Literally translated as examination or grading and used ubiquitously in the dojo, it is that which underpins the fabric of standard and identity for all schools and styles of martial arts. Undertaken by many with honesty and sincerity but for others, just a fait accompli as part of the student retention journey and friendship obligation.

Shoukyu Shinsa – This is for Kyu grading and means to raise up.

Shoudan Shinsa – Dan grading

Shinsain – Examiners (Sensei) “in” here is nothing to do with the English preposition and means person or people. For example Shidoin is instructor, Shinpanin is judge(s). Buin is club member(s), however there are no Karatein or Budoin, they are Karateka and Budoka.

The grading should constitute the challenge and opportunity for a student to demonstrate and show understanding, capability and the way of performing the requirements needed for a syllabus to a good standard acceptable for passing. The grading panel should be unbiased and honest to the student and the system to ensure that which is the system is protected, preserved and promoted to the highest standard.

For the student before undertaking a grading they should evaluate if they are ready and if not delay undertaking the challenge. Considerations are many and a few key thoughts are as follows:

  • Ask yourself are you ready?
  • Are you doing it because of the anniversary of a time period or because you feel ready?

Disappointingly many feel that if they have paid for the grading they will pass! This is not uncommon! Remember paying to take part in examination is just that and has no tangible connection to passing. Many students think that order only will allow them to pass. Remember order is expected without error and it is not this that is evaluated but how you do it and show the aspects needed in the principles of Bujutsu.

For teachers who are often the examiners of their own students there is a difficulty in separating what has become a friendship against the integrity and honesty of a teacher true to the standards and beliefs of a style or system. Again considerations are many but a few thoughts are as follows:

  • Do you have enough integrity and honesty to fail a student who is not ready?
  • Can you separate the friendship from training and be the teacher?

In the many years of travelling around the world and undertaking examinations and participating in panels, I have found myself in various situations of internal conflict where I know someone well and would like them to pass. I acknowledge the challenge but always fall on the side of being honest to my teaching beliefs and protecting the standards I have set for all my students. The pain of saying sorry you have failed, whilst not nice is necessary for integrity, the true meaning of Bujutsu and respect for your student. If they are honest to themselves they should know they did not do well and did not deserve to pass.

I have observed from afar several types of approach taken by examiners:

  • The money drivers who undertake for this sole purpose. (The banker)
  • The friend who undertakes to keep the student and build a family and not a dojo. (The friend and parent)
  • The empire builder who also uses the student elevation to pursue their own justifying they must keep ahead of their students. (Often big fish, small pond syndrome)
  • The automationist who ensures a regular cycle come what may to keep the students. (The pleaser)

There are many more categories that could be recognized here but the key point is that an examiner has a responsibility to be honest, fair, impartial and strong in decision making. It is also critical to know the levels required clearly and ensure students know this too! If they don’t then this is just as unfair.

For senior grades the problem becomes more acute and the words “pass” seem to be the forgone outcome and conclusion. This is caused from the aforementioned and the awareness often too of time. There is an escalator syndrome here, all push forward to keep the status quo! Someone has trained for X amount of years and therefore deserves it! I have known him for X amount of years and he has a good heart or is a good person. And I must not forget the self-award approach to be known as a senior for the club, the association and the recognition needed to attract new members.

I remember when I trained under the guidance of Motokatsu Inoue Sensei in his dojo in Japan him telling me many times that he did not care if I or anyone else did not like him. He drove us and wanted all of us to be the best we could in the understanding and ways of Bujutsu and if this meant he had to fail us or tell us we were not good enough, this would happen. Praise was always in short supply and he was never happy with the standard for everyone and pushed and pushed to make us reflect more and work harder. This attitude ensured that when we came to a grading we prepared and prepared and went in knowing if we did not show the standard he wanted we would fail. This approach produced many brilliant students who became excellent teachers and took the light forward in later years in the study of Bujutsu. You do reap what you sow in standard if you stay true to your integrity and honesty. Those that shirk away from the decision inside they know they should take dilute the style going forward and the slippery slope to losing all that has taken such hard work and time to achieve is lost.

In summary all who study Bujutsu should regularly look in the mirror and reflect on where they are and why they chose the study of Bujutsu. It is not for ego and rank, not for advertising, not for being important! It is to be an honest student of the way of training and push hard every day to move forward and understand more, strive for perfection and strive to be a sincere and hardworking person.

A few Japanese words which may be a guide:

Seijitsu – Sincerity

Shojiki – Honesty

Kenkyo – Modesty

Kinben – Hard working (Diligent)

Kouhei – Fair

Fukouhei – Unfair

Kekka – Result

Shojyo – Diploma

Goukaku – Pass

Fugoukaku – Fail

Saishinsa – Re-assessment (regrading)

No aru taka wa tsume wo kakusu – The skillful hawk hides its talons

Makeru ga Kachi – To lose is to win

In years gone by it was not uncommon to see students asking if they could join a dojo and train under a teacher and be rejected time after time. Now this has gone full circle and students are coerced and almost begged into a dojo. The role reversal has turned the relationship between teacher and student on its head. It is time to make the correction and recover the lost ways of old and the grading is a good place to start.

One of the seniors at the Honbu told me that when he passed his Shodan grading under the austere eye of Motokatsu Inoue Sensei he cried. Such was the way of Shinsa and all knew what to expect and prepared as much as they could to be worthy of coming in from.

My Sempai, Shingai Shihan passed on the words of Motokatsu Inoue Hanshi at Ritsu Zen in the dojo. “Teaching means you are still learning and training through it”

This should alert how many Sensei understand the humbleness and have this quality as Motokatsu Inoue Hanshi demanded, and how may Sensei pour their lives of work into the next generation. Grading is certainly a serious testament for both Sensei and student.

Remember a grading is undertaken when the Sensei thinks his/her students are ready to take or need to take it. It must never be the other way round. A grading is not automatically scheduled in the calendar for the students to think the path is automated.

In summary, a grading means a lot to students but so does if for the Sensei. The Sensei will face the results of their teaching abilities reflecting on and from their students. Remember students are watching, copying and learning from the Sensei