Understanding the ethics of ranking up

Azulx

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I have tried discussing this with other martial artists and would like to hear more opinions. If a Black belt (ex. 3rd Dan) leaves an association,federation, alliance, etc. to begin his/her own private practice, what are their options in regards to testing to the next rank. Do they they wait appropriate time lengths and honorarily test themselves? Do they find a higher rank from a similar style or same style to give them some type of honorary test?
For example: General Choi began creating modern Taekwon-do after he received his 2nd dan in Karate. Who administered his dan exams from 1st dan to 9th? If he created the system how can someone out rank him to test him?
So to wrap everything up, my main point is, if you begin your own system, what is the most ethical way to continue ranking up?
 
So to wrap everything up, my main point is, if you begin your own system, what is the most ethical way to continue ranking up?
Why do you need to keep ranking up?

As there is no one who can grade you, the most ethical way would be not to grade yourself at all. I don't see that there even a need for you to be graded, I'm not sure Kano or Ueshiba had grades in the arts they created, but I could be wrong.

Just grade your students.
 
Yeah. Don't know. Would be tricky. You would want to be higher that your students. So it depends how good you get them I suppose.
 
I have tried discussing this with other martial artists and would like to hear more opinions. If a Black belt (ex. 3rd Dan) leaves an association,federation, alliance, etc. to begin his/her own private practice, what are their options in regards to testing to the next rank. Do they they wait appropriate time lengths and honorarily test themselves? Do they find a higher rank from a similar style or same style to give them some type of honorary test?
For example: General Choi began creating modern Taekwon-do after he received his 2nd dan in Karate. Who administered his dan exams from 1st dan to 9th? If he created the system how can someone out rank him to test him?
So to wrap everything up, my main point is, if you begin your own system, what is the most ethical way to continue ranking up?

It's a valid question. If you take it all the way back to the beginning of martial arts with belt systems, who gave the first 10th dan belt?

Look at it another way. Around the world, some countries have monarchs and 'Royal Families' and people are judged to be of royal or common blood. How the heck did that start? Some guy clubbed another guy over the head, called himself 'King', others agreed to call him King, and Bob's your uncle, he's King and his brats are 'Royal Family'. Until the next guy clubs the King over the head....

So here's the story...

Typically, if a person starts their own style, with or without having achieved a given rank in any other system, they are whatever rank they say they are. They are, to use the Japanese term, 'soke' or originator of the style, and hence the highest possible rank in that style.

A person off the street could do it, someone with no martial arts training of any kind.

That's bad, though, right? Well, yeah. It's definitely not a good thing for martial arts in general. And a lot of people are doing it. They get some training or they watch some videos or read a book, decide they are qualified to start their own style and off they go. They teach crap because they know crap. The crank out black belts who can't defend themselves and nobody cares, because all the black belts want is that belt, they don't really care that they can't do anything.

Now, more in line with what you were asking, what sometimes happens is that a person who is trained in a given style decides to found their own, different, style. They have 'legitimate' rank in the style they came from, but they lack a higher rank necessary to perpetuate their style.

In these cases, they often either self-promote (as you suggested) or they seek promotion from others. Often the others are an association or a group of martial artists, often a group that is more-or-less in the business of promoting people.

Some associations are more 'legitimate' than others. They have perhaps achieved a degree of legitimacy in the eyes of many martial artists by not simply granting advanced degrees when paid to do so, but by recognizing martial artists who are well-known and respected by many, but who for many legitimate reasons find themselves unable to be promoted. Perhaps they founded their own style and are reluctant to self-promote, but are indeed hard-working martial artists whose contributions are recognized and who have put in the many decades of work to prove they are no fly-by-night or wannabe master. Perhaps they found themselves the sole remaining leader of a style when the highest-ranking master dies without promoting an heir to a higher degree.

So you have people who just do whatever the heck they want. Hey, I'm a 23 year old 11th dan in Rumble-Ryu, the Link Wray Guitar Slinger style. Who is to say I am not? There's no law against it. Besides, join my dojo and you get these cool sunglasses.

Then you have the people who may or may not be legitimate martial artists, but who need, for business reasons, to be higher ranked so they can promote others to high ranks (and get students, etc, etc).

Then you have the serious and legitimate martial artists who for various extremely legitimate reasons, find themselves unable to be promoted due to circumstances beyond their control, but their lifelong work and dedication to the martial arts are worthy of recognition.

The big problem is telling the difference between these fine upstanding individuals.

There are no styles which did not originally have to 'level up' themselves; all recognized martial arts styles started with someone who either self-promoted or was declared to be the highest rank by others. Whether or not that is a good thing or a bad thing is highly dependent on the people involved.
 
Why do you need to keep ranking up?

As there is no one who can grade you, the most ethical way would be not to grade yourself at all. I don't see that there even a need for you to be graded, I'm not sure Kano or Ueshiba had grades in the arts they created, but I could be wrong.

Just grade your students.

Traditionally, a Sensei cannot promote his students to his or her own rank, but only to one rank lower, unless designating an heir, in which the promotion takes effect on the death or retirement of the Soke in question.

But since ranks are essentially meaningless outside of any given organization, it really doesn't matter. Sure, I could create a style in which I myself had no rank but was simply Soke, and I gave out promotions up to whatever rank I wanted to.

Nothing really right or wrong about any of it; it is what it is.
 
Ethically, it's your art that you've created so you can do what you want.

Realistically, any rank that you award yourself (or your students award you or a "Grandmaster's council" awards you) is meaningless. Personally I would just forgo claiming any rank at all in your newly created art.

Rank in a martial art can have several functions. It can be a teaching tool for an instructor to keep track of what material a student needs to be working on. It can be a tool for sorting competitors into divisions where they can be on a relatively even playing field. It can be a tool for providing feedback to a student that they are making progress. It can be a signal that a practitioner has met your standards for becoming an instructor in your system. None of these functions is really relevant to you as the founder of the art.

I sometimes suspect that half the people who create their own styles are motivated by the chance to declare themselves "10th dan" or "grandmaster" or "soke." Such ranks really aren't impressive to anyone who knows anything about the context.

One of the members here, Brian VanCise, has created his own system that he teaches - IRT (Instinctive Response Training). If you check his website you will see that he spells out his training and qualifications in other arts, but claims no rank in IRT. If his system survives and flourishes in the long term he will be remembered as the founder. He doesn't need to impress the rubes by declaring himself to be an umpteenth dan Soke Shihan Grandmaster.
 
Typically, if a person starts their own style, with or without having achieved a given rank in any other system, they are whatever rank they say they are. They are, to use the Japanese term, 'soke' or originator of the style, and hence the highest possible rank in that style.
I don't believe that is quite right. If I'm understanding it correctly, "Soke" is the title for the inheritor of a ryu, not the founder. Of course, that hasn't stopped a zillion American wannabees from declaring themselves to be "Soke" of whatever art they've invented.
 
I have tried discussing this with other martial artists and would like to hear more opinions. If a Black belt (ex. 3rd Dan) leaves an association,federation, alliance, etc. to begin his/her own private practice, what are their options in regards to testing to the next rank. Do they they wait appropriate time lengths and honorarily test themselves? Do they find a higher rank from a similar style or same style to give them some type of honorary test?
For example: General Choi began creating modern Taekwon-do after he received his 2nd dan in Karate. Who administered his dan exams from 1st dan to 9th? If he created the system how can someone out rank him to test him?
So to wrap everything up, my main point is, if you begin your own system, what is the most ethical way to continue ranking up?
Rank...
What is it and what does it mean?
It is the standing one has within a organization. And that is all.
It means whatever the organization deems it to mean within that organization.
How one attains a particular rank will be through the administration of whatever standards are set forth by whomever controls the organization.
Other than that rank is and means nothing.

Someone opens a new business and ranks themselves as president of the organization.
Who gave him/her the rank? What options does he/she have to gain higher rank?

Rank only means what is means within the particular organization that awarded it.
 
I don't believe that is quite right. If I'm understanding it correctly, "Soke" is the title for the inheritor of a ryu, not the founder. Of course, that hasn't stopped a zillion American wannabees from declaring themselves to be "Soke" of whatever art they've invented.

OK, I'm fine with that definition. I think we agree on the overall point though, right?
 
OK, I'm fine with that definition. I think we agree on the overall point though, right?
Yep.

Although I will admit that a self-proclaimed "Soke" makes me roll my eyes harder than a self-proclaimed "10th dan." You can create your own system without having to misuse Japanese terminology.
 
As others have pointed out, there's absolutely nothing stopping you from promoting yourself.
But let's be honest here. You're not "inventing" or "creating" anything. You have training in A. Maybe in B as well. And at most you're combining them.
To me, the obvious thing is to say "I have X rank in A and Y rank in B and I teach both together." And earn your promotions from a legitimate source within A and B.
 
As others have pointed out, there's absolutely nothing stopping you from promoting yourself.
But let's be honest here. You're not "inventing" or "creating" anything. You have training in A. Maybe in B as well. And at most you're combining them.
To me, the obvious thing is to say "I have X rank in A and Y rank in B and I teach both together." And earn your promotions from a legitimate source within A and B.
I think the OP's question was kind of ambiguous on this. Originally the example is just of someone who leaves their current instructor/association and strikes out on their own. In that case I would agree with you. They're not creating their own system, they're just teaching an art without currently being linked to a larger organization.

However, later in the post they mention Choi (who did work on the evolution of karate to modern TKD) and "beginning your own system." That's the part which most people in this thread have been replying to so far.
 
Yep.

Although I will admit that a self-proclaimed "Soke" makes me roll my eyes harder than a self-proclaimed "10th dan." You can create your own system without having to misuse Japanese terminology.

I have learned to bite my tongue. I simply thank my lucky stars that I ended up (almost by accident, or perhaps Providence), training where I train.
 
I have learned to bite my tongue. I simply thank my lucky stars that I ended up (almost by accident, or perhaps Providence), training where I train.
I try to remind myself that being a pretentious, self-aggrandizing, self-promoter with delusions of grandeur and a poor understanding of martial arts history doesn't preclude someone from also being a skilled martial artist and innovator. Given that the founders of my primary art check most of those boxes, I try to withhold judgment when I run across someone boasting their membership in the World Sokeship Council or some such. (I don't always succeed, but I try.)
 
I have tried discussing this with other martial artists and would like to hear more opinions. If a Black belt (ex. 3rd Dan) leaves an association,federation, alliance, etc. to begin his/her own private practice, what are their options in regards to testing to the next rank. Do they they wait appropriate time lengths and honorarily test themselves? Do they find a higher rank from a similar style or same style to give them some type of honorary test?
For example: General Choi began creating modern Taekwon-do after he received his 2nd dan in Karate. Who administered his dan exams from 1st dan to 9th? If he created the system how can someone out rank him to test him?
So to wrap everything up, my main point is, if you begin your own system, what is the most ethical way to continue ranking up?
First, tell me what exactly you think "rank" means?

Peace favor your sword,
Kirk
 
Yep.

Although I will admit that a self-proclaimed "Soke" makes me roll my eyes harder than a self-proclaimed "10th dan." You can create your own system without having to misuse Japanese terminology.

Ignoring the misuse of Japanese terminology, I would rather that they call themselves 'head' or 'founder' than give themselves a 10th dan in the style. By doing this, they are able to remain unranked, so there isn't an issue of how they are ranking, but at the same time, through the privilege of being a head, be able to promote others to a rank that has not yet been reached.

As others have pointed out, there's absolutely nothing stopping you from promoting yourself.
But let's be honest here. You're not "inventing" or "creating" anything. You have training in A. Maybe in B as well. And at most you're combining them.
To me, the obvious thing is to say "I have X rank in A and Y rank in B and I teach both together." And earn your promotions from a legitimate source within A and B.

I think it depends on what type of art he is referring to. Someone else mentioned General Choi..He combined taekkyon and shotokan karate, and while I don't know much about taekkyon, taekwondo and shotokan are completely different styles, so I wouldnt say that rank would be transferable. If someone manages to do a similar thing, and create a completely novel art out of other styles, then IMO they should be called the 'head' for the reason I said to Tony.

If I were to make a style (not that I ever would) it would undoubtedly look very much like a combination of Judo, SKK and Japanese Kenpo. In that situation, I would likely not give myself a rank in the new art, tell people my rank in the other arts when they ask, and wear my belt from one of them (not sure if I would go for highest or lowest). I would also continue training in the other arts so that there isn't an issue in grading my students, and, depending on how big the art becomes, when I am close to passing on I may announce an official successor to have the ability to advance others beyond their rank. More likely the art would be small and I would tell them that if they wished to advance past whatever rank I am at (hopefully a high dan at that point) they would need to get some sort of confirmation from the base arts to do so.

Hope this helps the OP
 
There is a lot of misuse of Chinese terms too. No, "sigung" does not mean grand master.

I've stopped arguing about any terms from various martial arts at all. Too many legitimate discussions, IMHO, devolve into arguments over minutiae that nobody wins. I don't know that much Japanese and a lot of what I think I know is probably wrong. I'm OK with being wrong, so if I'm corrected, I just move on. No need ot get all wrapped around the axle over it. I looked up 'soke' after I was corrected on its use. Clearly I am wrong, so no problems!

But either way, I'd rather just discuss the issue and not various terms used to discuss it. Just so long as we all understand what is meant, right?
 
I think it depends on what type of art he is referring to. Someone else mentioned General Choi..He combined taekkyon and shotokan karate,

No, he did not. Taekkyon is a dead art. The only people who claim to have trained in it during the Japanese occupation are in the category of "unverifiable", at best, with "utter nonsense" being more common.
The founders of TKD were primarily trained in Shotokan, with a little Judo and Kung Fu in the mix. Tang Soo Do and Soo Bahk Do, which still teach pre-unification forms, use the pinan forms. Which any student of Shotokan will recognise...
General Choi started with his Shotokan training, developed (with others) a new set of poomsae and curriculum that increased the focus on kicking, and renamed it.

and while I don't know much about taekkyon, taekwondo and shotokan are completely different styles,

They really aren't, not at their roots. The TKD founders changed the emphasis some, to stress kicking. But they're still very similar.

Ultimately, rank has no meaning outside the school or system that issued it.
If you want legitimacy, I say call your school anything you like, and teach the style(s) you have rank in while being up front about the origins and your rank, and pursue rank within a legitimate organization for that style.
If you want a veneer of legitimacy, there are certainly any number of places that will sell you a pretty certificate to hang on your wall.
 
No, he did not. Taekkyon is a dead art. The only people who claim to have trained in it during the Japanese occupation are in the category of "unverifiable", at best, with "utter nonsense" being more common.
The founders of TKD were primarily trained in Shotokan, with a little Judo and Kung Fu in the mix. Tang Soo Do and Soo Bahk Do, which still teach pre-unification forms, use the pinan forms. Which any student of Shotokan will recognise...
General Choi started with his Shotokan training, developed (with others) a new set of poomsae and curriculum that increased the focus on kicking, and renamed it.



They really aren't, not at their roots. The TKD founders changed the emphasis some, to stress kicking. But they're still very similar.

Ultimately, rank has no meaning outside the school or system that issued it.
If you want legitimacy, I say call your school anything you like, and teach the style(s) you have rank in while being up front about the origins and your rank, and pursue rank within a legitimate organization for that style.
If you want a veneer of legitimacy, there are certainly any number of places that will sell you a pretty certificate to hang on your wall.
This doesn't really affect my argument. My argument was not focused primarily on TKD, I just used it as an example since he was mentioned earlier, apparently it was a bad example.

I still stand by the statement that if you manage to create an art that is novel (no idea how you would do it), then it would be improper to use your rank in a previous art when discussing your credentials. Instead, if you actually manage to make something novel, you let the art itself and your ability speak for itself, while you simply call yourself, accurately, the 'head' or the 'founder' of the art.
 

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