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Doubling Skill

Growing up in Karate, I have always heard that from one dan level to the next, the student's level of skill should double. That would mean that...

  • A 2nd dan is twice as skilled as a 1st dan.
  • A 3rd dan is twice as skilled as a 2nd dan, and 4 times as skilled as a 1st dan.
  • A 4th dan is twice as skilled as a 3rd dan, 4 times as skilled as a 2nd dan, and 8 times as skilled as a 1st dan.
  • A 5th dan is twice as skilled as a 4th dan, 4 times as skilled as a 3rd dan, 8 times as skilled as a 2nd dan, and 16 times as skilled as a 1st dan.
  • A 6th dan is twice as skilled as a 5th dan, 4 times as skilled as a 4th dan, 8 times as skilled as a 3rd dan, 16 times as skilled as a 2nd dan, and 32 times as skilled as a 1st dan.
  • A 7th dan is twice as skilled as a 6th dan, 4 times as skilled as a 5th dan, 8 times as skilled as a 4th dan, 16 times as skilled as a 3rd dan, 32 times as skilled as a 2nd dan, and 64 times as skilled as a 1st dan.
  • An 8th dan is twice as skilled as a 7th dan, 4 times as skilled as a 6th dan, 8 times as skilled as a 5th dan, 16 times as skilled as a 4th dan, 32 times as skilled as a 3rd dan, 64 times as skilled as a 2nd dan, and 128 times as skilled as a 1st dan.
  • A 9th dan is twice as skilled as an 8th dan, 4 times as skilled as a 7th dan, 8 times as skilled as a 6th dan, 16 times as skilled as a 5th dan, 32 times as skilled as a 4th dan, 64 times as skilled as a 3rd dan, 128 times as skilled as a 2nd dan, and 256 times as skilled as a 1st dan.
  • A 10th dan is twice as skilled as a 9th dan, 4 times as skilled as an 8th dan, 8 times as skilled as a 7th dan, 16 times as skilled as a 6th dan, 32 times as skilled as a 5th dan, 64 times as skilled as a 4th dan, 128 times as skilled as a 3rd dan, 256 times as skilled as a 2nd dan, and 512 times as skilled as a 1st dan.
I hope that my math was correct.

So what does this mean?

For younger students, it means that you have to train hard and try your best because there is much to learn and even more to refine. It does not take a little to move up in rank -- it takes a lot.

For seniors, it means that there is a lot to live up to. If a 10th dan should be 512 times as skilled as a shodan, that is quite a high expectation! Seniors have to live up to high standards and high expectations.

And as you know I will always say, it is the skill that counts, not the rank. Rank is supposed to be a reflection of skill (and other factors). A person without rank can have skill, and unfortunately, a person without skill can have high rank.

But really, if a 10th dan is supposed to be twice as skilled as a 9th dan, think about how much that entails. A 9th dan has nearly a lifetime of experience (hopefully). How can he double his skill? It would seem to be nearly impossible!

Of course, there are other standards for rank. Depending on the organization, rank could simply be a reflection of age and years trained. Or it could reflect the number of students, tournament wins, the size of the dojo, political connections, fame, wealth.... any numbers of factors.

Growing up in Karate, however, I always heard that each dan level represented a doubling of skill.

When my second and third sons became shodan, they had each already trained for 12 years. In our dojo, the minimum age for shodan is 17. Being twice as skilled as a student with 12 years of regular, diligent training is pretty difficult to do. But that is what is expected of us.

A last thought. Numbers like 256 and 512 may sound daunting. But if you are like me, you have probably met Sensei who you would say are 1,000 times better than you (certainly than me). It is all relative. When you watch someone and think to yourself "I could not move like that in a million years," then you begin to realize that there truly is a wide range of skill levels in Karate.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin