By Ronald Leach, Hanshi and 9th Dan
Awarding rank in Seiyo-no Shorin-ryu Karate & Kobudo is not based on skill alone. It also has age and time in grade requirements. For the instructors there are also limitations. One basic requirement is that no instructor may award rank to anyone equal to the instructor rank. As a matter of fact, the instructor may only award rank equal to two ranks below his or level. A 5th dan may promote only to a 3rd dan level. This assures that the student gets an instructor with adequate advanced grade as a Sensei. This system works well.
However, problems arise at top level promotions of 9th and 10th dan, because if a 10th dan grades to maximum of 8th dan, 8th dan is then the highest promotion. There would be no way of promoting past that point. Eventually, when the 10th dan retires or dies, the highest rank is 8th dan and only 6th dan appointments may be made. With each successive generation two ranks are lost until the system dies.
To alleviate this problem, a mechanism called the Soke is put into place. The Soke, or head of system, holds an honorary rank of 12th dan. In this way the 9th and 10th dan levels may be reached. Unfortunately, the Soke system and rank are so over used and abused in the martial arts, that we in Seiyo-no Shorin-ryu abhor the system. But, it allows us a method to award upper level rank appointments. The Soke is a position only and not an actual rank.
Within this system, there is a second position called the Soke-dai. This person is the inheritor of the system given an honorary rank of 11th dan. When the Soke can no longer or no longer wishes to head the organization. This awarded position will automatically move the Soke-dai into the Soke position. That person then selects a person to fill the Soke-dai position. Technically, Harold Mead is the Shodai-Soke, first generation Soke. When he passes on the system the new head would assume the Nidai-Soke, second generation. And then, that Soke pass on the art to a successor who would become the Sandai-Soke, 3rd generation and so on.
Other than the ability of establishing continuity, people functioning in these positions are duly noted, but the name and special rankings are otherwise ignored in Seiyo-no Shorin-ryu. Other organizations use the terms in loft ways and that is the reason the Soke position is so out of control. In some organizations the position is more akin to Halloween candy, given freely at the front door.
In May 2012, Harold Mead, Kaicho (meaning originator of the system) selected a new person to fill the position of Soke-dai for Seiyo-no Shorin-ryu. That person, Vashon Borich, a very capable martial artist, will carry on Seiyo-no Shorin-ryu. Borich Sensei carries an actual rank of 5th Dan. The upper level students stand firmly behind her and have made a commitment to assure her training as the Soke-dai.
I am a beginner.
Sure, I've been involved in some sort of Martial Art since I was 8 years old and I'm 38 now. But, in my mind I'm still a beginner. Beginner's don't have to be cool or claim to know everything. Beginner's don't get uptight when they make a mistake. Beginner's are always learning. They seem to have more fun, too. They aren't overly critical of themselves. They don't classify themselves as "good" or "bad." They are simply a beginner... someone who is in the present and there to learn. Beginner's love what they do regardless of how well they do it. Or, should I say, beginner's love unconditionally.
This concept of being a beginner is really a mindset, a "beginner's mind." By adopting a beginner's mind, it opens you to learning without ego getting in the way. So often, as adults, we tell ourselves, "I know this! I should have done better! Anything I do should be done well or not done at all. Or, this is how I've always done it." A beginner's mind means temporarily throwing out all of your opinions, beliefs, logic and reason just for the sake of learning.
It is okay to say, "I don't know." For this is the first step in learning something new. In the martial arts, an "I don't know" mind is the wisdom of the warrior. We don't allow ourselves to say "I don't know" often enough. This is because we always know, or we always think we know. Most of the time when we think we know, we don't really know at all. All we know are our past impressions of the situation that is happening now, the conclusions we came to in the past or judgments about similar events or circumstances that happened to us before. "I Don’t know" means keeping an open mind and responding according to circumstances, not according to how we assume things will be.
Being a beginner means letting go of being an expert. We are all experts in something. We may think we are experts in our job, in raising children, in cooking a certain meal or in how we communicate with others. It’s difficult to let go of being an expert. Doing so means confessing that we really don't know anything. What we know belongs to the past. But this moment is new and offers its unique challenges. If I let go of being an expert, I can listen to others with an open mind. Then I can find that even a beginner has something to teach me.
Beginners aren't afraid to fail. When we were children we were always starting something new. Then, as we go through our twenties, thirties, and further, we become more hesitant about being a beginner again. Why? Maybe it's because we don’t want to look silly when we fail. Having a Beginner's mind means it's okay to fall down, it's okay to fail and it's okay to laugh at ourselves when we make mistakes. Tell yourself (and others if they are watching), "I'm a beginner!" Then get up, dust yourself off, smile and immerse yourself in learning something new.
A beginner's mind can transform the way one experiences life. It opens your mind to new possibilities and makes life fun.
In the next section, I list some thoughts to meditate on to help maintain a beginner's mind.
Vashon Borich-Leach, Sensei teaches traditional karate and tai chi in Branson, Missouri. She considers herself a life-time student of the arts. Her blog is an open journal of lessons learned in the martial arts. If you are a martial artist and would like to contribute to her blog please contact her.
©2012 Branson Karate & Kobudo™