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More About Improvement In Higher Dan Ranks?

This is a follow-up to my post, Improvement In Higher Dan Ranks? I received several comments on this at my Facebook page. My blog posts become notes at my Facebook page.

In a way, my post confuses two separate subjects: improvement and rank. One can seek improvement without any thought of rank, and sometimes one can earn a higher rank without regard to improvement. However, in a perfect world, in my opinion, rank would be a reflection of improvement.

As Karate students, we should always be seeking to improve ourselves at all levels -- technique, knowledge of the art, teaching ability, character, etc.

However, we should not expect that the indicators of improvement would be the same for a shodan (1st degree black belt) as it would be for a hachidan (8th degree black belt) . For a shodan, learning the next kata may be required. A hachidan will have learned all the kata in his system decades ago. For a shodan, being able to do a certain number of push-ups or punches might be relevant. A hachidan, if he is elderly, certainly will not be getting stronger in terms of push-ups and how many pounds he can bench press.

My point is that the indicators of improvement will change with advancement. So what might be looked for as signs of advancement in higher ranks? Please allow me to speculate (I am still a student and beginner).

A shodan might consider how hard he can hit. But most of his effort will be wasted. Of all the power he generates, very little will make it into his fist (if that is what he is hitting with) and even less will make it into the attacker. And even then, a shodan will probably hit the attacker in a less than ideal place. A hachidan, in contrast, will be much more efficient. Generating power with his "whole body", he will efficiently transfer and boost this power through his body, to his fist, to a single knuckle, with which he will strike the attacker at a vulnerable spot designed to do the most damage with the least effort. The hachidan may not be as physically strong as the shodan, but he will be able to do a whole lot more with less.

A shodan is learning what to do. A hachidan is far along in the process of refining what he has learned. See Karate Refinement. For a shodan, it is an additive process. For a hachidan the process involves stripping away unnecessary and inefficient movements.

But the process is not limited to movement alone. As one advances, the ability to read the attacker also improves. An advanced Karate student can more clearly see what the attacker is doing and about to do -- perhaps even what he plans to do. Because the advanced student can read the attacker, he can do more to preempt the attacker's movements, not just respond to them. See Making Sense of "Sen". A shodan might block a punch (if he is lucky). A hachidan might be able to stop the punch at its root by jamming the shoulder (just as an example). From there, it is just a short distance to strike the attacker in the neck, face, etc. Again, the hachidan will be able to do much more with less.

But it goes further than reading the attacker. As one advances, one's ability to sense an imminent threat should also improve, so that one can better avoid an attack entirely. As I have written, any technique can fail but avoidance is 100% effective.

So as one advances, the indicators of this advancement will change. A shodan should not be evaluated by the standards applicable to a hachidan, and vice versa.

And certainly, the more one advances, the more one's character should improve. See Okinawa's Bushi: Karate Gentlemen.

As students, we should always seek improvement, keep working at it, and then work at it some more. This attitude should guide us throughout our lives.


Charles C. Goodin