With all of that being said I will admonish the up and coming masters and those claiming such rank to exercise honesty and integrity.
On occasion I put myself in the line of fire with the stances I take and the articles I write to explain those stances. I’m probably getting ready to do the same thing again. Hopefully no-one will put a hit on me behind this and I won’t die mysteriously due to some kyoshu jitsu or dim mak attack. No Hoppa Grass, that’s dim mak attack not ‘Big Mack’ attack.
When I started studying the martial arts there were no Saturday morning kung fu flicks on TV and no kung fu matinees to shape my ideas of the martial arts. In 1957 Chicago there was just judo and jiu jitsu available, both of which were taught quietly in some small dojo or another. No big deal, no politics, no fanfare. No martial art mystique to create over the top sensei, masters and grandmasters. How I long for those simple times.
Karate became my art of choice. I studied several systems of karate, mempo/kenpo, aikijitsu/aikido and later kung fu wherever I could with whomever I could. I was beholden to no-one. For years I taught quietly in Chicago and Tucson. I always had a school or two and taught in colleges, YMCAs, Park District field houses, church gymnasiums and such like. I avoided organizations and shied away from the limelight. I avoided martial art politics like the plague. I even avoided advanced rank. I stayed a nidan and sandan for long periods of time. I never was a forth dan in karate. I was instead given a fifth or godan for time in grade. I didn’t like it but I went along with it. Over the years I climbed the ranks and at the present time I’m considered a master or grandmaster by my peers.
Let me get into the meat of this message. I would like to talk about rank and the American martial arts. In the beginning of my martial art training I studied several classical systems and belonged to the related organizations. These were Eastern arts and followed the Eastern philosophies concerning rank and fealty. We went about everything according to the oriental methodologies. We followed the ranking systems according to their requirements because we were basically oriental systems. We even used Japanese terminology. However that was then; this is now. The martial arts we teach and train in have changed as well as those of us who teach and train in them. The directions of those arts have been shaped by our own individual needs and challenge here in America. Taking those things in consideration change was inevitable. The arts that we teach have become uniquely American. The foundation of those arts may have been Asian but the arts have changed to suit our needs, body types and our temperaments. Consequently our loyalties have changed as have our ranking systems. We have become American masters teaching American arts.
Like many other American masters I hold high rank in several Asian arts. Like some other American teachers I had my own vision and using my extensive training and experience in the various arts I’ve trained in I created my own system or more properly my own martial concepts. I am ranked in those systems and the organizations that support them. My rank in the Asian arts would probably be recognized by my oriental counterparts but my American arts and my recognition of grandmaster rank by my American peers probably wouldn’t. Nor should they.
Rank is extremely relative. What’s accepted in some systems or by some organizations may be frowned on by another. I really don’t put a whole lot of store in rank. They can mean too many different things. I look more to the knowledge and ability of the individual. I do get a bit concerned about those 10TH degree grandmasters with less than forty five or fifty years in the martial arts but occasionally there is the rare exception to the rule. There are the rare student prodigies that graduate from college at sixteen. Occasionally you get one of those in the martial arts. I can name three off of the top of my head. No name dropping here but the three I’m thinking of are recognized as masters and grandmasters by the martial art community. One in particular received the equivalent of a shodan, 1ST degree, from his instructor and went on to create one of the most innovative systems in existence today.
Who’s to determine what is legitimate rank or a legitimate system? Of course I have my own opinion on this subject. If I didn’t I wouldn’t be writing this article. Personally I don’t concern myself with the acceptance or rejection of the system that I teach. My students believe in it and it works for them. That’s all of the acceptance I really require. I’ve taught and occasionally still teach the classical martial arts but I teach my own personal system to only a handful of people. I had the rank of godan or above in several classical systems long before I tried my hand at creating a different concept of those arts. I had over forty years of martial art experience when I started on that journey and then I didn’t do it along. It involved the combined efforts of several other sensei and masters.
A number of individuals concern themselves with the advanced rank claimed by some of the proponents of the westernized arts. Let me clear something up. At fifth dan you have the knowledge and ability in and of your particular art. A godan will require about twenty five years of dedication and training. Saying that a person started training at twenty. At forty five his physical abilities are beginning to wane and it doesn’t get better with the passing years. In the end a master is a master because of what he knows not what he can do. What you can do diminishes with age. What you know doesn’t.
I am the co creator and senior grandmaster of the Black Lotus Martial Art Association and its several systems as well as the head of family of the IFAA Black Dragon Fighting Society. This will mark my fifty seventh year involvement in the martial arts. I have trained with some of the best as well as with some of the most controversial. I hold the rank of 10TH dan in two arts and advanced ranking in several others. Still I am nothing more than a godan, fifth degree. Actually none of us are. Rank beyond that is honorary and based on other than physical prowess. If we think otherwise we fool ourselves.
Recently I’ve been questioned concerning the rank and advancement of several BDFS members. I don’t judge the rank of other masters. In the end their claims will speak for themselves. The IFAA BDFS doesn’t confer rank. We don’t even cross rank. We do accept members who head or represent various organizations or systems and the rank the said entities conferred on them. They remain autonomous and their claims are their own. We don’t back up those claims. Their rank and their supposed exploits are their own. By inclusion in our organization we only acknowledge the rank conferred on them by their said organization. We back up no claims of past exploits unless we have personal knowledge of them. Other than that their claims are their own. We don’t try to qualify those claims.
Let me state also, I will not base my friendship to anyone, martial artist or otherwise, on the opinions of others. My friends don’t have to be your friend and those relationships don’t require your approval. I don’t have to, nor will I, explain the reason for or nature of those friendships or associations. That’s between the person and myself. I am a minister and pastor as well as a martial artist. Oft times the decisions I make are harbored more in the latter than the former. I don’t expect everyone to understand or agree with them. In such instances we can agree to disagree. Otherwise you are welcome to your opinions as long as you keep them to yourself.
With all of that being said I will admonish the up and coming masters and those claiming such rank to exercise honesty and integrity. It isn’t my place or anyone else’s to police you. You can do that without me. Be honest with yourself and others. Your credibility depends on it.
God bless you, my brethren. Train hard and go with God.