Dan Ranks: A Comparison of Ideologies

D Hall

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So let me start by saying, this is in no way intended to be inflammatory. I am very interested in the discussion and hearing various views on the subject... and why you feel that way.

In TKD (and most traditional 'kick/punch' MA) the road to the higher Dan ranks is paved in grueling sweat and blood. I've seen YouTube clips of people testing for 9th Dan. While other times, the higher BB ranks are often awarded for service to the MA and experience.

Conversely, BJJ handles things in the completely opposite way. My understanding is that after receiving your 1st Dan; ALL future rank advancements are given through lineage for time and contributions... with no further gradings.

Now, I understand that it is comparing dissimilar things in some ways. It takes an average of 10-15 years for most people to get their BJJ black belt... while it is (unfortunately in my opinion) all to common for TKD students to obtain theirs in as little as 2 years. (My own road there took 5.5 years).

I am not suggesting that TKD should adopt the no more grading practice... the arts are too different. I do wonder though; why the fixation on aggressive grading requirements for black belts that are often past their physical prime.
While my personal views tend toward knowledge and experience being more important than high flying physical skills; I would love to learn more from a more broad section of our population on the topic. At what point do you think it should change to a recognition model?
Thanks.

(Ps. We all come from different places and experiences, so lets please keep that 1st Tenet in mind while we discuss this loaded topic. 'We can disagree in the end; but we can still be friends').
 
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Dirty Dog

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As has been said many many times, it all comes down to what "black belt" means in a given school.
What you're trying to compare is apples and oranges.

If BJJ promotions above 1st Dan are strictly time and service awards, then that means that by 1st Dan you are assumed to understand and be able to apply the entire system. Which seems reasonable for the 10-15 year time frame you mention.

So you need to compare that to not the same rank, but the same MEANING in other systems.
In KKW systems, especially in Korea, 1st Dan can be earned in as little as one year. But 1st Dan is considered a beginner rank. The first "teaching" rank is 4th Dan. At an absolute minimum, that takes 7 years, but I have a feeling most people take longer than that. I stopped after KKW 2nd Dan, so someone with tighter connections to them would know more.

In our Moo Duk Kwan system, the "service" ranks are 7th Dan and higher. So by 6th Dan you're assumed to understand and be able to apply the entire system. Now, we don't really have absolute time in grade rules; we have guidelines. But typically, that progression to 6th Dan would require 20+ years.

Now, I'm actually going to reduce that. Because while promotions through 6th Dan require tests, the only new material above 4th Dan is a new form. There are no new techniques or principles to learn. Which actually makes a bit of sense, since 4th Dan is where we award the title of Master. So 1-3 are "teaching" ranks, 4-6 are "Master" ranks, and 7-9 are "Grandmaster" (service) ranks. So if we base our timeline on 4th Dan, then you're looking at (typically) 14-16 years. Pretty much the same as BJJ.

It all makes more sense if you think about what the rank means within a given style, instead of the arbitrary label.
 

isshinryuronin

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While in my Okinawan system all the formal curriculum is traditionally completed by 4th dan (11-14 years, continuous training) that does not mean learning and development stops. There is a visible difference between the way a good 4th dan moves and how a good 7th dan moves (another 12-15 years.)

It's not that the 4th dan is doing anything wrong and it's difficult to verbalize how he could improve. Yet, the 7th dan does it somehow better. He's not stronger or faster, not more technically correct, but then, what is the difference?

The 4th dan is excellent. The 7th is excellent with less effort (mental or physical.) There is a smoothness, a more natural expression of the technique. In other words, the technique is more a part of his essential being.

I'm not just talking muscle memory - it's deeper than that, and takes much more time to develop. It's not something you can practice or strive for. There is no test for it. It just arrives. "Master" is a title we do not bestow until 8th dan, (but in Dirty Dog's system would be similar to "Grand Master," a term we don't use.) Only then is this essential quality commonly manifested.

They say "Hindsight is 20/20." By the time you're in your 60's and have 30 or 40 years in the art, you have plenty of hindsight, perspective, and understanding. You've been exposed to many practitioners, several different styles, and dealt with a wide variety of situations. By this time, too, one has hopefully explored and experimented with all the kata moves and their many variations and applications.

So, advancing thru those higher dans, there is no end to learning - you're just learning things that cannot be taught.
 
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skribs

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The first "teaching" rank (in Kukkiwon) is 4th Dan
I think this depends on what you define as "teaching". You can be a KKW certified Instructor Level 1 at 2nd or 3rd Dan (if I remember correctly). Level 2 (Master) is at 4th Dan, and I believe 7th Dan is required for Level 3 (Grand Master).

With that said, this is the Kukkiwon certification. Realistically, anyone can teach at a school under the Master's direction. At my school, you start assisting as instructors at 1st Keub (just before black belt). Many of our instructors started leading small groups as black belts. Personally, I started teaching as a blue belt (only half-way to black), but a big part of that was 4 years' experience I had prior to starting as a white belt at this school.

Now, I'm actually going to reduce that. Because while promotions through 6th Dan require tests, the only new material above 4th Dan is a new form.

I'm very glad to hear schools taking this approach. I do believe some schools promote too fast. I also believe that other schools, in effort to "legitimize" their black belts, promote too slow. What ends up happening is you hurt your career. Imagine a KKW school where it takes 12 years to get your black belt, and then they require an extra year over KKW requirements to get each degree. (I've heard of schools like this). A student at this school would take over 20 years to get their Master rank. Meanwhile, someone else can get it in 7 (like you said), or even 10-12 if they take a comfortable pace.

So this school makes sure their black belts are "legit" black belts...at the cost of severely crippling their career if they ever want to open their own school.

There's also the ethical question of your average student in the 1st Dan bracket at a tournament having the same experience you'd expect a 4th or 5th Dan to have...
 
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D Hall

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While in my Okinawan system all the formal curriculum is traditionally completed by 4th dan (11-14 years, continuous training) that does not mean learning and development stops.
That makes me curious. On this related topic; besides new patterns (hyung, tul, kata), what were some of the things that you were not taught until after earning 1st Dan?

Were there tangible new techniques that were saved for these ranks; or was the learning (post BB) more as described below?

So, advancing thru those higher dans, there is no end to learning - you're just learning things that cannot be taught.

Still honestly curious. I come from an independent school in a small rural area. It's very educational to read other's experiences and thoughts on these processes.
 

jobo

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That makes me curious. On this related topic; besides new patterns (hyung, tul, kata), what were some of the things that you were not taught until after earning 1st Dan?

Were there tangible new techniques that were saved for these ranks; or was the learning (post BB) more as described below?



Still honestly curious. I come from an independent school in a small rural area. It's very educational to read other's experiences and thoughts on these processes.
well it really is different ideologiesI

that depend considerably on if yoyr learnibg to fight or learning an art, life long progression in to your 50 is definetly possible, as long as no fighting is involved and your seeing progres as artistic merit or even as outlined above as some ethereal indescribable quality that just happens over an unspecified time

or to put it another way, if you reach high level compitiction standard at tkd at say 25, there is no way your better with another 30 years of learning at 55, otherwise the Olympic teams would be full of pensioners and that's clearly not the case
 
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Dirty Dog

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I think this depends on what you define as "teaching". You can be a KKW certified Instructor Level 1 at 2nd or 3rd Dan (if I remember correctly). Level 2 (Master) is at 4th Dan, and I believe 7th Dan is required for Level 3 (Grand Master).
I'm defining it as "being able to train and promote your own students". Doing stuff under the supervision of someone who holds teaching rank isn't teaching, per se, it's learning to teach. I do that all the time. I'll call a geup rank up and tell them "run the class though [group drill]" and step back. I'll often wander the class during this time and give pointers to individuals. And I'll give pointers to the student to improve their teaching.
I'm very glad to hear schools taking this approach. I do believe some schools promote too fast. I also believe that other schools, in effort to "legitimize" their black belts, promote too slow. What ends up happening is you hurt your career. Imagine a KKW school where it takes 12 years to get your black belt, and then they require an extra year over KKW requirements to get each degree. (I've heard of schools like this). A student at this school would take over 20 years to get their Master rank. Meanwhile, someone else can get it in 7 (like you said), or even 10-12 if they take a comfortable pace.

So this school makes sure their black belts are "legit" black belts...at the cost of severely crippling their career if they ever want to open their own school.
Which goes back to my point that it's not the rank that matters. It's what that rank means that matters.
There's also the ethical question of your average student in the 1st Dan bracket at a tournament having the same experience you'd expect a 4th or 5th Dan to have...
We don't really care about tournaments, but we do go to one every year or so. And it's always the case that our students have a lot more experience than students of the same nominal rank. And yes, that's probably part of the reason why they walk away with most of the medals.

But it's open tournaments. When you're allowing all styles, belt rank is not an unreasonable way to divide the classes.
 

skribs

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I'm defining it as "being able to train and promote your own students". Doing stuff under the supervision of someone who holds teaching rank isn't teaching, per se, it's learning to teach. I do that all the time. I'll call a geup rank up and tell them "run the class though [group drill]" and step back. I'll often wander the class during this time and give pointers to individuals. And I'll give pointers to the student to improve their teaching.

There's an in-between. For example, I don't have the authority to promote students in my school. However, I often lead classes by myself, without oversight of my Master. This may be when he's busy with administrative stuff, on break, or even once when he was on vacation.

We don't really care about tournaments, but we do go to one every year or so. And it's always the case that our students have a lot more experience than students of the same nominal rank. And yes, that's probably part of the reason why they walk away with most of the medals.

I know you aren't doing this intentionally, but it does seem a little bit unfair to me. Imagine if a school district held their students back for 3 years, so the middle school football game has 13-year-olds from one school competing against 16-year-olds from another.
 

Flying Crane

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I know you aren't doing this intentionally, but it does seem a little bit unfair to me. Imagine if a school district held their students back for 3 years, so the middle school football game has 13-year-olds from one school competing against 16-year-olds from another.
I don’t know if this is automatically a reasonable assumption. The flip side is, what if the one school was trying to insist that their grade-school kids should compete against the middle schoolers? Then you have 10- year olds competing against 14-year olds because someone is promoting too soon. Maybe the standard should be higher, rather than lower.

I think this makes DD’s point that it depends on what the rank is meant to mean and imply within your particular school, nevermind what someone else is doing in a different school. I think that it is simply a fact that standards are higher in some schools than in others. I would wish to train in a school with higher standards, even if it takes longer for me to get a belt. Because I really really don’t cere about the belt. I care about the knowledge and the understanding and the skills.
 

skribs

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I don’t know if this is automatically a reasonable assumption. The flip side is, what if the one school was trying to insist that their grade-school kids should compete against the middle schoolers? Then you have 10- year olds competing against 14-year olds because someone is promoting too soon. Maybe the standard should be higher, rather than lower.

If most of the schools took the long route and one school takes the short route, and then complains that all the other schools were being unfair, that's one thing. But if the norm is 13-14, and one school has 10 year olds and the other has 16 year olds, then it's very clear that one is unfair. I'm always okay with people opting into a more difficult bracket. Higher age group, higher weight class, etc. But not the other way around. If someone wanted to fight in a higher age group, I don't see an issue with that.

There have been situations at tournaments I've been in where someone is a black belt at their school, and shows up to the tournament in a purple belt so they can win medals, and they ended up injuring several people in their division. So this is something that's a little more than "devil's advocate" for me. In this case, it was intentional.

I don't think what Dirty Dog is doing is intentionally gaming the system. However, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the school probably has medals or trophies on display. It might not be in a trophy case, it might be just pictures or social media. It might not even be the school, but students in the school. And when someone sees that trophy or that medal, and they know they got it by training at Dirty Dog's school, then it's going to make their school look good. Those trophies that they got by being way more experienced than their bracket is expected to be.
 

Steve

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I don’t know if this is automatically a reasonable assumption. The flip side is, what if the one school was trying to insist that their grade-school kids should compete against the middle schoolers? Then you have 10- year olds competing against 14-year olds because someone is promoting too soon. Maybe the standard should be higher, rather than lower.

I think this makes DD’s point that it depends on what the rank is meant to mean and imply within your particular school, nevermind what someone else is doing in a different school. I think that it is simply a fact that standards are higher in some schools than in others. I would wish to train in a school with higher standards, even if it takes longer for me to get a belt. Because I really really don’t cere about the belt. I care about the knowledge and the understanding and the skills.
This is called sandbagging and is not well thought of in BJJ. Schools that promote too fast have students that just can't compete well. Schools that promote too slow have students that are clearly being held back.

Winning and losing isn't the point. Calibration is. If you truly didn't care about belts, it wouldn't matter if a school promotes fast or slow. The rate of promotion has nothing to do with the quality of the instruction.
 
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D Hall

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If most of the schools took the long route and one school takes the short route, and then complains that all the other schools were being unfair, that's one thing. But if the norm is 13-14, and one school has 10 year olds and the other has 16 year olds, then it's very clear that one is unfair. I'm always okay with people opting into a more difficult bracket. Higher age group, higher weight class, etc. But not the other way around. If someone wanted to fight in a higher age group, I don't see an issue with that.

There have been situations at tournaments I've been in where someone is a black belt at their school, and shows up to the tournament in a purple belt so they can win medals, and they ended up injuring several people in their division. So this is something that's a little more than "devil's advocate" for me. In this case, it was intentional.

I don't think what Dirty Dog is doing is intentionally gaming the system. However, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the school probably has medals or trophies on display. It might not be in a trophy case, it might be just pictures or social media. It might not even be the school, but students in the school. And when someone sees that trophy or that medal, and they know they got it by training at Dirty Dog's school, then it's going to make their school look good. Those trophies that they got by being way more experienced than their bracket is expected to be.
While we've veered off course a bit here, I'll join in.
I've seen it happen. A sport focused school will keep their students at say green belt for 2-3 years so that they crush their division before moving up to blue (now with over 4 years experience) and repeat.
I agree with all of you. Intentionally sand bagging to win trophies is dishonest and pathetic.
Where I have no sympathy is post black belt. If a black belt from somewhere else whipes the floor with me; well done. Time for me to up my game.
 

skribs

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If you truly didn't care about belts, it wouldn't matter if a school promotes fast or slow. The rate of promotion has nothing to do with the quality of the instruction.
Thing is, belts matter even if they don't matter to you. They matter for tournament brackets, and they may matter for your future career (for example, no matter how good of a teacher you are, you can't promote students in KKW until you're a 4th Dan in the system).
 

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Thing is, belts matter even if they don't matter to you. They matter for tournament brackets, and they may matter for your future career (for example, no matter how good of a teacher you are, you can't promote students in KKW until you're a 4th Dan in the system).
Sandbagging is no better than a belt factory. Other side of the same coin. Both are less about standards and quality and more about trying to get more students.
 

Flying Crane

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If most of the schools took the long route and one school takes the short route, and then complains that all the other schools were being unfair, that's one thing. But if the norm is 13-14, and one school has 10 year olds and the other has 16 year olds, then it's very clear that one is unfair. I'm always okay with people opting into a more difficult bracket. Higher age group, higher weight class, etc. But not the other way around. If someone wanted to fight in a higher age group, I don't see an issue with that.
[/QUOTE]
We don’t know that is what is happening though. I feel pretty confident in saying that a modern trend in a lot of schools has been a lowering of standards as martial arts have been marketed more to children, and as a fun family activity. This is a business decision presumably to bring in the largest student body possible, for income purposes. Perhaps a school like DD’s is just a holdout from an older era when everyone held higher standards. He isn’t wrong nor a cheat for refusing to go along with a modern trend. It isn’t unfair to other competitors that a school like his holds student to a higher level from day one. It just is what it is. Rank means something different in his school than in others.
There have been situations at tournaments I've been in where someone is a black belt at their school, and shows up to the tournament in a purple belt so they can win medals, and they ended up injuring several people in their division. So this is something that's a little more than "devil's advocate" for me. In this case, it was intentional.
[/QUOTE]
Well sure, a deliberate deception like that is deplorable but that is not what we are really talking about here. I believe it was holding a higher standard for any rank, not pretending to be a lower rank for the goal of bringing home a trophy. Advocating for everyone lowering their standards out of a desire for some kind of subjective “fairness” on a tournament circuit is really arguing for the lowest common denominator.
 

Tony Dismukes

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If BJJ promotions above 1st Dan are strictly time and service awards, then that means that by 1st Dan you are assumed to understand and be able to apply the entire system. Which seems reasonable for the 10-15 year time frame you mention.

While in my Okinawan system all the formal curriculum is traditionally completed by 4th dan (11-14 years, continuous training) that does not mean learning and development stops. There is a visible difference between the way a good 4th dan moves and how a good 7th dan moves (another 12-15 years.)
Just to clarify the situation for BJJ, having a black belt certainly doesn't mean that a practitioner is expected to stop progressing technically. Nor does it mean that they can apply "the entire system" exactly, because there is no fully bounded "entire system". The art is continually growing and evolving to the extent that I don't know if there is anyone who is fully familiar with every single technique and position out there. If I had to put some sort of definition on the rank, I guess I'd say that it represents the point where a practitioner has internalized the core principles of the art to the extent that they can be trusted to guide their own future development in the art.

That doesn't mean that we don't continue learning from other instructors. We just find resources in other instructors as needed. Suppose that Keenan Cornelius invented a new position called the "Inverted Purple Platypus Guard"* and started winning tournaments with it. It would be up to me to examine the IPPG and decide whether this was a system which would work for me, if so, then find instructors or videos to help me understand it, practice and pressure test my understanding of the position, and decide whether, when, and how it would be appropriate to pass that material on to my students.

Really though, there isn't any such generally agreed upon definition to the rank. It's typically** more of a subjective "I know it when I see it" evaluation that the practitioner can apply the system under pressure with a certain level of skill in all the positions and situations where they might find themselves in a fight or a match.

*(Don't laugh - we have crazier names out there.)

**(I say typically, because there is no universal rule. Some instructors do test for the knowledge of a set curriculum. Some instructors require a certain number of competition wins. Some instructors have a higher expectation of the skill or physical attributes or mental toughness required for a rank than do others. Some instructors do have tests for higher levels of black belt.)
 

Steve

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Just to clarify the situation for BJJ, having a black belt certainly doesn't mean that a practitioner is expected to stop progressing technically. Nor does it mean that they can apply "the entire system" exactly, because there is no fully bounded "entire system". The art is continually growing and evolving to the extent that I don't know if there is anyone who is fully familiar with every single technique and position out there. If I had to put some sort of definition on the rank, I guess I'd say that it represents the point where a practitioner has internalized the core principles of the art to the extent that they can be trusted to guide their own future development in the art.

That doesn't mean that we don't continue learning from other instructors. We just find resources in other instructors as needed. Suppose that Keenan Cornelius invented a new position called the "Inverted Purple Platypus Guard"* and started winning tournaments with it. It would be up to me to examine the IPPG and decide whether this was a system which would work for me, if so, then find instructors or videos to help me understand it, practice and pressure test my understanding of the position, and decide whether, when, and how it would be appropriate to pass that material on to my students.

Really though, there isn't any such generally agreed upon definition to the rank. It's typically** more of a subjective "I know it when I see it" evaluation that the practitioner can apply the system under pressure with a certain level of skill in all the positions and situations where they might find themselves in a fight or a match.

*(Don't laugh - we have crazier names out there.)

**(I say typically, because there is no universal rule. Some instructors do test for the knowledge of a set curriculum. Some instructors require a certain number of competition wins. Some instructors have a higher expectation of the skill or physical attributes or mental toughness required for a rank than do others. Some instructors do have tests for higher levels of black belt.)

Like = informative in this case.
 

Buka

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This is called sandbagging and is not well thought of in BJJ. Schools that promote too fast have students that just can't compete well. Schools that promote too slow have students that are clearly being held back.

Winning and losing isn't the point. Calibration is. If you truly didn't care about belts, it wouldn't matter if a school promotes fast or slow. The rate of promotion has nothing to do with the quality of the instruction.
What I use to do, which I’ll probably get flack for (but me no care)…we didn’t spar any no contact to the face, not even with the kids.

So….all my guys that wanted to fight in a tourney fought in the Back Belt division. Yeah, most of them got smoked, but never embarrassed. One of the reason was all my students fought everyone, including the black belts, they were used to doing so on a regular basis. One of them, as an actual white belt, won at least his first fight in every single tourney he fought in (about twenty of them) and placed many times. He was a good athlete who didn’t look like he was. He looked fat and slow and was anything but. When he finally made Black belt in real life, he retired, saying “the thrill is gone”. (By then he didn’t look fat anymore and had won the division a few times)

For my kids, I had any of them interested come to several tournaments and watch all day. Then had them “teach themselves no contact sparring” How? Easy. They all did bag work as part of their karate education and training. We had them split time from actual bag work with “flick contact” to the bag. Then no contact on the bag. (on their own time) Then they did it on the cement poles holding up the I-beams of the ceiling. And, no, nobody ever got hurt. Ever. You heard a few “ows” now and then but no big deal. (that's the best way to teach control in my opinion)

Then we let them practice with each other. They all competed well, were very successful. And there were dozens of them. Best part was…when you had one of those divisions that was 11-13 years old (or whatever) you know how big the size difference with kids can be. If they competed against a monster who was trying to hurt them, they would just blast the kid off his feet with a face punch.

As for actual sandbagging that’s not fair to the student. How are you supposed to improve your skills when competing against people you’re so much better than? That’s just plain dumb.
 

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I think it's worth keeping in mind that, as OP alludes to in their post, TKD and BJJ have extremely different ideas about what level of experience/expertise each belt color represents. A TKD black belt is, IMO, roughly analogous to a BJJ blue belt, while a BJJ black belt is more like a TKD 5th dan.

That being said.... while physical testing is still done at higher TKD dan levels, I get the impression that that's more to make sure that high dan instructors are still practicing. Honestly, I wouldn't care if the highest dan levels were awarded based on contribution to the art.
 

WaterGal

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I think this depends on what you define as "teaching". You can be a KKW certified Instructor Level 1 at 2nd or 3rd Dan (if I remember correctly). Level 2 (Master) is at 4th Dan, and I believe 7th Dan is required for Level 3 (Grand Master).

You can take the Level 1 Kukkiwon Master Instructor course before 4th dan, but you get some kind of probationary certificate until you get your 4th dan.
 

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