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Trial by fire

Back in the day (as I understand it) it used to be common for competition to be an integral part of ranking in judo.  I'm not talking about the points system, where you accumulate points toward your next rank by competing, etc...  I'm talking about getting a bunch of folks together who want to advance to the next level and having a shiai amongst them and then promoting those who place in the competition.  Sort of a trial-by-fire thing.
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For example, the following is from the British Judo Association's website...
To attain a Dan grade, a judoka can enter an examination against other judoka of the same grade and, by demonstrating superiority over a cross-section of judoka at the same level, can win promotion to the next rank. Wins against judoka of the same grade or above in certain competitions may also count towards promotion. In this way, promotion through the Dan grades becomes increasingly difficult, since for each new grade the players will be of a higher standard. Judoka must also complete a competitive skills assessment that becomes progressively more demanding as they move through the Dan grades...
This is not necessarily the only way to rank, but it seems to be considered a standard.
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I don't think this is a bad idea.  In fact, this is a pretty good way to do quality control on your dan structure.  There are some potential glitches though.
  • Making rank by combat the standard and making it harder to advance technically (without combat) might make it more difficult to build a cadre of excellent teachers.
  • When you have a small number of candidates for a high-rank shiai, you have to pull from a larger area.  In a smaller country or organization, where are you going to get enough 5th dan candidates (for instance) to have a good pool of competitors for a 4th-to-5th dan promotion tournament?  ...especially if you are going to divide the competitor pool into weight categories...  Drawing aspirants from all across a nation can make for onerous travel and burdensome expense.
Don't get me wrong.  I think it's a good idea to make aspirants to higher rank demonstrate under pressure, skill commensurate with that rank, but there needs to be some flexibility built into the system for excellent non-competitive judoka.  What about the kata experts?  What about the goshin jutsu experts?  What about the amazing teachers?  
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You want room in your art for folks with different ideas of what the art really is.



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____________________
Patrick Parker
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The REAL reason for terminal rank

Why is it that in judo, 10th degree black belt is the highest rank attainable?
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I have no way to find out, but I suspect (pure conjecture) that it has to do with the expected time-in-grade for each rank.  As I understand it, the time-in-grade in years for each rank is equal  to the rank. So it takes 2 years to get to nidan and 3 more years to sandan and 6 years to rokudan, etc...
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So, assuming that the practitioner is an adult (mid-20's) when they get their shodan, it will take about 54 years to get to 10th dan.  That would put the practitioner near 80 years old (like Karl Geis).  Another 11 years for 11th dan would put him in his early 90's (like Helio Gracie), and another 12 would put the practitioner near 105 (like Keiko Fukuda).
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Now we have certainly improved life expectancy over the years, and we like to think that with good fitness and healthy habits, more people have the potential to reach those advanced ages, but there is still an effective cap on maximum age - and that glass ceiling is around 115-120 years.
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The old dead guys that came up with the ranking system didn't just pull the 10th dan out of a hat and say, "That'll be the highest rank."  It's just that not many folks live healthy active lives capable of practicing and/or teaching judo into their 90s and 100s.  
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This guess of mine also sort of makes the story make more sense about the Judo powers-that-be awarding Dr. Kano 12th dan as the founder to put him "beyond the rank system."  It's not that the number 12 is magical, it is just nearly inconceivable that someone could live and practice and teach judo for another 23 years after getting a 10th dan.


Want to discuss this blog post?
Come find me on Facebook at my Mokuren Dojo FB group

____________________
Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com

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