every martial art school has its own unique grading system, however, karate in particular i feel that there are too many kata / belts amongst the so called styles of karate.
While it is nice for the student to take examinations and awarded a selection of coloured belts, and ive got to be honest here, thats what most students work for, and once they reach black belt they think it means something. And it does because its a great achivement, however, knowing a selection of katas and earning belts for those katas is pointless unless one has a real understanding of the bunkai for each kata and have the confidence to apply the bunkai if needed in real combat.
From 9th kyu to 1st Dan i had to learn a total of 14 katas:
Shiozuki series: Pinan Nidan: Pinan Shodan: Pinan Sandan: Pinan Yondan: Pinan Godan (coloured belts)
Cherokono: Matsukaze: Jiin: Chinte: Saifa: Annanku: (brown belt)
Bassai Dai: Jion: (1st Dan)
I was training 3 to 4 times a week and training at home etc so keeping on top of these werent a problem, however for the student who is happy training once a week and has no desire to train out of the dojo the above can be a bit of a problem.
A student must have the desire and dedication to learn a martial art, the instructor cannot give you the 1st two, but can give you the discilpline. The 3 Ds to success.
Anyway, so the Pinan / Heian katas are the most popular in most karate schools, these five katas are a complete fighting system in themselves and advanced (depending on how you approach those katas).
So these five katas are all one needs to know to defend themselves, in fact Pinan Shodan / Heian Nidan alone is more than enough, again this depends on how long you study a single kata. To take the Pinan / Heian katas seriously the first three in the series should be studied for 3 years per kata.
For example after 12 months and wearing a white belt and studying Pinan Shodan / Heian Nidan one could take an examination and receive a blue belt, the 2nd year, same kata receive a red belt, at the end of the 3rd year go for 1st Dan. Ok 3 years to get your 1st Dan while it has taken others 5 years, however you have a real understanding of that kata and not only can perform that kata well, you are confident that you could defend yourself.
Because the Pinan / Heian katas are so advanced there is no reason why these great katas should not be Dan katas, for example:
Pinan Shodan / Heian Nidan: 1st Dan - Shodan
Pinan Nidan / Heian Shodan: 2nd Dan - Nidan and so on.
The above is i feel a realistic approach to those katas and the student, this way has a real understanding of kata and not just turning up once a week and getting a nice new belt every 3 to 4 months.
The way i see it you have 1st Dans and then real 1st Dans, etc, and what i mean by this is simple, the real 1st Dans are fighters, for example and could really defend themselves if they had to. The others could not, everybody is natually different, so why take up karate or a martial art, what does getting a black belt really mean to you?
For me, its nothing more than a piece of cotton round my waist. Karate and the martial arts should never be about belts etc, it doesnt matter whats round your waist, its about wheather you can do it that counts, your fighting capability etc.
Another point i would like to make is sometimes i will teach something ive used in real fights etc, and while i accept that what may work for me may not work for someone else, this is true, however if this is true then why on earth are we even bothering to learn kata and spending hours unlocking the bunkai held within? We are doing just that, we are depending and learning the techiques and favourite moves of the masters of old.
I feel that when the so called grading system was introduced and then competitions came along it was a complete recipe for disaster for karate, for over the years more coloured belts / kata were added and competition took over, the true spirit of karate was lost and has became very watered down to the original karate the masters of old once trained.
Karate is an art of self-examination so when training just concentrate on you, dont worry about anybody else. Training once a week is of course fine, with work commitments, and family it may be hard to train twice a week, however, depending how interested you are in your chosen art a little home training can go a long way.
If one has not much confidence and trains to gain that confidence, a good way to look at is you have to go back to being a baby, and what this means is a baby or young child has no fear, they will just run into the road etc. We train and train to build confidence and have no fear. I would like to take credit for the baby quote because its a geat way to look at the confidence, but it was a very good friend of mine who i train with at a private instructors club who came out with that a couple of weeks ago.
One last thing and out of interest what do other instructors do for their own personal training? a couple of years ago i was invited to go and train at a private invitation only instructors club, this is a mixed styles club, we are all high graded, open minded and experienced karateka. Its very old school, we meet once a week, share ideas and train hard. I have to travel 30 miles but its worth it, ive always had to travel for good instruction and training.
There are 4 shotokan guys, myself (shukokai) and sankukai. for those who say different styles cant train together are wrong because what we do works very, very well. No one is in charge as such, we just train for the love of training , learn and progress.
I apologise for rambling on.