Thursday, August 07, 2014

Terminal rank

Over the years, a lot of folks have recognized that the modern colored belt kyu-dan thing that Kano-san came up with was an imperfect thing.  I think even Kano realized during his lifetime that there were problems with it, but instead of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, he kept the rank system and emphasized the positives and de-emphasized the negatives.
Also, over the years, people have suggested tweaks to make the advancement system more stable or equitable.  One of these potential adjustments is the idea of Terminal Rank.
Terminal rank is the idea that not just everyone has the potential to rise to the highest rank levels.  Folks that tout terminal rank as a solution have some pretty good arguments...

  • Just because someone manages to practice judo long enough to get lots of time-in-grade doesn't mean they should be promoted to the highest of ranks.
  • Regardless of how hard they try, some people will not be able to obtain skill commensurate with the highest ranks in judo.
  • The highest ranks are considered teaching ranks and some practitioners never teach.
  • They don't want to de-value the highest ranks by turning them into a "participation award" like we see in youth soccer or tee-ball.
  • Extraordinary ranks should only be given to people with extraordinary skill and service to the art.
Those all sound pretty reasonable to me, but the terminal rank idea also has a couple of major glitches...
  • What is going to be the terminal rank for most folks?  With average attendance and time-in-grade and average effort and potential, do you throttle back on their ranking at shodan or is it sandan or is it godan?  Wherever you place the cutoff, it is arbitrary.
  • Wherever you set the terminal rank, what are you going to do with all the people in the organization that are already beyond that rank?
As a buddy of mine pointed out a while back, most of the folks advocating loudly for terminal rank are folks that are already beyond that rank.  Nobody wants to put that hurdle in the way of their own advancement.  So that buddy's response to the guy that said terminal rank should be godan... "What do you think YOUR terminal rank should be?"

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Patrick Parker
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