Gonzo Karate Apocalypse
- Oct 30, 2003
- Reaction score
Ranking Systems in Modern Japanese Martial Arts:
Modern vs. Classical
Donn F. Draeger
Lecture on April 1st, 1976
It began as far as we know with Kano Jigoro of Kodokan, and the first date probably 1883, about a year after he founded the system. He awarded proficiency ranks to his Judo men, his exponents, on the basis of kyu, which translated as "class" or "ungraded" ranks and "dan". These are, you can say "degrees" if you want and ranks. So that is the beginning of the black-belt system.
The dan are the so called "black belts". The people who have black belts are called, by the way, yudansha. The kyu are mudansha: mu means "nothing", literally.
Now, the black belt system is the product of the peasant class, not the warrior class. The commoners. Dr. Kano was a commoner, a wealthy commoner. His family owned a sake mill. He was a merchant, the lowest social class. Had he taken part in Tokugawa Japan, he would have been at the bottom of the social level. So, any attempt to rationalize dan (black belts) with martial training in Japan is erroneous on the basis of history. You can recognize a modern art by the very fact that it does give black belts and other kyu grades. That is one of the unfailing recognitions. Not all of them. Some of them have deliberately avoided it because of all the nonsense and politics that goes with it.
The classical arts do not use the black-belt system. Now, classical arts you must recall, run between the 8th century and 1877. But what did they use, because the Japanese, like any society, are rank and prestige conscious. As they learned from China, court ranks and so on were important in social structure. So, they used this system which they called the menkyo system. The exponents of classical arts receive menkyo and their evidence is shown on a densho or makimono. That would be a certificate of your proficiency at a certain level.
Now, there are different levels of menkyo but far fewer than black-belt. Black belt is very finely divided as are the kyu below it. The basis of it, the basis of the kyu and dan system is commercial. Dont think it isnt. Even in Japan. It was created for prestige and recognition, true, but for commercial purpose to keep Kodokan in business, originally. It has grown out of proportion today, not only in Japan but in the West. Many misuses and abuses, but that is not our thing to talk about today.