Dichotomy, thy name is "Shodan..."

stone_dragone

Senior Master
MT Mentor
Joined
Dec 20, 2005
Messages
2,507
Reaction score
40
Location
Sunny San Antonio, TX
Although this may or may not have been discussed in it's own thread, I know that it has been discussed in almost every thread that I've read about young black belts and 1st degree "masters." Here is something that I've noticed and have wondered about...

I'm pretty sure that most black belts (or equivalent), if asked, will say that shodan/chodan/1st degree black belt is really only the beginning, the first level, that one has only mastered the basics, or something to that effect.

Many of the same folks will turn around and list amazing feats of athletic prowess, a giant litany of requirements (techniques, kata, etc), and a depth of understanding similar to a dual-track bachelor's degree in history and philosophy as requirements for "their" students to reach this first rank.

While I may exaggerate a bit, the question still remains in my mind... How can both premises be true? If 1st degree only means that you have mastered the basics, which I figure to be blocks, punches, kicks, throws, locks, stances and falls, then I would imagine that a shodan has mastered the equivalent of moving the chess pieces, not actually playing the game.

There is one of three things happening here...1) My definition of basics is WAY too limited; 2) People downplay the achievement that is shodan; 3) Shodan means that you have mastered more than the basics.

I know that compared to what was historically expected of a karate 1st dan (after Funakoshi started using the dan system), many of us put in far more time and effort to earn our first rank.

I'm probably missing something though...its been a rough couple of weeks...
 

Bill Mattocks

Sr. Grandmaster
MTS Alumni
Joined
Feb 8, 2009
Messages
15,007
Reaction score
3,362
Location
Michigan
I can't say much with any authority. However, I'm a yon-kyu on the cusp of my san-kyu (brown belt) in Isshin-Ryu. It's taken me two years to get here. I have been told I can expect to 'settle in' to my brown belt for about five years, give or take. Then, perhaps, I can test for my sho-dan, if Sensei thinks I'm ready. That means I'll be something like 55 years old. I'm OK with that.

It also means I'll never reach the higher levels; there simply isn't enough time left to me; in our discipline, 5 to 15 or even 15 or more years between dan ranks is not that unusual.

But, I have seen and experienced the difference between being tossed around by a sho-dan and being tossed around by a hachi-dan. It's not even in the same ballpark. I've gotten in a lucky punch on a sho-dan, I don't think it's even in the realm of possibility for a hachi-dan.

Learn? Well, before I can put on my first black belt, I will have to have learned all 8 empty-hand katas and all the weapons katas too. I will have to be able to perform the katas and the 'backside' of them (as uke) too.

Does a hachi-dan know more kata than a sho-dan? I guess not, unless he or she has picked up kata from another system. But can they apply it in a variety of different ways, ways which make their bunkai very powerful and useful? Yes, I think so.

Yes, I think black belt is an entry. It's also a graduation. I think it's only a problem for those who think of one gate to pass through.

Think of college degrees. There is the Associate's Degree, the Bachelors, and then the Masters and Doctorate. I would say that a person who is beginning their Master's degree study is both a graduate and a new student. Because earning a Master's degree is fundamentally different from earning a Bachelors. A Bachelors degree is a basic term of study. One takes the prescribed classes, passes them, and is awarded the degree. It's simple - learn the material, pass the tests, get the sheepskin. And you have to pass through that gateway to move on to a Masters or a Doctorate

But a Masters degree is far less structured. At that level, you work one-on-one with your advisor, you must contribute original work, generally you must publish; in other words, you not only have to learn and 'master' your field, but you MUST GIVE SOMETHING BACK. Yes, there are classes to take, but it's no longer a matter of just putting in the time and taking your diploma. Now you are under individual instruction, evaluation, and mentoring. You are expected to produce something new and worthwhile, and you are expected to teach while you're doing it.

So that's kind of how I see the dan ranks beyond sho-dan. You graduated, yes. And if you want to stop there, hey, you still accomplished something amazing and nobody can take that away from you. But the difference between a sho-dan and a hachi-dan is huge, monstrous. And my Sensei, a hachi-dan, still has a sensei, and he is still learning.

I don't think a lifetime is quite enough for a person to master even one art if they start much after their 20's.
 

MJS

Administrator
Staff member
Lifetime Supporting Member
Joined
Jun 21, 2003
Messages
30,187
Reaction score
429
Location
Cromwell,CT
Although this may or may not have been discussed in it's own thread, I know that it has been discussed in almost every thread that I've read about young black belts and 1st degree "masters." Here is something that I've noticed and have wondered about...

I'm pretty sure that most black belts (or equivalent), if asked, will say that shodan/chodan/1st degree black belt is really only the beginning, the first level, that one has only mastered the basics, or something to that effect.

Many of the same folks will turn around and list amazing feats of athletic prowess, a giant litany of requirements (techniques, kata, etc), and a depth of understanding similar to a dual-track bachelor's degree in history and philosophy as requirements for "their" students to reach this first rank.

While I may exaggerate a bit, the question still remains in my mind... How can both premises be true? If 1st degree only means that you have mastered the basics, which I figure to be blocks, punches, kicks, throws, locks, stances and falls, then I would imagine that a shodan has mastered the equivalent of moving the chess pieces, not actually playing the game.

There is one of three things happening here...1) My definition of basics is WAY too limited; 2) People downplay the achievement that is shodan; 3) Shodan means that you have mastered more than the basics.

I know that compared to what was historically expected of a karate 1st dan (after Funakoshi started using the dan system), many of us put in far more time and effort to earn our first rank.

I'm probably missing something though...its been a rough couple of weeks...

Well, in a way, I think you hit the nail on the head. You compared the shodan to chess....shodan mastered more than basics, the chess player mastered moving the pieces. We could look at it like a shodan is the same as a high school diploma. The person could be content with just doing the material that is required, nothing more. College would be the higher levels of BB, and looking at the material more in-depth.

Personally, I dont think that physically learning more is necessary. Why? I mean, how many more kata do we need? How many more techs? I talked about this over at KenpoTalk. Someone was asking about the large number of techs in the Parker system. My point was, if someone can't defend themselves with a few punch techs., they're not going to need the others. So, IMO, its not about learning more physical material, but instead, breaking down the material, and figuring things out for yourself.

A while ago, I asked one of my Arnis teachers if there was anything else to learn after black. He said no. I already know all of the required material. So, I could leave it at that, and just train that stuff, or...I could take that material, and start building things off of what I already know. In a sense, yeah, I'm doing more techs., but I dont look at it that way. I'm taking existing foundations, and continuing to build from that.

That, IMO, is what the shodan needs to or should be doing.

Not sure if this was the answer you're looking for. :)
 

ralphmcpherson

Senior Master
Joined
Sep 6, 2009
Messages
2,200
Reaction score
48
Location
australia
I believe that a black belt has to have trained as a black belt to be a true black belt. I have met many students whose main gooal is to get a black belt. They train their back sides off for as long as it takes and once they receive a black belt they give it away because they have achieved what they set out to do, get a black belt. They then go away thinking they are a black belt, but to not train at that level, learn the forms/katas associated with that level, sparred at that level and learnt the curriculum of that level I dont believe they are a black belt. It would be like quitting school after grade 10 and then saying that they made it to grade 11, technically thats true but having never learnt the grade 11 curriculum, its kind of misleading. The club I train at, you get to black belt and then train for 1 year before receiving your 1st dan. I got my first dan 2 weeks ago and only now am starting to feel like a black belt despite technically being a black belt for over a year.
 

Bruno@MT

Senior Master
Joined
Feb 24, 2009
Messages
3,399
Reaction score
74
Bill summed it up quite nice.

But to refer to the original comment that some say shodan is the basics, and you say it is like a bachelors degree... well, a bachelors degree IS the basics. A bachelors degree means you know much more about the subject than a layperson, and enough to look at subject matter and form an informed opinion. But by no means does the bachelors degree mean anything like 'finished'. There's 'Master' and 'Doctor' after that if you want to be an expert on a given subject.

We used to joke that 'Bachelor' is just another word for 'Dropout'. Granted, this was in a class of people (in their youthful arrogance) working towards their masters :) My point is: Just because it took a lot of hard work to get there doesn't mean it is more than the basics.
 

dancingalone

Grandmaster
Joined
Nov 7, 2007
Messages
5,321
Reaction score
278
For me, it's as simple as considering the 1st dan rank to be more than "now you're really ready to learn". I've always disliked that interpretation. I DO have a heavy curriculum - it's hard to make 1st dan at my school, and I've promoted < 5 people to that rank. Only 1 2nd dan so far.

But to me the first dan is more than just mere physical knowledge. There's a certain sense of toughness and alertness that I am subjectively looking for prior to even allowing a student to test for the rank. The student also needs to understand our style and be able to apply the principles to a certain level.

There is no dichotomy to the term shodan as I use it.
 

Daniel Sullivan

Grandmaster
MT Mentor
Joined
May 27, 2008
Messages
6,472
Reaction score
269
Location
Olney, Maryland
Kyu or geub grade (or the equivalent thereof) material comprises the foundations of any system.

Shodan, ildan, or whatever equivalent grade a system assigns should represent that the person upon whom the rank is bestowed is proficient in that material.

A KKW TKD first dan should be proficient in reverse punches, jabs, backfists, hammer fists, spear hand, and knife knife hand. Also, low block, inside out and outside in middle blocks, high blocks, twist blocks, all both knife hand and closed-fisted. They should be proficient in the roundhouse kick, front snap kick, side kick, pushing kick, crescent kick, axe kick, hook kick, and back hook kick. They should be able to kick with both the leading leg, the back leg, and to be able to do jump kicks. The student should be able to execute a long stance, back stance, tiger stance, and walking stance. These should be defined stances and the student should be able to transition from one to the other.

And the black belt holder should be able to do all of the forms with crispness, snap, and power, and importantly, correctly.

They should also have some basic knowledge of the philosophy of taekwondo. as there are non martial aspects to the art. This could be as basic as simply knowing the tenets. Most black belt tests (every black belt test that I have had) involve an essay to prove the candidate's knowledge.

Now, by proficient, I mean that he or she should be able to perform each technique in such a way that anyone familiar with the art can recognize each technique for what it is and should be able to fight at a reasonable level using the techniques of Kukki taekwondo.

If there are competition requirements, then those should likewise be met.

None of this is unreasonable for a person who has been studying the art for anywhere from two to four years.

A first dan black belt should not be equivocated to a master, a champion level fighter, or even a regular pro or amateur fighter who simply is not a champion.

Considering that there is a lot more material to be learned than what is required to be a tournament fighter, even for TKD tournaments, I would not expect a two to four year black belt to be the tournament equivalent of a straight boxer with the same amount of time in.

The greater the quantity of material, the longer amount of time it takes to 'master' it. By black belt, the student should be proficient in executing the specific techniques and if the system has forms, the student should be proficient in those as well. They should be able to spar proficiently in the style of the system, whatever that system may be. By spar proficiently, I mean that they should be able to utilize offensive and defensive techniques that are allowed in sparring against a resisting opponent.

Notice that I did not say that the first dan should be able to mop the floor with all comers. Simply be able to use the available techniques in a sparring setting.

Due to the breadth of material in most MA systems, I'd expect no more than proficiency in the techniques and a basic knowledge of the system's philosophy. This give the student the foundation to, as is often said, learn how to learn.

Daniel
 

MBuzzy

Grandmaster
MTS Alumni
Joined
Aug 15, 2006
Messages
5,328
Reaction score
107
Location
West Melbourne, FL
I agree with Bill. honestly, I see no dichotomy. There are many fields where you really can't even BEGIN to learn until you have a solid understanding of a great deal of basics. Take my career for example. I'm an engineer.....It takes at least the first two years of college to even get INTO real engineering work, because you're learning so many basics. then, you only get a light overview of real engineering stuff, because there it too much to know and not enough time. You don't actually LEARN to be an engineer until you've BEEN an engineer.

Black belt is the same way. You ARE a beginner, but you're a beginner is a GREAT DEAL of background. You have to understand all of that history and philosophy in addition to being GOOD at the techniques so taht you can move into more advanced material, hone your understanding of techniques and abstract material, explain things to younger belts and begin to synthesize information.
 

Balrog

Master of Arts
Joined
Feb 11, 2007
Messages
1,722
Reaction score
410
Location
Houston, TX
I love using the college analogy.

A First Degree has just graduated from high school and is ready to start college. They (hopefully) have learned the basics and more importantly, they've learned how to learn.

At Fifth Degree, they've entered graduate school. At Sixth Degree, they've earned their Master's degree and are now ready for post-grad work.
 

jks9199

Administrator
Staff member
Lifetime Supporting Member
Joined
Jul 2, 2006
Messages
22,734
Reaction score
2,976
Location
Northern VA
First level black belt is the completion of one part of training. The student has learned and internalized the basics, and understands a lot of the main principles that underlie them. I'm not suggesting complete understanding -- but that they can do more than simply parrot the moves. And, in my system, we expect a first level black belt to be able to teach when called upon, even if it's not their forte or they don't do it often. They're ready to start building on those basics...
 

KELLYG

2nd Black Belt
Joined
Apr 16, 2008
Messages
717
Reaction score
21
Location
North Carolina
Let's look at it from a different angle entirely. My Grandmothers cooking is tastier my Mothers cooking which is way more Awesome than mine. If I were to have children, my cooking would be better than theirs. Even though we all use the same basic ingredients the flavor differers according to age, experience and personal preference.
 

Z-Man

White Belt
Joined
Mar 16, 2010
Messages
16
Reaction score
0
This is an interesting thread.
In some MA systems it takes no more than two years to earn a shodan, while in other MA systems it may take over ten years to earn a shodan. The level of a ten plus year shodan should be higher than a two year shodan.

To paraphrase Royce Gracie, "A belt covers only several inches of your butt you have to cover the rest."

Some people run around collecting multiple two year shodans, while others focus on the one ten year shodan. IMO there is merit in both approaches. But what I'm getting at is that the martial arts as a whole doe not have a uniform method of giving out rank. So years and quality of training should play a major role in determining the real skill of a "shodan". Just my thoughts on this subject. Thanks for reading it.
 
Top