Losing your Shotokai identity
I once again return to the dan (black belt grades) theme, most of you haven’t heard about the raging discussions I generated in the CyberDojo when I long ago exposed my opinion on the subject. Anyway I have decided to continue talking but this time on our space reserved for Shotokai expressions. Continue at your own risk 🙂
My opinion originally was something like this: “In the Karate-do derived from the teachings of Master Gichin Funakoshi something I named “Dan inflation” appeared, groups dedicated to sports karate augmented the number of dans at own wish.” In the fifties you could obtain a godan (fifth dan) in Karate (as Gichin Funakoshi referred to his art, not Shotokan) much before you were 30 years old, with serious training obviously. I believe this caused a certain unrest and the idea of inventing new graduations over fifth dan appeared, so as to satisfy further promotions. Furthermore, Karate’s expansion due to competitions needed a whole new administrative structure that could very well use five more dans over godan. As an extra benefit the general public would certainly believe a 8th dan (out of ten dans) is more important and better than a 5th dan (out of 5 dans).
In real Shotokai (as well as Shotokan Karate of America, SKA) a five dan structure is maintained as was established by O-sensei (Master Gichin Funakoshi). This ranking was based, apparently, on the levels of human conscience as they are defined by the oriental philosophies/religions. This is why they are not modifiable if I just feel like it. All Shotokai schools must maintain this structure untouched and avoid at all costs falling in materialistic and superficial temptations.
I furthermore hold the opinion that all truly serious Shotokai karateka should not accept grading over fifth dan in karate or at least should not openly admit possessing such a grading. (There are sometimes political pressures from sports karate colleagues so not accepting grading is sometimes unavoidable).
Accepting and publicly publicizing higher grades that godan is to accept grading established by sport karate groups that actually have no relationship with traditional karate despite what they may say. As an analogy, I would compare the “higher than godan syndrome” with wearing and being proud of a nidan in “Go” game playing, or cooking, over my shodan (1st dan) in Shotokai, they are completely different things, they use a different scale and different values.
Secondly, to exhibit a sixth or seventh dan as Shotokai karateka makes you think that he/she believes that he/she is superior, both technically and spiritually, to all other Shotokai masters before him, something that is not only an insult but completely unacceptable. As simple respect to our previous masters no true Shotokai trainee should show off a karate grading over fifth dan, or he/she should better change style.
Finally, no Shotokai karateka should need nor have to search for recognition nor sponsorship in institutions that do not represent the Karate-do ideals of our Masters Gichin Funakoshi, Yoshitaka Funakoshi and Shigeru Egami, even less so from institutions that directly betrayed O-sensei himself at his funeral.
I hope you don’t believe I am authority on the subject, and by now you must be doubting it, I am just a newly promoted shodan but I do not believe my logic is terribly wrong, if it is I am waiting for your corrections and comments (including flame mail :-)).
As a conclusion, I do not believe Shotokai’s expansion will be well served nor stimulated (quite the contrary) by including five new dans nor by selling our souls to the devil himself. We need not play by the same rules of sport karate, we are not related other than circumstantially, we make our own rules. Grading and dans do not make the master, we all know that. We don’t require more grades, nor competitions, nor tournaments, no, what we need is a strong identity and we have it (at least most do), a complete respect and understanding of our legacy and the sacrifices involved to preserve it, plus a strong and intransigent commitment to maintain it unaltered.
Finally, the best way to favor Shotokai’s expansion will be by uniting with a common cause, once all the reconcilable groups get together and work all for a common dream, that will be the day Shotokai completes the cycle. It is my strongest wish that this becomes a reality, I will place my energy in this cause in any way I can to make it come true.
June 19th, 1998