December 05, 2005

What's the deal with rank in kendo? (updated July 2010)

If you've ever wondered about rank in kendo, the general bottom line is that (achieving) rank is not the ultimate goal of kendo. The ultimate goal is just to get better at kendo. Perhaps you've noticed that no one in kendo wears any outward sign to denote their rank. Why?

When you go to practice, things like rank, age, sex, weight have no true meaning because in kendo, technique will determine the winner in a match. By way of illustration, at the U.S. National Tournament in Las Vegas (1999), I saw a 5'2, 100 lb girl defeat a 6'+, 200 lb man in the team competition by scoring a beautiful men. Technique is the variable which makes all kendoka "equal".

That said, rank (and achieving rank) can be a positive thing in kendo. It can give us a sense of where we are (in terms of kendo ability/knowledge) and where we're headed or what we can look forward to. In our goal-driven society, rank can be a source of encouragement as well.

In the past, the Memphis dojo has not held any in-house promotionals. The primary reason for this is that we haven't had enough people in class with enough rank to sit on a panel of judgment. The International Kendo Federation has recently laid out new laws governing the guidelines for kyu-rank promotionals. In former years, all that was required for a grading panel up to 1.kyu (the level immediately below 1.dan) was three 3.dan+. The FIK changed their own rules to require a minimum of five 4.dan. The AUSKF changed their own policy to be in line with FIK regulations and this has now filtered down to the individual regions which make up the AUSKF.
As of 2008, Memphis Kendo Club now has four active 4.dan in class which gets us closer to the AUSKF requirement. The SEUSKF has also created "sub-regionals," placing Memphis in the SEUSKF Western Region along with Nashville and Knoxville. We will continue to plan joint shinsa with those two groups, which will typically mean at least one 7.dan (Yazaki-sensei of Nashville) and one 6.dan (Hyun-sensei of Knoxville) to sit on a grading panel.

Having said that, it is also perhaps noteworthy to mention that it is neither necessary nor required that adult kenshi "start" at the lowest kyu rank and progress one step at a time as they approach 1.dan. All kenshi start with NO rank and then are generally placed at a certain kyu level after their first shinsa (testing). After that, a person can easily skip kyu-levels based on the award of a testing's grading panel, with the following exception: By SEUSKF regulations, NO person may test for 1.kyu as his first rank, which is to say, everyone MUST pass some kyu-level shinsa prior to being eligible to test for 1.kyu. Obviously, this means, too, that no one may test for 1.dan before first passing 1.kyu, even if it means you've been doing kendo for 20 years. Also, if you hold, for example, the rank of 3.kyu, you may -- with your instructor's permission -- challenge for the rank of 1.kyu, however, if you fail the exam, you will remain at your current rank (i.e., there is no longer the idea of "auto-promoting" above your current level, just short of 1.kyu).

The following link provides more information about general expectations at a promotional examination:

So... should you worry about testing? The first testing can be a bit stressful because you want to do well. You know what the judges expect you to be able to do, but you may not know how well the judges expect you to do it! In the end, it's nothing to get worked up over. Some of you who may have experience in other martial arts may have heard, witnessed, or even participated in rank testings which have lasted several hours. This is simply not the case with kendo. At best, you may be on the floor in front of the panel for 5 or 10 minutes total. The jigeiko portion of your exam is supposed to last a total of 180 seconds (90 seconds per match). This obviously may add to your stress as you feel you don't have enough time to fully demonstrate what you can do. Promotional panels have a lot of experience, though, and have the ability to see your potential even when you're not "picture perfect". So, when you go in for testing, simply do what you know how to do and let the judges do their thing. No sense in worrying about it! Whether you hold a rank of 4.kyu or shodan, you'll always find yourself practicing and sparring people with more experience and higher rank. Anyone, of any rank, can score a point or win a match against anyone else on any given day.

Regardless of rank, kendo is an ongoing learning experience. You might consider using promotionals as an encouragement to better your kendo, but ultimately, rank is not the end-all/be-all of kendo.

Something to keep in mind....

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