Ranks, Progress, and Krav Maga

Ranks, Progress, and Krav Maga

I would like to address some issues that are of interest to our members and the broader martial arts public. The first is rank and the awarding of ranks. Few issues elicit as much controversy as high black belt ranks.

To me rank is of very little significance unless I know who awarded the rank. Every teenager in America seems to have a 4th dan at least in Taekwondo, but trust me; I would not want them as my backup during a street fight. On the other hand if you have a black belt in Oyama Karate, I know you have paid your dues and have seen the inside of hospitals, as I have.

In many independent styles we see someone jump from 3rd or 4th danto 10th dan. This is often very questionable. Usually someone decides that now he has invented a new system and as such he is the Grand Master of this style and a 10th dan. OK, fair enough, that is up to the customer to take it or leave it as he sees fit.

There are other cases where an "independent" martial arts instructor is promoted by an association. Again this raises some questions. Sometimes an instructor decides to leave his instructor or the association in which he "grew up". Sometime he has a falling out with his instructor, (legit), sometimes he decides to just go his own way. Either way this person now finds himself a 2nd dan or a 3rd dan with no one to promote him.As such he can turn to any number of independent associations for testing and certification. There will always be some controversy; did he buy the rank or truly earn it? How can an association promote him in his own style? What qualifies the association to promote a martial artist in a style that is not their expertise? Can a Black Belt Board promote one person in Judo and another in Jujitsu?

Our rabbis teach us that a man has three names; one that his mother and father gave him, one that other human beings call him, and one that he aquires for himself, and the one that he acquires for himself is the most important. (Midrash Tanchuma).

Others can give you any rank they want. I joke with my friends that I have the authority to award them a black belt right now, and it will be a legal black belt. But what value will it have? It is true that I have the power to award a black belt but if you have not earned it then it will mean nothing at all.

My awarding you a black belt is simply recognition of what you have already done. In reality it is you who have awarded yourself the black belt, all I did was recognize your achievement. Someone can award you a 10th dan Black Belt but it is still up to you to prove your ability every time you get on the mat.

As such I contend that all ranks are simply recognition of what you have achieved, of the "name that you have given yourself". If an instructor has 40 years of martial arts experience but he has not trained in Krav Maga he can still look at a Krav Maga practitioner and give an accurate assessment of his skills. Forty years of jujitsu, Thai Boxing, and Judo is certainly enough to be able to judge someone's ability in a slightly different discipline. I am certain that a master cello player can accurately judge the ability of a violin player.

Krav Maga simplicity

The next issue I want to address is as follows: Krav Maga is designed for simplicity; our goal is practical self-defense. In a way of comparison an acrobat may look to add more complex techniques to his routine, he wants to dazzle his audience, his act will become more and more daring as time goes on. A Krav Maga practitioner has no interest in impressing anyone with acrobatics; he only wants to get home safely. As such there are no "advanced techniques", there is only improvement on the basic techniques.

So the following question came up; Now that I have mastered the basics, what more is there to learn? What would make me a black belt? These techniques are so easy to learn that I feel I already know it all, so what's next?

Here is the answer. (actually to both issues address in this column), As I look back and see myself as a 4th dan and now as a 5th dan, I ask myself what is the difference in my ability? Or, is there any difference at all?

My dear mother often says, "What is the difference between love and infatuation?" well, "You don't know until it is over."

Honestly, when I think back at how I performed the techniques a couple of years ago and how I perform them now – I can hardly believe it is the same person. Rank or no rank the change is so dramatic that I find it hard to believe how poor my ability was back then in comparison. Today I feel my depth of understanding is so much greater, the smoothness and naturalness of the techniques is so improved. Today I feel like a 5th dan and I look back at the 4th dan days as my beginner days. The rank is simply recognition of the change that has taken place. No one can make me or you a 5th dan it is the name we give ourselves.

So to you, the student who asked – What next? I answer; I am glad that the techniques appear simple to you, I am glad that you already feel like a master, which is in fact my goal. Now stick with it, keep training, keep asking questions, and in a few years you will look back and say, "Imagine, back in 2012 I thought I had it all down perfect but now I have improved so much." It is only when you look back that you realize how much you still had to learn. You can only measure your progress when you look back over your years of training. As my mother would say, after years of marriage you now know that what you felt that first week was love, and not just infatuation.

There are three names each person has…make sure you acquire a good name for yourself, for that is the name that matters most of all.

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