Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Ranks, Belts, and Shenanigans

This post is about the shenanigans surrounding the whole idea of ranks and belts.

It's unfortunate, because the concept of ranks and belts is a great one for honest students and honest people.  Within a system - and only within a system - it can work quite well, to help everyone understand what each student and teacher can and can't do within that system (generally speaking).

Wearing belts or some other indication of mastery of material - which is all rank really is supposed to be anyway - is an easy and convenient way for students to avoid asking a novice for help on an advanced technique in class, for example.  Or in large classes, it's easier for an instructor to group people of a similar skill level together for training.

The biggest strength, of course, of a ranking system that uses belts (or patches or whatever)  is that it is a visible measure of progress, and especially for children, that extra incentive they sometimes need to stay committed to studying the martial arts.

This is a well known phenomenon within loyalty marketing - people like to "game" things, and if there is another level to reach, people have more incentive to do what it takes to get to that next level.

The downside is that rank is, essentially, utterly meaningless outside of a given organization, and it's an easy-peasy way for a fraud to strap on a black belt (or other high ranking colored belt like some systems use), put a million stripes on it, and claim the same rank as someone who has studied decades and is actually skilled.

As you long-time readers of this blog know, I really, really dislike that sort of thing.

It is utterly, completely disrespectful - in fact, downright contemptuous - of people who work hard and train hard, over years, to acquire the rank in the art(s) they study.  I'm just a lowly stick-swinger, but I have been blessed to have studied under, trained with, and known many highly skilled martial artists who have dedicated thousands of hours and years of their lives to training.

I really respect people who put in the work.

But there's just some folks out there that just can't and won't dedicate that time, so they just gotta take a short cut, and once you take one, why not take another and another and another...

This is conservative compared to some.
Instead of the time and money and work investment to earn the skill, they order whatever belt they want online, mock up fake or home-made certificates, strap on that belt with as many stripes as possible, and call themselves 10th Dan Soke Grand Master Sensei in seven different made-up (or even real) martial arts.

Nobody would know the difference. Well, except for one glaringly obvious thing.

Their skills.

'Nuff Said.

Real martial artists will spot them a mile away, and we don't have to be Grand Master rank with years and years of experience to do it.  Put up just a little bit of video, and we'll see that they don't have the skills they claim, and thus, their ranks are bogus.  We don't have to study their martial art, or take their fake online courses, or even meet them in real life.

Their skills will tell the tale.  Every single time.

Part of me wishes that ranks and belts were not so useful, because I'd really like to put an end to this rank and belt chasing so many of us seem so very invested in doing.  I'd definitely love to kill the short cut for the frauds to start claiming they are as good as those who devote their lives to the study of the martial arts.

Of course, the fakes and frauds of the world would find some other short cut to claiming mastery and Uber Guro-Professor Doctor Grand Mastership, wouldn't they?

Ah well.  You guys can keep adding stripes and stars and what-have-you to your self-awarded black belts.  We certainly can't stop you from doing it, except to point out the absurdity of what you do.

You'll go viral in social media, and we'll all be entertained.