Cultural Influences on Black Belt Timeframes

MadMartigan

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Taking a conversation that started elsewhere to it's own thread.
For what it's worth, Taekwondo isn't alone in this. Funakoshi Gichin Sensei promoted his first group of Shotokan Karate students to 1st Dan after about 18 months of training. Kano Jigoro Sensei promoted his first group of Judo students to 1st Dan after just over 1 year.
My response:
With no disrespect intended, I do not believe these are comparable examples to today's timeframes. In the examples you cited, these were mostly experienced military men, training nearly full time under harsh conditions with high expectations. You can become pretty darn good at most skills under those circumstances.

To take that time frame and apply it to the recreational student who trains 3-4 hours a week (on padded floors, with air conditioning, and skips class on holidays) will never produce the same product. (Why I generally consider 4-5 years a minimum for an adult student to reach this level).

This I think is the disconnect. I agree that 1st Dan was/is a "beginner" rank then and now... I just think their definition of beginner was less charitable than the current standard in too many places (hence my agreement to this being a pet peeve of mine as well).

Edit
... Now if someone was to train as they did then for 18 months... I'd likely have no issue with them reaching 1st Dan that soon. They'd probably have earned it
Then @andyjeffries reply:
Are you sure?


-- Gichin Funakoshi Sensei Informal Biography

So his first students were literal students, training part time... Let's go to Judo:

Mitsuyo Maeda - Wikipedia - Mitsuyo was a student when he started to learn Judo from Kano Sensei
Yokoyama Sakujiro - Wikipedia - Yokoyama was in the police when he first started to learn
Kyuzo Mifune - Wikipedia - Kyuzo was an U14 student
Tomita Tsunejirō - Wikipedia - No mention of him being a military man?

Don't get me wrong, it's more of a romantic thought to think these were all hardcore elite athletes when they started and were training 18 hours a day, so their black belt was much harder - but the reality is that the asian mindset is that 1st Dan is a beginner rank.
 
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MadMartigan

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I can't argue the facts (that you clearly know more about than I).

I am curious on your thoughts on the actual physical training then vs now though.

As I set out, I agree that 1st dan is now and always has been considered a beginner rank in Korean culture... but I think there's a large difference between the definition of beginner between East and West (maybe not so much now, but when back 40-60 years ago when it was 1st being introduced). A 'beginner' from a culture valuing hard work is likely to be more advanced than a 'beginner' from a culture that is often looking for the easiest way to do something.

The textbook we use in my school (Gen. Choi's 1972 Encyclopedia) shows the following recommended timelines for 1st Dan:
20210630_122518.jpg

In this, 1.5 years is a recommended timeframe for 1.5hrs/day 6 days/week. For the more recreational student, 2.5 years at 3 classes/week.

My contention is though, (with deference to this not applying to the examples you mentioned from other arts) Gen. Choi was basing these time frames on his experience teaching soldiers, not civilians. (I cannot state this as fact, but how I interpret things).

Back in the 50-70s, even that 1.5 hour class was likely a grind to get though. Hard conditioning and grueling sparring rounds. The 'beginner' black belt coming out of that environment was far better than the same time frame typically produces now.

Everyone has their own idea on whether earning a Black Belt should require the same skill set regardless off age. I lean towards in general yes, it should be an objective standard (with caveats of course). If that is agreed, then I contend that what a professional adult can accomplish in 2.5 years (still a bit short for my liking, but I digress) a child will likely take nearly twice as long.

Really, it's not the time that bothers me. It's what you had to do to get there. It seems that the places that require the least amount of time, also commensurately require the least amount of skill to earn it.

If we don't work as hard as they did then; by logic it should take us longer to reach the same goal (if indeed that's possible without their level of effort).
 

Bill Mattocks

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It is my understanding that most of the first generation students of Master Shimabuku (Isshinryu) were American Marines who learned while they were stationed in Okinawa for about one year - some came back on various assignments, some did not. But in general, many of the first-generation students were promoted to black belt while they were training with Master Shimabuku. There were only two belts at the time; white and black. At a certain point, he would point at a student and tell them to go to town and buy themselves a black belt. That was it.

Now, some have said that these Marines were training constantly, but that's not possible. They were Marines, they had day jobs. They might have trained every night (maybe) but chances are that they trained several nights a week on average. Marines on Okinawa. then as now, often were training for combat in the field. They just didn't have a day job that ended at 5 pm for most of them.

However, they were also young military men, disciplined and at the peak of their physical fitness and abilities. I'm sure they learned fast; they were already tough.

Some of them were promoted by Master Shimabuku to high ranks upon their departure from Okinawa, with the understanding that they would 'put it on' in 20 or 30 years or whatever. This is what I have been told. Some did that. Some came home, opened dojos, and declared themselves that high rank that they had been given certificates for.

In any case, that was then, and this is now. Isshinryu in the US has a rank structure like most forms of karate, with 10 kyu belts and 10 dan belts. Time to promotion is a bit different from association to association, and from dojo to dojo. My instructor is a 9th dan Hanshi. He can promote anyone to any rank he wants to, for any reason he wants to, at any time he wants to. He can promote a ham sandwich if he wants to. We have dojo requirements for given ranks, and sometimes our Sensei follows them strictly and sometimes he does not. Like many things, it depends.

It took me five years to reach shodan, first-degree black belt. That's more-or-less average for us. I have now been training for I guess about 14 years, and I have been a sandan, third-degree black belt, for about two years. According to our standards, I will be in the eligibility zone for yondan in another two years, give or take. Since I'm 60 and not in great health, I don't expect to reach the higher dan ranks in my lifetime, but I was 46 when I started training. It's totally OK with me.

That's about all I know about it, I guess. Hope that's helpful to someone.
 

SahBumNimRush

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I've been practicing since 1985. It took me 6 years to earn my first dan. I was a young child (I tested for 1st dan at 11 years old), and it was the 80's. At that time, most serious adult students earned their 1st dan in 3 years. That standard, in our organization, still holds true today.
 

andyjeffries

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I can't argue the facts (that you clearly know more about than I).

Only because this conversation comes up every few years. It's quite a natural flow, normally going like this:
  1. someone shares that in Korea it takes about a year to black belt
  2. someone complains that it's too short, makes 1st dan worthless and in "my dojang it takes X years"
  3. I then tend to share the facts about quick gradings from early founders of other martial arts
  4. someone says (exactly as you did) that these were hardcore fighters that trained every waking hour
  5. I rebut that with known stories of who those students were
So I researched it once and now have the facts stored away ready to bring out every time.

I am curious on your thoughts on the actual physical training then vs now though.

The honest answer is that I wouldn't know. I started in 1986 so am unaware of what training was like in the 40s/50s in Korea and certainly not earlier than that for Funakoshi or Kano sensei. From what I have read of it (and without having facts to quote, more a feeling from reading many things), it wasn't as brutal hard as we'd like to believe. These people had day jobs or were students so much like modern students, they couldn't go around getting badly banged up, broken bones, etc.

All three arts discussed had Do/도/道 as part of the name (often hyphenated after Karate), so the founders of all three arts had in mind that this is a path or way for life. Having students get crippled or overly hurt in class would lead to short martial arts careers. The founders all would want their art to be long term and globally popular, so brutal training would defeat that goal. Lots may start it, but almost all would quit, leaving only the hardcore remaining that would go on to teach that style, repeating the cycle.

So that's my thoughts on that.

As I set out, I agree that 1st dan is now and always has been considered a beginner rank in Korean culture... but I think there's a large difference between the definition of beginner between East and West (maybe not so much now, but when back 40-60 years ago when it was 1st being introduced). A 'beginner' from a culture valuing hard work is likely to be more advanced than a 'beginner' from a culture that is often looking for the easiest way to do something.

OK, I get what you mean - both cultures view it as a beginner rank, but have different expectations of how that culture would view getting to beginner status.

I can agree with that to a certain extent. However, having watched children's Taekwondo classes in Korea, I can say that if anything we are stricter in the west on our Taekwondo students. For example, my children attended a class run by an ex-Kukkiwon demonstration team member. The 45 minute class (yes, that was it - although 1hr is more normal) contained about 2 poomsae (no teaching of details, just running through it), 1 round of sparring, maybe a handful of basics with lots of shouting and LOTS of dodgeball and running around.

My kids had a great time, but I was thinking that it's entirely different to our classes. So while I understand your line of thinking, from my experience, I think if anything they are easier on coloured belts than we are ;-)

The textbook we use in my school (Gen. Choi's 1972 Encyclopedia) shows the following recommended timelines for 1st Dan:
...
In this, 1.5 years is a recommended timeframe for 1.5hrs/day 6 days/week. For the more recreational student, 2.5 years at 3 classes/week.

I agree, but if you equate it to normal in Korea, they would do 5 classes per week for almost every week of the year - so that works out to 5 x 1h x 50 = 500 hours, not far off General Choi's 585 hours.

My contention is though, (with deference to this not applying to the examples you mentioned from other arts) Gen. Choi was basing these time frames on his experience teaching soldiers, not civilians. (I cannot state this as fact, but how I interpret things).

I completely agree, Choi's Kwan taught military men more than civilians. I don't know how active he was in teaching, given that again, he had a day job as a military general - let alone his actual lack of martial arts seniority at the time (as evidenced by his requested honorary Dan rank in Taekwondo in the 1950s).

Back in the 50-70s, even that 1.5 hour class was likely a grind to get though. Hard conditioning and grueling sparring rounds. The 'beginner' black belt coming out of that environment was far better than the same time frame typically produces now.

I can imagine Taekwondo training in the Korean army at that time was gruelling, but remember Ohdokwan was the only military Kwan, the other 4 (when it was first around) or 8 were all civilian gyms. So the majority of Taekwondoin were actually civilians, with normal jobs or studies to do at the same time.

Everyone has their own idea on whether earning a Black Belt should require the same skill set regardless off age. I lean towards in general yes, it should be an objective standard (with caveats of course). If that is agreed, then I contend that what a professional adult can accomplish in 2.5 years (still a bit short for my liking, but I digress) a child will likely take nearly twice as long.

I guess it depends where you stand on what is required of each rank, including black belt. I have documented how we currently score promotion tests. And I would certainly say that a good child student can achieve that in the same time as an adult. Whether an average of each are comparable is a different question, I'd maybe put children slightly behind - but to be honest, children are generally more open to learning, used to listening to instruction and easier to fix problems in - adults are often fighting muscle memory of how their body moves and making things natural/correct can take longer.

How to do a Taekwondo promotion test objectively

Really, it's not the time that bothers me. It's what you had to do to get there. It seems that the places that require the least amount of time, also commensurately require the least amount of skill to earn it.

If we don't work as hard as they did then; by logic it should take us longer to reach the same goal (if indeed that's possible without their level of effort).

I agree with the the last statement, my point of contention is - are we working as hard as they did then? Are we working smarter than they did?

We've also had the benefit of many more decades of research in to teaching methods, more modern drills and exercise, etc.

Maybe that means we can achieve the same as they did. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I'm equal to the founders, but just bear in mind the reality that at the time those early students were training, they were being trained by pioneers that didn't have decades of previous instructors passing down teaching methods and tips after experimentation on what worked and what didn't. They were doing that experimentation themselves, and it's often not a quick process.

So I don't think it's necessarily a fair comparison between then and now in terms of hardness or efficiency of training methods - all we can go on is the intention behind what 1st Dan black belt meant.
 

andyjeffries

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Interesting (and adds to the conversation), if the accounts are to be believed (and there is dispute that they're accurate):

In 1940, Choi relocated to Tokyo to finish high school at a business high school. He then attended Chuo (Japanese: “Central”) University in Tokyo. Choi stated that he studied karate at Chuo University under Shotokan founder Gichin Funakoshi, eventually earning the rank of 2nd degree black belt (Kimm, 2000). By his own account, Choi returned to Korea in 1942
-- FightingArts.com - Storming the Fortress: A History of Taekwondo - Part 4

So within 2 years Choi achieved not just 1st Dan, but 2nd Dan as well in Karate from Funakoshi sensei - while attending university.
 

Yokozuna514

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Apologies if I'm intruding in your discussion but I do find the topic fascinating. What I am particularly fascinated in is why 'belt' comparisons are so, for lack of better word, fascinating. I do understand that the 'black belt' has some cultural mystique. It signifies achieving a level of 'something' in an organization that proposes to practice a 'fighting' art.

No other art I can think of has given their following such a symbol of achievement, not in this sense. Perhaps there are but I am not aware of them but then again I am thinking of music and painting for the most part. Perhaps there is no need for these other arts to have a visual reminder of the pecking order ?

In any event, I would like to respectfully follow your conversation with this placeholder and chime in periodically when I have more time to do so. It's a holiday in Canada as it will be in the US shortly. Enjoy your time off.
 
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MadMartigan

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Maybe when some early masters moved internationally, they built up what a black belt meant, expected more from their students (to make them more desirable?), but in Korea I think it's always been viewed as the first step on a lifetime's journey.
I recall (from the previous thread) your above paragraph and think perhaps this is exactly what happened. Not just in the Korean MA, but Karate, etc as well.

My group of TKD schools were founded in the 70s by one of the early masters to come to Canada. The training was very hard (physical conditioning involving hundreds of squat-hops and technique reps until physical failure).

My instructor started in the late 70s and actually avhieved his 1st Dan in 2 years (otherwise unheard of in our circle then or now).
* on a side note, I've seen the old footage from the 80s... and there's a reason he moved up so quick.

Back in the 80s (still before my time) they also had a couple 12 year olds achieve black belt (we've since moved to using a Jr. BB for under 16). Again, old footage shows these 2 young black belts performing some of the cleanest technique you'll ever witness. Consistent stances, smooth transitions, and perfect alignment while kicking. Everything objective standard applied to an adult was applied to them to reach that place and they did. A 1st Dan from that era knew the curriculum, had perfect stances, and could execute every kick in the syllabus at a high level.

In the late 90s, our founding master quit the martial arts. We were left to become independent (under my instructor) or change curriculums to join another organization. The former was chosen.
Over the years since, certain small changes have been made to curriculum (while maintaining the core of where we started). Over this time though, the biggest changes were to methods.

When I started, we still did everything the old way. Grueling workouts on wood floors with no AC. If you didn't like it, then leave. Now there's climate control, more water breaks, padded floors and more safery gear. All good things, but there is a trade off.

I was still a coloured belt when the transition began, so I've seen both sides. This also makes me the very last student left from that era (besides my own teacher) still training/teaching today. (We were always a very small, regional group).

All this to say that I think you may be right about certain masters ramping up the difficulty when they came over. I do wonder if what was initially brought over was the original Korean definition of 'beginner'... and it's just been watered down (both here and there) since.

However, having watched children's Taekwondo classes in Korea, I can say that if anything we are stricter in the west on our Taekwondo students.
I've heard similar accounts other places as well. We can wonder all day long if it was always this way; or whether it's a newer phenomenon... but only someone who was there and went through it back then could really know.
Apologies if I'm intruding in your discussion but I do find the topic fascinating.
Nothing to apologize for. This is a public thread and meant for various viewpoints to chime in.
 

andyjeffries

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Apologies if I'm intruding in your discussion but I do find the topic fascinating.

100% agree with D Hall, you're more than welcome - it's an open forum rather than private messages :) I have fairly firmly held opinions but (although it may not seem it) am open to changing with enough evidence/logic to the contrary.

What I am particularly fascinated in is why 'belt' comparisons are so, for lack of better word, fascinating. I do understand that the 'black belt' has some cultural mystique. It signifies achieving a level of 'something' in an organization that proposes to practice a 'fighting' art.

And I think that's been hyped up in the west. I think in South East Asia there isn't really the mysticism surrounding the black belt. Particularly in Korea, I would say that most Koreans either got one as a child or at least know a handful of people that have one. But when it came to the west, it was built up in to something super special.

In those early days there wasn't access to YouTube and martial arts on TV, so it was seen as a set of special secret skills that you could only learn from some wisened ninja killer like instructor, and when they considered you ready, you got a special belt to wear.

When I got my black belt (I was 16) there was one other child in our entire school (~800 people) with one. So of course that's rare and therefore special. My instructor tried to keep me grounded (and of course I tried my hardest too) but it was bound to be a wow moment when people found out. Of course now, loads of people have black belts so I think some of the rarity has worn off and therefore it's not so special.

In fact, as I wrote that, maybe that's a lot of it.

In the east - not rare, therefore not special at 1st Dan
It came to the west, early days - rare therefore special
Now in the west - not rare therefore not special

So in the west some feel like the belt value has been watered down, but in reality it was overhyped from its original value because of the rarity.

No other art I can think of has given their following such a symbol of achievement, not in this sense. Perhaps there are but I am not aware of them but then again I am thinking of music and painting for the most part.

I can't think of anything else either, but the only other things I can think of with ranks/titles are really Go/Baduk and Chess. Baduk uses similarly named Geup ranks and Dan ranks, but no special titles (and no outward showing of those ranks). Chess has titles like master and grandmaster, but again no showing of them.

Perhaps there is no need for these other arts to have a visual reminder of the pecking order ?

I think we again make a bigger deal of it than they do in Korea. For example, in the west it's common to have dan bars on the belt, but I've never seen a Korean master/grandmaster in Korea have them (unless the belt was a gift from a westerner they really are close to). Generally they have their name on one side and Kukkiwon or Taekwondo or maybe their dojang on the other side. That's it.

So the visualness of needing to know who is what rank/pecking order feels to be a western thing. In Korea they just all know who is more senior. And if it's not obvious, then they don't get all bent out of shape about it.

In any event, I would like to respectfully follow your conversation with this placeholder and chime in periodically when I have more time to do so. It's a holiday in Canada as it will be in the US shortly. Enjoy your time off.
100% :) Looking forward to more thoughts.
 

O'Malley

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I don't know about Korea but, from what I know, aikidoka in Japan get their first dan in 1-2 years while in the West it typically takes 5-8 years. I've heard of people in Japan finishing highschool with a 2nd-3rd dan in one or two arts.

Ultimately, the belts only mean something for the teachers who award them. There's a guy in my city who's famously unskilled but who used to correct everyone's technique because he got his 2nd dan from a respected master. I've then heard that master say that he had given him the rank because the guy had been in aikido for decades and it would have been sad not to promote him.

One of my teachers has been learning his aikido from a 3rd kyu for the last ten years... and is now privately teaching a 7th dan.
 
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MadMartigan

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So the visualness of needing to know who is what rank/pecking order feels to be a western thing. In Korea they just all know who is more senior. And if it's not obvious, then they don't get all bent out of shape about it.
Very, very true.
This reminds me of a story when I visited an Emergency department at a hospital (with someone else in a town I didn't live in). There were multiple staff members milling about; all wearing some variation of the same design of scrubs. I was supposed to go speak with the doctor; so approached 1 staff member. They appeared to be dressed the same as everyone else; leading to the logical assumption that all staff present were of the same 'rank' (ie nurses).

When I politely asked this person where I could find the doctor; I received a very terse reply that They were the doctor... and words to the effect that I should know that. Apparently my not knowing already that this stranger, with no outward distinguishing markings, was in charge was both stupid and insulting. They obviously had a huge chip on their own shoulder... but the memory stuck with me.

Now, for the other staff there... they would obviously know who the doctor was. For the stranger just arriving for the 1st time; some outward symbol (like maybe a white coat) would have been helpful.

My 2nd story involes some of my higher colored belt students starting to get too rank focused and lording same over the newer students. As an object lesson, I borrowed a white belt from the back and came out and taught the class wearing it. The lesson for them was of course, the belt doesn't matter. I was still the teacher because of what I knew, not what I wore.

All that to say I see the value of both approaches. I can agree with those who see the stripes as (at least partially) ego driven... (the real life master Ken's of the world). On the flip side, having some external symbol for new students and the public can also have some value.
 

Buka

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It is my understanding that most of the first generation students of Master Shimabuku (Isshinryu) were American Marines who learned while they were stationed in Okinawa for about one year - some came back on various assignments, some did not. But in general, many of the first-generation students were promoted to black belt while they were training with Master Shimabuku. There were only two belts at the time; white and black. At a certain point, he would point at a student and tell them to go to town and buy themselves a black belt. That was it.

Now, some have said that these Marines were training constantly, but that's not possible. They were Marines, they had day jobs. They might have trained every night (maybe) but chances are that they trained several nights a week on average. Marines on Okinawa. then as now, often were training for combat in the field. They just didn't have a day job that ended at 5 pm for most of them.

However, they were also young military men, disciplined and at the peak of their physical fitness and abilities. I'm sure they learned fast; they were already tough.

Some of them were promoted by Master Shimabuku to high ranks upon their departure from Okinawa, with the understanding that they would 'put it on' in 20 or 30 years or whatever. This is what I have been told. Some did that. Some came home, opened dojos, and declared themselves that high rank that they had been given certificates for.

In any case, that was then, and this is now. Isshinryu in the US has a rank structure like most forms of karate, with 10 kyu belts and 10 dan belts. Time to promotion is a bit different from association to association, and from dojo to dojo. My instructor is a 9th dan Hanshi. He can promote anyone to any rank he wants to, for any reason he wants to, at any time he wants to. He can promote a ham sandwich if he wants to. We have dojo requirements for given ranks, and sometimes our Sensei follows them strictly and sometimes he does not. Like many things, it depends.

It took me five years to reach shodan, first-degree black belt. That's more-or-less average for us. I have now been training for I guess about 14 years, and I have been a sandan, third-degree black belt, for about two years. According to our standards, I will be in the eligibility zone for yondan in another two years, give or take. Since I'm 60 and not in great health, I don't expect to reach the higher dan ranks in my lifetime, but I was 46 when I started training. It's totally OK with me.

That's about all I know about it, I guess. Hope that's helpful to someone.
Joe Lewis was a Marine stationed in Okinawa. He made his black belt in a little over six months from Shimabukuru. He told me he trained every spare minute he had, it's all he wanted to do. He turned out okay.

He also said he had an advantage over the average civilian, because Marine bootcamp tends to get you in shape.

I'll bet it does. :)
 

isshinryuronin

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Joe Lewis was a Marine stationed in Okinawa. He made his black belt in a little over six months from Shimabukuru. He told me he trained every spare minute he had, it's all he wanted to do. He turned out okay.

He also said he had an advantage over the average civilian, because Marine bootcamp tends to get you in shape.

I'll bet it does. :)
Just to clarify, Joe studied with Eizo Shimabukuro, Isshinryu founder Tatsuo Shimabuku's younger brother. After training under big brother Tatsuo for a while, he returned to their old teacher's (Chotoku Kyan) style, Shobayashi Shorinryu. Perhaps he did not want to be under his big brother's shadow? Probably a good move for him. Eizo was remarkably nimble (one hears stories of amazing physical feats by the old masters - the Shimabuku(ro) brothers give credence to these stories) and became one of the youngest, true, 10th dans in Okinawan karate.
 

andyjeffries

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All that to say I see the value of both approaches. I can agree with those who see the stripes as (at least partially) ego driven... (the real life master Ken's of the world). On the flip side, having some external symbol for new students and the public can also have some value.
agree 100%, I have a school belt with rank bars for that reason, and a Korean only belt for outside the dojang.
 

isshinryuronin

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So the visualness of needing to know who is what rank/pecking order feels to be a western thing. In Korea they just all know who is more senior. And if it's not obvious, then they don't get all bent out of shape about it.
I don't speak Korean, but am familiar with Japanese. Their culture is very cognizant and respectful of age, seniority, authority and knowledge. Forms of address, depth and length of bow, and verb forms differ depending who you are speaking to and their position in regards to yours. Even though there are no markings on their clothes, "rank" still plays a part in their everyday culture.

In regards to karate/TKD, although karate developed as a civilian MA, it was developed in Okinawa largely by those with some military or royal relationship. Later on, in Japan (where the belt system evolved) karate was taught with military service in mind (to some degree as war was in the planning stages at this time.) Certainly, Gen. Choi was of the military persuasion and so was conscious of rank. And, in 1960, most of the American black belts were military, newly returned from Japan.

So, rank has been a major element in karate for a long time. That's the general setting. I see no big downside to it (except for the inconsistency in skill we find in modern times.) Acknowledging that this history forms the basis for the present, my closing remark is below:
As an object lesson, I borrowed a white belt from the back and came out and taught the class wearing it.
I've done the same. I don't mind being in any dojo wearing a white belt. Physical prowess aside, a higher dan's bearing and demeanor should tell all that needs to be said.
 

andyjeffries

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I don't speak Korean, but am familiar with Japanese. Their culture is very cognizant and respectful of age, seniority, authority and knowledge. Forms of address, depth and length of bow, and verb forms differ depending who you are speaking to and their position in regards to yours. Even though there are no markings on their clothes, "rank" still plays a part in their everyday culture.

Interesting, I don't know much about Japanese culture/language, but speak Korean - and this is VERRRY similar to Korean.

In regards to karate/TKD, although karate developed as a civilian MA, it was developed in Okinawa largely by those with some military or royal relationship. Later on, in Japan (where the belt system evolved) karate was taught with military service in mind (to some degree as war was in the planning stages at this time.) Certainly, Gen. Choi was of the military persuasion and so was conscious of rank. And, in 1960, most of the American black belts were military, newly returned from Japan.

I would say thought that Gen. Choi was very essential in popularising Taekwondo, but only defined his style. The other kwans were non-military and often had higher rank than Gen Choi.

However, do you think it's fair to say then that in this case rank is based on seniority/age more than skill? In Korean culture a 1st Dan is supposed to show more respect to a 4th Dan, regardless of how good that 4th Dan is. That's the military way, those of a higher rank get shown more respect, even if they're an *******, right?

So, rank has been a major element in karate for a long time. That's the general setting. I see no big downside to it (except for the inconsistency in skill we find in modern times.) Acknowledging that this history forms the basis for the present, my closing remark is below:

I've done the same. I don't mind being in any dojo wearing a white belt. Physical prowess aside, a higher dan's bearing and demeanor should tell all that needs to be said.

In Korea there's a term for this "Noonchi". It's officially about reading someone's mood without being told, but it's more like "intuition" in general. And they judge people's seniority by intuition rather than outward displays of rank.
 
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MadMartigan

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A bit of a tangent, but still goes along the same subject:

We can all agree/accept the accuracy that the 1st Dan is regarded as a beginner rank in Korea (with strong evidence that Japan may see their 1st Dans a similar way).
It's also clear that the 1st Dan was somewhat mystified when first introduced to North America (and likely similarly in Europe); resulting in a higher expectation of what it should mean to have one.

While I was watching a podcast today, someone pointed out an interesting point. The term 'black belt' (at least in North America) has become synonymous with expertise. If I was to say, "He has a black belt in cooking". Would you take that to mean he was a beginner? At least in North America, this would signify a skill level above the average in the field. I would say (anecdotally) that this vernacular is near universally understood throughout North America (including non martial arts practitioners).

On that line of thinking, when producing a black belt in that culture, should one not try to keep the resulting product in line with that expectation?

You could argue that Tae Kwon-Do came from Korea; so we should always do things the Korean way... but for a student who will never set foot in Korea during their entire lifetime, is it more important that they represent Korean martial arts culture or their own?
 

isshinryuronin

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1st Dan is supposed to show more respect to a 4th Dan, regardless of how good that 4th Dan is. That's the military way, those of a higher rank get shown more respect, even if they're an *******, right?
Most of the time a 4th will be better than a 1st. Maybe not in raw physical prowess, but in technique, poise and overall skill. The 4th will also have more experience and knowledge. Also, he has seniority - he has persevered, sweated and stuck with the art 6-10 years longer than the 1st. He deserves respect based on these things. As for the military, any Master Sgt. will likely agree with you - you salute the rank (and what is symbolizes) not the man.
We can all agree/accept the accuracy that the 1st Dan is regarded as a beginner rank in Korea
My limited observations are that this is more true in Korea than Japanese/Okinawan styles. But I would note that a 1st degree "beginner" here, may mean, "beginning to learn the real stuff," in all styles.
The term 'black belt' (at least in North America) has become synonymous with expertise.
This may be true for the general public as they do not appreciate the depth of TMA. But for those in it, a 1st degree's "expertise" means "expertise in the basics." Expertise in the art comes many degrees later.
 

andyjeffries

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On that line of thinking, when producing a black belt in that culture, should one not try to keep the resulting product in line with that expectation?

You could argue that Tae Kwon-Do came from Korea; so we should always do things the Korean way... but for a student who will never set foot in Korea during their entire lifetime, is it more important that they represent Korean martial arts culture or their own?
I agreed with almost all of your post, up until the last part.

I think it's more important they represent Korean martial arts culture.

We wear a dobok, bow to each other and the Korean flag, use Korean terminology, use Korean etiquette in class. It would be easy enough to say "this is an international martial art, so we will just wear sports wear, only have our native flag, use English, shake each others' hands and just pass things one handed", but we don't.

We keep the rest of the Korean aspects of our art, so I see educating the public on what a black belt means and the fact that there is more than 1st dan in the system is part of just bringing the public up to speed.
 
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MadMartigan

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I think it's more important they represent Korean martial arts culture.

We wear a dobok, bow to each other and the Korean flag, use Korean terminology, use Korean etiquette in class. It would be easy enough to say "this is an international martial art, so we will just wear sports wear, only have our native flag, use English, shake each others' hands and just pass things one handed", but we don't.
Perhaps this will be different for everyone. I framed my points as a question, because my views on that matter are far from fixed.

- I have seen tkd schools that do not count in korean (we still do).
- We still display the Korean flag (as a sign of respect to where tkd came from).
- We do not use the korean terminology for names of movement.
- The only Korean terms we have kept are the basic commands (attention, bow, ready, begin, etc).
- We wear uniforms for their utility... but they are actually Karate style white Gis.

The pieces we have kept, are because we've found value in their continied use. My current view is that I see nothing wrong with schools choosing to include cultural education along with their martial training... nor anything wrong with a school wearing their own culture's exercise wear, terminology and practicing in shoes.
Joe Lewis was a Marine stationed in Okinawa. He made his black belt in a little over six months from Shimabukuru. He told me he trained every spare minute he had, it's all he wanted to do. He turned out okay.
Something else that occurred to me recently was back on the training outcome (meaning of 'beginner') vs time frame to 1st Dan discussion.

History shows that the North American soldiers stationed in asia received their black belts in short time frames.
These time frames are referenced as the standard more often than the outcomes (so it seems to me).

What I wonder is:
The soldiers came back to the west and started teaching. When they did, they required 'x' standard from their western students. This standard would have formed the basis for the north American stereotype of what constituted a black belt (the idea of them being an expert).

It stands to reason (for me) that these early teachers would have based what they demanded from their students on what was expected from them.
Maybe they reached that ability level in 10 months (they were self disciplined soldiers in peak physical condition); but then it took 4-10 years for the average north American student to reach that same standard.

Perhaps the west has influenced the east over the past 30 years. Maybe back then they would not have issued black belts to children... but do now because of a change in their own culture as well.
 
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