Saturday, 25 October 2014

Karate Do Ranks and Titles

In this post I will introduce the various ranks and titles recognized in the Chito-Ryu style of Karate Do. Many of these are commonly used in many of the Okinawan and Japanese styles but there are subtle difference among them regarding some of the specifics. I will attempt to clarify these points.
A great source of accurate information regarding similar topics can be found on the "KARATE by Jesse" blog. I will reference some of the Ranks and Titles that he presented in his "Short Guide" post
In his post he sates, "in Karate... there exists a strong concept of ranks and titles." The ranks and titles used in the Okinawan and Japanese martial arts are fairly common across the board but, as with anything, some do vary.
Brief History
Before Karate Do was introduced to mainland Japan there were no ranks or titles only an instructor and his pupils (a teacher and the students) At this time the self defence art that people were practicing in Okinawa wasn't even called Karate, it was known as 手 Te, hand or 唐手 Toude, Chinese hand because the system came directly from China. I know this is over simplified but the point of this particular post is not to cover the entire history and development of Karate Do. But, it is important to provide a brief history to understand that this is a self defence system that came from China to Okinawa before it was introduced to mainland Japan. After it came to Japan a different name needed to be chosen, one that did not identify any ties to China. Because this system used no weapons 空 Kara, Empty was chosen and the name 空手 Karate, Empty Hand stuck. After this it developed quickly and became very regimented. As the system developed it became necessary to indicate the progress of the practitioners. This is when ranks and titles were introduced. The ranks and titles of Karate Do were initially based on those of Judo.
The 段 Dan system, better known as the 'black belt' rank, was developed sometime in the 17th Century. Dan as well as 級 Kyu simply means grade in Japanese however, the kyu system was developed later than the Dan system. the common belief on how the ranks and titles of Karate Do were defined is that Dr. Kano Jigoro, the founder of Kodokan Judo, invented the both the Dan and Kyu system. Jesse points out that this is not true. He states, "as we now know, he didn’t. Instead, in 1883, Kano adapted the swimming ranking-system used in Japanese schools. By using that as the foundation, he developed the dan/kyu system for Judo which we are using today in Karate. Clever!"
These days, especially in North America there are numerous Kyu levels with a wide range of coloured belts to identify them and generally 9 to 10 Dan levels in any given style. Some more traditional Dojo use only three belt colours to indicate the Kyu ranks; white, green, and brown. Generally all of the levels of the Dan rank are represented by the 'Black Belt'.

It has become increasingly more common to see red and black belts, red and white belts, and solid red belts being worn by more an more people but, make no mistake these belts do not represent their rank, each is used to represent a specific title. Titles were introduced by the 大日本武徳会 Dai Nippon Butokukai (DNBK), Greater Japan Martial Virtue Society is a Japanese martial arts organization established in 1895 in Kyoto. DNBK states that its aims include "the restoration of classical martial cultures, promotion of international peace and harmony through the education and training of the traditional martial arts disciplines." (Wikipedia) The titles that the DNBK introduced were 錬士 Renshi, 教士 Kyoshi, and 範士 Hanshi. This is known as the the 称号 Shogo system which simply means system of titles where the levels progress in order of increasing prestige.
The titles used around the world today are:
指導員 ShidoinA shido-in can be likened to the role of an apprentice. They are like a Sensei in training. Their role would be to help with the daily training sessions in the Dojo depending on the Sensei whom they are studying under (like a job shadow) Shidoin are often described as an assistant instructor. One may test for this title in the Chito-Ryu style at the rank of 三段 San Dan, 3rd Degree Black Belt.
師範 Shihan
The Shihan title is often translated as Master Instructor. I would describe this as being similar to a post-graduate degree; a Shihan in a style of Karate Do is like a Master's Degree from university. Generally, someone who has earned the title of Shihan can open their own Dojo and act as chief instructor coordinating directly with the 本部 Honbu, Headquarters of that style. Someone may attain this title as early as 四段 Yon Dan, 4th Degree Black Belt but usually people test after attaining 五段 Go Dan, 5th Degree Black Belt.
錬士 Renshi
is often explained as a title given to someone who has proven themselves to be an expert instructor. A teacher by example, The Renshi title is not so common in all styles, some organizations don't even recognize this title at all. Renshi is usually bestowed on someone who has attained the rank of 五段 Go Dan, 5th Degree Black Belt or 六段 Roku Dan, 6th Degree Black Belt. (This title is identified by the red and black belt pictured above)
教士 Kyoshi
Kyoshi, when written as 教師 is actually the common word in Japan for teacher, or professor. A more direct translation may be educator. With the second kanji as 武士の士 Bushi no Shi, the Shi used in Bushi, the term takes on a more specialized standard. Therefore, it may be said that a Kyoshi is an educator of the martial way. I consider the title of Kyoshi in Karate Do to be the equivalent of a PhD. in Karate Do. In the Chito-Ryu style practitioners may attain the title of Kyoshi after attaining the rank of 七段 Nana Dan, 7th Degree Black Belt.
範士 Hanshi
Sometimes you may see this written as 範師 The same characters used in Shihan but in the reverse order. This is generally considered to be  the highest title of all, it is usually a very formal honorary title given to the highest person in a organization, signifying their understanding of the art. like coming 'full circle' Usually you would not see this title presented to anyone below the rank of 九段 Kyu Dan but I am starting to see this title pop up more and more after the names of people who started their own style after only attaining middle to high ranking in a recognized style. But, because this title is an honorific one, I cannot comment either way as to the validity of the rank. It may be considered to be similar to the title of Dean to a university.
The Chito-Ryu style also recognizes the title 宗家 Soke, the head of the family/house/style. This is sometimes referred to as 最高師範 Saiko Shihan, implying the highest or best teacher with the deepest connection to the roots of the style. The title Soke is strictly determined by blood lines and family lineage. The generations of Soke stay within the family. Very rarely is this title passed onto someone who is not a direct descendant of the founder of the style.

Chito-Ryu Karate Do 2nd Generation Soke Tsuyoshi Chitose
Please remember that the ranks and titles are two separate things and status in one does not automatically demand status in the other. Ranks are generally based on technical ability; how well someone can kick and punch. Titles are given to those who have technical ability but also the qualities needed to be able to effectively share and teach those techniques and concepts to others.
There may still be some debate regarding what is a genuine rank or title but I believe that you will know the real thing when you see it. It is easy to tell the difference between real and fake when you know what you are looking for.

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