By: Assoc. Professor Ingmar Johansson
In the Kenpo community, there seems to be a bit of confusion about rank, titles and certification. First of all, every black belt rank has a title that goes along with it.
They are the following (belt rank and title):
1:st Degree Black Belt – Junior Instructor
2:nd Degree Black Belt -AssociateInstructor
3:rd Degree Black Belt – Head Instructor
4:th Degree Black Belt – Senior Instructor
5:th Degree Black Belt – Associate Professor
6:th Degree Black Belt – Professor
7:th Degree Black Belt – Senior Professor
8:th Degree Black Belt – Associate Master of the Arts
9:th Degree Black Belt – Master of the Arts
10:th Degree Black Belt – Senior Master of the Arts or Grandmaster
Note: The title Senior Grandmaster is bestowed upon the founder of the system and is reserved for Edmund Parker Sr.
Observe that the titles are categorised in three major groups. The first four ranks are Instructor levels, then you have three Professor levels and finally there are three Master levels.
One can compare the ranking system to school years. 1 – 8 would be grammar school; in the system the equivalent would be white to green belt. Brown belt would be high school, and black belt would be collage or University, as in higher education, which is where you will find the professors and the masters. Their job is to profess the art; persons that are knowledgeable about their subject and have a higher understanding of the Kenpo system.
If you earn your rank by meeting the designated knowledge and time requirement, then the title that goes along with the rank means something. If you have been given or if you have bought your belt, these levels and titles do not have any value for your peers. It is not just time in between the levels that are important. What counts is the efforts put into your training, the time taken to study and perfect the art.
Today you can see how many people can buy a rank and momentarily show loyalty to an instructor and then move on. We can see how students are promised or given a rank if they join their organisation, while others appear every three years for an event and only for a promotion, or bring somebody in for seminars and, just likethat,the rank goes along as a package deal. All these examples show that youare trainingfor the wrong reasons. When a so-called master starts to give out rank for money, then the values, morals, ethics and integrity of that instructor are not what they should be. There are places in the world, where you will hear how students call all the different teachers, whatever the rank they have, master – this is just wrong, especially since there is a specifictitle to each rank. It shows that there isn’t an understanding of the ranking system. For example, a fourth degree should never be called master or professor when he is in the instructor levels. Another example is how one can jump rank, which is another problem. The whole reason for the specific time spent in a rank is to learn and improve your understanding and ability. It is not the time in the rank that counts, but the maturing and the process in between the ranks. How can one respect a person that gives or takes rank by jumping rank? As Mr. Planas always says: “Rank is worthless if it’s not respected.”
First of all, you have to choose a teacher. It is the student that chooses his instructor, professor or master (depending on the title the teacher has). If the teacher accepts the student then it should become a mutual understanding of loyalty and respect. The student has to study and try to gain knowledge and ability with guidance from his teacher, and the teacher has to help, support and guide his or herstudents to learn more about the art. At the same time, the students should be able to train and get inspiration from different teachers – I believe this is to be encouraged. We all move and explain things differently and it’s important to get different inputs. There is nothing wrong for a student to change teachers if one has a teacher that does not have the desire to keep on learning and training themselves. The student with the true desire to keep learning will find another teacher to make this happen and there is nothing wrong with that. Many think it’s enough to go under someone and boast about it, even though they hardly ever see him.
The idea could be compared to a pilot, who has a logbook that indicates how many hours he or she has been up in the air. This is for proof of their flight time and many karate schools has adapted this idea, so the students have a logbook with proof of their training. Mr. Parker said: “There is being in it or being at it.” Not how long they have been a pilot but, the actual flight time in the cockpit. So when a student says ‘I have been in this art for X amount of years’ one could ask ‘how many years have you been at the art,’ meaning how much time you have spent on the mat. An example is if you started training a year ago and only go to class once a week, while another student comes 5-6 times a week, then he will be way ahead of you.
There are schools that have a sign up board for testing so when the student thinks he is ready to test, he or she puts his name on the board. It is the teacher that informs the students when he or she should test, not vice versa. Many students think that as soon as they have learnt the last techniques required for their next belt, that they are ready to test without having the time on the mat to fully understand and burn in the techniques into their long term memory. It’s like cramming for a test in school when you stay up all night studying for a test the following day. Then after the test, you don’t remember much at all as the information was in as short term memory. Remember the saying: “Fast to learn, fast to forget – slow to learn, slow to forget.”
It is fairly common nowadays for people to cross train, which means studying different systems or styles of martial arts at the same time. This is fine, unless the systems or styles fight or contradict each others style of motion. For example, trying to mix a hard style with a soft style doesn’t work very well; you should stay with styles that have the same basic style of motion and rules and principles. Some teachers do not like or want their students to train in a different style or system for various reasons; sometimes it is their ego and sometimes it is for other reasons which should be understood by the student. Many instructors think they own their students, which is not rational. The days of slavery or owning a person is long gone and if a student allows this to happen it is their choice or decision. Some instructors don’t want their students to see anything that they might not know, so to keep the student from seeing and experiencing this they don’t allow their student to participate in any outside events.
Instructor, Examiner and Certification
When the student has achieved the requirements for their next rank, it is their teacher that informs the student that he or she is ready to be tested for a higher level. The teacher has the authority to test his own student (in Kenpo, normally the examiner should be two levels above the testing student’s new level, if you are testing them on your own) or he can have a testing panel for checking their performance and requirements. The highest ranking person on the panel is the examiner; this person signs your certificate as the examiner and all the others on the panel are witnesses. Mr. Planas always says: “Rank only comes from your instructor.” That means that the new rank you have received is given to you by your instructor, and he signs your certificate on the Instructor line. There seems to be some confusion in the Kenpo community that the examiner gives you the rank, and that is notcorrect. The examiner only examines a student on the recommendation of their instructor. Your instructor has been the person guiding and helping you to gain the knowledge and standards of quality that you need to achieve,while the panel is present to simply certify that the student has developed the qualities for that rank.
That is also the reason your teacher always kicks you in the end of the test. There is, however, a tradition in some groups where they let the examiner and others do so that you feel had part in your training. On your certificate it is your instructor’s signature that should matter the most to you, even though many think otherwise.
Kenpo Organisation or Lineage
Whatever line of Kenpo you follow is a personal choice. Some choose a line simply because they like the teacher’s personality independent of what he teaches on the mat. Others choose an instructor that they know will teach them the art and will push them to do so. The saying goes: “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” If a person really wants to learn something, anything, he should want to be able to train and get as much information on the subject as he can. Do you think that to train with your teacher once a year, is enough to learn the art? I’m sure that in no country you can become a doctor by going to the university once a year. Some organisations offer lessons and rank by video performance sent back and fourth which many feel is not the proper way to study and learn the art. You need an instructor with you on the mat to make instant corrections in your motion or technique so it doesn’t become a bad habit from practice time before you get a return or reply on your video you sent in. As said: “It is easier to prevent a habit then to break one.” In many peoples opinion it is difficult to increasethe knowledge of Kenpo when there are few qualified teachers out there educating and explaining the art.
Make sure to seek a qualified instructor and make sure to check his background, because to see a photo on the wall where he is standing beside Senior Grandmaster Ed Parker is honestly not enough. Many have pictures like this that have never actually trained with him. One thing is for sure: it is said that Ed Parker had more students after he died than when he was alive. In the end, you can fool people for a while until they gain enough knowledge in the art to sort out the good from the bad.
Another question is: who says you are qualified as an instructor? The answer is simple: the student says you are qualified. If a student feels you are teaching him and he is learning something that keeps him happy or satisfied then you are qualified. If he is not happy and feels he is not learning much then he will go somewhere else. Remember, nobody can steal your student or your wife. If they are not happy with you, you will know it. If they are, they will not go anywhere else.
In the Parker/Planas Lineage Mr. Planas gives out a patch to the teachers that meet the requirements for his personal standard. Today there are no more then a handful of active teachers that meet Mr. Planas standard of qualification in the world. It is amazing what’s become of the black belt and how it has lost its true value. You can see ten-year-old and younger kids walking around with black belts and they really do think they have the knowledge and the experience to wear the belt. One of the definitions of Dan and Kyu ranks are Dan for man and Kyu for child, which is a contradiction in itself. Originally a person could not wear a black belt until they were 16 years old which was considered a junior black belt until they reached the age of 18, when they were recognised as adults or full rank. Unfortunately, today everything can be bought and sold – and because of that, the essence of the martial art has lost its historical and traditional value.