In 2008, Joe Wilson Sensei and I were sitting with some of our Okinawan seniors in the Live House where Hanshi Gibu and the Butokukan members were giving our group a kankeigai (welcome party). Nakamura san, who is a sake-in (liquor distributor) came in to join us and brought a case of Okinawan Amamori with him. We were all having a fun discussion when someone asked him what rank he was. Nakamura san shook his head with a smile and said “wasurimashita” (I can’t remember)
Suddenly, it began to be a topic of great debate and discussion amongst the seniors to what rank he was. Nakamura san had begun karate at the Butokukan in the 70’s and was one of Gibu Sensei’s first students. Finally, the seniors asked Gibu Sensei to join the discussion and he said “Nakamura san is a yondan(4th dan).” Cheers went around the table from those who had won the bet.
Nakamura san seemed only satisfied that the answer had been found and went back into other conversations with no more attention to the matter as if someone seen a bird land outside the window.
On Okinawa, training is the only thing that matters. When someone goes to a gym in the United States, the only thing that concerns them is to be able to get stronger or more fit. When someone is able to bench press more than they did last month, they don’t get an award or recognition, they set goals to lift more next month and to stay strong. Karate on Okinawa is the same and should be the same in dojos around the world. Rank does not change you physically, it only changes the insecure. Those who only care about training don’t care about the next rank or what rank they are compared to others, they only care about being the best they can be.
“Skill is what counts. With skill, rank is irrelevant. Without skill, rank is meaningless”. – Charles Goodin Sensei