In my last blog post, I offered up the idea that national promotion committees were not the only game in town, and suggested that those of you fed up with the politics of rank could and probably should look into creating your own promotion committees. This resonated well with many of you. Now, my fear is that some of you will engage in the behaviors, favoritism, and nepotism that have made national promotion committees a farce. Here are my suggestions to prevent that.
The entire country suffers from a promotion entitlement mentality that I call promotionitis. The USJA under Phil Porter sold us the idea that all of us could reach the higher black belts ranks by merely gathering enough points with minimum time-in-grade, and donating enough money to the Life Membership program. Skill level? Who needs skills when you are providing a service to Judo? USA Judo and USJF have somewhat followed that concept. So, today, we have people bitching about not making 6th dan while already being over-ranked as 5th dans.
The truth is that for the average person in Judo 5th dan should be your terminal rank. This is what it used to be when clarity, sense of real accomplishment and rank integrity existed. For those of you ready to embark on creating your own promotion committee, wrap your brain around this: terminal rank should remain low; just because you have created a system to promote doesn’t mean that you have to promote. I realize it’s tough knowing that your peers may be 1-2 ranks higher than you because of national rank politics, but that doesn’t mean that you can right a wrong with another wrong. Have the integrity to know your place in the Judo world.
Know your place in the Judo world. What a concept! When I say Judo world, I’m not just talking about the Judo world in your city or state or even country. I’m talking about the World. How do you fit in with the rest of the people who do Judo in the world? Here in the U.S., most high dans have no clue that they are highly over-ranked. It will take a little research and digging to realize that.
In the San Diego area, we have two 9th dans who collectively might be a 9th dan. Given that they are roughly the same age with the same numbers of years in the sport as Jim Bregman, our first Olympic and World medalist, how in the world were they promoted to 9th dan well before Bregman was, with no similar level of skill or accomplishment? Oh, yes, they provided service to Judo as members of the board of directors. Sorry, but that’s a poor reason for making 9th dan. I’d be embarrassed to find myself in this situation, but these two guys carry on wondering why their rank isn’t respected by those who know better.
If you’re setting up your own committee, find out where you stand vis-a-vis someone with a respected rank. If you’re a coach wanting a higher dan rank, where do you stand in relation to respected coaches like Jim Pedro or Jim Hrbek for example?
If you have a competitor, how does that player stack up against one of our respected national or international competitors, most of whom are under 4th dan with years of national and international experience? My own daughter, Natalie- 2x senior national champion, international medalist and 2011 World Team Member- is a 2nd dan. The son of one of our national leaders with no senior national or international experience is a 4th dan, and he’s five years younger! How does that work? More importantly, this 4th dan is sure to be a 6th dan before he’s forty. A travesty.
Thankfully, there are some coaches with rank integrity. Years ago, a coach from Southern California told me he promoted his juniors in accordance with how they stacked up against my players in competition. He respected my standards for rank, and used those standards as a gauge for his own.
One last piece of advice. Find someone, whose standards for rank and whose own high rank are respected, to mentor you. This is harder than you think because so many have drunk the “unlimited high rank for the masses” Kool-Aid. Add this person to your committee as an advisor.
In conclusion, I know that promotion stories similar to the ones I have listed in this post are precisely why you’re now looking to right the ship. Nonetheless, don’t mistake my encouragement to branch off with your own rank committee as a license to match every unmerited national promotion with your own set of unmerited promotions. Recognize that 5th dan is a respectable rank and should be a terminal rank for those who have limited national and international experience. Find yourself a rank mentor. That’s going to take a lot of digging and character references, but it’s a vital part that lends legitimacy to your committee. Have the integrity to know your place in the Judo hierarchy. Another tough act to follow since human nature makes us greedy for things we don’t deserve.
Lastly, I encourage all of you to read the following article. Although it’s a self-serving article to support Phil Porter’s own promotion to 9th and 10th dan, it’s exactly what the doctor ordered. These examples of required experience should be carried down to 6th dan. This would once again make rank promotions meaningful.