This post is going to make a few of you upset. Feel free to comment below.
The rank you possess is artificial.
It doesn't tell me who you are as human being and it doesn't inform me as to your level of skill. It doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things either. If the prognosis is you have six months to live-your first thought is unlikely to be "But I'm a black belt!"
If your child is in danger, your rank isn't (or shouldn't be) at the forefront of your mind. Your rank is not a determining factor if you get assaulted. No would be criminal is going to ask you your rank at gun or knife-point (it may actually work to your detriment).
In fact outside of the microcosmic world that is your dojo, your rank is virtually irrelevant. This is evidenced by the differing of opinion in what a rank means among styles and occasionally even within the same style but differing schools. I know this may be news to some - I have to confess it took me a long time to learn.
So why have a ranking system?
Ranks 8th kyu to 1st kyu, and Shodan and above were created to gauge the relative knowledge of a student. A mental shorthand for instructors. The creation of the dan-i system attributed to Jigoro Kano and later borrowed and implemented by Funakoshi is said to have originated in 1924.
Around the inception of judo, Kano devised the system to determine where a student was in terms of their training. When used for its intended purpose ranks are instrumental in encouraging a student to train and increase their knowledge base.
There are schools that still exist with the Menkyo or Shogo rankings in place. In these schools the attitude is "Expect nothing" come to the dojo and train hard. I like that position because it keeps the ego in check. If you arrive at a dojo with this attitude then everything is welcome. These systems are beyond the scope of this post, but take a moment to research them both, it will prove informative.
At some point it's my opinion the ego entered the equation. Which usually happens when dealing with humans. How could I possibly be a third degree when the school down the road has a 7th degree and surely I am more skilled than he is? Therefore I should be at least 7th degree but in order to show my superiority I will promote myself to 9th degree thereby ending all doubts. I know this sounds far fetched.
Unfortunately it happens often. Once ego enters, it's hard to remove its influence. If it's not ego driven, sadly it's profit driven. Very few instructors want to be Sensei irrespective of rank. In fact I think it would be an interesting experiment to award stripe-less black belts and see what the reaction would be.
Is rank static?
I hate to break it to you, no it's not. Many of the practitioners of old practiced until they could no longer physically do so. Even after they could no longer physically train, they taught (some into very advanced years). Why? Because martial arts by their very nature have no shelf life.The moment your training stops being consistent, your retention suffers. If you are a senior student (shodan and above) and haven't trained in many years I can guarantee you that you are no longer at the skill level or proficiency you were when you received your rank.
What should you do when you return to your training?
Wear a white belt. More importantly if asked what rank you are the most humble reply would be -"Currently I am a white belt."
I say this from experience having stopped for two years in my training. When I returned I put on a white belt for some time. When I visit other schools where I am a student, I put on a white belt.
This is not to state that I am the most humble. I have to fight ego as well. Putting on a white belt helps me keep that ego in check and keeps things in perspective.
Does this mean we disrespect those who came before us? Those who paved the way for us to be where we are today? Absolutely not. Yet even the masters and founders of styles recognized that their lives were like seasons. They diminished so others could grow. They respected each other regardless of style practiced and shared knowledge with each other. Many of the founders never received a ranking (some being awarded posthumously) because they understood the inherent danger in ranking without wisdom.
In our style we don't focus much on rank. I like the "expect nothing" mentality because then it means you give everything to your training. I think rank has a place in martial arts but it has been misused and abused and frankly doesn't really mean much these days. I would rather get to know the person and sweat with them on the floor.
That will tell me much more about who they are than the belt that is tied around their waist. In the end I always tell the students especially the kids- it's not the belt that makes the student, but rather the student that makes the belt.
strong spirit-strong mind-strong body
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