March 2010: Black Belt Titles Renshi, Kyoshi and Hanshi.

A number of people have asked about the titles black belts and instructors receive as they train.  At each level of training becomes more challenging physically as well as mentally.  The black belt should be an active part of a recognized school and must also train diligently on his or her own.  Each of the titles should be awarded, as ranks are, by a qualified instructor of the appropriate rank, not taken as people often do.

Renshi – 5th  DEGREE BLACK BELT [12 to 16 years after 1st Dan] & 6th  DEGREE BLACK BELT [5 years after 5th  Dan] The  Renshi  title indicates a “polished instructor”  and may be awarded by an instructor who is earned the title of Kyoshi.

At times an instructor may have a student who is close in rank.  For example a 6th Dan may have a student who is a 5th Dan.  In some cases the use of the term, Renshi, may confuse lower rank students as to who is the higher ranking black belt.  At the rank of 6th Dan another term may be awarded to help clarify this situation.  Shihan is a Japanese term, often used in Japanese martial arts as an honorific title for senior instructors. The term is frequently used interchangeably with English terms such as “senior instructor”.

Various martial arts organizations have different requirements for the usage of the title, but in general it is a high title, 6th dan or above, that takes many years to achieve.  The title, like other advanced titles (Renshi, Kyoshi, and Hanshi) must be  awarded by someone who is at least a 7th or 8th Dan and who has been awarded the title of Kyoshi.  It is generally distinct from the black belt ranking system and in schools which are members of my association of dojos, the idividual must be a teacher of his or her own school and have promoted people to at least the rank of Renshi.

Kyoshi – 7th DEGREE BLACK BELT  [5 years after 6th Dan] & 8th DEGREE BLACK BELT [5 years after7th Dan] and should be at least 50+ years of age] The “Kyo” in Kyoshi means “professor” or “philosophy”. Therefore, Kyoshi equals a “professor” capable of teaching the philosophy of the martial arts.  An instructor who has earned the title of Kyoshi should award this title by a person who has earned the title of Hanshi and this person should still be active in a dojo and also train diligently on his or her own.

Hanshi – 9th DEGREE BLACK BELT  & 10th DEGREE BLACK BELT   The “Han” in Hanshi means “example, model” and indicates “a teacher that can serve as an ideal model for others”, or a “senior master”.  This is a very special title representing the highest levels of martial arts, a teacher of other teachers and demonstrates personal growth and an in depth understanding of the style.

The 9th degree should have at least 40 consistent adult years of diligent training in Isshin-ryu Karate in the dojo and continued study on his or her own.  Beyond this the individual should be respected by his or her peers and a valued part of the martial art’s community.

The 10th degree is reserved traditionally for the founder of the style.  The rank, title and responsibilities inherent in the designation may be handed down from the founder to an heir.  In Isshin-ryu Karate Tatsuo Shimabuku named his son Kichiro to the heir to his style.  Also, in the Isshin-ryu style of karate there are numerous subgroups (IWKA, IIKA, AOKA, KIAI, OIKKA, and a number of other organizations) that have developed after the death of Tatsuo Shimabuku.  These groups each have a 10th degree black belt at the head of the organization

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