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What Dan Are You?

I meet and speak to many Karate students and instructors. Quite often I am asked, "What dan are you?"

I wish that I could come up with a funny answer, like "No, my name is Charles, not Dan."

It seems that one's dan ranking has become the primary indicator of one's accomplishments in Karate.

If you say, "Nidan," the questioner will probably say, "Oh" (like that is not too good).

If you say, "Hachidan," the questioner will probably say, "Oh" (like that is impressive).

If you say, "I'm sorry, but I feel that numerical indicators of one's level in Karate are very shallow and often inaccurate measures," the questioner will probably think, "Not very high, eh?"

You can't win.

When I speak to people, I am more interested in who their Sensei is/are and how long they have trained. I respect that hard work that goes into dan ranking, but also recognize that many dedicated and fine students have lower or no ranking, while the opposite can also be true (unfortunately).

I also find it interesting when someone asks me, "How long have you practiced Karate?" When I say 35 years (or whatever), they then usually ask, "So you are a black belt?"

I feel like saying, "Not yet, but in a few more years maybe!"

Skill is what counts. With skill, rank is irrelevant. Without skill, rank is meaningless.

Just checking... what dan was Itosu Sensei? Oh yeah, they didn't have dan grades back then. Dan grades were a modern invention borrowed from the sport of Judo (which may have borrowed it from the the Japanese board game of go).


Charles C. Goodin