The Truth About Rank Recognition by KJN Ronald W. Stone
One of the advantages of being older is that you remember history and can get a feel for when people try to revise it or deceive others into believing that their new version is the correct one, often for personal or professional gain.
So, as a martial artist I am a little surprised at the remarkable number of supposed Grand masters that is currently popping up all over. I thought perhaps it might be of benefit to review the proper mechanisms for attaining high rank.
By way of illustration, one can run a small business and instruct all the employees to call them “General” inside their store, even if they didn’t spend a single day in the military. If that’s what they want it’s fine, just if it remains inside. Outside the store it becomes stolen valor.
To become a true General officer, you must be nominated from the Pentagon, approved by congress, and signed off by the President. While it is true that in combat a higher rank can jump a soldier up a rank or two, that does not hold for general officers.
Similarly, a high-ranking martial artist can promote someone a colored belt a level or two since the countries of origin do not even keep records of these lower rank.
For the higher ranks, however, there are certain criteria that are supposed to be followed. One of these is that the person promoting a black belt must hold rank at least two belts higher than the one being promoted.
To become a Grandmaster, however, requires a board of examiners. Joe does not promote Phil to ninth degree. Grandmaster status is confirmed by recommendation from one’s instructor to an overriding Federation authority such as the Korean Martial Arts Instructors Association (KMAIA), or a similar recognized legitimate Federation whose board reviews the application and grants the rank on behalf of the Federation.
The legitimate Grandmaster rank is simply not awarded by an individual.
The following was taken from a simple internet search:
“While celebrities and other prominent people might receive an honorary doctorate from a university, the degrees have no academic merit.” And “It is sometimes recommended that such degrees be listed in one’s curriculum vitae (CV) as an award, and not in the education section.”
Perhaps another example might clarify things. A person named Joe has been an outstanding lawyer for many years having once graduated from a recognized Law School. Joe starts teaching a few kids at his home and then decides to start granting his own Law Certificates. What do you suppose will happen when these students show up in a courtroom and try to practice law? Would Harvard Law, or any other law school or any state authority ever recognize these students? Would they allow them to teach?
Of course not, since today the field of law requires years of study with a variety of individuals qualified in their subspecialties like contract law and criminal law etc. We no longer apprentice such things.
While some might mention that Jigaro Kano, Choi Yung Sool or Ueshiba awarded such rank to their students, we should point out that they are now deceased historic founders of a brand-new art, not a single school, kwan or ryu. Today, the higher ranks in those arts are no longer legitimately awarded from individual to individual.
Misunderstanding, misrepresentation, and sadly outright fraud are becoming widespread in the modern martial arts. The author knows of at least two groups that were founded without legitimate recognition from country of style origin. The head of these two of these were stripped of all rank decades ago by the Korean government. (One for selling rank) Today they run multimillion dollar martial arts enterprises in the West. We also know of 9th dan Grandmasters who had never risen past Master level in their home country. You see, it is easy to fool people who don’t speak your language and can’t call Asia to check on things. It then boils down rightly or wrongly to a belief system.
It is a sad fact of life that when you promote a thousand uneducated and unqualified black belts, they will line up to throw themselves on the sword to protect you. There are two reasons for this. First, students tend to form an emotional bond with their instructor and are reluctant to question him, especially in the martial arts where loyalty and obedience is ingrained into the training.
Secondly and perhaps more importantly, questioning the leader’s legitimacy is to question oneself, something very few are willing to do. If the leader is illegitimate in his claims, then all those he promoted are too.
Two stories were related first hand to me demonstrating the problem with rank today. One school visited had a Korean Grandmaster certificate posted in plain sight for all his students to gaze upon fondly. Unfortunately, a visiting grandmaster who read Korean recognized the certificate for what it was, a framed copy of Korean army discharge papers.
This same Grandmaster also spoke Chinese, and once recognized a framed Shaolin certificate at another school as actually being a receipt for Chinese fireworks purchase.
The author was personally present when a grandmaster tested with the Korean federation I was associated with. He requested promotion to the next 7th dan rank, but after testing was told by the Koreans his skill set was barely that of a 2nd dan, which they offered him.
I later learned that he left angrily and purchased rank with a California based Martial Arts Federation and presently now claims a 9th dan status. He is also now on the board of a well-known Master /Grandmaster Association and sources have revealed to me that he uses falsified military credentials in his resume.
Can this worldwide situation be resolved? Perhaps not, but one thing that can help would be to stop giving them public recognition for these worthless ranks and awards that friends are issuing to each other without any authority to do so.
More simply and to the point perhaps is that martial artists should search and verify. (And I don’t mean name calling or deceitful internet trolling) Even more importantly they should obey the tenents of integrity and honesty and those in violation be called out publicly for those violations.
About the author: R.W. Stone is currently a practicing veterinarian in Central Florida. He is an avid horseman, a master ranked martial artist, a best-selling western author, and a firearms enthusiast. After joining a martial arts school in 1970 Stone started studying Yudo with a Korean grandmaster. He eventually became a member of the Judo team of the University of Illinois. It was at the University that a Korean classmate and friend introduced him to Tae Kwon do. After graduating veterinary college, he found the martial arts becoming too sports oriented and eventually after moving from Miami to Central Florida he sought out a Hapkido grandmaster. Currently Stone is ranked 8th dan in Haemukwan Hapkido, 4th dan in Daehan Yudo and a second dan in Kukki Taekwondo. He is the Hapkido instructor at the American Dragon Martial Arts Academies.
You can learn more about the Korean Martial Arts Instructors Association at https://www.kmaia.org and follow us on social media at https://www.facebook.com/KoreanMartialArtsInstructorsAssociation