Monday, August 04, 2014


In the judo world every so often someone will get a promotion based solely on their performance at an event like a tournament (or more rarely a seminar or camp).  This sort of field-promotion is called batsugan.  In fact, maybe I shouldn't say, "every so often," because it seems like it is not that uncommon at all.  I rarely attend tournaments any more, but back in the day it seemed like it was pretty common - we would go to the larger regional tournaments and some grizzly old dude in a candy-striped belt would come up to someone's sensei and tell them that their student was obviously under-ranked and inform them that they were being ranked-up effectively immediately (be sure to send your rank fees in to the national organization when you get home Monday).
Batsugan promotions tend to happen more often at lower-ranks, which makes sense - there is less difference between a green belt and a brown belt than there is between a 2nd dan and a 3rd dan.  But it does also happen at higher ranks. The highest-ranked batsugan promotion I ever heard of was at a USJA training seminar in the late 1990's, when a guy that had been a shodan for about a year was abruptly promoted to sandan because of his extraordinary performance as the main instructor's kata uke.
So, what do I think of batsugan as a practice?  It is a traditional practice that high-ranking people engage in sometimes, so it has historical precedent and social validity, but I think it is generally unwise.  Rank is about a lot of things, but one of the most primary of things represented by the rank is the relationship between the sensei and the student.  Anyone can win or lose on any given day at a judo tournament, so basing a promotion on a shiai performance (or even a several-day seminar) is shaky.  That's why, when batsugan promotions happen, sometimes everyone watching nods their head and agrees, "yeah, that's probably a good promotion," and in other cases everyone stands around biting their tongues to avoid saying anything.
Batsugan is one of those things that can happen and can be valid, but I don't think that it is the sort of thing that should happen any more often than occasionally.

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Patrick Parker
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