I love the Gore company tagline “No ranks, no titles”!
In the Tai Chi we practice and teach, we don’t care about ranks and titles. We do care about knowledge and respect for each other a lot, but not about artificial ways to express those. If you need a rank to get respect and authority, you have other more pressing issues to address.
So why do many systems have ranks? There’s a simple answer: to make money. You pay fees for examinations, for memberships, for special trainings. You pay your way into the hierarchy. In the old days, even in systems that had ranking, your teacher would some day just come to you and say: “congratulations, you reached the next level of understanding”.
If you are looking for certificates and ways to slowly level yourself about others, you won’t be happy in our classes. If you seek understanding and encouragement, you might have found your place.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been there. I went through 9 student ranks in Karate (Kyu 級 grades) and 3 black belt ranks (Senpai 先輩 grades) through the formal system before I understood that it doesn’t matter. I stopped chasing ranks after that. My 4th black belt was given to me from my teacher after a normal training session, to my big surprise (I’m still surprised to be honest).
I never called my teacher “sensei” (先生) and he never wanted that, but it was always clear to me that he is my teacher and role model. He is an 8th degree black belt, so he would have all reason to be called “sensei”. It just doesn’t make any difference, other than creating an unnatural gap between the two of you.
Why would you need a ranking system? Either you know what you’re doing or you don’t. Either you have something to teach or you don’t.
Ranks are a way for organizations, not great teachers, to make money and make students stick around because it takes time to pass the mandatory wait times as you buy your way through the ranks.
Rather than chasing a rank, spend time with your teacher, listen to what he says and learn. That’s all that is needed. Focus on the art, not on the distractions.
If your teacher insists that you call him “Master”, “Sensei” or “Sifu” (師傅) and wants to push you through the grades, then very politely thank him. Then go and find a real teacher.
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