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Articles Home » 剛柔流 Submissions » Question of Rank: Part 1
Question of Rank: Part 1
Part 1 - The Question of Rank
By Sean Wong, Markham Ontario Canada
Originally published to the Markham Meibukai Karate Dojo Website


Some schools equate the system of ranking within the martial arts to a degree in education where a first degree black belt (shodan) is equal to a Bachelors Degree, a sixth degree (dan) is equal to a Masters Degree, and eight dans and up are considered Doctors. Unlike the educational system in North America, there are no universal standards for Karate. Therefore this comparison is misleading and is the cause of some controversy among traditionalists.

In our respected universities, professors with doctorate degrees make up a faculty. The faculty determines the criteria that meets their standards as well as those of the government. Only the faculty can award a doctorate degree. This is an international model and is used for Karate in all of Japan and in some European countries but not accepted as standard anywhere in North America.

The North American model is the cause of much controversy. In this model anybody can open a dojo and become a black belt (Shodan). There are no unified standards or regulations that exists to prevent this. Students are brought up through the ranks and automatically become part of the faculty at shodan level. The faculty can then choose to award titles to the their teacher.

The controversy rests in the possibility that in a North American model, dojos or organizations simply grade themselves for reasons other than curriculum or talent. Adding to the controversy is that most martial arts standards are unpublished and therefore brings with it the question of the quality. An uncertain cycle is also created where the faculty can award the teacher to a higher status for the purposes of getting higher rank themselves.

Out of respect, the two ranking models co-exist in North America with a decent working relationship. Traditionalist using the international model however usually do not accept North American ranks higher that a third degree black belt (sandan). To be recognized worldwide would require testing through the international system.

This makes it difficult for North American ranked dojos or organizations wanting to change to an international system. The change would mean an automatic lower rank for most. To deal with this, some international organizations will allow the use of their original higher rank as titles as long as it is not attached to their school. For example, John Smith can say he teaches Meibukan and is a 8th dan in his organization, but he cannot say that he is an 8th dan in Meibukan. Although confusing it is a popular option for existing dojos and organizations to take in order to become internationally recognized.

To eliminate any confusion and the question of quality, Markham Meibukai follows the international model for ranking. Standards of curriculum come directly from Japan and only a faculty of true Karate masters can grade an individual to the equivalent of masters and doctorate levels. Standards are internationally recognized ensuring that students are learning authentic Karate with worldwide standards.


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