The Way It Works – July 20, 2014, Kim Taylor, Renshi, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph ON, Nanadan

Recently I’ve realized that folks don’t understand how the grading system in the kendo federation works. I’ve explained this before but new folks come in and other folks don’t bother to question their assumptions from other arts.

First, a kendo federation grade doesn’t always come from Japan. You won’t have a ZNKR grade unless you get it in Japan, grades are awarded by the country you’re in and are recognized in other IKF(FIK) countries, including Japan. Some time ago the ZNKR stopped doing grades outside Japan, a grading panel with Japanese sensei on it will be a panel granting rank from that specific country, not from Japan. I don’t know if that applies to gradings if they are still done in association with the world kendo championships… the one in 1991 actually granted ZNKR grades to the folks who did an iaido grade in Canada. But as I understand it, that was the very last external ZNKR grade.

Neither will you get your grade from the IKF(FIK). The International Kendo Federation does not grant ranks, nor does it keep records of those grades. That is done in each member country. What the IKF does is register member countries and provide standard guidelines and, most of all, coordinate the world kendo championships. Of further note here, the FIK standard guidelines are not identical with the ZNKR guidelines. For instance, the ZNKR has removed the age exemptions for 6,7,8 dan grades so that older folks can no longer grade early. Those age exemptions still exist in the FIK guidelines which means that when I’m 60 I can grade for my 8dan in 5 years instead of 10… which makes no difference at all to me now that I think about it, but it might have.

Since the ZNKR rules are not identical with the FIK guidelines, obviously each country is free to set their own standards. For many years the CKF had years to grade that were greater than those in Japan which uses the guideline years. We have since cut those requirements as people grade slowly enough on their own. When you have tournaments based on rank it’s no advantage to grade early, better to stay as long in the lower ranks as you can.

My grades are CKF grades but if I was to go to France or England they’d be recognized by the IKF affiliated organizations there. One IKF affiliate per country (again, this is because of the world kendo championships which are set up as a country to country affair, Hawaii being a historical exception and allowed to put up its own team). The structure is actually horizontal rather than vertical and Japan is (OK in theory obviously) just another country under the IKF.

So to be very clear, each country is responsible for its own gradings. In Canada the way it’s set up is that the chief examiner (or a regional examiner if it’s 5dan or below) will set a panel from a list of eligible examiners (realistically for us, that’s anyone with the required rank) and send that list to the President who invites the panel to sit. That panel then examines the challengers on the standards set by the CKF technical committee (the chief examiner and the regional examiners and anyone those folks wish to speak to) and names of the resulting successful challengers are then given to the President who issues certificates and registers the ranks with the CKF. There is of course an administrative side to this where money is gathered and records are kept.

This is where the process stops, the ranks are not registered anywhere else, so if someone wants to grade or enter a tournament in another country, paperwork has to be provided by the CKF, usually in the form of a letter from President to President and/or a copy of the rank certificate. So don’t throw those papers out folks, you may have to photocopy them at some point. If someone from Canada goes to another country to teach for several years, the kendo federation of that country may ask for proof of rank and may even ask that teacher to register his/her rank with the local federation. Again, this is because there are no records kept beyond the country in which they are issued. That means that if I go to another country to grade I will be asked to register my grade in Canada (and I think I will also be paying a small registration fee for that).

Kendo federation gradings are done by a committee of several sensei from different dojo so no getting one from your sensei or from a visiting sensei even. The grades are recognized world-wide so they have to be up to the level. The ZNKR takes a dim view of “overseas empires”, so if the top guys want to give rank by themselves outside of the ZNKR/IKF rules and regs, they do it outside the organization on their own and there’s no crossover. This can cause confusion sometimes, especially with sensei still active in the ZNKR who have prominant koryu organizations too.

Other ranks from other organizations are just that… other ranks. Occasionally in the past the ZNKR may have recognized ranks from other organizations (there was a ZNIR crossover at one point for instance), allowed jump grades or similar, but all that is almost certainly gone now. Canada does not do jump or crossover grades, and very few if any prefectures in Japan do jump/challenge grades any more either. Makes life simple, we don’t ever have to worry about the fellow who shows up and says “I’ve got 300 students and we’re going to start doing iaido so how about giving me an equivalent dan to what I’ve got” The answer is (and has been) “no thanks, but you’re all welcome to start practicing”.

It’s educational to see which high-dan instructors of other arts will come in at the same rank as their students and which suddenly lose interest.

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