Rank Inflation

Makalakumu

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As part of the my research for the book that I'm writing, I started looking up the numbers of 10th, 9th, 8th, and 7th dans I could find my simple google searches. The numbers are pretty amazing...and a little depressing. There are so many, how do you tell who is legitimate anymore? How much do these high ranks matter when you've got a dozen or more studios in major cities run by people with these high ranks? I've always suspected that there was a serious case of rank inflation, but I never took the time to actually look. Now, I am simply amazed.

When does it end? Surely, someone will break the magic number of 10 one of these days and then the Pandora's Box of dans will be open. I think all of this calls into question the legitimacy of Jigoro Kano's Dan-Kyu system. The whole thing is beginning to look like a joke!
 

Sukerkin

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My sensei agrees with you wholeheartedly, Mauna. That and the creeping commercialisation of martial arts teaching even over here in England are two of his 'grey hair' points of concern for the future of the arts.
 

Jimi

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I remember reading somewhere that someone actually claimed a 15th Degree Black Belt. Forget the Assoc. & person, but WOW! How's that for inflation? Like most peoples opinions, the rank only carries so much weight, experienced people in the Arts see that skill, knowledge & ability to teach are far more respected. JMHO. PEACE JIMI
 

Blindside

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I'm all for it, everyone should have a belt full of stripes, and then what will matter?

Oh yeah, skill. I'm ok with that.
 

exile

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I see rank inflation as yet another expression of the serious insecurity that MAists in particular are prone to. Unless you're a bouncer/doorman type, like Geoff Thompson, Peyton Quinn or Peter Consterdine, you probably don't do street combat on a regular enough basis to have a 'track record' for walking away from a serious brawl in one piece (and the other guy... not so much). You don't have a real street-violence resum矇, IOW. And if, like probably the rest of the great majority of MAists, you don't have an active tournament career (possibly for excellent reasons, such as no interest at all in the sports side of your MA), you don't have a track record there either. So what's left? Once upon a time, the number of MAists was small enough that pretty much everyone in a given region knew everyone else. But now that's surely not true. What can you do to show how good you are?

So people wind up obsessing about rank, because there isn't necessarily any good way to quantify just how 'good' you are. It's like anything else: no one wants to be lower in the pecking order than they have to be, but the MAs are odd because, after a certain point, it's not that easy to say just how good someone is—there's no consensus about standards. So external trappings, like rank, which supposedly correlate with skill level (even though, as has repeatedly been noted, it doesn't really work that way after 5th dan, in many arts, and even though lower rank may simply mean that a highly skilled practitioners didn't bother to test again after reaching a certain dan level), becomes very important to people who, for whatever reason, just have to rub your face in how good they are but don't really have anything they can point to that stands as an objective metric of quality. Any activity in which you have a situation like that is bound to start seeing people making absurd claims about their status using whatever the going currency in that activity is.

As I say, with gazillions of people in the MAs, the possibility of discouraging exaggerated claim-making by invoking firsthand knowledge of who's who in the arts is no longer really possible. And I'll bet it's going to get more so, not less, as time goes on.
 
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Kwan Jang

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A major cause of this problem is that far too many instructors mistakenly believe that the majority of the public really cares what your/their rank is. There are two main ways many school owners will try distinguish themselves from the other schools, at least by the school owners who don't really know how to market, by inflating their rank or by claiming championships. It used to be common that you could go to any major USA city and look in the phone book and you could find several (sometime literally dozens of) "world champions". This trend destroyed the value of what a champion was. The same has/is happening regarding rank inflation. By claiming a rank that they have not earned, it obviously de-values the accomplishment of those who have earned these levels.

What these instructors fail to understand is that to the VAST majority of potential students or parents out there, they usually really don't care. They care what you can do for them or their child and not how many stripes you have on your belt or what your teaching title is. There may be a small percentage that will try one school over another because the instructor's rank is higher due to perceived value, but there is a much higher percentage who will simply choose a school because it is more expensive because that is a greater perceived value that they can relate to more. (example: "I don't know anything about vacuum cleaners, but when I need a new one, I'll get the most expensive one because I figure it's the best").

For the vast majority of prospective students, it's going to be word of mouth/referrals that are going to bring people into your school. Secondary things are going to be your effective marketing campaigns and these are aimed at 'Mom' because she controls most families schedule and a great deal of the money allocation (and not just for the kids). The 16-24 year old guy with no money for lessons may care what dan you are or what championship you've won, but most Mom's don't. BTW, it's how professional and orgainized an operation that you run, how clean you keep your school, ect. that will get her to enroll her kids. It's the quality of what happens on the training floor that will retain the students or convince her to let her ("closet Bruce Lee or UFC fighter") husband join and bring her and her other kids into the school. If you handle all of these elements well, then you can have a 'raving fan' who will tell all the other Moms she knows.

In fairness to the other side of this situation, there are many more legitimate high dans these days as well. In the '60's and '70's, how many people in the USA or Europe had been training 30-50 years? For that matter, how many had been training consistantly that long in Asia? The days of having only a small in group being the only people with access to training in the martial arts is long past. There are far more people who have made the martial arts a major part of their lives for decades and if we are good teachers, these numbers will continue to grow. Also, many of this generations 'masters' are far better trained than many of those who came before (at least the ones who legitimately came up through the ranks and are not either self promoted or belong to orgs. that water down the standards). I hope that the future generations will continue to evolve and surpass the best of this generation. And as more students come into the arts and more are retained by better teaching methods, the numbers of legit high dans should grow dramatically. They should also be of generally higher quality than the handful at that rank of the past.
 

Brad Dunne

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Who's to blame?

Is it the one's who came over here to the U.S.? Got on a plane at one rank and got off the plane here 3 or 4 ranks higher.

Mabey it's the proliferation of 10 year old black belts, that when they reach the age for adult Dan ranking become senior Dan holders at young ages.

Or is it the one's who decided to pay homage to any and all books they read on the arts, attended a seminar or two or even went so far as to actually attend a different school for a few lessons and then claimed to be certified in this or that or even gave themselves a rank to boot.

Could it be the one's who have a modicum of training, but have deep pockets and were willing to buy their way to the top and from someone/organization that is considered at least quasi-legit.

Perhaps it's those that were orphaned by their instructor and were forced to fend for themselves or be willing to spend big bucks for that honorable piece of paper.

Whatever the situation, it was perpetuated by those that came before us and initiated the procedures. Good, bad or indifferent, it's called follow the leader.

As an aside, it was stated that today's MA'ist's have been in the trenches for decades, so it's not that unreasonable to find legit high ranking people. The problem there is that one can't see the forest for the trees......
 

Tames D

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I remember reading somewhere that someone actually claimed a 15th Degree Black Belt. Forget the Assoc. & person, but WOW! How's that for inflation? Like most peoples opinions, the rank only carries so much weight, experienced people in the Arts see that skill, knowledge & ability to teach are far more respected. JMHO. PEACE JIMI
Your thinking of William Chow. He claimed it and to my knowledge no one ever tried to take it away from him.
 

bluekey88

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First of all...kwanjang really madfe some good points. Rank inlfation is due, in part, to "marketing." Also how to run a good commercial program and avoid going the McDojo route.

The other thing to keep in mind is the human tendency to "group." Get more than two people in a room doing the same thing for long enough and one way or other they will start to group. If we didn't have "rank...it'd seniority, fight record, number of calsses attended, fanciest uniform...something.

We'd be sittking here bemoaning ghow people inflate their fihg records with made up fights or taking on little kids (a la Kramer)...

Humans stratify and group themselves...then they find ways to game the "rules" to climb the ladder. There's no escaping it.

Peace,
Erik
 

searcher

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We have all lost sight with what the rank system was started for and have changed it from goal setting/knowledge base to a thing of marketing. My main instructor, myself, and my BB students have been kickingaround the idea of doing away with the Dan ranking. One of my instructors has already done so and it seems to be going great for him.

I guess we could go back to things like the thickness of your calluses and by how good your students are at various things, but it would not take long before we go right back to this whole mess.
 

terryl965

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Welcome to the world of mis beliefs and the whole I need to be better than anyone else syndrome. The bad thing is it does put out that I got **** feeling for all of us.
 

DeLamar.J

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Most of the time when someone asks me my rank I just say Im a brown belt in kung fu and a brown belt in karate. Im ashamed to say Im a black belt, and I dont want to associate myself with all the wanna be punks out there.
 

Archangel M

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Throw in the "cross promotion" issue while we are at it. We have all seen the case where a person who is ranked in one style rubs elbows with a 10th in another system and before you know it gets a high rank.

Although, to play devils advocate, what is the real harm? Would a poor 3rd dan opening up multiple McDojos be better or worse than a 10th? Who is harmed? The students? The practicioners in the art with lesser rank having to compete for the "market share" or is it for the sake of "the art"??

In my experience, when I was a kid I was more interested in what style was being taught with how close and how expensive factored in. An uberbelt in a style I didnt think was "cool" would have been passed over for a 1st dan teaching a style I thought was. Of course closer and cheaper made it a little bit "cooler" too. ;)
 

LawDog

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In my area we have a Self promoted 12th Dan who is in his mid 40's. His senior rank is an 11th Dan with only 11 years in Kempo. Go figure!
Lucky me, his Kempo school is only two miles from my Kenpo school.
The key is span of control, do the senior ranks have enough ranks under them to warrant his / her rank? Do they all have real time in grade that includes the proper amount of floor hours of actual training.
I was always taught that one must floor train at least 6 hours a week to receive credit for one week out of the year. Today most participate in two 45 m. classes a week and it really shows.
I keep records of my students hours and I do not count self training or training under the guidence of Master DVD.
This is called quality control for both student and Instructor alike.
 

hkfuie

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I am acquainted with a 12th dan. I am embarrassed for this person. This person was at one time well respected as a martial artist. I don't know what the current rep is in this person's hometown. Unfortunately, it is something I have to try to ignore in my esteem of this person. I haven't asked yet, but I HOPE it was something some misguided student did in an attempt to honor his teacher.

It may impress people who know nothing of the martial arts. But to me, it is an unfortunate sign that a person has given in to wanting an ego massage. Rather than appreciate what they truly have accomplished in the martial arts, they want some kind of recognition for the outside world.

I think this is a failing all humans are vulnerable to. I take it as a warning to remember. I don't want to ever fall into that trap.
 

IcemanSK

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There was a time when rank was supposed to mean something: that someone earned it. The more I do this, the more I think of the line from "The Karate Kid."

Daniel: "Hey, what kind of belt do you have?"

Miyagi: "Canvas, you like?"

If your MA is only around you waist, it's worth very little.
 

searcher

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I want to lay claim on being the first 15th Dan.:rolleyes: :barf:


Anyone else want one, all you have to do is send me $19.95 and I will let you have one also.;)
 

Tez3

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MA isn't the only area where people feel the need to inflate their rank, the area I live in is a big military base, it employs many civilians many of whom are ex-service people. Many of these when you talk to them inflate the rank they had when in, we had one guy who worked with us who said he'd been a Warrant Officer, however his old regiment was posted in with many people who still knew him. Warrant Officer? No, he'd been a lance corporal in the stores lol!
The martial arts equivilant I think is a 10th Dan who can't fight when needed or doesn't have the knowledge expected and gets found out.
It's all about ego in the end though sadly.
 
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