Whether you refer to them as Dans, Degrees, Ranks, or some other term, most systems of martial arts, whether Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Indonesian, English, or any other nationality, contain ranks beyond black belt or its stylistic equivalent. However, what do these really mean in the grand scheme of things? This artcile will explore that first 5 Dans of the Nemuru karate system.
This question comes up on occasion, as people want to truly understand the difference in the Dan ranks, as we call them here in the Nemuru system of karate.
It is a tricky subject, as there are a number of opinions, ideas, and concepts that surround what each individual Dan represents, and what should be expected out of someone that holds specific Dan ranks.
These opinions range from Dans indicating a higher proficiency in the art, some ideas relate to increased fighting ability (excluding the art style itself), and there are those that simply state that a Dan simply represents age, as often times many years are required in the style to get past the rank of 2nd or 3rd Dan (this is not true in all systems, but I will rant about that on a different day).
There are also more fantastical opinions that people carry in relation to higher Dans allowing special access to "secret trainings" or other, more esoteric ideas such as mysticism, magic, and other things that have been popularized by pop culture and fiction. While most of us probably know that these are simply false, there are those in the world that do quest to seek these "secrets".
Pop culture, mysticism, and general "secrets" aside, what is really meant by a Dan rank in the Nemuru system of karate? Each rank can be interpreted differently to a different degree by individuals, but the presentation herein indicates opinion that has been formed by nearly 30 years of activity in this proposed system in relation to the first 5 Dan ranks in this system.
The 1st Dan, or your standard black belt, is basically the starting point of mastery - it is the true beginning of your journey through the martial arts. At this point you have proven that you are capable of running a class, that you have developed solid technique and true character, and that you have survived your grueling black belt test. This rank really means you are ready to teach the basics, can adequately protect yourself, but you still have an awful lot to learn.
The Second Dan is a tricky animal - many times this is acquired for not much more than continued time in training and service, often times meaning that this rank is little more than an indication of seniority between a 1st and a 2nd Dan. However, what this should really mean is that you have not only proven to be able to run a class, but that you can run a class effectively and you are able to obtain respect from the students simply through your presence and quiet demonstration of expertise in the arts. Ego begins to make way for humility at this point, and the art generally becomes more than just yourself, but it becomes more about your students and their success.
The Third Dan, often times seen as the "young master" rank, is no longer about the style of Nemuru as much as it is expanding the style of Nemuru - demonstrations must be made that show you have expanded upon your presented knowledge base by studying and learning elsewhere (I, myself had to perform three kata from different systems to be eligible). Oftentimes this takes being a head instructor of a school, or acting as a head instructor of a school where there is a 4th Dan or higher present to be a safety net. This rank is not about you, but what you can add to the style that has not been added in the past, and what changes you can make that will benefit the students, the system of martial arts, and your peers in the martial arts as a whole.
The Fourth Dan becomes tricky, as traditionally in Nemuru no one has spent must time at this rank, and even fewer achieved this level of mastery. Since this particular rank is often held for a short period of time, or in rare cases completely circumvented, it is difficult to place an observational opinion on what this entails. However, Master Sagarese spoke with me at length about this at one point, and indicated that this is rank is no longer about your own students and your own school as the previous ranks, but it is about further exploration and presentation of the system on a greater scale. Whether this is writing articles on the subject, performing regular demonstrations, speaking at martial arts conferences, or competing in tournaments, this rank is all about continued exposure and expansion. Essentially, to a lesser degree, one must be some manner of a politician in the arts to acquire this rank. However, to do this one is always building his or her mastery of the art to the next level, which would likely indicate why someone often times will spend far longer on their Third Dan than expected (Grandmaster Munchbach was a 3rd Dan for over a decade) and then spend mere months at this rank prior to moving up yet again.
The Fifth Dan of the Nemuru system of martial arts is wherein one acquires the title of "master". This level of mastery indicates a strong grasp of basic and intermediate martial arts principles as well as development of the more advanced techniques. The Fifth Dan also has likely trained students and signed off on a few black belt promotions, and is able to effectively coach younger instructors to achieve their own heights of greatness. While previous Dan ranks have seen ego put aside for humility, this rank finds the necessary balance between humility and ego that is paramount for continued development in the martial arts. This master of Nemuru has demonstrated proficiency in at least 1-2 other arts, promoted a number of students, has qualified instructors beneath his or her tutelage, and commands the respect of the martial arts community as a whole.
This information presented in relation to the first 5 Dans in the Nemuru system is a lot of information to take in. However, this is only the beginning. In the near future there will be more published information as it is related to Dans 6-10 in the Nemuru system. In the meantime, train hard, and become exactly who you were meant to become through your study and training!