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.
"Seventy percent of success in life is showing up."
Staying motivated in one's karate training can be a challenge. It requires a commitment of time and the self-discipline to practice what is taught. There are so many distractions in life, it is easy to say, "I don't really feel like going to class tonight. I think I'll skip." Excuses like, "I'm too tired" or "I don't feel well" or "I'll just go next week" all are an easy way out. It's always easier to make an excuse.
I am no exception to the excuse game. Many years ago when I first started karate, there was a period of time in which I struggled to attend regular karate classes or even train on my own. I'd make a lot of excuses to justify in my mind that it was ok to skip a class every now and then. However, I soon saw that some of my friends in class were getting promoted in rank and I wasn't. This frustrated me and I considered quitting. I approached my Sensei after class and before I could say anything, he asked "Do you want to become a black belt one day?" I said, "Yes. It's always been a dream of mine to become a black belt." He then leaned in and said, "Let me tell you a little secret... karate, like anything you want to succeed at in life, requires commitment and perseverance. If you want to one day become a black belt, you must demonstrate both. Anyone can quit. That's easy! But if you truly want to become a black belt, you MUST turn that dream into a goal. Commit to it. Be Present. Attend classes. Practice. Focus on your goal and NEVER quit until you achieve it."
I went home and I made a promise to myself to attend all classes, no excuses. The only way I would miss class was if there was some unforeseen circumstance, emergency or actual illness that would be in the best interest to not spread around. And if one of these rare things occurred, I notified my instructor that I wasn't going to be there and kindly requested a lesson plan so I could practice at home. It was a true commitment.
There still were times in which I didn't want to go to class. However, I've personally found that when I didn't feel like going was when I needed it the most. The safe environment, the meditation and just getting some exercise, lifted my mood. It made me feel better. And with each class, I was one step closer to achieving my goal. Of course I did finally earn my black belt. It took me five years of dedication. Had I not missed so many classes that first year, I may have earned my black belt in four years. But, once I earned the coveted black belt, I didn't want my goal to stop there. I set new goals and became an instructor. At the writing of this entry, I am a third degree black belt and I continue to learn and grow in the martial arts. The martial arts have become my passion and I see myself as a life-time practitioner of the arts.
My advice to any student of the martial arts hoping to stay motivated is: Set goals for yourself. Select things that you want to be able to do. The goal to be a black belt may be too daunting. Set some small goals like, I will practice my kata outside of class 5 times this week. Or, I will work to attend every karate class this month. Then reward yourself as you achieve your goals and set new goals along the way.
If you want to advance in rank and eventually become a black belt, it requires three main things:
The longer you do the martial arts the more it becomes a way of life and a part of who you are. There is a switch that occurs somewhere during your training where the motivation to continue training and learning suddenly becomes stronger than the motivation to quit.
Vashon Borich, Sensei teaches traditional karate & kobudo 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™