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Rank musings

March 28, 2009

Just had a personal training session a couple of days ago. Went through the Torite Kihon Goho by myself and as I did so I had this feeling that I was filling up into my rank.

You see, my Shidoshi has said before that he promotes the way he was promoted, and how Hatsumi Soke too was promoted – early. He said that rank to him is more a measure of potential than achievement, he never felt ready for any of his rank advancements, and so he promotes us the same way. The onus is then upon us to live up to that potential and take the next step in our training.

People have argued the pros and cons of such a grading method for ages. And frankly, Hatsumi Soke doesn’t care if you change it when you run your own Bujinkan Dojo. And that is what the Israeli practitioners have done, created a super-detailed and strict grading system with various kinds of tests and all that.

On my side, I got promoted to sandan at the beginning of last year (2008), just after I felt comfortably settled into my nidan. I felt I was a pretty good nidan in fact. Then I set my goal to reach my sandan by 2008… and got it by the first class of the year! One of my friends was commenting “That means you don’t need to turn up for any more classes this year!”

So what does it mean? Does it mean that I am ahead of the game because I got it around the time I felt I was a pretty good nidan? Or did my Shidoshi award me sandan because he felt I was getting too complacent? Or am I just making a big fuss over a relatively small matter?

At this point of my journey, I am being driven by what I think a Bujinkan black belt should be. Because of how wide a range of training material we have in the Bujinkan, I believe that I should strive to grasp a wide range of our material. If that makes me a kata-collector, so be it. I also believe that since a wide range of weapon work has been taught to us by Hatsumi Soke, I should also have a decent grasp of weapon skills, at least enough to teach those weapons to others.

Bear in mind that I know these are all MY opinions of what it means to be a black belt. My Shidoshi has a different opinion, as will probably every yudansha (black belt) in the Bujinkan. That’s just how it works.

There were no such problems in my praying mantis days. My instructor didn’t create a ranking system. He was one of those traditional Chinese martial artists who was fortunate enough to earn a living from teaching. He felt no need to dress things up with a complex ranking system; either you thought you were getting your money’s worth in training or you weren’t. And if you wanted to become really good, you did it the old-fashioned way – pay your dues, both in fees, time and personal practice.

If you were good he’d let you let the warm-ups for the newer people. In the chinese styles, 10 years was not considered a long time frame. Many people don’t feel ready to teach the chinese style arts even after 10 years.

I took lessons for about 4 years or so. By the standards of other arts I guess I’d be a shodan (just hitting a black belt). But I never felt I was that good at praying mantis. I wonder what would have happened if my instructor awarded me some kind of cert? Probably the same thing that has happened to me in my Bujinkan training – I get really insecure, feel loads of pressure, and get on with even more training.

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