The Shōgō (称号) and Other Martial Arts Ranking Systems

This section discusses the main-stream Japanese martial arts ranking systems and how they relate to the karate style of Shorin Ryu Matsumura Seito as taught by Grand Master Soken Hohan (1889-1982) and his successor Grand Master Kise Fusei, and as practiced at The Ballarat Karate Club. We as The Ballarat Karate Club (BKC) draw on two of these ranking systems. The third system, the Menkyo system, is included here only for broader general appreciation and perspective.

The Kyu-Dan system was adopted in the late 1800s from another art for which this ranking system was devised in the 17th Century.

The Shōgō system was devised by elements of the Japanese Imperial family and the government of the day in the early 1930s.

The Menkyo system comes from antiquity.

Each is described further below, and their relevance to BKC discussed.

The Kyu-Dan System
The best known and visible of the systems at BKC and generally throughout the martial arts is the Kyu-Dan system. This system had its origins in the Japanese board game of “Go” in the Edo period (17th Century), a game of great consequence at that time in Japan, although perhaps of lesser significance now. An outstanding player of that period, Honinbo Dosaku, devised the Kyu-Dan system to rank his students, although there are claims that this idea had Chinese origins a millennium earlier.
Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo adopted this system to rank his students some time around 1883, from whence it spread to other martial arts including kendo, iaido, jodo and karate (via Funakoshi in 1924). Kano also adopted the mudansha / yudansha terminology – i.e. “those without rank” / “those who have attained rank”.

Following his return to Okinawa from Argentina after the Second World War Soken Hohan, while determinedly holding true to the teaching of traditional Okinawan karate, gradually endorsed the use of this ranking system within Shorin Ryu Matsumura Seito. However in the personal experience of the author (Barry Packham) Soken O-Sensei only used the ‘mudansha / yudansha” distinction with his own personal students – one wore either a white belt or was invited to wear a black belt by him. There were no other obi colors worn in his private dojo at his home in Nishihara with the exception of Kise Fusei wearing a red & white obi.

The Shorin Ryu Matsumura Seito, and hence the BKC version of this system is as follows:

10th – 7th Kyu               White obi, white with respectively one, two & three green stripes

6th – 4th Kyu                 Green obi with respectively plain, one brown stripe, two brown stripes

3rd – 1st Kyu                   Brown obi with respectively plain, one black stripe, two black stripes

1st Dan – 3rd Dan*      Black obi with respectively one, two & three red stripes

4th Dan*                            First Masters rank – obi red & white stripe, white upper-most

5th Dan*                            Practiced Masters rank – obi red & white stripe, red upper-most

6th Dan*                            Experienced Masters rank – obi red & white blocks

7th & 8th Dan                 Senior Masters rank – red & white blocks

9th & 10th Dan               Expert Masters rank – red obi

* Note: On Okinawa typically only a plain black belt is worn for these ranks.
Precedent in Shorin Ryu Matsumura Seito regarding the award of 9th Dan is very thin. Since the Kyu-Dan system was formally adopted by Grand Master Soken Hohan in the middle of the 20th Century the rank of 9th Dan has only been bestowed three times. Those three occasions being:  upon Kise Fusei in 1976 by Soken Hohan; upon Kise Isao in May 2009 by Kise Fusei; and upon Barry Packham in November 2009 by Kise Fusei.

The Shōgō (称号) System
The Shōgō system was introduced into Japanese martial arts by the Dai Nippon Butokukai (a Japanese government body established around 1896 with the imprimatur of the Imperial family, charged with preserving, administering and spreading the martial arts of Japan) in the early 1930s. This system has fewer divisions than the Kyu-Dan system, and focuses only on accomplished practitioners. As applied today, there are four levels, being:

Shihan (師範)                             “Authorized Teacher”

Renshi (錬士)                             “Accomplished Teacher and Model”

Kyoshi (教士)                             “Expert Teacher and Model”

Hanshi (範士)                             “Model Expert” / “Teacher of Teachers”

The Shihan title recognizes the threshold level of technical excellence required to be an authorized teacher, in addition to personal qualities. The titles Renshi, Kyoshi and Hanshi all relate more to an individual’s knowledge, teaching ability, character and experience than to technical excellence, which is at these levels assumed.
In the most approximate terms, Shihan would typically follow at or sometime after achieving 4th Dan; Renshi at some time prior to 7th Dan; Kyoshi at some time prior to 8th Dan, and Hanshi at or at some time following 8th Dan.

For example, in the case of our Chief Instructor, Wayne Reddrop (7th Dan), Wayne should be addressed as “Kyoshi”, or “Kyoshi Reddrop”, or in the case of our Director of the Juniors Program Graeme Howard (5th Dan), Graeme should be addressed as “Renshi” or “Renshi Howard”.
However bestowal of these titles doesn’t necessarily relate to rank or seniority. Bestowal usually follows, if at all, some time after achieving the above dan levels which might be thought of as “hurdle” ranks – but even these hurdles can be irrelevant at times. A significant local example is the conferring of Shihan on Barry Govan in 1973 by Masters Soken and Kise. Barry at the time was only 2nd Dan when the “hurdle” rank is typically 4th Dan – however Barry was being recognized for his role as the Founder of BKC. The founding of a long-lived and respected dojo is an achievement held in the highest esteem on Okinawa (and elsewhere). Barry currently holds Renshi status.

In the Shorin Ryu Matsumura Seito system, custom and practice until 2010 was that the Hanshi honorific was used exclusively in relation to the Grand Master, Kise Fusei. However, recently the Grand Master has coincided with the mainstream Japanese martial arts practice in according the Hanshi title to 8th and 9th Dan levels. In turn the distinguishing title of the Grand Master adds the suffix “Sei”, to become “Hanshi-Sei”, loosely translating as “highest master”.

The Grand Masters’ son and designated successor, Kise Isao however is addressed by the distinguishing honorific of “Kaicho” which in Western terms can be loosely translated as ‘President” or “very senior official”. Thus although Kaicho and Packham are both ranked 9th Dan, the Kaicho title is the defining senior status. The method of bestowal used by Soken Hohan O-Sensei and by his successor Kise Fusei Hanshi-Sei has been informal, in that bestowal would occur by either Soke simply addressing a personal student on the floor by a chosen title in hearing of one or more other students. That student so addressed would there-after carry that formal title.

The bestowal of such title upon BKC members has traditionally been exercised through Barry Packham recommending the bestowal of title upon one of his students to Kise Hanshi-Sei. On receiving the Grand Masters’ verbal ascent, Packham would then bestow the title upon the said student. Hanshi-Sei Kise, during his 2009 visit devolved this prerogative to Hanshi Packham for Australian students.

The Menkyo (License) System
The Menkyoranking system is that of the classical Japanese “jutsu” (from about the 8th Century through to the commencement of the Meiji Restoration of 1877). This system also has fewer divisions than the Kyu-Dan system, being in simplified terms:

Okuiri:                                          Entry level – about 4 to 8 years to attain

Mokuroku:                              Certified, entered into the official rolls

Shomokuroku:                     “Beginning” 8 to 15 years

Gomokuroku:                         Up to 17 years

Menkyo:                                      Licensed – an authorized teacher – 25 years

Menkyo Kaiden:                    License of Total Transmission – 30 years plus

This system features rarely, if at all in bona-fide karate styles. In the popular literature there is the occasional fleeting reference to a Grand Master granting Menkyo Kaiden to a designated successor.  In this context reference to “awarding Menkyo Kaiden” is usually a rhetorical flourish used by some with the intention of conveying additional gravity to the event, rather than any legitimate application of a Menkyo system.

Ballarat Karate Club Custom & Practice
BKC has traditionally used the Kyu-Dan system as it’s primary mechanism of recognition, with until only recently the incidental use of Shōgō honorifics.
Author’s note: During BKC’s early years an additional and unrelated honorific of “Sempai” was adopted, using the Japanese kohai / sempai coupling to emphasize the importance of the “student / teacher” relationship while also using “Sempai” as a formal “teacher” honorific for 1st to 3rd Dan holders. The term “Dai Sempai”, as the honorific for the Chief Instructor of the day was also employed, but has long since fallen into disuse in favor of “Chief Instructor”. Founder Barry Govan was the only person to hold the title “Dai Sempai”. These were customs that evolved from the teachings of Master Wayne Williamson, 5th Dan.

The first applications of Shōgō honorifics to BKC practitioners occurred in 1973. The title of Shihan was bestowed on Barry Packham after achieving 4th Dan during his first visit to Okinawa, and at the same time upon Barry Govan in recognition of his role of Founder of BKC. The award to Packham was accompanied by a certificate titled “Instructor Certificate” sealed by Masters Soken and Kise, dated 30 November 1973, officially accrediting Packham as a qualified teacher of Shorin Ryu Matsumura Seito. A copy of the certificate currently hangs in the Ballarat dojo.

A further nine years elapsed before the next bestowal occurred in 1982. Rod Hilton, then a 3rd Dan was made Shihan, some three years after his appointment as Chief Instructor of BKC.  John Crebbin followed several years later in 1985 after following Rod as Chief Instructor and receiving 4th Dan on Okinawa (together with Rod). Shihan status was later awarded to Wayne Reddrop and Gary Oliver after they both received 4th Dan in 1990, followed later again by Graeme Howard (1997), Gordon Mayne (1998) and Gary Robinson (2007) following each achieving 4th Dan.

The Renshi title in BKC was first bestowed in 1985, some 12 years after the first Shihan award. Barry Packham received the title following promotion to 6th Dan. This title was next bestowed 17 years later on Wayne Reddrop following his promotion to 6th Dan in 2002.  In early 2011 Barry Govan, Gary Oliver, Graeme Howard and Gary Robinson were also elevated to Renshi status. The Kyoshi title in BKC was first bestowed in 1990, some 5 years after the first Renshi award. Barry Packham received the title following promotion to Nanadan (7th Dan). Most recently this title has been bestowed on Wayne Reddrop after his elevation to Nanadan (7th Dan) in 2009.

The Hanshi title in BKC was first bestowed in 2010. Barry Packham received the title after promotion to 9th Dan a year earlier, some 20 years after receiving Kyoshi status. At the same time Grand Master Kise determined that current holders of 8th Dan within the system also be so recognized.
As BKC has been in existence for some 46 years at the time of writing (2011) it is now of an age and development that the mainstream use of Shōgō honorifics are more relevant. There are now sufficient members with long enough service, knowledge, personal attributes and experience to warrant wider spread recognition and address by these honorifics. The use of Shōgō honorifics thus complements the existing Kyu-Dan system rather than duplicating it.

BKC Holders of Shōgō Status

Hanshi Dr. Barry Packham, 9th Dan (Director / Australia)

Kyoshi Wayne Reddrop, 7th Dan (Chief Instructor / Australia)

Renshi Barry Govan, 5th Dan (Founder of the Ballarat Karate Club, 1965)

Renshi Gary Oliver, 6th Dan

Renshi John Crebbin, 5th Dan

Renshi Graeme Howard, 5th Dan

Renshi Gordon Mayne, 5th Dan

Renshi Gary Robinson, 5th Dan

Shihan Vaughan King, 5th Dan

Renshi Rod Hilton, 4th Dan

Shihan Danny Manning, 4th Dan

Shihan Jack Lyons, 4th Dan

Shihan Lachlan Howard, 4th Dan

Shihan Troy Wakefield, 4th Dan