What does karate rank really mean?

Many karateka (“kah-rah-tay-kah,” someone who studies karate) who are much more knowledgeable than I have pondered this question. In a perfect world, karate rank should bb at nakazato dojo croppedbe an indication of the karateka’s dedication and skill level in their martial arts system.

Unfortunately we don’t live in a perfect world.

In the worst of circumstances, politics, egos, and financial greed affect the ranking system. It’s like that old saying in the corporate world that “it’s not what you know but who you know.” This, unfortunately, sometimes applies in the martial arts world, too. It is not uncommon to see practitioners assigning titles to themselves, making up titles, playing the “I promote you, you promote me” game, and lying about their accomplishments. Sometimes people have created their own systems of branded karate and discard the traditions of martial arts and its origins.

These actions don’t go unnoticed by dedicated karateka who are active in well known and established national and international organizations such as the one that we belong to (Shorinkan).

There are too many checks and balances to allow this type of behavior to go unrecognized for too long. If you realize that rank in a dojo is based on the calendar or fees paid, that may be a sign that the integrity of what is being taught is low. I am proud to know that my rank and more importantly the rank of my superiors has been earned and not paid for or falsely manufactured. There are times when I believed I was ready to be promoted and was not; there have been times when I have been surprised at my earning a higher rank. The high standards of our organization will remain intact as long as we can say with all honesty that we earn our rank!

This is why it’s important to always practice and strive to learn. If students are dedicated to their karate, rank promotions will take care of themselves. Focusing on rank alone diverts your attention. In studying the Okinawan masters, one of the things you learn is that they had great humility about their rank, and believed it was their duty to teach humility to their students. If they saw jealousy in their students, they would often withhold their promotions, even if their karate was good. Being dedicated to karate means that we are dedicated to helping and supporting each other in the dojo.

In martial arts the color of the obi (“oh-bee,” the belt we wear) signifies the wearer’s skill level. Usually the colors start with the beginner’s white belt and end in the master’s black, with red & white, or red belts reserved for the highest ranks after decades of study. Remember, rank does not make you a good martial artist, hard work, dedication, and a desire to learn, do.

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What Is The Best Way To Practice?

Everyone needs to practice, and a karate student practice changes with their age, rank and experience. It also depends on what is being practiced and for what reason. We practice to increase our knowledge of the kata, to prepare for a test or a tournament, or because we realize that kata keeps us physically and mentally fit. Students should use a method that repeats the kata three, five or even ten times.

The “3 Rep” Method

Advanced students (like our Black Belts), can use the “3 rep” method because they have many kata they need to maintain. The first rep is done slowly so that the student can check each hand/foot movement and make adjustments as necessary. They may stop to be sure their feet are in the right position and they are in the right stance before they go to the next movement. After they make their corrections, they do a second repetition. This one is done slightly faster, still paying attention to detail, but not stopping for corrections. After the kata, they should think about what they did throughout the kata. They might want to practice a portion of the kata they had a problem with. The third and final repetition is done at full speed with no stopping to check their form. I call this “tournament speed.”

The “5 Rep” Method

The five repetition method can be used by intermediate and advanced students who either have more time to practice or less kata to practice. The first two repetitions are done slowly while paying strict attention to detail. Repetitions three and four are done a little faster. They should check that they are using the proper hand and foot positions. The fifth repetition is done at tournament speed.

The “10 Rep” Method

The ten repetition method is the most time consuming and most effective method of practicing. All beginner students should use this method as well as any other student who is preparing for a tournament or belt promotion. The first 3 repetitions are done slowly with attention to detail. Repetitions 4-6 are done slightly faster while still paying strict attention to detail. Numbers 7 & 8 are done a little faster with less attention to detail. Finally, repetitions 9 & 10 are done at tournament speed.

How do students find time to practice?

If they are watching television, every commercial break can be used to practice their kata. Since each kata takes about a minute, every break should allow them to do their kata two or three times. A sixty minute TV show has an average of 18 minutes of commercials. There are other times, too. If anyone says they are bored or “have nothing to do,” that’s a great time to practice a kata or work on their blocks or stances.

Regardless of the practice method used, every student must always remember “You must work your karate if you want your karate to work for you”!