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Age And Rank

There is a connection between age and rank. For higher ranks, there is usually a minimum age and a minimum number of years of practice and/or years since last promotion. The age and year requirements are minimums and prerequisites. A person is never entitled to rank merely because of age or years of practice.

Karate is a skill. As with any endeavor requiring skill, some people are more skilled than others. A singer who has practiced singing for many years does not necessarily sing well. This makes sense. But in Karate, there is a general belief (or misbelief) that a person who has trained for many years is skilled. That may or may not be true.

Age does not entitle one to rank. Age entitles one to respect befitting that age. Rank and respect are two different things.

When I studied Aikido, my sensei was a 6th dan. There was an elderly gentleman who was, I believe, a 1st dan. He was older than my sensei but had not studied Aikido as long or as intensively. My sensei respected the gentleman as a person and also respected his age. However, the elderly gentleman respected my sensei as his sensei and senior in Aikido.

My point is that a person could be 60, 70, 80, or even 90 years old and still have a kyu or low dan ranking. It all depends. There is no shame in any rank. The only shame is not to deserve one's rank.

While age does not entitle one to rank, age can be required for rank. I do not think that it makes much sense to promote a young child to 1st dan. I similarly do not think it makes much sense to promote a 20 year old to 8th dan. Such a rank may be more appropriate for someone who is at least 60 or 65, or even older. Advanced rank requires maturity.

In my dojo, a student must be at least 17 in order to earn a 1st dan. If he or she starts very young, this may require many years of practice. An adult could earn shodan in fewer years. For example, one of my students trained for 12 years before earning shodan. He started training at the age of 5. Thus 12 years were required before he reached the age of 17. By that time, he had already taught many adults who earned 1st dan before him.

Of course, rank is very relative, and to some extent, irrelevant. It seems to be a necessary evil in this modern world. There was no ranking system in the "old days." At some point in the past, Karate instructors began to promote themselves and each other, following the format used in Judo and the early Dai Nippon Butokukai.

I think that a student should accept rank with a sense of responsibility and a willingness to train harder. That's all.

But it is important to keep in mind that rank depends on ability. Ability may or may not come with age. It all depends on the student.

Age itself is deserving or respect -- but not rank.


Charles C. Goodin