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"Rank Comes With Responsibilities "



By Donald Bohan (1989)



If all black belts were criminals, would we ever aspire to be one? Would having a black belt be an honor or a mark of shame? But if all black belts treated others with respect and conducted themselves with honor, our goal of becoming a black belt would be good. The reason that we aspire to black belt is because those who have achieved it before us have served the
rank well. Their service, dedication, and humility have made it honorable. We as Martial Artist have distinctive responsibilities that are bestowed upon us by tradition. We have the obligation to uphold specific standards, both in and out of the martial arts circle, as we accept that rank and the position that accompanies it.


The temptation is to juxtapose our relationship with rank, as though it is designed to bring us power or respect when the exact opposite is true. This temptation strikes us at every level of skill and experience; as juniors we see the authority exercised by our seniors, and we desire to have it. And once we advance, we are eager to test it, forgetting that rank is to be served, not to serve. If we abuse our rank (for instance, if we use our knowledge of martial arts to hurt others, or to exercise
undue authority over our juniors), then we diminish its value. That is to say that every time we try to make rank serve our own purposes we detract from what makes attaining a higher rank praiseworthy. The chief virtue of rank—to those who respect it—is to continually reinforce the need for humility.


The higher our rank, the greater our responsibility to serve it well. Representing a higher rank requires more discretion and more humility than a lower rank. We often hear that "anyone can hit hard" but that "choosing where to hit" requires more skill. This parallels our greater responsibility that comes with rank; as we learn to train our bodies to perform with more finesse, we also learn to conduct ourselves with more finesse.


This implies that rank is not just a matter of technique, but also of maturity. When we turn the martial arts into a race for rank, we neglect the character development that accompanies each of the ranks. Though we may adjust easily to the new physical requirements that come with a rank, our adaptation to the demands it places on our maturity may not come as quickly. The danger inherent to promotion is that, though our technique is up to the task, we are not mature enough to handle the change. We as Martial Artist must ensure that our integrity, loyalty, dedication and devotion to Isshin-Ryu remain above reproach at all times.


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