Call Me Kyoshi, Call Me Crazy

The debate in Okinawan Karate on rank, (read: I am a [enter the Japanese title describing black belt level], or senior student (read: I trained with this master for 2 weeks in Okinawa back in the 1980s, therefore I am a senior practitioner], or I trained under the guy who opened the first dojo in America, or other various ‘criteria’ people have created in the karate world to promote their marketing efforts of their school is so well…1980s.  

Okinawa Kenpo of Oregon

I loved this movie. I still do. It needs more fight scenes though.

Don’t get me wrong: The idea of having ranks in Okinawan Karate is awesome.  But what do they really mean?

The history of “ranks” in Okinawan Karate began in the modern era of martial arts with Gichin Funakoshi‘s designation of the ‘ranking’ system back in the 1920s.  Gichin Funakoshi, an Okinawan karate master introduced karate to the mainland of Japan in 1916 and founded the system today known as ‘Shotokan.’

Okinawa Kenpo of Oregon

Gichin Funakoshi (1868-1957)

The rank or ‘Dan’ system can be traced to the Edo (aka Tokugawa) period in Japan [1603-1868].

Okinawa Kenpo of Oregon

Needless to say, ‘its been a while.’

The systems established then, just as many components of Japanese and Okinawan culture in general resemble very little of the Edo period. Some people are always ready to throw the miso out with the rest of the sticky rice, but I say ‘Yield Karateka! Stay fast and keep focus.

Okinawa Kenpo of Oregon

Yeah, I am thinking that too.

In fact, I am sure there are certain Okinawan karate and kobudo masters of the past, turning in the proverbial urn when they see pink belts being worn in karate demonstrations in Okinawa.

Pink belts aside nice demo by 800 kids doing Okinawan karate.

It’s Your Dojo

I cannot speak for other karate schools, nor other styles within the umbrella of Okinawa Kenpo arts.  I have seen ranking systems that are more confusing than certain Quantum Physics theories.  I have seen other backyard dojos having no ranking system.  There is a smattering of efforts in between.  My father would always say that “the belt you have is to hold your gi (karate uniform) together.”  There are many various ranking criteria engaged in many very well meaning schools.  I think in the end it matters not what you wear on the outside, but what you contain on the inside.

Okinawa Kenpo of Oregon

My teacher, Seikichi Odo, 1926-2002.

In the spirit of kobudo, there are certain standards that need to maintained.  Our efforts from the Okinawa Kenpo family  in the martial arts world needs it more than ever.

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