Understanding International Rank Certification

By Scott Shaw

Certification has become one of the most debated issues of the modern martial arts. So much so that over the past few decades there has been an ongoing plethora of organization who have come and gone, advertising in the pages of martial art magazines and more recently on the Internet — each promising anyone who can meet their standards or pay their required fee the, "International Certification," which has become the key phrase of rank in the modern martial arts. These ads use catch phrases like, "Get the Rank Recognition You Deserve," "No Politics — Only Service," and "Join One of the Fastest Growing Organizations in the World." But, what does this all mean?

When we view the established Martial Art Associations we must keep in mind that the majority of them are relatively new in their creation. For example, the Korean based systems of self defense are only about fifty years old. Though they can trace foundational history dating back centuries, these systems were all founded post World War II. The majority of the formalized Japanese arts are not much older; Aikido, Judo, and Shotokan were all founded within the past one hundred years or so.

Where did the founders of these systems get their Certification? Many of the creators of the now established systems of self defense became formalized by demonstrating the techniques employed by their new style to the sanctioning body of the government of the nation in which they were founded. In the United States, and virtually all of the Western World for that matter, this ultimate source for authorization does not exist. This fact has sent many Westerners to the pulpit with the hopes of creating an overseer organization. They propose an association which would be the sole source of rank and instructor certification for all of the United States and beyond. But, who are these people who have founded these organizations and what gives them the belief that they possess the authority and/or the ultimate knowledge over all of the wide range of systems of self defense on this planet that they could be so all-knowing to be the sole source of rank and instructor certification for every system throughout the entire country and world?

The other side of the issue is based in the fact that many people believe that if they get their rank certified in Asia or by an Asian instructor it is automatically more valid. But, it is essential to keep in mind that even in the midst of the established Asian organizations there has been a long running, highly documented, history of favoritism and rank corruption in Asia. Thus, can anyone believe that an organization created by a singular individual or group here in the West would not be plagued by these same problems?

Another interesting factor involving International Certification which has occurred over the past few decades, particularly among Asian born instructors, is that an individual studies with a teacher of a particular system, this student eventually earns their Black Belt or Instructor Certification and goes off, sometimes to another country, to teach the art. Then, they become more famous than their instructor. All of sudden, the signed certificates come down off of the wall and the one time student never even heard of their original teacher. Some of these people go off to form their own organizations. Or, in some cases, establish entire systems based on the techniques of their original style but name it something different. Then, they claim that they actually studied with the long dead original founder of a system or a monk in some secret monastery. Due to the fact that these individuals are deceased, there is little method of proving or disproving their claim.

There is also the other side of the issue, the case of the individual who says something or does something that the president or governing body of an International Certification Organization does not like. That person is then ban from the association and their rank disavowed. In the martial arts, where rank is based predominately upon proving physically and mental prowess, how can a person hold a rank and then have it pulled away simply by a making a miscalculated statement or performing a misjudged or disliked action? This is kind of like earning a degree at a university and then being told it is not valid.

What we must come to ultimately understand from all of these examples is that at the heart of any organization is a person and/or persons. Hand-in-hand with being human comes the potential to make mistakes of judgment and decisions based in personal likes and dislikes. Moreover, it must be understood that if the majority of the martial art organizations have only been around for less than a century, if new associations claiming the ability to authorize International Certification are being born all the time, if rank, (as we have seen), is corruptible, and if students become the masters, then what does International Certification truly mean to the modern world of the martial artists?

International Certification can give you credibility — yes. It can give you the ability to turn to an organization to certify your students — yes. But, does it give you wisdom? No, it does not. Like the paper, "International Certification,” is printed upon, it is temporary and impermanent. The only thing which makes it valid is if you possess wisdom to pass along to your students.

Wisdom does not involve rank. Wisdom does not involve the meaningless competitive mindset which plagues the modern martial arts, "My teacher and my style are better than your teacher and your style." Or, "I am better than you." Wisdom is a centralized focus of purpose. Wisdom embraces the fact that though the martial arts are based in the ancient methods of warfare, they do not have to end at this animalistic level of purpose. The martial arts can be a method for the individual to come into a new and profound harmony with their body, mind, and spirit — something which is not experienced by the average individual. With this, the need for unfounded anger, egotism, and false judgment is left behind.

Instead of becoming lost in the seeking of external, "International Certification," let your certification come from within — based upon the fact that you are consciously becoming a better person who is not trapped by the external egotism of the modern martial arts. Become a more enlightened individual and external International Certification is meaningless.

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