Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Issue of Rank and Longevity

For many years, the debate of individual rank and its relation to longevity has come into question. Miyagi Chojun sensei always viewed the notion of rank with contempt. He viewed rank as something that creates unnecessary rivalry among practitioners. However, rank is a necessary evil and is here to stay.

Let us examine various scenarios regarding rank: first, is the perception between competition and teaching. An old adage stipulates: "those who can do, and those who can't teach." This perception is archaic and misleading. Champions do not occur through chance, they are made! To the degree that a practitioner becomes a champion, the instructor is the vehicle by which these individuals become champions. In this case, the instructor should receive the proper accolades and recognition commensurate with appropriate rank. In Judo, star athletes have different rank criteria than instructors; this criterion is simply wrong. Therefore, it is not uncommon for practitioners in their 30's to have Shichidan or even Hachidan ranks. I have absolutely no problem with the issue of rank to young practitioners provided that their knowledge base is extensive and thorough, and not based simply on competition proficiency.

Second, the notion that only individuals who are past the age of 50 can receive master ranks is also archaic and narrow-minded. Yes, one can argue that these older masters have a wealth of experience and knowledge, but time again is an overriding issue. I have known individuals who have entered the martial arts arena as adults, and over time, they have been able to procure high master ranks. What is the difference between an individual who begins martial arts as a youngster and is still practicing, training and teaching, to an older individual who has basically the same time in training? The answer is that all things being equal, both individuals have put in a lifetime of study, and as such, should be compensated for their efforts.

Third, the "I have been practicing the arts for 50 years" is a deceptive proposition. Very few martial artists have dedicated themselves to intensive study, research, and development over the course of lifetime. There have been some, but not many. To this end, if one begins martial arts in 1950, but is only active until 1970, then to say that one has 58 years of martial study is highly deceptive. However, it is more plausible to believe one who is older, than someone who is younger. This mentality is the proverbial norm today. Research and development is at the foundational core of all martial arts. Have you upgraded your skills in the last decade, or do you continue to propagate what you have taught for many years? Singularly, the most important facet of any instructor or even practitioner is to continually upgrade one's skills and knowledge base. One can never master anything in a lifetime. Unfortunately, because we are finite beings, full mastery and perfection is not possible.

Lastly, the bible clearly states that: "ye shall know them by their fruits." True expertise and knowledge cannot be falsified. Hence, peers will often judge us by what we know. One can easily hide behind rank and other trinkets of deceit, but knowledge is what invariably separates the men from the boys. How do I know this for certain? Just as in times of old when everyone knew who the master was, walk into a reputable dojo, and everyone will know who the master is. Rank, at that point, becomes a moot point.

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