How Rank is Handled in the Bujinkan.

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Brian R. VanCise

Brian R. VanCise

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That's how I always handled it until I got whacked with a 15th dan -- never listed my actual rank on my website. The only reason that changed is because I got "outed" by someone on a couple of martial-art forums before I even got back from Japan, so there was no longer any point. . .

Is it "advertising" or just placing information about themselves on their website?

If it is meaningful to a person that her/his teacher believes that s/he has achieved a level of improvement over numerous previous such evaluation times, then is is "bad" for that person to show publicly that the assessment is meaningful?

It was very meaningful to *MY TEACHER* (and thusly me) when Soke first ranked me. The rank told my teacher that his own assessments were generally correct and that he was teaching in a way that even Soke recognized as providing a field for growing.

Certainly, most people would agree that the assessment of certain people can be more meaningful than the assessment of other people. It means a lot to me when Mr. ABC provides me with a positive assessment of my accomplishments than when Mr. ZYX does.

I wouldn't consider that "advertising," personally, but maybe you would....



Perhaps, they do. Perhaps, they don't.

Perhaps just the ones that have websites do.... ;)

I know quite a few Shidoshi who have no website and do not display their ranks. I know many, many Shidoshi who share my perspective that any student who wants to train with them solely because of the size of their number on their certificate should be swiftly shown to the door. Many Shidoshi go through tremendous pains to only let the "right students" stick around. I include Soke in this grouping as well. ;)



I would argue that a high percentage of Shidoshi do *NOT* even have a website, but that's just my opinion based on nothing more than my own personal rolodex of people I know and how darn difficult it is to find them when my batteries go dead on my Palm. LOL! ;)

As to your question about naivety, this is why it is very important for people to train regularly in Japan. People need to get knocked around a bit for asking stupid question and thinking stupid things. Over time, their views start to change.

Granted, it sounds like a lot of you folks here are concerned with these darn trips to Japan and how people come back with ranks. LOL! (shake head)

Like I said, get exposure to the "right people" and all these petty questions just seem to disappear.

-ben

This thread is very, very, very interesting and so far entertaining and enlightening.
icon10.gif
Really whether you keep you rank hidden or it is out in the open is not I believe what is important. What is important is that you push your ego to the side and train and continue to train and improve. That is the bottom line. Do not get caught up in rank in any means as it will not help you in the moment so to speak! In other words in a self defense and combative martial art rank is just a piece of paper that will not help you at all when you are attacked in this world. Try not to place to much emphasis on it or in turn let it place it's own hold on you. If you are a Jugodan then you had better train and train hard (and smart) and if you are not then you had better train and train hard (and smart) because otherwise you may get a rude surprise someday.
 

Seattletcj

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This is why exposure to the Japanese (and naturally trips to Japan will do this for you ;) ) is so important. Without understanding the Japanese way of contextualizing information, you can never have a "Japanese heart." Without an understanding of the Japanese heart, you can never understand Soke or his actions.

-ben

I disagree (as usual, right :) ). I would not say that your view of Japan is really all inclusive. It may be more appropriate to differentiate between 'Japanese', and Japanese Bujinkan.
Judo, Karate, Aikido, and other koryu are far more popular then Bujinkan in Japan. Even catch wrestling, boxing, shooto, mma, and kickboxing are more popular in Japan then Bujinkan. The first 3 systems which are taught from grade school up have belt rankings based on some sort of standards.
I've heard Judo is the second largest sport practiced worldwide behind soccer. And thats a Japanese tradition.

To ignore this would be inappropriate when discussing the 'Japanese heart'.
You would be ignoring the Japanese people in large part, IMO.

You may be correct if you are talking about historical Japanese culture and literature. Its romantic, but not necessarily the reality of the present Japanese majority.
 

Carol

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Popularity does not equate to adherence to traditions.
 

Cryozombie

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This is the same learning process, and does not entail any sort of "bullying because the teacher is mean." A good thump on the head because a student has completely ignored previous advice and still thinks that his way is better is deserved in my opinion.

Your mileage may vary.

-ben

THAT is exactly how I took your initial comment... but maybe becuase you did it to me at that seminar every time I didnt do what you told me to. So I understood where you were coming from.

:D
 

Rich Parsons

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That's how I always handled it until I got whacked with a 15th dan -- never listed my actual rank on my website. The only reason that changed is because I got "outed" by someone on a couple of martial-art forums before I even got back from Japan, so there was no longer any point. . .


Dale et al,

My Condolences, oh I mean my congratulations, oh I mean boy do I understand what you mean on a smaller scale that is. Someone gives you rank or title and then others are surprised when you say, I still have to train or work on personal continued performance and improvement.

Thanks for sharing.
 

Tenguru

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In all fairness to those with little familarity with Japan, and thus a greater naivety regarding the meaning of rank emanating from Japan, I turn to one of my favorite authors
...
-ben

Even Japanese people are a little suspicious of 30 year old 15th dans. AFAIK, the kyu-dan grading system was created by a Japanese man named Dr. Jigoro Kano. There are definite minimum requirements for Kodokan dan ranking. It seems like Soke Hatsumi is the one deviating from the traditional Japanese dan ranking system by playing very loose and flexible with the way he awards dan grades. So I'm a little bothered by you saying that it is just lack of context due to being an American with little exposure to Japanese culture. Soke Hatsumi's ideas on ranking are very different from most traditional Japanese arts.

Am I being negative about the ranking system? No. I am saying that I understand how it may raise some peoples eyebrows, so to speak.
 

Tenguru

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This thread is very, very, very interesting and so far entertaining and enlightening.
icon10.gif
Really whether you keep you rank hidden or it is out in the open is not I believe what is important. What is important is that you push your ego to the side and train and continue to train and improve. That is the bottom line. Do not get caught up in rank in any means as it will not help you in the moment so to speak! In other words in a self defense and combative martial art rank is just a piece of paper that will not help you at all when you are attacked in this world. Try not to place to much emphasis on it or in turn let it place it's own hold on you. If you are a Jugodan then you had better train and train hard (and smart) and if you are not then you had better train and train hard (and smart) because otherwise you may get a rude surprise someday.

Preach on, brother! I totally agree with you.
 

Dale Seago

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Someone gives you rank or title and then others are surprised when you say, I still have to train or work on personal continued performance and improvement.

That looks like a superb expression of the idea that the meaning of rank is personal.

I remember someone mentioning to me at the '99 Daikomyosai (Kukishin ryu) training in Japan that Soke really wanted to see the Judan+ instructors wearing their "Electric Persimmon" Bujin uniform patches. So I wore mine. I know because I just went back and looked at part of the Daikomyosai video for that year. But I think I only wore it for the first day, and I've never worn it -- at home or abroad -- since then.

The way my rank finally ended up getting written into my website FAQ, since everybody always wants to know an instructor's rank and my cover was already blown, was:

Q: What is his current rank?
A:
Hatsumi sensei promoted Dale to 15th dan at the end of November, 2005 after 22 years of training. Dale remains a dedicated student.
 

Tenguru

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That looks like a superb expression of the idea that the meaning of rank is personal.

I remember someone mentioning to me at the '99 Daikomyosai (Kukishin ryu) training in Japan that Soke really wanted to see the Judan+ instructors wearing their "Electric Persimmon" Bujin uniform patches. So I wore mine. I know because I just went back and looked at part of the Daikomyosai video for that year. But I think I only wore it for the first day, and I've never worn it -- at home or abroad -- since then.

The way my rank finally ended up getting written into my website FAQ, since everybody always wants to know an instructor's rank and my cover was already blown, was:

The tone and content of Dale's posts represent the Bujinkan very positively. I think you are an asset to the organization. Ok ... back to the topic at hand.
 

Carol

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Dale you have such an extensive professional resume, your rank is irrelevant.

Ultimately, it is the student's decision as to whether that school and that instructor is right for them. Rank has nothing to do with it.

However, for someone like me that momentarily explored Bujinkan schools...I didn't find one that was lead by an instructor such as yourself. The one that was closest to the place where I commute to is a school where the instructor's only professional applications of his training are his teaching.

That's not a bad thing.

However, Bujinkan schools isn't quite like, say, Kempo, where I have two 10th degree Grandmasters within a 2 mile radius of my home. The Buj schools are a bit sparse, and many require a bit of a drive.

The instructors that share their rank on their website are at least showing that the school isn't run someone simply calling himself a Ninja.
 

Tenguru

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The instructors that share their rank on their website are at least showing that the school isn't run someone simply calling himself a Ninja.

That's an excellent point. Regardless of why or how you earned your rank, the fact that you have it shows that you have "paid" your dues and the organization has recognized your efforts.
 

jks9199

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More so in the Bujinkan, from my understanding. The 5th Dan test is one of the only ranking with strident conditions (that I am aware of). You also can open your own dojo. The ranking per visit is a bit silly though...

Is this similar in other arts? I personally like a bit more stringent conditions. I'd like to know that someone is better in skill as they progress in rank.
I think all ranks in most systems have a large political/social element, even if they supposedly have specific grading criteria. It's simply a reflection of the human side of the equation... Even efforts to quantify and structure promotional processes still leave a lot of subjective grading criteria. I've been taught in a system that seldom stressed rank; most lessons were taught to everyone, and very few were limited to black belts or advanced black belts. There were elements that were directed at black belts (usually), and there were things taught at black belt levels with (I believe) the intent that the black belt be able to assimilate it more quickly, and then share it with his or her students. (Didn't always work.)

For a long time, promotion within the black belt ranks was the sole province of the chief instructor; sometimes, it seemed as if his criteria was simply getting a list from the association secretary -- other times, some people were promoted to a target position and others ignored. Don't know... It was his call, not mine. I haven't personally felt like playing the "rank game" for a while... I let the people whom I have trained and the people who I respect and who respect me speak for me, if that makes sense.
 

stephen

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Even Japanese people are a little suspicious of 30 year old 15th dans. AFAIK, the kyu-dan grading system was created by a Japanese man named Dr. Jigoro Kano. There are definite minimum requirements for Kodokan dan ranking. It seems like Soke Hatsumi is the one deviating from the traditional Japanese dan ranking system by playing very loose and flexible with the way he awards dan grades. So I'm a little bothered by you saying that it is just lack of context due to being an American with little exposure to Japanese culture. Soke Hatsumi's ideas on ranking are very different from most traditional Japanese arts.

Am I being negative about the ranking system? No. I am saying that I understand how it may raise some peoples eyebrows, so to speak.

Maybe this is the case with the relatively new kyu/dan system. Wasnt it the case with the older menkyo system that menkyo kaiden and the like were often issued to the very young (students in their late teens/low 20s)?

One could then take the 15 dan ranks and arbitrarily divide them thusly:
1st dan - Shoden
5th dan - Chuden
10th dan - Okuden
15th dan - Menkyo Kaiden

Interesting.....Starting to look more old school to me.

Also, Ive heard one of the senior Japanese shihan make a comment somewhat like, Rank is like your age; at the age of 15 a young man was given a sword and sent into battle.

Was that 15 year old boy at the height of his lifelong martial skill? Probably not, but the point I took away was that he was now on his own. If he was killed, it was his fault as the teacher had taught him all he knew.

I guess, when I think about it, I tend to see of all the ranks in this manner.
 

Dale Seago

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Even Japanese people are a little suspicious of 30 year old 15th dans. AFAIK, the kyu-dan grading system was created by a Japanese man named Dr. Jigoro Kano. There are definite minimum requirements for Kodokan dan ranking. It seems like Soke Hatsumi is the one deviating from the traditional Japanese dan ranking system by playing very loose and flexible with the way he awards dan grades. So I'm a little bothered by you saying that it is just lack of context due to being an American with little exposure to Japanese culture. Soke Hatsumi's ideas on ranking are very different from most traditional Japanese arts.

Am I being negative about the ranking system? No. I am saying that I understand how it may raise some peoples eyebrows, so to speak.

Here's how I 'splain it at my website:

Q: What about belt ranks - kyu and dan grades?
A:
These are a recent development in Japanese arts. The old arts have shoden, chuden, and okuden (low, middle, and advanced) levels, with the hiden or secret oral teachings passed only to a select few. Bujinkan students do not receive kyu or dan ranks in any of the nine systems, but Hatsumi sensei has instituted such grades for the Bujinkan "umbrella" organization. The current rank structure is modern, in the sense that kyu and dan grades are used; yet it also harks back to the ancient shoden/chuden/okuden form in that there are three general levels of training and understanding.

There are nine kyu grades (beginning with 9th and advancing through first), signified by a green belt worn by the practitioner. These are followed by fifteen dan grades, signified by a black belt. The kyu ranks, essentially, are preparation to become a student of Bujinkan budo; and one is considered to be ready to really begin learning at first dan or first-degree black belt.

The dan ranks or black belt grades are divided into three general levels: Ten, Chi, Jin or Heaven, Earth, and Man, as follows:

  • [FONT=Tahoma, Arial, sans-serif] 1st through 5th dan: Heaven[/FONT]
  • [FONT=Tahoma, Arial, sans-serif]6th through 10th dan: Earth[/FONT]
  • [FONT=Tahoma, Arial, sans-serif]11th through 15th dan: Man [/FONT][FONT=Tahoma, Arial, sans-serif] [/FONT]
These correspond roughly to the old shoden, chuden, and okuden levels of training.
Since Hatsumi sensei is the soke or inheritor of the nine systems, he can reorganize the training material and the rank structure of the Bujinkan as he sees fit: All ranks emanate from him. The approach to ranking in the Bujinkan is vastly different from that of other arts. In most martial arts the rank structure denotes specific skill sets for standardized grades, and also establishes a hierarchical authority structure - what in the military would be called a chain of command. In the Bujinkan, rank does neither. People in other martial arts inevitably find this confusing; but then, so do Bujinkan members.

Hatsumi sensei has for many years staunchly resisted pleas from Bujinkan members to establish specific measurable criteria for ranks, explaining that such an approach tends to "kill" a real martial art because people tend to focus on what they need to pass a rank test rather than on the essential principles which will allow them to respond freely and appropriately in actual life protection. He has instead encouraged instructors to establish their own standards for their own training groups.

At the same time, he has followed no easily discernible criteria for his own award of ranks above 5th dan. Dan ranks are not certain indicators of an instructor's technical proficiency or teaching ability, and they do not confer any specific authority over others of a lower grade.


The only meaningful conclusion which can be drawn about Bujinkan ranking is that its meaning is a personal thing between the teacher who awards it and the student who receives it. Each rank awarded to each person is, in reality, as unique as any actual combat encounter.


It's also worth noting that, while the rank structure going up to 15th dan was in place for many years beforehand, no one -- including the Japanese shihan -- was actually promoted to that grade until April, 2004.
 

rutherford

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However, for someone like me that momentarily explored Bujinkan schools...I didn't find one that was lead by an instructor such as yourself. The one that was closest to the place where I commute to is a school where the instructor's only professional applications of his training are his teaching.

Carol, you've exceeded your storage limit for private messages.
 

Fallen Ninja

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Thanks guys for all the information. It has been really helpful for my view of our art.
 

makoto-dojo

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I think it is important to point out errors in your comment then....

You wrote, "While in the bujinkan Tanemura Sensei had the rank of 9th dan and vice president at a time when ranks stopped at 9th dan (10th being the next grandmaster)."

This is untrue. Hatsumi-sensei had discussed the issue of 15th dans as early as 1983 *BEFORE* Tanemura left.

Hello Ben, thank you for your reply. I will say that (and I know you wre not involved in the Bujinkan in the 80's so you might not know this, but seeing as I was...) In the 80's it was commonly said that the rank stopped at 9th dan, 10th being Next Soke, some japanese Shihan also stated this. HOWEVER, I will defer to you and your knowledge on this. So if you say this was incorrect, then I will accept it as being incorrect.


IMoreover, you are clearly not the first one to imply that ranks are meaningless today but somehow they were meaningful "back in the day." Steve Hayes, Alex Mordine, Wayne Roy and Brian McCarthy all use this tact. Highlighting Tanemura's "9th dan" as meaningful is simply silly--about a silly as someone complaining that someone is too young to be a 15th dan.

I do believe you are reading into my post. I will clairify for you and anyone else who might be confused... I do not think that Bujinkan ranks are meaningless at all, in the "old days" or today. I believe they serve as a tool, be it by design of your Kancho or not is not important. So no, I am not saying that ranks in the Bujinkan nowadays mean less than they did in the old days. I will go on record as saying that ranks in the Bujinkan in the old days were in fact much harder to come by and leave it at that. Interpret to taste, You will anyway... ;)

My intention was to show Tanemura Soke's position in the kan at that time, nothing more nothing less...

IMoreover, in light of the comments in this thread about *WHY* people are given certain levels within the Bujinkan, to point out that Tanemura was "vice president" but to *NOT* point out that he was also Hatsumi-sensei's cousin (by marriage) is a bit misleading, in my opinion. Wouldn't you agree? ;)

No, not at all. I do not agree. I am assuming that you are trying infer that Tanemura Soke's "position" of vice preseident was not due to any sort of skill but instead due to his "relationship" to your kancho.

That would be pure speculation on your part first of all, and second is again meaningless in terms of having anything to do with my post. Again my citation was to show position in the structure of the kan. It matters not how the position is achieved in the end. If you work fora company and the C.E.O.'s son is your boss and only got that position based on his relationship to te C.E.O. it matters not, if he tells you to clean the toilet, you still have to clean the toilet. In any regard, for the record, it is *MY* assumption knowledge and skill had some part in the appointing of the position.. But whatever, not important in the long run either way...



IAnd skill.... ;) Anyone with "the eyes to see" can see that....

Cheers!

-ben
Well having been eye to eye with Tanemura Soke on more than one occasion and having 23 years of bujinkan experience. I will go on record as saying I must not have these same eyes as you. But then again, I also don't see invisible balls floating in space like you do either so there ya go! ;)

I have never been so happy being blind.. :)

In the end Ben, I must say that having a balanced open conversation with you is difficult at best, do to your myopic view and bias against all things NOT Mr. Hatsumi. I can appreciate you respect for the man and all...

Also FYI I REALLY have no interest in ongoing point counter point exchanges on this or really any subject. It takes too much time, and I am too busy.

So please feel free to have the last word, I amde just about all the points I can regarding the subject matter.

to others, again, Sumimasen for the drift in your thread.

Sincerely,
 

Kreth

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Are you saying it comes down to $$$?
I'm saying that there are several high-ranking Bujinkan members who are obviously focused primarily on how big of a personal empire they can build. Pimping their rank is just part of the picture. And no, I'm not referring to Dale here.

What do you say to the fact that a high percentage of BJK websites advertise the rank of the instructor though ? It dosent seem that they are aware that their ranks are not to be used as a method of measurement.
And don't forget the "personal student" quote, or "first American in [insert increasingly small geographic area here] to pass his godan test on the first cut."
 

bencole

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Even Japanese people are a little suspicious of 30 year old 15th dans.

Um... They certainly never seemed to mind individuals being named "Soke" or given "Menkyo Kaiden" at about that age, so I have no idea why they would be concerned with 30 year old 10th dans....

(Note: I say "10th" dans here, because the rank of "15th dan" is specific to the Bujinkan and, in all honesty, signifies multiple levels of 10th dan. Anyway...)

Your point about the Japanese being "suspicious of 30 year old mega dans" falls flat when you look at the history of martial arts.

Yagyu Jubei Mitsuyoshi was teaching the shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu before the age of 25, and Okita Sōji (of Kondo Isami's Shinsengumi) earned Menkyo Kaiden before he was 20!

Even in the 20th century, Minoru Mochizuki received "Goshinyo no te" and "Hiden ogi no koto" of Daito Ryu from Ueshiba at the ripe age of 25 (!) and after just two years of training (!). Granted, Mochizuki had trained with Kano and others prior to that so he had skills, but come now, this idea that Japanese are suspicious of 30 year olds with mega-dans is hogwash.

As for ranks for reasons other than skill, in the 20th century again, Kisshomaru Ueshiba was placed in charge of the entire Shinjuku Kobukan Dojo at the age of 21, and after only 5 years of training with his father! (Thanks, Dad! LOL!)

Finally, as for the practice of "adding ranks" to reflect changing needs, Morihei Ueshiba personally increased the "maximum rank" in Aikido from 8th dan to 10th, when he gave Koichi Tohei 10th dan at the ripe age of 49!

I don't see critics of the Bujinkan ranking system ripping into the "mismatch" of age and rank in Aikido, political appointment by the founder of the art, or complaining about Ueshiba's adding of ranks as "playing very loose and flexible."

Tenguru said:
It seems like Soke Hatsumi is the one deviating from the traditional Japanese dan ranking system by playing very loose and flexible with the way he awards dan grades.

Please check your history. This focus on "rank" and "age" and "objectiveness" is *PURELY* a 20th century creation, based more on Western influences than anything else. Again, it is an influence of the low context need of Americans, imo.

Tenguru said:
Soke Hatsumi's ideas on ranking are very different from most traditional Japanese arts.

Again, please check your history of "traditional Japanese arts."

-ben
 
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