By Erik Hofmeister
When you attend your first WYKKO function, it’s so exciting! There are students from so many dojo, there are swarms of blackbelts talking and companionably beating on each other, the highest-ranked blackbelts are mingling. Once the group lines up for a formal bow in, it starts to get confusing. Some people are wearing red and white belts, some black and white belts, and mixed in with all of these are some wearing regular black belts. The blackbelts are arrayed in multiple lines, without any clear visual indication of why they are in different lines. Welcome to World Yoshukai, where a student wearing a black belt may be a Shodan or may be a Rokudan, and there is no way you can tell just by looking at them.
In some styles of martial arts, such as Tae Kwon Do, it is clear what rank blackbelt a student has by their belt. They have a gold bar on their belt for each degree of blackbelt they hold. This makes determining the rank of any blackbelt easy and instantaneous. You know exactly where you stand in relationship to others you have never met before. Why doesn’t the WYKKO use a similar system? I don’t know, please ask Kaicho if you have a chance and tell me what they say. However, there are some unexpected and positive side-effects of this policy.
You know where you line up, as a blackbelt, because you have attended WYKKO events and know the others in your line personally. You know them by name, you know when they tested, and you know who they are as people. The organization is small enough to allow this, but it does require vigilance and regular attendance. A Sandan who does not appear to events for several years will be entirely unequipped to line up at their appropriate place.
While there are differences among ranks, we do not highlight those and push into other’s faces what our rank is. It encourages humility- a Shodan is wearing the same belt as a Yondan. The Yondan should feel humble and not hold their rank over the Shodan, and the Shodan should feel that they are a peer to the Yondan in some regard. We do not highlight the differences among the ranks of blackbelt. In World Yoshukai, we are all friends and know each other and should have no ego when dealing with each other.
Knowing exactly what rank a blackbelt holds is absolutely valuable. But not knowing exactly what rank everyone holds has fringe benefits, which ultimately make our organization more friendly, humbler, and more harmonious.