S T R I K I N G P O S T – April / May, 2018
If you took a poll of the students in most karate schools you would find that there are many reasons why people train karate. These days there are more and more karate schools who are focusing mainly on the competition aspect of karate. Now, there is nothing wrong with that. It takes great commitment, perseverance, and skill to be successful in sport karate at a high level.
If that is your goal then why should you concern yourself with belt levels? What difference does it make what “Dan” you are ? In competition you are not divided by belt level but rather by age and weight class. One competitor wears a red belt and the other a blue one. It is not a requirement to even be a black belt. You can register for the age and weight category that you fit into.
I guess the root of what is nagging at me is the fact that today, ranks/titles do not seem to mean very much. You have sport karate athletes, who can barely get through a kata with ranks of 2nd, 3rd or even higher Dan levels. Similarly, you have instructor titles of Shihan, Renshi, and even Kyoshi, awarded to karate-ka who are not instructors by any stretch of the imagination. It bothers me to see these things occurring at an ever increasing rate it seems.
Many years ago, I tested for San-dan along with three other gentlemen. Now, I was well prepared for this exam. I had trained extensively for months in preparation. The day of the grading I was pumped. I could not wait for Sensei to ask me to demonstrate the required techniques. The grading was fairly short and I came away feeling a bit cheated that I had not had the opportunity to show Sensei more of my skills. At the same time, each of the other grading participants were having serious difficulty and had struggled throughout the exam. When it was over, one by one they went up to the grading panel with a host of excuses and apologized for their lack of preparation and their dismal performances. A few weeks later we received the result. We had all passed. At the time I was angry and told my Sensei that I did not want the San-dan in this way and that I would not accept it. I would rather test again at another time. He would not accept my response and convinced me to accept the grade.
For the others who passed the grading on that day, when they new that they did not deserve it. What did it mean to them ? Personally, I would much rather be the guy in the back of the class who should be in the front rather than the one in the front who really should be in the back.
Another aggravating factor in this discussion are the karate-kas who feel that because they have been at one level for a certain period of time that they should automatically be at the next level. Yes, most styles have minimum time requirements between levels, however, this is not the only criteria. There also has to be an improvement in understanding as well as technical ability. IE: You must also train.
I find it somewhat disappointing the way these things have deteriorated over the last 40 years since I began my karate journey. I wish more styles would have maintained more integrity in this area.
I like to think that my Sensei is not swayed by these trends and does not feel the need to promote students who do not deserve it. I have failed gradings in the past and I much prefer this to being given a grade which I do not deserve.
In the end, what is important is to not concern yourself too much with belt levels or titles, but to continue progressing in your art. Do not forget that karate is a lifelong endeavor. There will be plenty of opportunities for advancement. You have to trust that your instructor will let you know when it is time for you to challenge an exam. Though it may be tempting, try not to compare yourself to karate-ka from other styles. Their standards might be much different from that of your Sensei.