata? The barriers between the dan ranks are arbitrary and too often exist only to line the pockets of an instructor.
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Wastelander
KF Sensei
KF Sensei

Joined: 18 Oct 2010
Posts: 2745
Location: Salem, IL
Styles: Shorin-Ryu, Shuri-Ryu, Judo, KishimotoDi

PostPosted: Mon Apr 03, 2023 10:45 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sailor Sindbad wrote:
Zaine wrote:
Sailor Sindbad wrote:
Not sure if it's already been stated, but the issue I would take with this is the fact that it has always been preached that "black belt is not the end; it's only the beginning."

If you get rid of dan ranks, then that adage is no longer true. Black belt, indeed, becomes the end.


I disagree. I think the abolition of higher dan ranks doesn't mean that black belt isn't the beginning. Just because there are no more trail markers doesn't mean that there isn't a trail to walk.


I suppose that if you're of the metaphysical mind, think in abstracts, etc... it's easy to look at it this way. However, for those who think strictly in the empirical (like myself), this is rather difficult.

The great thing about starting martial arts at a later age is that there are dan grades that I will NEVER reach. I don't know what those grades are, because I don't know when my time on this Earth is up. But what I do know is that when I die, I'll die when I'm short of that next grade that I had yet to make.

I can't imagine merely simply making "black belt" with nothing after that, and not being of the mind that "this is it."


I suppose I don't see progress without rank as being metaphysical or abstract. You can, at any point, compare your current knowledge and skill to your past knowledge and skill, and see how far you've come. You can test your abilities, and any point, and see how you have improved. To me, that is plenty empirical.

Sailor Sindbad wrote:

I'll say this: I'm making the move from Shorin-ryu to Shotokan.

Shotokan (at least ISKF, don't know about others) does not use dan bars. There's no indicator of grade or tier on the belts of ISKF yudansha.

Shorin-ryu - at least Kobyashi under the Nakazato lineage - doesn't either, but does use the shogo belts for 6th dan and above, and a design that runs the length of the belt for 3rd and 4th dan.

I agree wholly with ISKF's stance on this. The only thing others need to know is that you're a black belt, and nothing more. But let the grades still be there.


When I was still in the Shorinkan, the longwise red/white belts were for 5th and 6th Dan, but only in America--the Shorinkan didn't officially use them, but Americans (mostly) decided that they needed another fancy belt to entice people. It would be interesting if they have added more, or lowered the rank requirement for them, since I left, and not in a good way, IMO.

Personally, I also much prefer the plan black belt over stripes or kohaku-obi, as well, if you ARE going to have additional yudansha ranks.

Sailor Sindbad wrote:
bushido_man96 wrote:
I think this is a rather typical view of those who haven't made it there yet. Those that have, the idea of the next dan grade tends to wane.


So I've got two responses to this, first in speaking solely for myself, and the other in general.

Speaking for myself

I believe that every straight masculine man (and by that, I don't mean anything toxic; I just mean a typical guy who's into guy stuff. Even a nerd who's into anime qualifies) likes martial arts and wants to practice at least one. What man doesn't want to "kick butt," or at least know how to effectively do so?

There's a reason I started martial arts so late in my life (at the age of 40): I have three degrees. A bachelor's, a master's, and an associate's (the order in which I got them, the associate's is in a major unrelated to the other two degrees).

I promised my wife that I'd give her the rest of my GI Bill, so that she could use it to earn degrees herself.

My dream of earning a doctorate? Gone.

So what can I do instead? The thing I believe it's in every man to want to do: martial arts. So now, I'll always be in pursuit of SOMETHING. And that's how I like it. The fact that there are dan grades beyond my life expectancy ensures this.

Speaking in general

In the three years and some change that I've been at the dojo that I'm now leaving, here's what I've noticed:

- People making black belt, and no longer showing up
- People making black belt, and coming far less often
- Random black belts that I've never seen or met before, who decide to randomly show up, and whom I've never seen again after that.

My point is this: no matter how much you drill it into people that "black belt is not the end, it's only the beginning," there are more people too many that don't believe this. That's why I worry about the effects that eliminating dan grades might have. Because even among those that stick around after getting their black belt, how many might not by eliminating grades?

Quote:
The problem I've noticed is that once hitting the black belt level, there really isn't anything new to learn as far as techniques go. Sure, you can learn new orders and combinations of these techniques (forms), but to what end? It becomes more stuff to memorize as part of a testing curriculum that I can then memorize and choose to pay a $700 testing fee to get to the next rank.


I personally would love to learn Gojushiho and all those those other advanced kata that are normally taught at sandan or higher. But then there are the higher grades that are awarded based on your contribution to the art.

I don't "need" my master's degree, as the job I've been working in for over a decade only requires a bachelor's. But I was really ecstatic when I got my master's, because of that sense of accomplishment and achievement. So that could be a motivator as well.

If I won the lottery jackpot, and no longer needed to work, you can bet that I'd be working on my doctorate.


In my experience, between several different styles and schools over the course of nearly 2 decades, so far, the vast majority of people are going to consider black belt to be "the end," regardless of how many additional dan grades come after it. I can't count the number of times I've encountered people returning to martial arts after long breaks to "finish what they started" (by which, they mean earning black belt, and nothing more). As you've said, people very often earn black belt and stop showing up. Heck, the general public who are looking for martial arts training, by and large, have no idea that there even ARE more ranks above black belt, and they have no sense of scale or import for such a structure.

You've compared the dan grades to college degrees, and as someone who never went to college, I don't really have a proper frame of reference for that, but to me, the question is this: are you pursuing a degree/dan grade because you want to learn, or are you pursuing it to say that you got the piece of paper?

I know what my answer is, and I know that not everyone is going to have the same answer, but as an instructor, I can tell you who I would prefer to teach.
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Shorin-Ryu/Shinkoten Karate | 2010-Present: Yondan, Renshi | Sensei: Richard Poage (RIP), Jeff Allred (RIP)
Shuri-Ryu | 2006-2010: Sankyu | Sensei: Joey Johnston, Joe Walker (RIP)
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aurik
KF Sempai
KF Sempai

Joined: 08 Nov 2016
Posts: 549
Location: Denver, CO
Styles: Shuri-Ryu, Uechi-Ryu

PostPosted: Mon Apr 03, 2023 1:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

DarthPenguin wrote:
I think that some of the different views also are due to the different meaning ascribed to the black belt level.

Some people look at it as having completed the basics and you are now ready to learn properly, in which case i can see why some people would advocate for more dan ranks and assessments.

Others (and this is the tack i think Wastelander is taking) look at it as a sign of 'mastery' of the art - you have completed the syllabus and now it is about personal development. To my mind it is more like the bjj style of black belt : once you have got it then it is down to you to develop yourself - thats the formal instruction done (though i am very very very far away from bjj bb so i might be wrong here!).

Unfortunately the general public often conflate the two: thinking of someone being a martial arts master after getting bb even if it is the older school 'finishing apprenticeship' that taken 3-4 years.


This is the interpretation that my CI (and I to a degree) ascribe to. As students rise through the colored belt ranks, they are given "training wheels" for performing techniques. For example, at a white belt level, they are expected to perform techniques by rote memory, mechanically, getting the fundamental movements down. As students rise through the yellow and green belt ranks, they are expected to perform the same set of techniques (and new techniques) with more speed, power, and fluidity. By the time students are at the brown belt ranks, they are expected to be performing genuine attacks at their opponents, so their partner can properly practice their defenses. However, even at nikyu and ikkyu ranks, students are expected to use "training wheels" in many cases. Blocks are still expected to be one-handed, and there are a number of concepts, such as "flow" and energy transfer they aren't taught.

Once our students reach shodan, they get a whole bunch of new concepts dropped on their plate. We get introduced to the concept of maintaining energy through a kata as we perform it, and how we can choose to do a kata focused on speed/pwoer, or focused on flow, or somewhere in between. We are also now expected to use both hands when blocking in hojo undo and katas -- one hand guides the attack in, and the other hand performs the circle block and grab.

From my perspective, I haven't really experienced any of the politicking when different dan grades are discussed/compared. I have never felt the need to give someone more or less respect simply because their grade is higher than mine. There are a number of students far more experienced than I am and I will frequently ask them for advice or suggestions if I'm struggling. Likewise, I'm free in my suggestions when I see other students struggling, even if they may be of a higher or same grade as I am.

Also I guess it probably helps that in our school we don't have any adorrments on our belts to (directly) indicate dan gradings. We are encouraged (but not required) to have our belts embroidered with our name and/or style. However, the only rank-dependent adornments are for shogo titles (pne stripe for renshi, two for kyoshi, three for hanshi). So unless you know the individual, you don't immediately know what grade they are.

So, if you interpret the black belt as just another step on the journey, I think there is still a lot of value in gradings beyond shodan, presuming they are used and not abused for political or other reasons.
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