Donn F. Draeger
Lecture on April 1, 1976
It began as far as we know with Kano Jigoro of Kodokan, and the first date
probably 1883, about a year after he founded the system. He awarded proficiency ranks
to his Judo men, his exponents, on the basis of kyu, which translated as "class" or
"ungraded" ranks and "dan". These are, you can say "degrees" if
you want and ranks. So that is the beginning of the black-belt system.
The dan are the so called "black belts". The people who have black belts
are called, by the way, yudansha. The kyu are mudansha: mu means "nothing",
Now, the black belt system is the product of the peasant class, not the
warrior class. The commoners. Dr. Kano was a commoner, a wealthy commoner. His
family owned a sake mill. He was a merchant, the lowest social class. Had
he taken part in Tokugawa Japan, he would have been at the bottom of the social
level. So, any attempt to rationalize dan (black belts) with martial training
in Japan is erroneous on the basis of history. You can recognize a modern art by
the very fact that it does give black belts and other kyu grades. That is
one of the unfailing recognitions. Not all of them. Some of them have deliberately
avoided it because of all the nonsense and politics that goes with it.
The classical arts do not use the black-belt system. Now, classical arts
you must recall, run between the 8th century and 1877. But what did
they use, because the Japanese, like any society, are rank and prestige
conscious. As they learned from China, court ranks and so on were important in
social structure. So, they used this system which they called the menkyo system.
The exponents of classical arts receive menkyo and their evidence is shown on
a densho or makimono. That would be a certificate of your proficiency at a
Now, there are different levels of menkyo but far fewer than black-belt.
Black belt is very finely divided as are the kyu below it. The basis of it, the
basis of the kyu and dan system is commercial. Donâ€™t think it isnâ€™t. Even in
Japan. It was created for prestige and recognition, true, but for commercial
purpose to keep Kodokan in business, originally. It has grown out of proportion
today, not only in Japan but in the West. Many misuses and abuses, but that is
not our thing to talk about today.
The menkyo system has a great integrity. There are far fewer levels.
Generally there will be between three to five levels of menkyo over the whole
life span. Compare that to modern systems. Depending on the system, there could
be as many as ten kyu in some systems and ten different grades of dan. So there
is already twenty subdivisions under the present system. The warrior system,
from three to five; I have heard of one with nine and I have heard of one with
two. So, my experience is, they will range from two to nine levels; far less
than the kyu or the dan system. So, what the kyu and dan system means is, no big
Now, I will explain it to you on the basis of a hypothetical standard.
The lowest possible menkyo can be called okuiri. This relates to Zen. Oku is
"secret"; iri means "to enter", making entrance to secrecy. If you remember
yesterday's lecture, I gave you the difference between the use of okuden in China
and Japan. In China it was to "confirm" enlightenment. "You have arrived son,
here is your certificate". In Japan it is a certificate to allow you to enter
onto the path that will lead you to enlightenment.
The okuiri then is your lowest award. It is a teacherâ€™s license of the
very lowest grade and it varies with the ryu. The most conservative of them will
require four years of training. That is usually done under a headmaster.
Untiring, unswerving dedication to a system. Four years minimum. In some ryu
that goes up to as high as eight years, apprenticeship.
The next one is called mokuroku. Mokuroku simply means some kind of a
register or a catalogue. Your name, after you have gotten through this stage is
now entered in the official catalogues of the ryu. The registries. Before that
your name does not appear.
There are usually two levels here. The lower one, shomokuroku means
"beginning". Sho, hatsu and go, "afterwards". It is not
always true. Some do not use this, but it is possible two levels of mokuroku.
This shomokuroku is at least from eight to fifteen years. The gomokuroku
should even go higher, seventeen, training, resident training under a headmaster,
not a correspondence course.
The next one, menkyo. Menkyo means "license". You are now considered to
be a licensed instructor. This is the level where you can stand on your own feet
and your ryu will back you up as authorized to teach. Before that you were more
or less an assistant. Menkyo runs roughly fifteen, seventeen years, up to twenty
five years of training. No compromise in this by the way, no matter how good. I
will explain why in a bit.
Beyond that there are others. Generally, it is kaiden. Kaiden, around
thirty years experience.
Those are the levels. Now you can see why this would not work in a commercial
school. So the boy comes up and says, "Hay, uhhhhhh, Iâ€™ve been training for four
weeks, where is my orange belt?" "Well, son, I hate to tell you this, but you
got maybe at least four years more of training to go, then weâ€™ll talk about your
first belt." "Whaddya mean, my first belt? Iâ€™ve been paying you good, you know."
So on and so on. It does not lend itself to the commercial system. But integrity
is fantastic. You will never find a mokuroku holder who is better than a menkyo
holder. If he cannot get equal to this standard, he does not get it. Even though
he is the father of the guy running the dojo. They do not break that. I will
give you an example of itâ€™s integrity.
There is a ryu in Japan where the head family, the one that originated it
five to six hundred years ago -- direct descendant, 20th generation -- does
not train in the martial attitude of this school. He has a bad heart. He is not
allowed to do any physical training. He has absolutely no skill with a sword or
in anything. He could easily write his own diploma or have his grandfather write
it, stamp it, hang it up on the wall. It is his right. It is his family. But he
will not do it. There is someone who is not "blood" family who is given
authority to teach "for" him based on his qualifications. That is how airtight
When you hear someone speaking of "I do such and such and such a kind of
jujutsu. Iâ€™m a firth grade black belt in jujutsu."
Well, one of two things, he is a liar or has been had. No jujutsu form in Japan
gives black belts or kyu. They use the menkyo system. What it could mean, and
this is itâ€™s positive value, is that the system is using the word "jujutsu", but
the system itself was founded outside of Japan, or even in Japan by a group that
has nothing to do with classical tradition. Does not care one-way or the other.
They have made a new system and they do use the kyu and the dan, but use the
old word "jujutsu". They are borrowing an old word. In other words, there is
honesty and integrity in the system. It is possible. But it is not a jutsu
system. But on the contrary any do
system, Judo, Jujutsuâ€™s parallel, does use kyu and dan. Kendo, naginata-do,
iaido, with any kind of do, you must expect to find kyu and dan. So, there are
these two parallels, if you can keep them straight: jutsu for menkyo system, do
for kyu and dan.
"Did the jutsu then commonly denote the more ancient
They are the ancestors of the do forms. There is no do form that stands alone-
no true do form-without an ancestor or jutsu ancestor. There has to be a
parentage. Sometimes it is not easy to trace because it has been obscured in
some way; history has forgotten. But they all have a root in jutsu
I think that is a very important thing today because there is so much
confusion. Some of it is honest confusion. There is an awful lot of conning
going on. People are just out for a fast buck. They are taking words which have
common currency and have some kind of prestige connected with them and people
are baited. They pay their fees; they learn an art and maybe, good or bad, I do
not know, a system of ranking is used to attract them. If you took the rank
system away, you probably would have very few students. Some psychology is
Transcript by Pat Lineberger. Edited for publication by
Hunter B. Armstrong, and further edited for this web page by Neil Ohlenkamp. This web page is provided by JudoInfo.com, USA. Last modified December 1, 2003.