Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Meaning of kyu ranks

I've heard it said that any martial arts teacher in the world who is worth a damn could teach a newbie everything that the instructor knows about self-defense within the space of 6-8 months.
Coming up through the ranks, our teachers were always insistent that we had to teach the best, most useful things first, and we had to teach so as to keep those fundamental self-defense skills constantly honed. 
So, the following represent some general guidelines about how I (and some of the groups I circulate in) do kyu ranks...

  • Gokyu (yellow belt) is about mobility and survival.  At this level we teach sfe, reflexive ukemi skills (particularly emphasizing standing backward breakfall and forward rolling breakfall.)  We also emphasize taisabaki (footwork and body management).
  • Yonkyu (green belt) is about the external jutsu of the system - learning to do a handful (3-5) of the most common, most pragmatic, most robust techniques.  Techniques that are quick to learn, easy to remember under stress, and that tend to work in street clothes and street situations.  Techniques that tend to work well for smaller females against larger males.  Yonkyu is the teeth of the system.  Examples of Yonkyu material would include wrist releases and atemi and low-risk, low-commitment footsweeps followed by dropping a knee on the attacker's ribs.
  • Sankyu (3rd Brown belt) is still about the external jutsu, but now we focus on learning a handful (3-5) of consequences or responses or combinations or variations that tend to spring naturally and commonly from the Yonkyu material.  Sankyu fills in most of the rest of the practical goshin jutsu of the system.  If one were to quit at this point, the instructor could be fairly assured of the student's chances of surviving most bad incidents on the street.
  • Nikyu (2nd Brown belt) and Ikkyu (1st Brown Belt) are about further rounding out the basic knowldege of the student, making sure they know how to practice in a productive and safe way, and how to acid-test things (randori).  Often there are fewer techniques and more time-in-grade at these levels so that the student has more time to marinate in the strategy underlying the system.  In some schools there are no additional technical requirements between Ikkyu and Shodan so that the ikkyu can concentrate even more resources on intangibles like movement and strategy rather than tactics and techniques.

Incidentally, how much material is necessary for the Shodan?  Probably not as much as you think.  Back in the day in Japan (1950's Kodokan for instance), one could get a shodan in 12-18 months, and my teachers assure me that the standard shodan material was Kyo #1-3 of the Gokyonowaza (that is, 24 techniques).  Nowadays people want to brag that they make their shodans master all 40 techniques of the Gokyo or more).  I think this sort of thing comes from a misunderstanding of the real significance (or insignificance) of Shodan, and I think it results in greater rank inflation.
Wait, what does "rank inflation" even mean?  Stay Tuned, Dear Constant Reader.

Want to discuss this blog post? 

Patrick Parker
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