If you have rank in Bujinkan, I can tell you what it means:

Have you been promoted?  Were you congratulated by your fellow students?  How about your friends and family?  Random strangers? It means something very different to these groups. 

What about the day after your promotion?  A week later? Five months?  With time, the promotion means something very different even to you.

I can tell you what your rank means.  But first, what does it mean for you? 

It is important to answer that question every time you are promoted.  Also, it is important to know what your teacher thinks it means.  If your teacher is doing his job, he will find a way to communicate that to you.

The Bujinkan is not as systematic, or as definitive as other martial arts when it comes to rank.  You can take two shodan level students from different schools and compare.  Is their rank the same?  Usually not.  Teachers vary widely in their  requirements.  But does it matter?  People usually answer YES!  But I would say that it shouldn't.  You cannot compare the two.  Their history precludes comparisons based on rank alone.

In my own class, I don't give my students a lot of information about how I rank.  I don't tell them what to study or when to prepare for grading.  I know what I want them to learn and what I am looking for in them for each rank.  But by not spelling it out for them it does some things which are beneficial to the process:
  • They don't have tunnel vision to selectively work on what they think is necessary for learning our art.  Cut and dried rank requirements inspire that type of narrow focus. 
  • Even though I know what I want to see, they may surprise me.  By not telling them what to do, they can bring their own talents to the table.  This way I don't box them in or try to make them fit a mold.  These surprises keep our art alive.
  • After the promotion, since they don't know exactly if they fit the standards, they will keep working to improve everything instead of moving on to the next skill set.
All of this makes rank just an organic part of the training experience instead of some sort of graduation.  In many schools, when people get to a certain level (often black belt), they have a sense of graduating or "finishing" something.  Then they quit or fade away from training.

Most people I've met in the Bujinkan who have reached a certain level, stop caring about rank as a goal,  and they focus on the TRAINING.   That is what we should strive for.  Hatsumi Sensei has said this loudly and clearly for years.  And his ranking process should get that through to you as well.

So what does rank mean?  To me, rank is simply a communication between you and your teacher.  No one else!  It is meaningless to everyone else.  Anybody who judges or tries to compare is foolish.  And most people who aren't in the Bujinkan really don't care at all.  Especially if they are attacking you!

You and your teacher.  Rank is a way for the two of you to place a value on your training within your own circle.  It is your teacher saying, "Here is where you are at, and where you need to go."  It is private. 

If you wear it like a badge you destroy the benefit it has and turn it into something meaningless.

3 comments:

Anonymous

Thank you. I was in a slump worrying about getting, or not getting, the next grade. Sometimes it is good to be reminded of these things.

-James

Anonymous

Although I read your posts with a great deal of interest most times, I have to wonder what your motivation is when it comes to posts like this one here.

Most of your posts are interesting, however the same ones where you quote Souke and what he's said/done make it look as though you are on the soapbox preaching from your vast experience with the man. In other words, a great deal of them where you quote Souke have this air of "I know exactly and perfectly well what he's talking about. See, all it is is, is XYZ, etc., etc."

Was just wondering, do you live and train in Japan and are you fluent in the Japanese language to be able to speak with such certainty and confidence that you know what Souke is showing/"teaching" (or "not teaching")?

Please don't take this the wrong way, I really would like to know, out of my own natural curiosity.

Bujinkan Santa Monica

In reply to "Anonymous," Thank you for reading and commenting on my blog.

I understand the tone of my blog posts can come off like I am on a soapbox. In this particular post I was! And I still stand by what I wrote in November of 2009.

I definitely don't claim to know all the mysteries of our art or what Hatsumi Sensei "really means" when he says things. I don't live in Japan and I am not fluent in Japanese. All I have is my training experiences since 1988 and the encouragement of many wonderful teachers I have met along the way.

As I state in my blog's mission, this is my personal training blog. I write this blog to help my own students and myself to think through and better understand this art.

Michael

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