Is Rank Really That Important?

This topic has come up in conversation with a couple of friends fairly recently.
Its a tough question to answer. Many people have talked about this before, but here is my take.

I would say that it is a two part answer, part Yes, and part No.

This really depends on what you consider the function of rank to be.

Almost every “high ranker” I have talked to, either openly states, or has the general air as if to say “once your belt is black, the number doesn’t mean jack.” This is not said in a disrespectful way, but meant in the most respectful way possible. They are saying that we are all equally striving to improve our art, and we can ALWAYS learn something from each other.

I try not to think of rank as a measure of Skill Level. (What’s that old saying: “We are all on the same path, some are just farther along”)
I feel now that most of the time Rank only really signifies time spent, and general knowledge of certain sets of kata. Not necessarily Skill Level.
For Example: A Yondan should have a working understanding of the Yon Kata, same as a Sandan with the San Kata and so on…
If I have a question about the Koryu Dai Go (Kata commonly associated with the 5th degree black belt, and usually taught at or near that rank) I would most likely seek out someone 5th degree or higher, who I can assume has experience with that particular kata.
There are exceptions to this, but the overall theme holds.
Rank helps to narrow down the field in where to get answers, and seek advice.

I would like to think of someone of higher rank to be in the position of a Mentor.
Whether they are your direct instructor or not, you should always be able to ask someone who is farther along the path for some direction, and assistance.
Just with any Mentor, they are there to offer advice, sometimes they offer good advice, sometimes advice that you need, and don’t want to hear, and sometimes they offer poor advice. (they are human after all) It is up to you to sort through the information, and ultimately continue on.

But to have accountability, there needs to be rank. If there is no rank, there is no record to verify if someone is who they say they are, or has the training they claim to have. This may lead some students astray, and prevent them from learning as they should.
There are plenty of charlatans in our world, and sadly, many are in Martial Arts.
This can’t be stopped, but by having records of rank, and verifiable sources, some of it might be slowed down.

In many dojos, there is one head instructor, usually that instructor started the school, or inherited the school from the previous head instructor.
In these schools, the head instructor is usually the highest rank, so the style and method of the instructor is taught, and the students train accordingly.
There is no issue with Rank in these settings, because the Students understand the type of learning environment they are in.

More and more there are Schools popping up that have multiple instructors, with varying backgrounds, styles and ranks.
I personally believe that this is one of the best approaches for learning. When you learn the same subject from different teachers, you tend to pick up on different aspects that you otherwise would not have with only one teacher.
If each instructor offers valid methods, as long as principally sound in their approach, style should not be an issue.
Sadly though, sometimes you have power struggles, sometimes ego steps in, and someone thinks that their method is better, and should be taught.
This can cause dissent in the school, and animosity between instructors and students.
In this instance Rank can get in the way.

I am very thankful that I have been able to attend Seminars, and visit other dojos, I have had the opportunity to play with many people, of varying skill levels, and ranks.
The thing is, Rank is not something that is openly discussed when training, especially at a seminar. (not that its a taboo subject, its just not generally brought up. It doesn’t seem to be an important item to discuss)
I have had my hands on people who, because of their skill, I thought were higher ranks, and it turns out they were 1st or 2nd degrees. They just had natural talent, and skill. On the other side of that, I have felt people who are higher ranks, when I thought they were lower.
Rank doesn’t always mean skill.

Everyone that I have discussed this with has agreed that Rank IS important for beginners.
It helps them have measurable, attainable, and realistic goals in their pursuit of knowledge.
Especially when teaching younger students. Ranking ceremonies, and promotions give them something to look forward to, and feel good about receiving, keeping them interested in training and continuing on.

There is a certain pride that does come along with a promotion. That “I did it!” feeling.

Rank helps to encourage students to reach for the next level, and work towards higher goals.
We are all at different levels, all working towards the same goal. To have a better understanding of our art.
Ego should be checked at the door. Once you step on the mat, you are a student.

We are all students.



What is Aikido?

I am asked this question often, any time someone new meets me, or a friend finds out that I do Aikido.
Every time I am asked this question I have a great and frustrating internal struggle.
When I start thinking about Aikido, I get excited, and so many things come into my mind about how cool this is or what that little thing can do, and what this technique can do, and many, many other feelings.
Then I have to stop, and remember that this person has no idea what I would be talking about, and I then revert to the ‘pre-recorded’ canned answer — “Well, Aikido is a Japanese Martial Art that uses an opponent’s own force against them, it all started back in….. some history… and thats what Aikido is. “ — and they all respond with “oh, ok, that sounds neat”

The thing is, when talking about something you are very passionate about, you want some of that passion to leak through your expressions, and your mannerisms, but you don’t want to blow the other person away with information, or excitement, as it might turn them away. You have to temper yourself, and slow down, and try to explain it in a way they understand, and they know you are passionate about it, but not overdoing it. They may not understand how you can be so excited over something that to them seems kind of boring.

The truth is, to the uneducated, Aikido IS boring! Especially when compared to those “cool” martial arts like Kung Fu, and Karate, and MMA. Those guys in cages beat each other to a pulp with a crowd of cheering people egging them on. Now THAT’S entertainment!

What does Aikido have?
Well, if you move slightly to the left, the other guy will fall down.
Seems pretty boring, if you don’t understand what is happening.
Needless to say its not a spectator sport, but what people don’t see is that the physics for this to work is SO much cooler than some guy landing a punch on another guy. At least I think it is.

I guess what I am trying to say, is that I wish that somehow when someone asks me what Aikido is, I could say more than the canned answer, I wish I could show them not just what it is, but how it works, then maybe they would understand the excitement hidden behind my eyes.

What is Aikido?

Its Awesome, that’s what. Let me show you.


Incidentally, if you would like to read an actual History of Aikido, this is a very good one on Windsong Dojo’s site here:

Affecting Kuzushi through Pattern Interrupt

Our bodies function on patterns, and rhythm. Our heart beats at a certain rate, our blood flows at a certain speed, the steps we take form a rhythm that is controlled largely by the sub conscious. When that pattern is broken, our subconscious mind is franticly trying to re-align itself and regain that pattern that it so desperately needs.

I will give you an example, at some point in your life you most likely have been walking on a set of stairs, you reach the end, and you think there is one more step, but there isn’t. You take that step, and are met with either nothing, or an unexpected stop. Your subconscious mind has to halt what it is doing, and figure out what happened, and how to fix it, before it can let your body go on functioning normally. In that instance you can have a moment of panic, or you jolt upward to counter the feeling of falling.

Our brains are fantastic calculators, and constantly make adjustments, calculations, and judgements on distance, timing, and touch sensation. Sadly, our brains have one fatal flaw, they make assumptions. While in normal circumstances, these assumptions are great aids to us, it allows the subconscious to rely on a few rules of physics that are always constant, and they don’t have to calculate for these. It is when those rules get changed, or even completely removed that we have off balance, and reaction.
Try this; have something in front of you at about arms length, look at it. Now close your eyes and reach out and touch it. Odds are you knew exactly when contact was to be made. Because your brain already made the calculations before you closed your eyes. As I said, brains are incredible at this stuff.

These interruptions can be created, and ultimately taken advantage of.

In Aikido, we take advantage of this natural process, even if you didn’t know you were doing it.
This is why timing is so important for proper Kuzushi (off balance) it is when we change the dynamic of movement at a certain window of time, it creates off balance, as the opponent is trying to regain balance, their mind is trying to get back on track, and fix the problem. As their body is about to reach a point that it can regain balance, it will make a subconscious effort to re-align. This is generally the point at which technique is executed.

I first learned about pattern interruptions long ago from the world of hypnosis.

“The key ingredient to making this [handshake induction] a success is often touted to successfully interrupting the automatic motor program associated with handshaking. It is common for someone to automatically respond to an outstretched hand offering a handshake by sticking out their hand and completing the shake. It is an unconscious move on their part because it is something we are trained to do from childhood. When you interrupt this pattern, by seizing the wrist rather than actually shaking hands, conscious activity is temporarily suspended while they search for meaning in the interruption. They are looking for the next cue about how to proceed – wait too long, more than a second or two being too long, and they will find it themselves – but if you make use of this window by going straight into the [induction] you can keep them suspended there.” – Anthony Jacquin (Reality Is Plastic! The art of impromptu Hypnosis)

Many of these interruptions are built into our techniques already, but there is a strong point to be made for perfecting the pattern interrupt, as it can lead to fantastic kuzushi and effortless technique.
For example, in the first two techniques of the Koryu Dai Yon, one of the first things you do is change the moment Uke is going to grab your wrist by stepping in, or shifting your center in about an inch to two inches changing the dynamic of when he makes contact, shifting uke into body rise, allowing you to manipulate his center, and throw on the body drop, all happening without uke ever having a chance to lift his front foot, or really truly react to the interruption from his grip on the attack. It’s pretty intense when you are reaching for someone’s hand and then are on the ground.. And you don’t know how you got there, most likely your brain was still trying to get a grasp to the first thing that happened to it, it skipped all of the steps in between.

Something to play with on the mat, an exercise to get a feel for the interruption:
In pairs, have one person hold out their hand, the other is to look where the hand is positioned, close their eyes, and take a step to grab the partner’s hand. Simple enough, very similar to the object on the table you reached for earlier while reading this.
Do it again, But this time the outstretched hand doesn’t have to stay in the same place, once eyes are closed, remove the hand, or move it in closer, the person coming to grab will be reaching for something that is no longer there or has moved, and you will notice that they are caused to be off balance, when contact is not at the point their brain expected.
The next step is to walk towards each other and make contact at the natural point, after you have a feel for the natural contact time, one of you changes the time of contact randomly, take note of the off balance you create. If you can, execute a technique at this point.

It’s terrible fun and kind of eerie how much can be effected by just changing the timing of connection.

Play with this and let me know what you come up with!

This subject fascinates me, so you will more than likely be hearing more about it as i build up some more thoughts, or if you have thoughts on it, or a different take, or influence, please let me know, I would love to discuss it with you!


Why the name Peaceful Storm?

I’m glad you asked.

What’s in a name? Well, everything really.

I chose this name for very specific reasons, I toyed with different ideas, and every time kept coming back to Peaceful Storm.

Something I feel is not very prominent in the world today is humility. Maybe it is the society that we live in, always needing to be the biggest, and most powerful. Maybe it is because we are all Human; fallible, needing ego boosts, and to be in control of our lives.

One thing I have learned from my time in Martial Arts, through the people I have met, if someone is truly good at what they do, you may not know it until you are looking up at them from the ground confused as to how exactly you ended up there.

Never boasting, never bragging, but confident in who they are, and what they are capable of. A Peaceful Storm.

Storms do great things, they are essential for the cycle of life, bringing much needed hydration in dry times, renewing the growth of plants, refreshing the environment around them.

Storms are also capable of extreme devastation and destruction, but this is not what we seek, it is not what we want.

We want to bring rejuvenation to the world around us.

You’ve no doubt heard the phrase “Speak softly, and carry a big stick”

What I will say is: “Live peacefully, and practice Aikido”

Always be the Peaceful Storm – calm, but prepared.

– Nathan