Monday, 3 March 2014

“Congratulations, New Shodan!”

It is always with pride and happiness that we welcome one of our Karate and Kempo students into the rank of what we commonly call “The Black Belts” but is officially known as the “Dan” grades. People have worked long and hard to get to this point, and only those who have walked this path know what it means to become a “Shodan”. But what is that you have actually achieved and why is this so special?

The word “Dan” means “step” or “stage” in Japanese, so, becoming a “Sho-dan” literally means: “He who has taken the first step”. To get to this point means working hard and studying hard for a minimum of at least four years. Someone who has some previous Martial Arts experience may actually do this faster (we after all offer “Fast Track” options if you qualify!). But still, you need to learn perform nine different katas, twenty combinations, master more than a hundred basic techniques as well as various assorted blocking systems, and you need to learn how to defend yourself in various ways. Yet, this is only the first step? Apparently so...You may hesitate to think what will be involved to be able to take the next step.

All that went before, all the differently coloured belts and their assorted tests, all that is part of the first step upon the path to become a martial artist. The step from Red Belt to Shodan is a big step, indeed, this may well be the biggest step in a martial artist’s carreer, as it represents a ‘coming of age’. When bowing in and showing respect to the Masters who went before us, as a Shodan you may do so in the knowledge that you yourself are one of the masters now as well. New students will learn from you and also bow to you, and, by teaching them, you will learn new things yourself.

Yet, at this point it is so easy to start thinking that you have achieved it all. You have been working so hard towards that “Black Belt” that you cannot really see what lies beyond that. Then it is time to remember this is only The First Step. There are many more steps to come and each come with its own challenges and new vistas. New material, new katas and combos are waiting for you, but also a gradually deepening knowledge and understanding of that which you already own. And, ultimately, a wisdom which makes you into a complete person. That is, after all, the ultimate goal of our style of Martial Arts training at American Dragon Martial Arts.


  1. i dont agree with the statement that :
    "When bowing in and showing respect to the Masters who went before us, as a Shodan you may do so in the knowledge that you yourself are one of the masters now as well.:
    A Shodan rank is the real first step . all the other colors are just degrees of effort .. All it means is that you have enough basics to be able to understand how little you really know .
    Mastery is a much used phrase , and little understood . . IMHO Mastery is no mind . The lag between action and reaction is Zero . Putting yourself into situations where if you cannot respond without thought you wont survive .
    Ive been Practicing and teaching for over 25 years . Ive trained parker kenpo , Urban Goju , Tae kwon Do , Tai Chi and boxing ive spent 10 years straight up street brawling in the toughest bars Nevada has to offer as security consultant . ive faced and disarmed knives , bottles clubs and guns . . Im currently a 6th dan , and i dont consider myself a " Master " The more i observe and study the more i realize that i really dont know squat .
    The road to the end of your Martial arts career ends when you assume the title of MASTER . always be the student . trust me on this . the more tricks you know the better off you are . Lots of folks are great big sledge hammers. i prefer to be the swiss army knife .

    R.C. Tokarz , Kyoshi

  2. Thanks for your thoughts on this, I really appreciate it! In my opinion, mastery comes in degrees, there is no such thing as the Absolute Master, and that is for a good reason, as the material itself is endless and therefore cannot be exhaustively known or mastered by anyone. So, relatively speaking, I'd consider you one of my masters (in our school you are in fact often referred to as "Master Tokarz" ;-)), Bill is one of my masters, but I in turn as a Sandan am master over our new Shodan, who in turn is now master over the Kyu students. These are all relative to each other, and I think it is important for a new Shodan -for whom I actually wrote this- to realize that his or her role in class has changed and now contains this aspect of mastery -limited as it indeed is!- as well.
    The great thing is that in this way there is always a "bigger master", which serves to keep you humble. The other point you make is that the more you learn, the more you realize you actually don't know anything. That is indeed true in many walks of life, and I consider that realization also part of the actual Mastership: knowing that what you know actually does not mean that much.

  3. i think the word Master is being misused. i think the word Sempi a better fit . Sempi =" Older brother " or " One who has gone before " While i agree that there can be "degress of Mastery" to discuss it before Yodan is debasing the idea of Mastery .
    I guess im becoming a old dog , as i see lots of programs putting out "Masters" who cant stand on one leg . I worked a VERY long time before someone hung a 5th on me . I earned it , The concept of a 1st degree be called master is somewhat offensive as it entails a level of respect not yet earned. Master needs to Mean something . if all black belts are masters , it follows that none of them are ....
    Its supposed to be a exclusive club . one earned, not given , through years of hard word , sacrifice and effort . Anyone can join , just do the work. its self excluding , people decide to not work.
    Dont devalue Bills or Mine or Hanshi Sotos achivements by addressing people as Master. Dont take that goal away from them .
    Its my 2 cents . i cant tell you the number of "masters " i ran out of my schools who just were awful .
    Id love to see Hanshis Soto's or Hiners take on this

  4. Zeer bedankt Ron, ik ben mijzelf zeer bewust dat dit pas het begin is en dat ik nu de basis van goju onder de knee begin te krijgen. In de rol als shodan en voornamelijk als sempai van de school voel me elke week wat meer in thuis. Zeer interessant de opvatting van Master Tokarz voor mijzelf streef ik ook altijd naar dit motto "train like a white belt"


  5. I certainly meant no disrespect towards any master of the arts, what I meant to say is actually in the following sentence to the "disputed" one: "New students will learn from you and also bow to you.".Because that is one of the many things that change after becoming Shodan, especially if you start taking a teaching role or assistant teaching role. Please also read the last paragraph when I talk about "The First Step" in what is after all a long and probably endless walk. Sampai would be a good term, but the Sampai role is a temporary one, until the next Shodans enter the stage, and the change in role and attitude that I am talking about is a permanent one. It is actually all about the awareness that such things and attitudes have changed, and this article (or these articles, as your comments inspire me to write at least two more articles about this :-)) I actually wrote to talk about what it means to achieve the black belt in all of its aspects, not just the fact that you've passed a test and got a new belt. There are many great things but also many pitfalls, one of the biggest probably to let the Black Belt get to your head and people start behaving like they are the Grandmasters of so and so. Realizing that you now have that image to kyu students is one thing, but acting like you now own the world is another. So, the next article will be about the humbleness that should balance the pride of the achievement.
    And please rest assured, we address no one in our school as Master. That honour is reserved for those who preceded us in our lineage and to whom we owe our very existence as martial artists.

  6. Terms and customs of the Martial Arts, Specifically USA Goju are used correctly in the school. Students are Que's (Color belts from White to Red/black) and Black Belt ranks are Dan's (1st Dan to 5 in my case). We use the following titles.
    Sempi - Senior Shodan or Older Brother, Role, Assistant Trainer interning.
    Nadan - Assistant Trainer
    SanDan - Sensai or Trainer (All my Sandans have completed 200 hours of Training Interning under me and know provide the supervisor ship for my Shodans and Nadans)
    Yodan - Trainer and Coordinator - If awarded the title by proper authority they can be called Renchi.
    Godan - Chief Trainer and School manager - Title of Renchi if awared by Proper authority. I hold the Godan Renchi Title from Hanshi Orlando Soto and Hanshi Lou Angle.
    Beyond this our school supports my teachers in the USA

    Koyoshi Tokarz (6th Dan) (Jr. Master)
    Koyoshi Emmons (6th Dan) (Jr. Master)
    Hanshi Soto (10th Dan) (Grand Master)
    Hanshi Angle (10th Dan) (Grand Master)

    Grand Master Brasard (8th Dan Kempo) Kempo doesn't use the Goju titles as I understand it.
    Godan Bommelle (5th Dan Judo/ Jujitsu) Judo has other titles to use.

  7. I have had many Martial Arts teachers as I would like to call them. Also I don't refer them as masters. As Ron said the honour of master is reserved for those who have walked the path before us in our lineage. I also like the title "Teacher"because you teach your students your knowledge because you have walked the path before them and you want to teach them to walk the same path. Teaching is sharing your knowledge with someone else. Isn't that what we are doing?