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.
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™