Can we promote our GrandMaster ?

Jeff Webb

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Hello everyone, I have an interesting question I dont think I've seen before. My current instructor is an 8th Dan in Tang Soo do. He's been in martial arts since 1965 (59 years). His instructor is no longer alive. It's been 10 years since he was last promoted. I'm a current 6th Dan. One of the other 5th Dan's (previously at our school but now pursuing nationally ranked breaking) was part of a ceremony where their 9th degree instructor was promoted by his students to 10th degree (his Grand Master had long since passed away as well). I'm now being approached to see if I would support our promoting our instructor to 9th degree. This is something I have never heard of but wanted to see if this is something that really exists or should be. How do old Grand Masters actually get promoted if their instructor is no longer around. Thanks
 
Hello everyone, I have an interesting question I dont think I've seen before. My current instructor is an 8th Dan in Tang Soo do. He's been in martial arts since 1965 (59 years). His instructor is no longer alive. It's been 10 years since he was last promoted. I'm a current 6th Dan. One of the other 5th Dan's (previously at our school but now pursuing nationally ranked breaking) was part of a ceremony where their 9th degree instructor was promoted by his students to 10th degree (his Grand Master had long since passed away as well). I'm now being approached to see if I would support our promoting our instructor to 9th degree. This is something I have never heard of but wanted to see if this is something that really exists or should be. How do old Grand Masters actually get promoted if their instructor is no longer around. Thanks

Hi Jeff,
I have seen (In TKD/TSD/American Kenpo/FMA) :

1. The people of an organization promote the "top" person to the top rank or higher rank and then eventually the highest.
2. That other recognized in the industry leaders get together and promote the person to a specific rank and or title
3. That some individuals will acknowledge someone else or multiple others as a Grand Master.

The Rank / Title I guess would be as good as the reputation of the people doing it and the person they promoted.

Bad Example: a bunch of white belts promote another white to a high rank and or title. It in general will not be as accepted as a good example.

Good Example:
1. respected members / leaders of an organization promote their leader to a rank or title. The rest of the organization should accept this as long as the person being acknowledged also accepts it.
2. respected people with the same rank or title in the region the organization operates yet they are from other systems
3. respected members from other organizations with the titles and rank that bring acceptability to the person being acknowledged / promoted.

Of course one can do multiple of the examples.

Also note: There will ALWAYS be at least one person who wants to make an issue of it.

Good Luck
 
If youre being approached about these questions, tell them what you think. From what youve written it sounds to me that these are serious, long term, dedicated Martial Artists were talking about.

Please dont let anyone on a forum or part of another organization influence you with what they think is best for someone theyve likely never met.
 
Hi Jeff,
I have seen (In TKD/TSD/American Kenpo/FMA) :

1. The people of an organization promote the "top" person to the top rank or higher rank and then eventually the highest.
2. That other recognized in the industry leaders get together and promote the person to a specific rank and or title
3. That some individuals will acknowledge someone else or multiple others as a Grand Master.

The Rank / Title I guess would be as good as the reputation of the people doing it and the person they promoted.

Bad Example: a bunch of white belts promote another white to a high rank and or title. It in general will not be as accepted as a good example.

Good Example:
1. respected members / leaders of an organization promote their leader to a rank or title. The rest of the organization should accept this as long as the person being acknowledged also accepts it.
2. respected people with the same rank or title in the region the organization operates yet they are from other systems
3. respected members from other organizations with the titles and rank that bring acceptability to the person being acknowledged / promoted.

Of course one can do multiple of the examples.

Also note: There will ALWAYS be at least one person who wants to make an issue of it.

Good Luck
Thanks for your thoughts
 
If youre being approached about these questions, tell them what you think. From what youve written it sounds to me that these are serious, long term, dedicated Martial Artists were talking about.

Please dont let anyone on a forum or part of another organization influence you with what they think is best for someone theyve likely never met.
Thanks for your thoughts. These are all long term martial artist as am I (45 years). I had just never heard of students promoting their instructor. Up to this point in my career everything has been very formal, the head instructor and his instructors promote the students.
 
This is something I have never heard of but wanted to see if this is something that really exists or should be.
I've heard of this. In fact, I always thought this was common if the head of an association was lower than 10th Dan. Either this, or they're promoted by an entity outside of the organization (Hirokazu Kanazawa is a notable example of this).
 
Thanks for your thoughts. These are all long term martial artist as am I (45 years). I had just never heard of students promoting their instructor. Up to this point in my career everything has been very formal, the head instructor and his instructors promote the students.

Ive been part of several promotions of ninth and tenth degree black belts. Not in our organization (we dont actually have an organization) but in other organizations weve trained with, competed against, bled with and went to services with when someone we respected passed away.

I have students who are higher ranks than I am. I didnt promote them, other higher ranks from different schools promoted them after asking my permission to do so. I said, sure, go ahead, he certainly deserves it. These students I speak of have all been training and teaching fifty plus years as well.

Its part of what happens sometimes when youre in the Martial world for a long time.
Ive been given life time achievement awards from styles Ive never actually studied, but fought against, trained with, had come to my dojo to teach my students, and traveled with since the early seventies.

Ive been good friends with several tenth dans. They didnt care that they were Judans and neither did I. Oh, sure, we always kept proper protocol when needed, but other than that, deep down we all found the whole rank think mildly amusing.

Please dont confuse that statement with disrespect. Its not. Put yourself in the place of who you were originally posting about. Theyve put in the years and shed the tears, theyve woken up some mornings feeling like they got run over by a truck. Why?
Because they love what they do, not what they wear around their waist.
 
I agree with Buka. The fact of the matter is that this happens often in the martial arts. The head of just about every new offshoot organization or system ends up either self-promoting or being elevated in rank by peers and students. It can be done to honor their many years of teaching and developing a system or for commercial reasons ...or both.

Here is a similar situation to the one you describe: An instructor of mine was promoted to full "master" rank in a system he had studied, taught and run schools in for many years by the both Grandmaster and other most senior master of the style. Some years later, there was a rancorous split in the organization and this individual went out on his own.

After many years of building his own organization, his senior instructors and several prominent leaders other brances of the same art further promoted him. They felt he deserved it. I know the details since I was one of the older instructors who signed the certificate and had sought out an esteemed elder of the system (from another organization) to add his endorsement as well.

Honestly though, how did the original heads of any system get their very high ranks? Either they self promoted, or they were elevated in rank by their students and peers. In most martial arts (outside of a few traditions like the Japanese koryu, which formally recorded the succession of headmen over many generations) things like "certificates" and numeric belt "degrees" are a pretty recent thing emerging in the mid 20th century or later. And most of the really well known "Grandmasters" people talk about were self-promoted.

...but not me. I earned my "Grandmaster" title here at martial talk (see under my name over to the left) spending years of hard work posting thousands of incredibly insightful, informed, and above all, supremely witty comments here on Martial Talk! ;)
 
I'm now being approached to see if I would support our promoting our instructor to 9th degree. This is something I have never heard of but wanted to see if this is something that really exists or should be.
This is a very debatable topic. Certainly, in the far karate past, before organizations, ranks or even "styles" one was a "master" if his students proclaimed him as such AND if he could back it up. This is Mr. Parsons' #3 in the quote below.

With the advent of an organized style, shotokan, and adoption of kyu/dan, Funakoshi awarded the first karate black belts 100 years ago. This set the stage for promotion as still commonly seen and accepted as in point #1. Okinawa didn't adopt this method till post WWII.

The Okinawans used method #2, and IMO, it was the best. A loose organization of masters "industry leaders", mutually acknowledged as such, would get together and award shogu titles such as renshi, kyoshi, hanshi, and later, dan ranks to each other. Miyagi was awarded kyoshi in 1937. Tatsuo Shimabuku, Matayoshi, Zenryo Shimabukuro and Soken Hohan (all different styles) were awarded hanshi (1950's?) by the All-Okinawan Karate and Kobudo Assn. This method was mostly non-political, and all concerned had reputation beyond reproach.

Today, with so many styles and organizations, even within the styles, there seems to me to be an abundance of venues for one to gain high rank thru formal means. Of course, money, ego and politics have more of an influence than in earlier time.

It goes against my grain as far as setting precedent, but I suppose there may be rare cases when already formally promoted senior black belts can promote their teacher by popular acclaim to master status as Webb questions, as they did in the 19th century. But I would ask, why does he need to be 9th degree?

1. The people of an organization promote the "top" person to the top rank or higher rank and then eventually the highest.
2. That other recognized in the industry leaders get together and promote the person to a specific rank and or title
3. That some individuals will acknowledge someone else or multiple others as a Grand Master.

The Rank / Title I guess would be as good as the reputation of the people doing it and the person they promoted.
This last sentence is as good a bottom line as any.
 
But I would ask, why does he need to be 9th degree?
In the case I outlined in the post just prior to yours, we elevated the head instructor from 5th degree "Master" to "6th Degree". This was done for two reasons. One, to show appreciation and respect for his many years of service since having been awarded his previous rank, and secondly to elevate him over his long-time students and instructors so he could promote them up to 4th (and more recently, to 5th) degree.

Of course in that system of CMA, ranks are a fairly recent thing, and often viewd as something done to promote the arts commercially in the West.

For many years I ran my own independent escrima group. I still work with a few guys. I have no chance for promotion either, since my instructor died last year (RIP). So I just stick with the very impressive sounding title of "Steve" ...or even "coach" on formal occasions!
 
In the case I outlined in the post just prior to yours, we elevated the head instructor from 5th degree "Master" to "6th Degree". This was done for two reasons. One, to show appreciation and respect for his many years of service since having been awarded his previous rank, and secondly to elevate him over his long-time students and instructors so he could promote them up to 4th (and more recently, to 5th) degree.

Of course in that system of CMA, ranks are a fairly recent thing, and often viewd as something done to promote the arts commercially in the West.

For many years I ran my own independent escrima group. I still work with a few guys. I have no chance for promotion either, since my instructor died last year (RIP). So I just stick with the very impressive sounding title of "Steve" ...or even "coach" on formal occasions!

Coach has been my formal title for 28 years now.

Except for when I get knocked down or swept. Then they address me as Couch.
 
Sure why not by that stage its all meaningless anyway
The higher ranks commonly have little technical meaning as by 6th degree one normally has 99.5% of the curriculum and achieved a high level of performance. But by this time, one's physical prime is likely past or waning and they can often no longer stand toe-to-toe with the younger black belts. So then, what is the use of 7th, 8th, 9th degree other than to provide an organizational hierarchy within the system? Does an 8th degree exist only to promote another to 7th degree; a 9th degree's only value being able to promote someone to 8th?

Some call these "ceremonial" ranks, no longer with any direct karate relevance. Is this true?
 
Hello everyone, I have an interesting question I dont think I've seen before. My current instructor is an 8th Dan in Tang Soo do. He's been in martial arts since 1965 (59 years). His instructor is no longer alive. It's been 10 years since he was last promoted. I'm a current 6th Dan. One of the other 5th Dan's (previously at our school but now pursuing nationally ranked breaking) was part of a ceremony where their 9th degree instructor was promoted by his students to 10th degree (his Grand Master had long since passed away as well). I'm now being approached to see if I would support our promoting our instructor to 9th degree. This is something I have never heard of but wanted to see if this is something that really exists or should be. How do old Grand Masters actually get promoted if their instructor is no longer around. Thanks
Is your school part of a larger organization such as WTSDA? Is there some sort of internal/external government that would help facilitate the process? Is there a board of Master Instructors who could make this decision? How/who promoted your GM to 8th Dan? This is the process I would follow.
If you school is operated similar to the Kwan school I am affiliated with (MDK (TKD)), you would go through the same Kwan vehicle to pursue promotion.
It sounds very doable as long as you follow the historical protocol of your organization.
 
As others have said, this sort of thing isn't uncommon. When you see this sort of high rank attached to the founder of a system or the head of an organization or just an instructor who operates outside of an existing licensing organization then there are generally just a few ways that the rank is awarded:
  • Self-promotion
  • Promotion by students
  • Promotion by a group of instructors from other systems or organizations, based either on mutual respect or just in exchange for reciprocal promotions
  • Promotion via for-profit "diploma mill" kinds of businesses, which claim to grant rank based on resume, but really are there just to cash the check
This applies as much to famous masters like Jigaro Kano and Helio Gracie as it does to the 27 year old 10th dan "grandmaster" of Amerikwonkempo-jutsu teaching out of your local strip mall. Basically, if you have a hierarchical rank system based on promotions rather than objective competitive accomplishments (such as the ranks in Sumo and Sambo), then whoever has the highest rank in the hierarchy can't have been promoted by someone of higher rank.

The real question is whether it actually means anything in particular. I'm inclined to think not (except maybe as a chance to show your appreciation for your instructor and perhaps treat him to a nice dinner as part of the ceremony.)

To expand on that point ...

There are really only a few meaningful uses for martial arts ranks. Two of the common ones (organizing instructional curriculum based on the student's level or assigning athletes to divisions for tournament competition) are obviously not relevant to your instructor.

A use more relevant for rank as applied to instructors is as a chain of validation. I'll provide a couple of examples of how that might or might not be relevant in different cases.

I've been training and teaching for a while. Anyone who has a significant martial arts background and has trained with me probably has a useful enough idea of what my skills and knowledge are like. So for them my rank isn't particularly relevant. But for someone who was new to martial arts or new to the area and was considering coming to train with me, they might want to know in advance what my qualifications are. That's where the chain of validation comes in ...

I have a 3rd degree black belt in BJJ under Mike O'Donnell and Carlson Gracie Jr, which means those two individuals attest to my skills and knowledge. Well, does that mean anything? You can do a bit of research and see that Mike had some success as a mid-tier MMA fighter and trainer of other pro fighters and Carlson Jr has helped train a number of successful BJJ competitors. But maybe that's not enough, so you look at their ranks to see how those were awarded. Mike was promoted by Carlson Jr, and Carlson Jr was promoted by Carlson Sr. Carlson Gracie Sr was the top BJJ fighter of his generation and helped train a fair number of the top BJJ and MMA fighters of the following generation, so he probably knew something about the subject. If you wanted to take it one more step back, then Carlson Sr was promoted by Helio Gracie, who was one of the primary founders of BJJ.

So, despite the fact that I don't have much of a fight/competition record, my expertise in BJJ is affirmed by Mike (pro fighter and coach), whose expertise is affirmed by Carlson Jr (fighter/competitor/coach) whose expertise was affirmed by Carlson Sr (highly successful fighter and coach) whose expertise was affirmed by Helio (fighter/competitor/coach/founder). It's not a perfect system, but it gives potential students something to go on if they are considering checking out my classes.

Now, let's compare that situation to Helio Gracie himself. Helio was awarded the rank of 10th degree black belt by prominent members of the BJJ community (meaning primarily students or students of students of himself and his brothers). That doesn't really tell you much. If all you knew about Helio was that his students and grand-students gave him a rank, that wouldn't (or at least shouldn't) impress you much. If you know who Helio was, then you know about him because he and his brothers and their students were the primary developers of a branch of jiu-jitsu which proved itself in challenge matches against fighters of all sorts of disciplines at the highest level, first in Brazil and then internationally. That's his real rank and his real legacy. The fact that some of his students ended up awarding him a title and a belt rank doesn't really mean very much. If he hadn't done what he did, then no one would care about the titles awarded by his students.
 
It's very interesting. I have seen high-ranking instructors promoted by associations, in order that the lineage not die out when a head instructor passed without promoting anyone up to his or her level before passing. I have seen high-ranking instructors leave behind signed promotions to be awarded 'at the appropriate time' with instructions such as 'after 10 years' or something of the sort. I have also seen self-promotion. And I have seen instructors whose sensei passed and they refused to take another promotion from that point on; thus some 6th and 7th dan instructors with a HUGE amount of time and experience in their art.

I can't say which is best. It's a shame that there are those who join organizations whose only apparent purpose is to promote those who pay their fees, but I don't think those are any of the situations I mentioned or that the OP stated.
 
I made first Dan in 1974. Made fourth Dan in 89. A week later we were asked to do a demo at some kind of school that was a mile from my home. I had driven past it a thousand times and never noticed it. It was a small school for children with birth defects and serious medical conditions.

We put on one hell of a demo.

There was a boy, Fernando. He was twelve but looked like he was six. He couldnt walk or move much but he spoke well, although shy.

I was wearing a beautiful belt that my instructor had taken off his waist when he promoted me to fourth.

At the end of the demo when we were saying goodbye to the kids, Fernando whispered to me, asking if I would take a photo of the belt and mail it to him. I took it off and said, Here, I want you to have this.

A year later his mom wrote me a letter. Fernando had passed away. He was buried holding that belt in his hands. I cried for hours. Im crying now writing this.

From that moment on I never accepted any more rank from anyone. I had a belt made with Japanese writing that translates, Rank is meaningless. The tenets of Bushido should be the path.

Its the only belt I wear. And it always makes me think of Fernando and how lucky my life has been. I owe that kid a lot.
 
I made first Dan in 1974. Made fourth Dan in 89. A week later we were asked to do a demo at some kind of school that was a mile from my home. I had driven past it a thousand times and never noticed it. It was a small school for children with birth defects and serious medical conditions.

We put on one hell of a demo.

There was a boy, Fernando. He was twelve but looked like he was six. He couldnt walk or move much but he spoke well, although shy.

I was wearing a beautiful belt that my instructor had taken off his waist when he promoted me to fourth.

At the end of the demo when we were saying goodbye to the kids, Fernando whispered to me, asking if I would take a photo of the belt and mail it to him. I took it off and said, Here, I want you to have this.

A year later his mom wrote me a letter. Fernando had passed away. He was buried holding that belt in his hands. I cried for hours. Im crying now writing this.

From that moment on I never accepted any more rank from anyone. I had a belt made with Japanese writing that translates, Rank is meaningless. The tenets of Bushido should be the path.

Its the only belt I wear. And it always makes me think of Fernando and how lucky my life has been. I owe that kid a lot.
I don't even have words for this. Other than this is the coolest thing I've heard in forever.
 
Check out this post from the TKD forum. (Or some of my posts in there). It's definitely not a unique problem. Others have had the same issue. Typically it's either:
  1. the highest-ranking person left in a martial art lineage after the previously higher folks have retired or passed away, or
  2. a person leaving their organization and/or starting their own martial art, who is starting with nobody above them.
In the case of the forum post I linked (in reply #9) the OP is a 7th degree black belt. He posed similar suggestions as from here, including the idea of getting promoted by his school's board of directors (4th to 6th degree). I thought that was a great idea, because 1) He wanted to honor his Master, and his Master had promoted them to 4th-6th, and 2) because the main reason he desired promotion was to grow the ceiling of his students, and what a perfect opportunity to grow the school than for his school's board to be a part of it.

As @Buka said, if he deserves it, I'd promote him.
 

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