Not enough chairs on the third floor – Kim Taylor, Renshi, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph ON, Nanadan Iaido and Roukudan Jodo

Ever wonder why (and this would be aimed at those of you who have been in a growing organization, who have gone up the ranks first) the requirements get more strict as the years go on? After all, what got you passed isn’t what gets passed these days. I remember thinking exactly that several years ago as I became the only vote for an older student who was as good as we were at that rank. This was when votes were shared around, so I knew I was getting out of step with the “newer, better, stricter” standards. New standards? Is that a thing? Isn’t that called “moving the goalposts” or am I being cynical again?

The skill levels are getting higher, say some. It’s probably true, but I think that Wolf Girl had it exactly right last weekend when she said “There aren’t enough chairs on the third floor”. In her college program there’s a “hell course” that happens I would guess, at the point where maximum dollars have been extracted from students and the point is reached where it costs money to educate them rather than makes money to have them around. That’s the point where you limit the number of chairs on the third floor, and you fail half the class.

In the kendo federation there were once 10 dans. Now there are only 8 and the guys at the top, inconsiderate types they are, are not dying off fast enough. (This is in Japan, the rest of the world can still give out 9 and 10 dans, but I’m pretty sure only Canada would have the kintama to do that, and we’re seeing our first generation Japanese retire so don’t hold your breath for a new 9dan.)

Too many guys with the top grade means discord, just human nature, so you limit their numbers. That starts to put pressure all the way down the chain as a series of glass ceilings are created. It may take a decade or two for the yondan to feel the pinch but they are doing it now. This is when you start to see mentions of “pass percentages” instead of “minimum standards to pass”. It’s when gradings become tournaments combined with “his turn”. Not a problem if it’s clear that’s the system, “unfair” shows up when the system is one thing but claimed to be the other.

Getting back to skill levels, they’d better be going up since our day, we give away what it took us years to get, but there’s also the simple fact that positions are now getting filled, the chairs that are there are not empty. You need the “hell course” to keep the third floor room from getting crowded.

I hope you aren’t thinking something silly like “why not just get more chairs”? That would mean expanding the art, making more room for more higher ranks by having more areas for them to exist. That would mean that, in some place like Japan it would be easier to get an 8dan if you are in the rural areas than if you are in Tokyo…… oh.

The money inflection? Actually I did an analysis of a grading in Canada a while ago and with our increasing fees per rank, the 6dan grading at that time made as much money as the nidan, each level brought in about the same amount of money to the federation. That was clever planning, and frankly kids, just good business. People drop out, but you want the same contribution per rank level, so prices go up. “You get what you pay for” will justify the differential fees, because frankly, doing a 7dan grading costs about as much as a shodan, unless you’re flying panellists in from overseas. Umm, I hasten to add that in the jodo section we do just that, so don’t complain to me about grading fees, and the rising fees would actually mean that there’s no reason to have a “hell rank” to limit losses on senior gradings.

Finally, not to be suggesting that the guys at the top are petty-minded, but…. well it could be. There might be, in some cases, those at the top that don’t want to admit they aren’t as good as those coming up, one way to convince those below, and themselves, that they deserve their place at the top is to keep those below, below. This would be a defence against “imposter syndrome”… well no. I think I’m wrong there, it’s an ego defence that goes below the surface. Imposter syndrome can be quite healthy, but this is not. This is simply a way of saying “you guys aren’t as good as I am” when underneath there’s a sneaking suspicion that “I don’t deserve my rank”. Not hard to justify cranking up the requirements by saying “for the good of the organization I’m going to make damned sure nobody of my skill ever gets to my position ever again”. Noble sentiment? Or ego defence?

There you have it, some random thoughts on why there aren’t enough chairs on the third floor.

Got any others?

Kim Taylor
May 29, 2018


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s