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Sensei2630's picture
No grading?

Hi there.

After doing Shotokan for 15 years, I was diagnosed a Diabetic (type 2). In order to get more training - and not just teaching others - I moved to a Goju-ryu club where I already had been training for 2 years. It's a great club, and I allways feel welcome there!

My problem is that after getting through a depression, I try to avoid everything that makes me sad. And one thing was my last grading where I got my 2. kyu. The sensei (highest graded in Denmark, from another club) barely looked at us, and we all got the grades we were trying for. To me it seems that all that matters is that you've ben traing for the right amount of sessions, rather than how you perform at the grading.

Am I the only one that has had this feeling? I've decided not to grade there again.

After discovering this excellent homepage and listening to a few podcasts, I also start thinking about CONTEXT and BUNKAI, and though we're only taught the official bunkais I try and keep an open mind. Thx Iaian.


Black Tiger
Black Tiger's picture


i will quote you "The sensei (highest graded in Denmark, from another club) barely looked at us," I must say that i guarantee this Examiner was fully aware of your abilities and performance during the grading he is the "highest graded in Demark...." so I am sure he knows exactly what he wants for the required grade that the candidates are going for.

Don't put yourself down, If you didn't do well you would have failed. YOU did your best so be happy with it.

If you don't wish to grade, that's your perogative, but its only yourself that is delaying YOUR progression.

One doesn't start learning Karate UNTIL one becomes Yudansha, Grading is only a way of teaching you the basics. I'd say get the gradings out of the way then you can look at what each kihon each kata etc is for, you could take 1 kata and work with it for 6 months to see the Bunkai and the Oyo and any other use that you can find

hHere's a thought

"A Kyu grade (Mudansha) needs to be told what to do, a dan grade (Yudansha) knows what he needs to do!"

Enjoy your journey its not about grading its about Shu Ha Ri

Sensei2630's picture

Dear Black Tiger.

I guess you're right about the "highest graded in Demark" (7. dan) and what he observed. I knew a 7. dan that could have 20 karatekas do their favorite kata, and afterwards tell each one where they had difficulties/had to work on.smiley

Maybe my problem is that I compare myself to others, thus thinking less of my own grade. I don't know and find it hard to find energy to explore that thought.

Yudansha: I'm a 3. dan in Shotokan;-)



dvitkus's picture


Grading is a necessary part of group martial arts.  In larger schools, you have numerous students and instructors.  The easiest way to keep them all straight is grading them by capability.  That way, junior students are less likely to get into the mix (and possible get injured) when advanced techniques are being taught. 

Inidividually, it serves as an important motivator for some students.  Most people I have trained with are motivated to some degree by the prospect of higher rank.  Let's face it, it is very difficult to measure individual progress without some sort of ranking stucture.

Practical reasons aside, I'm with Tiger on this one.  At the Dan level it's not about ranking anymore.  Don't sell yourself short by focusing on the title.

This sounds flippant, but we could form a committee to call you (or me) a "15th Dan" or a "blue carrott" and neither title would make a difference.  If you've made it this far, then you know a great deal.  You also know there is more to learn.  If you're learning, learn.  If you're teaching, teach.  Progress will come if we train sincerely, no matter what name we chose to assign to it.

bowlie's picture

I have not graded since I was seven. I see it as a useless formality. I know how good i am from sparring, I know who I can beat, and who I cant. That is all the validation I need, not a belt. That said, im interested in teaching, so Im contemplating grade to black belt just for that. I could just buy one, but why bother? I will learn more along the way doing it properly.

Mark B
Mark B's picture

Hi bowlie,

I'm not sure what to make of this post.

You consider grading a useless formality. I disagree, with the right syllabus and focus it can be a valuable test, both physical and mental.

What do you mean by ''sparring''. You say you know how good you are from your sparring, surely that depends on the quality of the environment in which you train.

You intend on grading to black belt, is it that easy? Does having one automatically make you a good teacher with the ability to apply and share your skills, both hard and soft !

You say you are interested in teaching, what, exactly? Can you differentiate between the different types of environments, sporting, combatives, self protection etc.

I don't mean to put a dampener on your aspirations but your post comes across a bit naive

All the best


bowlie's picture

With the right sylabus and focus belts would have alot more value, yes, but at least with taekwondo its just jumping through hoops. Could you be bothered to learn this word in korean, can you kick through a board, can do do a pattern. None of those things are indicative of fighting ability, and you may say sparring is neither. I would agree with you there, but sparring is the closest we can get to fighting without it being fighting. There will always be limitations, but it is sadly the best tool we have at the moment. By sparring I mean the sparring we do in the club. I know im faster, stronger, better than some people, and that others are better, stronger faster than me. I can see myself progressing, but I also get humbled regulary by those better than me. It gives me an accurate measure of where I am in the club. If I went to another club it would be differnet.

Having a black belt does not make you a good teacher, and this is exactly what I meant earlier. If I wanted I could grade to black and set up a club. Its very easy, in fact I could just buy one. It would not show a high level of skill, or knowledge, or a high teaching level. I have no idea if I will be a good teacher, but I hope I do, because helping others learn is something I would love to do. The reason I dont like grading is because the black belt that knows the basic kicks, and some korean words can teach just as easily as someone with a very comprehensive knowledge of both the techniques, and how to apply them. They both get the belt, they can both teach. The belt says they are the same level, clearly they are not. That is why, in absense of a good, reliable ranking criteria, I say forget it.

As for the diferent areas, its something im only coming across now. If I were to set up a gym now I would not include self defence. I dont know enough about it specifically. I have helped out our instructor teach a few self defence classes because he was impressed with my BJJ, but like you said, sport BJJ is different to self defence and it felt dishonest. I told him I didnt feel comfortable teaching this stuff as self defence beacuse although it was applicable, I didnt know enough about the intricacies of it to differentiate between what would work and what wouldnt. I didnt want to give out bad information. If I were to teach it would be a unified version of taekwondo. A holistic system that includeds striking and standing grappling and throws. Hopefully also include boxing, and incorperate judo to add to the hands and throws, the two parts most neglected by current taekwondo. The main sessions would be run similar to a kickboxing gym, focus on drilling strikes, takedowns, putting them together and doing sparring. I would also do family or traditional sessions with less effecive but flasy kicks, breaking, patterns, bunkai, and stuff geared specifically towards people wanting to grade. There would be a very clear split between the marital arts classes and the fighting classes.

I think i would make a good teacher becasue I love martial arts, have an analytical mind and am always deconstructings things, and looking at the mechanisms behind things (comes from a history degree I guess) and trying to understand them better. I probably am naive, comes with being 19, and I know I have alot to learn. but we learn by doing, so im going to focus on getting better at fighting, not by learning korean words.

EDIT: I think Iain summs it up better than I ever could in his podcast on the subject when he says that belts 'shift the focus from aquisition of skill to aquisition of rank'. I agree. If I have to be at a set rank to teach then fine, I will get to that rank. After that, I will spend my efforts developing my skills. Fighting skills, teaching skills, communication skills e.c.t. I feel that these are more important in a teacher then having spend time learning, say, a flying side kick so they can get the red belt.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

bowlie wrote:
EDIT: I think Iain sums it up better than I ever could in his podcast on the subject when he says that belts 'shift the focus from acquisition of skill to acquisition of rank'.

Did I say that? I like it! Pretty good summation. Quite proud of that :-)

All the best,


lcpljones_dontpanic's picture

Hello all

Bowlie what you have posted on this thread is closely related to the issues discussed on the Lost Mojo thread that I started recently. We both have a different perspective and focus on what we want from our training and teaching, yours competition / sparring and mine pragmatic and effective combative efficiency. As a result of yours and others contribution to my thread I am in a better position than I was which I thank all concerned for. I kind of see your point regarding gradings and belts, its all relative really some systems use them and others do not. However where gradings and belts are not used some other form of assessment and recognition of experience is utilised. With regard to your posts on this thread and the comments you make about Taekwondo, your views on what you would teach and focus upon I would hghly recommend that you follow something along the lines of the following.

Spend at least the next 2 years cross training in various systems and competition formats heavily! You mention that you have done a little BJJ and are going to start Judo, good start but if you can I would recommend getting along to a proper MMA gym. Also if possible as many open karate / tkd semi contact points and continuous competitions. I am no fan of these but if you wish to teach a system to all including kids and adults that is based wholly upon sparring and competition then I would recommend a good knowledge base in all competetive fomats.

I do not wish to be derogatory or show any disrespect but I would say at 19 years of age you have plenty of time to gain the above experience before starting your own club / school / system and teaching. I dont know you personally and I am aware that some people of your age can have the maturity and experience necessary to run a club and teach, but I think for the vast majority of people especially those entering the martial arts for the first time ( I am talking adults here) will equate the necessary instructor qualities with a certain level of experience and yes age. Fair maybe not, realistic I think so.

If you wish to at some point incorporate some SD aspect to your teaching / training i would very highly recommend taking a look at Urban Krav Maga (look em up on the web) this system fits very well with MMA type training but is wholly RBSD focus with constant pressure testing (I hope to be hosting a seminar in due course). Whichever course you take I wish you good luck and every success. 

bowlie's picture

Its intersting how my own thoughts have changed recently. I used to see sport sparring as the be all and end all. Now I know thats not the case. It still has value (depending on the stlye. Sport karate is less effective than say boxing or muay thai in my opinion) and I would love to see someone try and mug Mirko cro cop or Fedor emalianeko (sp?) but for the average guy, it should be seen as a tool for learning, but not the only one.

I still stand by the idea that how well you do in sparring is a better indicator of skill than a belt though. especially if you use a kata based sparring system like Iains. Lots of schools (I would say all good ones) have some way of gauging skill, but I would say this works better when an instructor knows about every one of his students and can put them in appropriate groups than when he just says 'yellow bels over there', regardless of the fact one of those yellow belts is a world champion kickboxer and the other has done karate for 7 years but wasnt interested in grading. If a belt reflected fighting skill, that would be fine, but alot of the time they dont. I would be happy to grade in a school where this wasnt the case, and hopefullt I have found one. I just dont see belts as needed though.

I will live next to a great MMA gym next year, and im really interested in going there. The only things putting me off are the price (well thats putting my GF off more than me :p), the injuries (I went to BJJ last night for the first time in 18 months and came back with a sprained thumb I cant grip with and a knee I cant walk on) and my irrational fear of picking up infections from the mats. But I might go. One of the guys I used to do BJJ with is there now, and he is getting so good he is trying to turn pro.

Teaching would be fighting focused, more than sport focused in my eyes. And your right I have a long time to learn, but as well as learning the fighting skills I also need to learn the teachning skills. Im not expecting to be great off the bat, so I think the more time I have to learn, the better I will be. It might be that by teaching I learn more abot fighting too. I also understand entirely that I may not be taken seriously as a teacher at 19, but all I want at this stage is a small club where i can learn about teaching and get experience doing it. Maybe a better staring point would be helping out at another club, so that might be something to look into. The only problem with that is that im currently clubless