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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Grading Train

Grading Train

I read a post recently about true karate of Okinawa and that failure to meet the author's set of standards, as they understand it from their exposure to Okinawan sensei, that speaks ill of dan grading but still those same folks all wear and acknowledge their ranking. I am puzzled, is this doing as I say and not as I do syndrome? Have you lost your way if you allow yourself to be tested, graded and awarded a dan ranking?

I can see how one might become disenchanted by all the McDojo grade or rank mills. It does, my opinion, degrade the overall meaning of any ranking in any martial art. Is there any way one could accomplish the meaning and spirit of Okinawan karate while adhering to any ranking system? 

When I hear of such things I tend to wonder who or what provided the particulars as to what makes a karate-ka a true classical or traditional practitioner? Even in Okinawan karate circles there is disparity as to what constitutes a traditional form of karate along with how rank or grades are handled. I then ask myself, what if we only had two belts, if any at all, being white and black. No kyu grade levels and no dan grade levels. Just a transition, arbitrary in that it evolves around the individual and the sensei, from white belt to black. All else is forgotten under the impetus of training and practice, training and practice, training and practice. Would that alleviate the thought process that one trying to earn recognition from sensei for effort, skill and proficiency by presenting the person with another level designation, i.e. from first to second dan and so on.

Then again, why has the dan-i or dan system become so important and popular since its inception. Is it because it appeals to some aspect of human nature? Is it because of the Japanese shikata system the has and does drive the way they live, work and play. Is it because of its popularity with the western mind raised on a hierarchal culture? 

Is it to be believed when one of the traditionalist states, "karate is about attitude and character," when they also still accept and display higher and higher dan levels? Did the original martial arts, before the dan system, use some measure to determine their skill levels and were they something similar to the system created by Kano sensei? 

Is it a derivative of some sense of individualism and group cohesion, i.e. belonging for a group survival instinct that is not truly apparent to todays environments? 

Are those who profess that anyone following a grading train simply projecting a personal system of belonging to differentiate themselves from the masses? All these questions and many more arise when ever I read or hear of such things. 

As to authenticity of the idea of true karate, I still think that it is a personal and individual belief that is fostered by that person or individual using themselves and others who they have respect for to measure and gauge their true karate. Rank and belt colors are not necessary unless to differentiate and identify senpai and kohai in larger training facilities where the ratio of practitioner to sensei too large. Even then it take care and diligence to keep such things from tainting the system especially since it is seemingly an inherent trait of humans. Is there truly any culture or belief system that does not separate the levels or as one might say of natures survival instinct, separate the stronger from the weaker?

I do agree with one such person that to truly experience the karate way you must do so alone. I feel it is truly a singular personal journey and that any relations to others is simply a training tool to achieve your own goals as karate-ka. 

Now, the other side of this coin is camaraderie. Humans exist and thrive in groups. We form groups all the time. A good example is where is work. One executive stated that to flourish we needed to rid ourselves of the apparent silo's of work we used for a more singular unified one in the name of production, efficiency and proficiency. After six years of hard work the changes did not remove the silo's, i.e. admins still gravitated to other admins, programmers still gravitated to other programmers and managers still remained outside the general work force staying attached to other managers. It may not be possible to extract one from the other, i.e. groups gravitating to other like minded groups, people gravitating toward other like minded people. 

If groups of like minded folks gather, get along and flourish due to that connection then that is a good thing. Regardless of the constant disagreeing toward the grading train I tend to think that it still provides growth to anyone who becomes a member - regardless. It comes down to what the person wants and do they get it in the venue they choose? If yes, then why should anyone disparage the other?

Take another look at the ancient classics that have greatly influenced the martial arts and ways. They all professed that the most advantageous method of society and leadership is one without ego and pride driven aspects and more traditional means of living and governing but still humans end up back in the same society hierarchal model of life. Maybe it is just in our genes and although we strive to leave such trappings behind we end up gravitating to them just the same, over and over and over again. 

Ok, nuff said until this comes around again in a year or so ;-)

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