What Rank are You? – Feb. 20, 2014, Kim Taylor, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph ON, Nanadan

When we started iaido there were no grading systems in place. My sensei simply said “someone wants to know your rank, just get on the floor and show them your rank”.

I haven’t found any reason to pay much attention to any other ranking system since that one is the real URL (universal rank locator). Having said that, I spend a lot of time talking about other kinds of rank with folks because I am involved in handing the stuff out. Folks really don’t have to tell me they figure it’s very political, I’m the politician trying to get it done. Much of the time I’m in negotiations to get the grading approved, and then in negotiations with other folks to get panelists to sit. Thankfully there’s enough administration structure in place that I don’t have to actually line up chairs and tables much any more, or keep track of who passed and who didn’t. I even get involved in what’s on the test itself and on what weight one should apply to this or that aspect of the training. Note please that all of that is negotiation. In no case do I get to simply say “this is the way it is”.

Ah for the good old days when I could simply say to a student “you know everything I know so get out, here’s a bit of paper for you in case anyone wants to see a bit of paper”. I got to do that with my self defence course, and I suppose there’s nothing stopping me doing it with my various martial arts. Except I’m in an organization because my teacher is in that organization, simple as that.

If you teach under an organization, you still issue solo certification. Think I don’t? By signing my student’s grading permission form I am saying “I think you are this rank”. It’s certification of rank/level folks, recognition of minimum standards achieved, not some sort of divine gift of ability, that you get with your rank certificate. Now, if a few of my peers don’t think you deserve your rank at a grading, or if you mess up the order of the kata because you aren’t good a tests, is that any comment on your ability and knowledge according to what your sensei says? No it isn’t. If I sign your request to grade and a panel says you don’t pass, it’s that panel discussing things with me, not a comment on you. (Or if you screw up the order of the kata and that’s a mandatory fail point, it’s a test of your ability to stay calm and remember the kata assigned or some such thing).

Having said all that, if you’ve hounded your sensei into letting you grade because you have the hours, and he lets you grade to get biffed in the nose because you need that biff on the nose… That’s your lazy teacher letting his buddies do his work for him. It’s perhaps also an indication of what he thinks of the grading system (if he doesn’t care about grading why not let anyone grade?) Or perhaps it’s an indication that he doesn’t care what his peers think of him (wow your students only pass half the time, you must be a crap teacher).

In the iaido and jodo sections around here we get some discussion of seitei vs koryu, certification systems, administration vs instruction and all sorts of wonderful things to think about. The bottom line for all of it is that grading of any type involves somebody’s opinion, either your instructor, his boss, a bunch of bosses or whatever. It comes down to what is tested and who is judging no matter what sort of system you set up. If you join an organization of any kind you automatically put yourself under those rules. If you don’t like the silly rules you have two choices, quit the organization or ignore it. Yes you can ignore an organization simply, just don’t grade. What changes? The amount of paper in your drawer I suspect, not much else if your goal is to learn stuff from your teacher. As long as your teacher has no problem with you being ungraded.

As for your teacher? He likely has some use for the organization which is why he’s in. Can’t think of any reason why he’d be in an organization if he didn’t have a use for it. If the irritation becomes greater than the usefulness, there’s a door over there.

So what rank are you? “I’m the rank that piece of paper on the wall over there says I am!”
I can’t read Japanese, what rank are you? “I’m a nanadan!”
I don’t speak Japanese, what rank are you? “I’m a seven dan!”
Who’s Dan? “No I’m the seventh level up on my scale”
What’s it go up to “Eight”
So you’re a big shot? “No there’s two or three levels above me”
From seven to eight? “Yes we have this other ranking system”
Umm so the guy in my town who has a six dan is under you? “Dunno what organization is he?”
Iaido federation. “Nope, we have nothing to do with each other, different organization, different rank systems”
But he does iaido? “Yes of course”
And you do iaido? “Yes I do”
So who outranks who?

Like I said, go out on the floor and show what rank you are.

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