There are a lot of people in the martial arts world who love titles. Sifu, Sensei, Shihan, Master, Semapi etc., are all valid titles depending on which kind of martial art you practice. And prospects often come to the school and tell me what rank they made it to before they quit their previous martial art – yellow belt with black stripe, black belt, green belt, etc. While I respect the time and training that anyone has put in to their chosen art, I remind my students not to get caught up in what belt or rank they are, because ultimately, their belt or rank MEAN NOTHING.
Don’t get me wrong, we use a system of ranking and belts at our school as well. It is helpful to the student to see what his/her short-term and long-term goals are, and how they are progressing through the curriculum. But ranking and belts are an arbitrary system, and arbitrary systems are, well, arbitrary. They have no connection to the real world. They are “made up” for our benefit.
For example, even students in the same art, but from different schools, will have a different ranking system. Some schools have 4 progressions before black belt, some have 10. How can I get students from these 2 schools to work together at the same level? The answer is I really can’t.
Do you think the Samurai cared about what “rank” they were? No, they cared about one thing – not dying on the battlefield. They trained relentlessly, because many times, there was no way to quantify how much they knew, or if they were better than others. If they were better, they survived, if not, they never got to review their training again.
We all like the feeling of being competent, and many like the feeling of having junior students look up to them; to see them as the “top dog”. It is easy to become arrogant, and tell yourself how good you are, just because you have such-and-such rank.
In order to keep our skills progressing, we remind ourselves to keep the mindset of the japanese concept of Mushin. Mushin means “beginner’s mind”. It means that no matter how much you know, you can always learn more. It reminds us not to get caught up in rank, or belts because once you “know it all”, learning stops and you become complacent – which means death on the battlefield.
Mushin reminds us to look at every technique like you have never seen it before – to do every technique like you have never done it before. Mushin reminds us to be careful. If I allow myself to “know ” a technique, then I will stop trying to learn its subtle nuances. With Mushin, I remind myself to keep learning, no matter what my rank, no matter what my belt.
As for rank – forget it, it means nothing anyway. All that matters is what you know, and what you can do, right now.