No, this isn't a hygiene post.

I've never been a huge fan of our rank system...  Know this subset of techniques, get a yellow belt... Know this additional subset of techniques, get an orange belt...  It always seemed kind of arbitrary to me.  Debating whether green belts should have to know Uchi Mata is about as useful as debating how many angels could dance on the head of a pin.  And then there are the differences in what a black belt means.  In some places - and I think this predominates in Asia - it means you have a reasonable grasp of the fundamentals.  You can get your Shodan in a year... Of course, that's a year of 10 hours of judo per week...  Others view the black belt as the sign that you are ready to teach.  In some places, you get your next rank based on beating enough others of your rank (e.g., the UK).  So... there is no standard, other than a black belt should be more skilled than a white belt.

At some point (and maybe still going in some parts of the world), I understand that there were just three ranks:  white, brown, and black.  That gets closer to something I can understand. 
  • White:  you don't know much of anything. 
  • Brown:  you know something, but not a ton.
  • Black: you know lots.
Still a reasonably arbitrary difference on where to draw the lines, but much less arbitrary than the white/yellow/orange, etc. scheme.  But I think we can do better...

In Jiu Jitsu University by Saolo Ribeiro (which I will review sooner or later, and you can purchase via the Amazon side bar), he lays out his philosophy on rank in BJJ, which I think is awesome.  I don't recall the specifics and don't particularly feel like looking it up at the moment, but it went something like this:
  • White:  you can't really do much of anything very well
  • Blue:  you can survive - i.e., you have a grasp of defensive techniques such that you aren't tapping every 5 seconds
  • Purple:  you can achieve position - i.e., you have a good grasp of how to pass guard, sweep, etc
  • Brown:  you can submit folks
  • Black:  ... I don't remember... Maybe it was along the lines of you can submit brown belts pretty well...?
Anyhoo, these are decidedly non-arbitrary standards.  The way he lays it out, you are looking to gain certain skills in a logical order.  Now that's useful.

So how do we apply this to Judo?  I don't have a great answer.  Yet.  But here's a first stab at it:
  • White:  you can't really do much of anything very well (ok, this is a useful standard)
  • Yellow:  you can survive - i.e., you can fall with some skill, you can avoid throws, and you don't keel over and die during groundwork
  • Orange:  you can create opportunities - i.e., you can move your opponent, you show some handle on kuzushi, and you can gain position on the ground (which includes pinning)
  • Brown:  you can win - i.e., you can throw with some proficiency (in a non-cooperative situation), and you can submit your opponents
  • Black:  you can handle brown belts with some proficiency
Differentiation between black belts, then, is how good are they at teaching...

Needs some work... but what do you think?  Anybody have a better idea?



ward said...

I agree in essence. Belts give you a sense of accomplishment and intermediate goal setting but it seems to me that most if not all Judoka develop a style that involves a relatively small number of throws that they master instead of learning them all...of course if you don't learn them all in some way you don't know what you should try to master.

kodokanjudo said...

I think that judo rank has always been a hot topic for us westerners, as few truly understand judo well enough.
Kano-sensei (as far as I know) never left any written instruction on when to issue kyu or dan promotions, but the one thing he did was to leave behind the gokyo and a group of high ranking individuals at the Kodokan who did understand his concept of judo and were trusted to issue promotions.

kodokanjudo said...

On a personal note, in my early days as an instructor, my criteria for kyu promotions was much harsher than it is today.

Why did I loosen it up some years ago? Was it more experience? Was it maturity?
I don't think that I can answer that but some years ago it came to me that if Kano (who spoke about a docen languages) did not give any certain movement, position or skill set an official Japanese name, he did not meant it to be in the testing material.

I may be that now I trust myself to tell the difference between a rokkyu test osoto-gary and a sankyu test osoto-gary.

kodokanjudo said...

On the comparison of judo ranks to BJJ ranks, let's not forget what Kano's judo is: A method of education with self defense.

Judo's rank is based on the kyu/dan system, not on the multiple color system.
As you know, the only belts that the Kodokan awards are:
White for the beginners,
Brown for the intermediate,
Black for the advanced,
Red/white for the experts,
and Red for the advanced experts.

As far as BJJ, someone would have to educate me on what it is:
Martial art? Sport? Self defense?
I don't ever remember reading anything written by it's creators as to what it is (?)
My point is that it is not judo and it has it's own ranking system that means what it means to it's practitioners.

Chad Morrison said...

Sure... My point wasn't that we should mimic the specifics of the BJJ rank system. Just that the system as described by Ribeiro (which may or may not be standard across the art... I don't know) is a well-thought-out system based on skill acquisition. The system in use by USJA/JF/JI is based more on technique collection, and I'm not as big a fan.