Intermediate Shotokan Karate Ranks
How does one define an “intermediate” ranking in Karate? This is not usually what we would consider to be a “hotly debated topic” here at Karate Daily… but the question was posed to me earlier and I though I would share my thought processes.
Many of us seem to use 2 main categories of ranks: “Black Belts” and “Coloured Belts”. While this is not entirely wrong, it may lead us to the conclusion that there is a stark contrast between your skill level pre- and post- dan grading… which is something I whole-heartedly have to disagree with. There’s no secret “karate pill” they give you when you pass the shodan grading, no secret ceremony where an age-old entity imparts upon you the vast knowledge of all things martial. You are the same after as you were before, all of the same strengths and weaknesses with perhaps a little more confidence.
When we apply the 3 level system ( Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced ) I think that most of us use Black belt to signify “Advanced”, and then the threshold between “Beginner” and “Intermediate” falls somewhere vague within the coloured belt rankings, probably usually around green belt or so. This is probably the most common version, but it somewhat assumes that all Black Belts are roughly around the same skill level, and does not allow for the obvious increases in ability between the various dan ranks. Would we consider, then, that Roku-dan would be “more advanced” than shodan? I don’t think that this definition is really accurate given the vast increases in skill experienced between 1st and 6th degree. However, perhaps this habit of referring to all black belts as the “Advanced” group comes partly from the fact that the vast majority of karateka never make it past nidan or sandan, and also the fact that when you consider the katas, the curriculum is more liberal for black belts than for coloured belts.
The old saying is that training only really begins at shodan, and I think most of us will agree that this is true. Consider that the skill level differences between Yellow and Orange belts, or between Green and Purple belts, are incremental. The Heian series of kata focus on adding elements bit-by-bit, laying all of the basic groundwork for beginners. Compare this to the training required to move from one dan ranking to the next highest. The expected skill increases are by no means “incremental” in nature, a fact exhibited by the simple fact of the length of time spent at each dan grade. So then, how many categories are there, and how does one define them? What IS an “Intermediate” Rank? None of this has really answered the question. The truth is that there really is no clear answer to this question as it is purely subjective. Karate training is a continuous improvement of the practitioners abilities, both mental and physical.
The most accurate method that I can think of would be to say that you are a “Beginner” throughout the period of time when you are learning the Heian kata and laying the foundation of basics. “Intermediate” then would begin when you are a 3rd kyu (brown belt) and you begin practicing Bassai Dai, the kata that pulls together the basics taught by the Heian series. Where Intermediate ends and Advanced begins is more difficult, however I would accept the conclusion that shodan is the beginning of the “Advanced” range, as it is at this point that “real karate training” begins, and the door is opened to a much wider variety of katas for training, and also the possibility of becoming an instructor.
But this is by no means the end. At shodan the karateka is still a student, and while they may be considered “Advanced” in some ways, they are still by many standards beginners. There is an old Taoist saying that basically sums up my feelings on this; only when we can admit that we know nothing, will we be able to know everything.
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