Dan grades are the various levels of black belt, so what level or dan is enough? With no regular standard amongst the many styles and different karate groups what does a dan grade mean? Is someone with the grand title of sixth dan twice as skilled or knowledgable as a third dan?
Boy to man.
The various coloured belts up to black belt are called kyu grades, there are normally about eight to ten of these. The word kyu translates as boy, so the kyu grades mean boy grades.
Black belt is first dan and dan can be translated as man, so black belt is the first man grade. Dan can also mean step and in Japan first dan is very much seen as the first step completed. This is an extremely different view from the popular Western view of black belt as being a master level.
There is a popular misconception in the West that a first dan black belt is a teaching qualification. In Japan students are only considered qualified to teach at third dan level. The skill of teaching, communication also observation skills and a lot of patience, are not magically acquired at first dan. Some brown belts could make better teachers than many first second or third dans.
Being a first dan means that you have completed the first step. The first step in karate and in any martial art is to be able to smoothly execute the styles techniques in a correct fashion. This is demonstrated in both solo and two man forms or katas, followed up by free style sparring.
The test for second dan normally requires that you have been a first dan for at least two years and the longer the gap the better in my opinion. Being awarded second dan is an acknowledgement that you have established yourself as a black belt. By continuing to practice and improve you have made your styles techniques and particular fighting concepts a part of you. The difference between a first and second dans skills should be noticeable even to the untrained eye.
Competition fighters often peak at third dan. It is at this level that they are old enough to have a wealth of experience and skill. Third dans are still young enough for age not yet to have put a dent in their competitive edge! Many styles only have a syllabus up to third dan after that higher dans are more of a political statement. Third dans, in my opinion should really be able to demonstrate a high level of fighting skill and if they have been taught properly convincingly beat any lower grade on a good day at least.
Often a particular styles founder or even the founders son will be given the title of eighth or even tenth dan. This is more to acknowledge that person as the figure head of an organisation that could well be international. Very high dan grades are a title rather than a qualification of technical achievement. A tenth dan is often awarded by a top member of the establishment, the Emperors brother or someone, who wouldn’t know a green belt from a black belt!
To the great detriment of martial arts in general high grades are used to head hunt instructors from one organisation into another. Often a breakaway group motivated by money offers a dan promotion as a bribe to join them, and please bring your fifty students and their licence fees with you!
The magic of the dan grades.
In a world where money not only talks but drowns everything else out with it’s shouting, dan grading tests are a throw back to the dawn of time.
Initiation rituals involving pain and some sort of physical ordeal are as old as mankind itself. A rigorous test of martial spirit has always been a right of passage between childhood and becoming a warrior. Overseen by shamans or tribal elders this was a practice in many many cultures who understood the importance of a right of passage in helping males reach full maturity. In a dan grading martial prowess is tested and acknowledged,if you pass, by the elders of your martial clan. Hard practice pain and effort are the first requirements in a dan grade, not your money when it’s done right.
We live in this modern world were a childish fickleness has become the norm. In order to develop impressive martial arts skill to dan grade level you will to go against this growing trend. We are swamped by entertainment, twenty four hours a day, sports coverage computer games and the rest. With all these distractions on the hypnotic silver screen it’s too easy to be lazy both physically and mentally. All of these modern pass times mean that time can pass even more quickly and the chance for real achievement slips by. To reach any dan grade takes dedication determination and persistent practice.
Ninety percent of ability is stick ability .
Which ever of these three initiations into your martial art of choice you reach you will have a credential that you can be proud of. The mystic of the black belt is that it truly does sort out the men from the boys.