Now that I’m in my 41st year of martial arts training, there have been many burst illusions along the way. Among these have been ranks and titles.

Starting out back in 1981, I had learned that the highest rank possible was 10th Dan. It meant that this person was the head of the system (i.e. founder or their successor). That made it possible for several to get to 9th Dan but no higher. When I learned that I was content to know that I would probably never get higher than 7th Dan as I was the 3rd generation. My teacher would get to 8th Dan and his teacher would (did) get to 9th Dan. In the case that a teacher dies, the student could continue with the teacher’s teacher and potentially get promoted to 9th Dan.

To my surprise there are a lot more 10th Dans than I expected! Here’s where the twist came in. Often school owners (and founders of new styles) claimed the 10th Dan rank. It made sense that a founder, of some kind, could be that rank. The truly unfortunate part is that many of these people don’t have the years of training and experience to qualify for such a position, in my opinion.
Have you ever noticed that VERY FEW martial arts school websites ever list who the head instructor’s teacher was? There’s no information about when and how they were promoted. Nothing about their lineage. In fact, I’ve seen several that conspicuously list all of the Masters that they’ve trained with but fail to mention that it was only for a seminar weekend.

So, how does all this work? Glad that you asked. Here’s the current methodology of becoming a 10th Dan (and often style Founder).
I earn a Dan rank through a style/school and open my own school. This provides me the chance to earn up to 9th Dan from my teacher AND lets me claim to be the10th Dan of my style/school. That then lets me promote students to 9th Dan in my style/school. When they open a school, the whole thing repeats.

A large portion of this I attribute to the way martial arts has become business. This is all about marketing. It is either straight out and out selling yourself as something OR ignoring the point that you left a style/organization/teacher to continue your style. The later shows up when teachers tell their students that they must receive permission to train somewhere (even a seminar). The Head Master didn’t keep his loyalty to the style/teacher where they started but requires that his students do. This is another topic, though, for another day.

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Author: Master Robert Frankovich

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One thought to “Rank and Title Mythology – Truth about a 10th Dan”

  • Tim Butt

    Completely agree this doesn’t sit right with me. At roots level students are promoted to Black Belt far too soon and too young. There needs to be restrictions on people creating their own styles. Although in some respects this could be a good thing but people need to slow down

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