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I am a 13th Dan

Posted by on in Ranks and Exams
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13th dan

No matter how much you might wish otherwise, the belt ranks that you receive from your karate instructor do not carry the same value amongst the general public that they have within your karate club. Being the holder of a black belt used to be a big deal. Now, not so much. What happened? Why did your karate rank go from being something that intimidated and impressed to something that people shrug at or even laugh about?

In the human mind, perception is truth. What we see with our eyes, what we hear with our ears – to our minds these are facts. Humans are not very good self-observers. Over a hundred years of scientific evidence demonstrates that we are not really that good at any kind of observation and recall of “facts.”

Awareness is not a great strength of the human mind. It intentionally suppresses awareness in order to prevent overload. Take the awareness test below by watching the video.


Perception is faulty and inaccurate. But each person has a large amount of hardened belief that their perceptions are perfect and factual.  Thus, the credibility of your black belt rank is entirely dependent upon its reputation and what people perceive to be the facts. So what do people perceive?

They see that most karate students are small children, and they see those small children doing athletic things which, while cute and good for them, are hardly intimidating. Karate’s reputation has diminished as the average expert’s age has dropped from 40 years old to 8 years old.

People also perceive that karate experts have faired poorly in the videos of fights they watch. They repeatedly see people who are large, athletic, muscular, and covered in tatoos beat the average looking karate player (a middle class youth with a slight build) back to the stone age. MMA fights have reduced karate rank credibility dramatically, especially since there is no emphasis on ranks amongst them.

Ranks have no government backing. Unlike medical licensing or even driver’s licenses, karate licenses and degrees are not backed or audited by any authorizing agency. There is nothing behind the paper on the wall but the sentiment of the person who signed it.

The fact that there are no controls on obtaining karate credentials is another impact. There is no trademark, no patent, no control that stops you from obtaining and wearing any karate rank you want. Once, many years ago, I declared myself a 13th dan of karate. Everyone got a good laugh, but there truly is nothing stopping me from walking around saying I am a 13th dan. For all practical purposes my 13th dan is as legitimate as anyone else’s dan rank. While some guy who is a member of a prominent Japanese karate organization will say “Ha! That is not a real rank!”, his opinion about karate ranks has about as much standing in the public eye as a sci-fi fan’s proclamation that my Mr. Spock shirt has the wrong number of stripes on the sleeves. The general public views such complaints and rants as sociopathological behavior rather than attempts to audit and protect against fraud.

So, while your rank is precious to you, to the rest of us, its just a coffee mug with your name on it that you received from your buddy at the karate school. Congratulations, we are happy for you, but it is not the equivalent of a PhD.