As I said, every system we now call traditional or classical had a starting point. A practitioner of an existing martial arts system branched out, modified their teachings, brought forth new ideas or training methods, and was recognized for their efforts. A Westerner doing the same thing often is subject to more criticism however (refer to my previous post, "Racism in the Martial Arts") but more often than not, it's rightly so. More often than not, these new systems are nothing but a mixture of previously existing techniques presented in a shiny new package, but when you open it up there's nothing inside. There's no innovation, there's nothing unique. The argument that "my system was designed for real self defense" has been beat to death, and has been done so many times that it is no longer enough to justify the claims of a new, unique, independent style. So before I discuss how one receives legitimate recognition as a founder, let's discuss what even justifies a "new" style.
So now, you've founded your own style. You've met the requirements written above. You're automatically a 10th Dan Ph.D Soke and everyone should respect your authority, right? Well, let's explore how to obtain legitimate foundership credentials before we discuss your rank and titles. Look at any organization's website, and they offer Style Recognition for X amount of dollars. Just send them your curriculum, copies of your certificates, maybe a couple videos and you're good to go. Absolutely not! This is not legitimate! This is in fact the quickest way to become blacklisted in the martial arts community. I know because I was there before I went through the proper channels and obtained legitimate licensing. There are only three ways to obtain a legitimate founder's certificate (in a Japanese based style).
Firstly, you can physically appear before a panel and present your art. Now this panel must be made up of very specific individuals. No amount of 10th Dan Soke signatures on that piece of paper is legitimate, unless they have very specific credentials. In Japanese tradition, a new style is not considered complete until the founder has passed it on to an inheritor. Therefore, a founder cannot recognize another founder. Only the inheritor of a previously existing system (Nidai+ Soke) can legitimately recognize a new system as part of a certification panel. So regardless of what rank and positions they hold, unless the person signing your certificate holds Sokeship that can be verified of an existing system, they cannot certify you as a founder legitimately.
Lastly, your students may recognize you. Once they become yudansha, your students may present you with a foundership certificate. They may also promote you within that school. The reason this is legitimate is because your foundership title and rank are only valid within your system as it is. If your students recognize you as such, within those confines, it is legitimate. There are numerous precedents for this, however most (not all) have occurred after the founder has passed away and the students elevate them in rank out of honor. This is also the least common way to receive certification.
Realistically, what does that piece of paper matter? Surely the traditional masters and pioneers cared so little for a license, so why should you? If that is your opinion, you're absolutely right. What you produce through your students far outweighs any certificate you can hang on the wall. What you do for your community, how you exemplify the spirit of Budo all matter more than what piece of paper you have. However, if you want to make a claim and be accepted in the martial arts community, you have to do things the right way. Unfortunately, the abundance of illegitimate "founders" who have done nothing but stroke their own ego has left a stain on the position and whenever you mention you've founded your own style, people will always give you an off-putting look regardless of whatever credentials you have. That being said, with the right credentials, people can say whatever they want about you but they can never say you're a fraud, and that's enough for me.
Stay tuned for my next article discussing the assumption of 10th Dan as founder's rank....