Taking things to the 10th degree..

There is a lot of confusion in the martial arts over grades and rank.

In a previous blog, I looked at rainbow or Kyu grades.

In this blog I’m going to look at Dan grades.

In my opinion, there are 3 main issues which should be discussed:

– Standards
– Time in grade
– 10th Dans

Now I don’t mean to cause offence, as I said, I’m voicing my own personal opinion and sharing the solutions I have found.

I’m not pontificating and looking for everyone to adopt our working practices.

I just want you to consider possibilities.

Every art is different, as are associations, what we have in place with the SBA is functional for us but it is very much a “work in progress”

I just want you to consider the problems and find a solution that fits for you.

The first problem, as I see it, stems from the variety of styles, associations, syllabi and assessment criteria being used in the world today.

For argument sake we will dispense with style or art and concentrate only on structure.

If the world was a simple place there would be 2 types of belt.

The rainbow or colour belts, these would denote a junior or student grade who has not passed the coveted black belt.

And black belts, only worn by those that have.

Everyone would understand the difference and would know what had been studied by the belt being worn.

Unfortunately, the world is not a simple place.

So in the real world we have major discrepancies in grading criteria.

Junior black belt vs Seniors is always a bone of contention.

Should a child be awarded a black belt?

And if one is issued how does that child rate against an adult?

Leaving age aside, for the moment.

What one person does for a grade may not be the same as another, even though they train in the same style and same association.

Add to confusion, by allowing students to change grade by changing associations and we have a major mess.

The SBA looks at the arts in a different way than most, replicating itself on formal academia.

We start with the age issue by teaching kids in a slightly different technique order than adults. This is to protect them during their physical development.

We also adjust grading times so students are minimum of 15 years of age before starting the shodan syllabus.

We have 12 coloured belts, or 15 grades for kids, traditionally called Kyu grades.

Technically, it takes a minimum of 4 years 6 months for an adult, training 2 sessions of 2 hours a week, to accrue the knowledge you need for black belt.

Unfortunately, life gets in the way.

We have never had anyone pass black belt with under 6 years of training.

1st to 2nd Dan is minimum of a year (though it usually takes 2 years).

2nd to 3rd Dan is minimum 2 years.

3rd to 4th is minimum 3 years.

4th to 5th is minimum 4 years.

All these are combat grades and require physical assessments.

6th Dan and above are awarded on services to the association, with a minimum of 5 years between grades.

As I said earlier, we favour an academic based structure for our association, your belt is only recognition of your personal study.

The black belt is but an extension of your study to show your progression to higher learning but does not confir on you the abilities to teach.

Becoming an instructor, coach or teacher of any subject requires separate study.

Learning on pedagogical approaches, lesson plans and structure is just as important as strong subject knowledge.

The Martial arts should be the same.

With that in mind, the SBA requires all instructors to have a formally accredited and nationally recognised level 3 or above teaching qualification.

This gives our instructors a level of professionalism above what is usually expected for a martial art.

Each grade has a minimum standard that is formally laid out in the assessment criteria.

Only instructors with formally accredited and nationally recognised assessment qualifications can be used on our grading panels.

Thus providing every student with an unbiased bench mark of their current abilities against the recorded standard.

There is, at present, a disregard for high grades. People claiming that others haven’t earned them.

I believe that if more martial arts favoured this structure a lot of the in fighting could be resolved.

People would respect their grades and those of their peers, reducing the need for politics.

Moving on to our second problem, time in grade.

Above, I have outlined the SBA’s syllabus times.

Although we favour an academic structure, we still use the traditional time in grade as part of our criteria but as I’m about to suggest, this maybe something that we may need to reviewed in the future.

If we consider the arts as a purist form of learning, which is a point I doubt many people will argue with, then we should possibly reconsider the “times in grade” and look towards “Guided Learning Hours”

Students have different natural skills and start learning from their own unique level but let’s put that aside for the moment.

Let’s take 2 students, identical in every way.

If student A trains once a week for 2 hours, then in a 13 weeks / 3 month period you will have accrued 26 hours of practice and be eligible to grade.

No one would argue that.

If you consider it takes 6 years to earn a black belt, you have trained twice a week and completed 1248 hours of training.

Now look at Student B, who trains full time, studying 40 hrs a week.

To match the same time in grade criteria would be approximately 32 weeks.

Just let that sink in.

Not much more than than 6 months to black belt, how many would scream McDojo or rant about martial traditions.

If we hold the student back, respecting the traditional 3 months between grades, then how many would claim it’s all about the money.

Students want to progress quickly, many will pay to take private lessons or attend more than the 2 classes a week we have used in our example.

Training in smaller classes or “one to one” with the instructor, will reduce learning times.

If they fulfil the criteria should they not grade early?

Now this example was for two identical students.

If we drop student ability back into the mix, the chances are we are really restricting the student’s growth.

We have all heard about gifted children.

Let’s for example consider Michael Kearney.

He enrolled at the Santa Rosa Junior College, completing an Associate’s in geology at age 8 went on to finish his Bachelor’s degree by age 10, making him the world’s youngest university graduate.

Should he have been kept back?

He passed the assessments and fulfilled the criteria of the degree.

Has there been an outcry from the academic community?

No, it is only in martial arts that traditions need to be maintained.

Students have to be a certain age with many years training to hold a “legitimate” grade.

Which leads us on to our final problem, the elusive 10th Dan grade.

For traditionalists the 10th Dan is the pinnacle of martial arts achievement.

They should flow through the room, killing everyone in their way.

Pausing, only briefly, to survey the damage in their wake.

Other notable qualities should include, walking on water, being older than the mountains and able to speak only in riddles.

Ok, none of that is true.

But we do expect 10th Dan’s to be old and wise, right?

Do you really need to be old to be a great martial artist?

I don’t think so.

Bruce Lee, arguably the greatest influence the martial arts world has ever seen died when he was

Elvis, the King, died at 42.

Let’s not forget James Dean, who only made it to 24.

All proof that greatness cannot be defined by age.

Then surely we must consider the number of years training.

People will argue 30, 40 or even 50 years to become a master.

With that kind of timescale to become a “master”, how long would you need before it would be acceptable to form your own style?

Judo was established in 1882 by Jigorō Kanō.

He was born in 1860, making him only 22 when he formed his own style.

Granted he wasn’t a 10th Dan at that point but surely this nulls both the age and time in training criteria?

So where are the criteria we should use to award a 10th Dan?

Who has the grade to award it?

Every style and association will have their own thoughts, which due to human nature and politics, will be ignored by all the others.

I would suggest that we could again look to academia for a solution.

Maybe the 10th Dan should be awarded as an honorary degree.

An honorary degree, in Latin honoris causa or “for the sake of the honor” is an academic degree for which a university has waived its usual requirements and may be awarded to someone who has no prior connection with that university.

It is often conferred as a way of honouring a distinguished visitor’s contributions to a specific field or to society in general.

I feel this would bring styles and associations together, people could be promoted for their dedication, influence and success, not only in their own style but by others.

Honorary degrees are often given to famous people, actors and politicians, there is no criticism or ridicule.

It is accepted practice.

Sean Connery received one from Edinburgh University.

But that couldn’t happen in martial arts or combat sports right?

Or could it?

The boxing hall of fame, inducted Sylvester Stallone, a man who never boxed, at the same time as Mike Tyson.

No one thought it was wrong.

There were no demands for Stallone to prove himself by getting in the ring.

Only in the martial arts, where respect is supposedly taught from day one, do we have keyboard warriors trashing reputation of people they have never even met.

I want to thank you for taking the time to read such a long post.

As I said at the beginning, these are just my thoughts. They hold no more weight than anyone else’s.

But hopefully I have given you something to think about.

Stay safe, Til we speak again..




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