Here is an interesting explanation of how the Masters got their ranks within the traditional martial arts organisations in the very early days.

First of all, I must point out that, the information mentioned here has come from researching several written references of past correspondences, also Information that I have gathered from my traditional Instructors.

The writings of Richard Kim – Hanshi, of the Butoku-kai (Dojo 1993) taught how the dan/kyu (degree) grading system was adopted by modern budo schools of Instruction. Which the Federation of All Japan Karate Do Organisation that was known at the time as (FAJKO) Richard Kim – Hanshi then wrote;


Black Belt image

“To truly understand this ranking system, it is important for one to gain a clearer insight into how the various masters obtained their ranks, since this indeed forms the basis for your rank.”

I refer here to “The Schools of Traditional Karate Do Instruction” rather than using the word “Style.”

It is well recognised that Master Funakoshi adopted the Dan Grading (Black Belt) system from Master Jigoro Kano’s Kodokan -Judo system. However in saying this, there was another grading system in place called “The Menkyo System”, this grading system was quite complex and was dropped in favour of the Kodokan Judo system which is utilised today in many different forms of traditional martial arts schools of instruction.

As we identify, the reference to “The father of modern day Karate” was indeed O Sensei Gichin Funakoshi (1868-1957).

In 1924 Master Gichin Funakoshi awarded Karate’s first black belt Dan to the fol-lowing seven recipients; Hironori Ohtuska, the founder of Wado Ryu Karate Do, Shinken Gima, later of Gima-ha shoto-ryu, and Ante Tokuda, Gima’s cousin, who Received his Nidan (2nd Dan) black belt. Like Gima, Tokuda had trained exten-sively in Okinawa prior to going to Japan. The other karate ka that was awarded their Dan Grades was, Kasuya, Akiba, Shimizu and Hirose.

I must mention that the above masters were graded within the Godan System of grading. It was not until 1952 that through the (IMAF) The International Martial Arts Federation, that a ranking system incorporating The Ten Dan System (Black- Belts) was introduced. In years to follow there would indeed be many Budo (Martial Art) associations formed throughout Okinawa and Mainland Japan representing many teachers and schools.

When I first commenced my budo training in1962 with Osensei Takahashi Soke – 10th Dan, I was to train for a duration of six years with a white obi (belt) prior to being awarded my Shodan (1st Dan Black Belt). With the establishing of the first; Takahashi-ha no Ryūkyū - Shuri-te Karate-do, in Hamilton, New Zealand. As a result introducing the five coloured belts for Kyu-grade, (Mudansha) and at this time during our history, we were still following the “Godan” grading criteria for Dan Grade - Yudansha.

Without a doubt, we advance from beginning to end through our traditional martial art with steps and not by leaps; just like how we ascend a ladder “one step at a time.” Our different colours of our Obi’s (Belt) represent our progress and our knowledge within our time-honoured art.

Indeed to follow the Do (Way) of Karate we have to demonstrate “courtesy and respect”, therefore when we kneel in Seiza to tie on our obi, we should be reminded that we are reinforcing our budo commitment joining together ourselves to our Martial Art, and our Sensei in a spiritual and a physical way.

Yours in Kokoro
Garry O’Connor Hanshi

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