The Dan Ranking System in the Martial Arts:
The dan ranking system is a Japanese mark of level which is used in traditional fine arts and martial arts. Originally invented in a Go school in the Edo period, this system was later applied to martial arts by Kano Jigoro, the founder of judo and later introduced to other East Asian countries. In the modern Japanese martial arts, holders of dan ranks often wear a black belt. Dan ranks are still given in arts such as the strategy board games Go and Renju, the art of flower arrangement (ikebana), and tea ceremony. The character of Dan is used in Japanese to mean step or grade, and is commonly equated with degree. However, the origin of the Chinese character, pronounced duán in modern Pinyin, was used mean “phase”. Dan rank is often used along with the lower rank system, Kyū rank. There are other methods of assessing rank in Japanese martial systems, of particular note is the older, menkyo system.
The dan ranking system was invented by Honinbo Dosaku, professional go player in the Edo period. Prior to the invention, top-to-bottom ranking was evaluated by each handicaps and tended to be vague. He valued then highest title holder, Meijin at 9 Dan. Dan ranks were applied to martial arts by Kano Jigoro, the founder of judo. Kano started the modern rank system when he awarded shodan (the lowest dan rank) to two of his senior students (Shiro Saigo and Tsunejiro Tomita) in 1883. Even then, there was no external differentiation between yūdansha (black belt ranks) and mudansha (those who had not yet attained a grade). Kano began the custom of having his yūdansha wear black obi (belts) in 1886. These obi were not the belts karateka and jūdōka wear today—Kano had not invented the jūdōgi (judo uniform) yet, and his students were still practicing in kimono. They wore the wide obi still worn with formal kimono. In 1907, Kano introduced the modern jūdōgi and its modern obi, with white and black belt ranks. The use of belts to denote ranks were used by different athletic departments within the Japanese school system, most notably for swimmers, prior to their adoption by Kano
Modern usage in Go
Traditionally, the level of players has been defined using kyu and dan ranks. Kyu ranks are considered student ranks. Dan ranks are considered master ranks. Especially in amateur play, these ranks facilitate the handicapping system, with a difference of one rank roughly corresponding to one free move at the beginning of the game. With the ready availability of calculators and computers, rating systems have been introduced. In such systems, a rating is rigorously calculated on the basis of game results. Dan (abbreviated online as “d”) ranks are for advanced amateur players. Although many organisations let players choose their own kyu rank to a certain extent, dan ranks are often regulated. This means that players will have to show good results in tournaments or pass exams to be awarded a dan rank. Serious students of the game will often strive to attain a dan rank. For amateurs, dan ranks up to 7th dan are available, above this level, a player must become a professional player to achieve further promotions. Although players that have achieved professional dan ranks are nominally stronger than amateur dan players, in practice some of the strongest 7th dan amateur players have a playing level on par with that of some professional players.
Modern usage in martial arts
In Japanese arts
In modern times, a dan-ranked practitioner of a style is usually recognized as a martial artist who has surpassed the kyū, or basic, ranks. They may also become a licensed instructor in their art. In many styles, however, achieving a dan rank means that while one is no longer considered a beginner, one is not yet necessarily an expert.
The total number of dan ranks is style-specific (1st through 5th and 1st through 10th are common in Japanese arts). The lower dan grades can normally be attained through a grading examination or sometimes through competition. The higher dan grades usually require years of experience and contribution to the relevant martial art. This may be through instruction or research and publication. These grades can only be awarded by a higher-graded representative of the principal dojo or sometimes by a steering committee. There is no set achievement level that is universal. Ranking systems is that they are specific to the school or style, so that the ranks achieved do not necessarily translate across different martial arts styles. In fact, dan ranks do not necessarily indicate one wears a black belt. In certain martial arts such as iaidō, kendō or jōdō, no external signifier of rank is worn, though it is by far the most common and recognizable symbol by the general public.
The highest dan ranks are sometimes reserved for the founder or leaders of a style and other high ranking students can only be promoted by them. This has led to upper level ranks becoming extinct in some arts. For example, in judo there are only three living tenth-level dans in the world and only fifteen have been promoted to the rank since its inception. In other styles the dan ranks are not the highest level that might be attained, with instructor certification and judge/judgment authorization being understood as higher-level or more sophisticated.
Ranks in Japanese
Many arts use between one and ten dan ranks:
1.shodan – first degree black belt
2.nidan – second degree black belt
3.sandan – third degree black belt
4.yondan – fourth degree black belt
5.godan – fifth degree black belt
6.rokudan – sixth degree black belt
7.nanadan – seventh degree black belt (also, shichidan)
8.hachidan – eighth degree black belt
9.kyuudan – ninth degree black belt
10.jūdan – tenth degree black belt
In certain styles, shodan implies that all the basics of the style have been mastered. At sandan the student is deemed capable of teaching independently as a teacher or instructor, often called sensei. At Godan, the budōka may receive certification as a master level practitioner (Shidōin). Generally, the lower dan ranks are validated on the basis of knowledge and physical skill. The higher the dan rank, the more leadership ability, teaching experience, and service to the style play a role in promotion. For example, in British judo, to gain promotion from 1st to 5th Dan, judo players must demonstrate theoretical technique and competitive skill in graded competitions. Promotions from 6th to 10th Dan are awarded for services to the sport of judo.
In Kendo the dan system was recently changed so that 8th dan is the highest attainable rank. Unlike Judo, all dan promotion within the ZNKR, IKF and its member countries is by examination. Whereas dan grades are awarded for technical ability, there is a parallel Shogo system awarding Renshi, Kyoshi, Hanshi, against suitability as a role model to some members of the kodansha ranks of 6th, 7th and 8th dan. Renshi and Kyoshi are awarded on written examination and Hanshi by election. There is some debate amongst non-Japanese kendoka about the fairness of the Kyoshi test, which unlike the equivalent for Renshi, must be written in Japanese.
Although the dan system is distinctly Japanese, it has been adopted by many other martial arts styles. The dan system and the well-known symbol of a black-belt have been absorbed into common usage to represent a person with above-average or highly-trained skills in a particular discipline.
Since 1998 the Chinese Wushu Association together with the National Sport Commission and the Chinese Wushu Research Institute has established a graduation system based on nine Duan levels:
Symbol: Duan Wei (level)
So-called basic duans for students with some years of experience.
1. Qingying—yi duan: Blue Eagle
2. Yinying—er duan: Silver Eagle
3. Jinying—san duan: Gold Eagle
Middle-level duans for wushu students who are able to teach and have approximately 10 years wushu experience. Starting from 5th Duan there has to be proof of a scientific work in wushu research, i.e. publications.
4. Qinghu—si duan: Blue Tiger
5. Yinhu—wu duan: Silver Tiger
6. Jinhu—liu duan: Gold Tiger
Advanced level is only awarded to very experienced masters with excellent reputation in Wushu. The person awarded such a Duan is officially allowed to call himself “Grand Master”.
7. Qinglong—qi duan: Blue Dragon
8. Yinlong—ba duan: Silver Dragon
9. Jinlong—jiu duan: Gold Dragon
For international standardization the Chinese Wushu Association has decided to use the Japanese word Dan instead of the Chinese Duan.
This graduation system is not totally new in Chinese wushu. In older days there have been graduations as mentioned in the Chinese Wushu-Encyclopedia (Zhongguo Wushu baike quanshu) or later at the Emperor’s court.
Some Korean martial art schools use embroidered bars to denote different dan ranks, as shown on the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd dan belts aboveKorean martial arts lacked a grading system up until the Japanese occupation (1905–1945) during which a variety of Japanese martial arts were introduced in the Korean school system, most notably judo and kendo. After the occupation, newly emerging martial arts like taekwondo, Soo Bahk Do and hapkido continued using the dan and geup ranks. The dan rank system is also used by baduk players. Nowadays also the Korea Taekkyon Association issues dan ranks to taekkyeon practitioners.
Someone who has received a dan rank is called a yudanja.
In some Korean schools, most notably in Kukkiwon taekwondo, there is also a pum system in place. Practitioners who have not reached the age of 16 yet, can not test for a dan rank. For them there is a system of four pum grades. After they reach the age of 15.5 their pum-grade can be changed to the corresponding dan-grade, although some organisations require the practitioner to take an additional exam. In Kukkiwon taekwondo one can test for pum-grades until the age of 18. Usually the belt worn by pum holders is a bi-color red and black belt.
Ranks in Korean
When numbering the dan ranks, Sino-Korean numbers are used. Common names for the dan ranks are thus:
1.Il dan – first degree black belt (also known as cho dan)
2.Yi dan – second degree black belt
3.Sam dan – third degree black belt
4.Sa dan – fourth degree black belt
5.O dan – fifth degree black belt
6.Yuk dan – sixth degree black belt
7.Chil dan – seventh degree black belt
8.Pal dan – eight degree black belt
9.Gu dan – ninth degree black belt
Usually the dan ranks do not go past ninth dan, although on some occasions in some organizations a tenth dan has been issued. According to Kukkiwon, they have only ever issued five official 10th Dan to deceased people, and one living person, (Un Yong Kim) who were considered to have made a great contribution to Tae kwon do.