Well, my last article certainly got people talking but not in the way I intended. Many praised the article (which you can read by clicking here) and many respectfully disagreed with it, and that's fine. Yet still, others used it as an excuse to attack me on a personal level. In an inescapable amount of irony, how dare I offer my opinion to those who have been training 30, 40 or 50 years, many in the homeland of the arts we all love and teach? After all, my entire article was based upon knowing where you sit at the table and clearly, I got the seating arrangement confused.
Before I continue, I must say that I truly do have the utmost respect for anyone who has dedicated such a significant portion of their lives to anything, but especially such an honorable endeavor as the study of martial arts. Regardless of one's personal progression, the sheer amount of time that one has put in at that stage shows a level of discipline I can only hope I will attain. That said, time alone is not a measure of knowledge or progression. Time measured by the calendar is very misleading. As an example, let's take two practitioners who each study for a year. One casually attends class twice a week for 45 minutes as a hobby, while the other is a "dojo rat" who comes early and stays late at the school five nights a week, and takes private lessons from their instructor on the weekend. Both technically only have a year of martial arts experience, but I think it's clear who will progress farther. Therefore, I adamantly stress that it is the quality of one's time spent over the years rather than the number of years themselves that will determine one's level of understanding, knowledge and proficiency.
Now that we've settled that, let's get into why I feel this article is necessary. Keep in mind that everything I say is my own opinion, based upon my personal experiences and instruction from my various teachers. If you have had different experiences, please share them in the comments. I would love to hear from you and am always open to new information.
As founder, I claim no rank whatsoever in my system, which I will explain in just a moment. Regarding American Yoshinkan Aiki Jujutsu, I hold a 7th Dan Menkyo Kaiden (License of Full Transmission). So if you hear someone saying I am claiming to be a 10th Dan or a Soke, please just direct them to this article.
Some of you have read that last paragraph and are wondering how I have achieved the ranks that I have at my age. Some of you may say that it is impossible, to which I give you an old Chinese proverb: "Those who say it cannot be done should not get in the way of those doing it." But seriously, I do fully understand your position and find myself slightly hypocritical when I see another young practitioner claiming similar positions. So, how is it possible and legitimate?
To answer that, we must look at rank for what it truly is. Rank as measured by the kyu/dan system is merely the measurement of one's individual progress within a given system or organization. This is why as founder of San Budo Sogo Bugei, I claim no rank at all. Rank is not transferable or even valuable outside of the confines of the system it was awarded in, because it has no bearing there. It is an acknowledgement between instructor and student saying that on this date, said student has met the standards set by this system/organization for X rank. Every system, and even different organizations teaching the same system, will have different requirements and regulations regarding rank. There is no universal ranking system. Therefore, my ranks are merely an understanding between myself and my instructor as to where my progression within the particular system is currently, based upon the standards set in place, and your ranks are exactly the same. Who am I to question your instructor's judgement regarding what rank they have awarded you in their system/organization?
With that understanding, many times on the various internet forums people will bring rank into the discussion claiming to have earned a certain rank from X instructor. Congratulations, and I mean that wholeheartedly. I am sure you have worked extensively to earn such rank and I am happy for you. Your rank, however, has no bearing on me just as my rank has no bearing on you. A 6th Dan Shotokan does not outrank a 4th Dan Goju Ryu, because they are not the same system and therefore are not measured against equal standards. If what I'm wearing bothers you, and we do not belong to the same system or organization, you have to ask yourself, "Why?"
Now that I've said the word "rank" more times in this article than I have in the last five years, let's talk about something that truly matters because at the end of the day, no one's rank ever saved their life. As serious martial artists, regardless of style and position, we should be sharing information. Let truth come from whence it may. As long as the information is sound, who cares where it came from? In the age of information, we are spoiled with a plethora of sound research readily available to the general public. There are no more secrets in the world of budo, and there are no more rocks to hide under.
I've seen 3rd and 4th Dans have more skill and understanding than 7th and 8th Dans because every system and organization is different. What someone wears around their waist or hangs on their wall is inconsequential, because what truly matters is the person wearing it. Are they knowledgeable? Are they skilled? Are they proficient? Can they defend themselves?
Contrary to popular belief, I truly do not care about rank. I am me. I am confident in what I teach and the quality of my students. I am comfortable with my position in the arts. If my instructor feels I'm worthy of a promotion, he'll award one. If he doesn't, he won't. It's really that simple, and either way will not stop my training or progression as a martial artist. My rank is irrelevant, because I am me. Who are you?