Rank Is Not Competence

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Posted on March 19, 2013 by



I have been traveling to train in Japan over 50 times over the last 23 years. I’m what you can call a “Jurassic ninja”.

But yesterday for the first time I forgot my belt on the mats. I left it right after Nagato sensei’s class and it made me think on the value one attaches to this piece of fabric and what does rank really means.

Luckily for my ego, my friend Joe Maurantonio message me that he found it and put it on the big koi at the entrance of the dôjô. And luckily I didn’t forget my key of the dôjô so I got it back.

To see my belt lying on top of this huge koi fish* was quite symbolic. As you know we have created with my friend Shiva from India a Bujinkan website** for online streaming and in the past three years we have recorded all the training themes (weapons, ryûha) from the end of the 80′s until the beginning of the Juppô Sesshô cycle (2003).
For that I see myself as being quite competent. But is it true?
Theoretical 応答能, ôtônô, (competence) is shown by the belt. On the mats it is easy to look good as everyone expect you to be good: “he is Jûgodan, so he must be good”. This is an illusion, a twisted appreciation of reality, and a true cognitive dissonance*** because they judge you on the omote (what people think you are) and do not see the ura (what you really are).
Outside of the dôjô the attacker has no clue about who you are in your “dôjô cocoon” and when he comes at you he has no doubt about the outcome of his attack. Unlike what we often see on the mats, he is 200% Tori and sees you as a full Uke. No belt, no rank. There is only reality.
Forget the Matrix; there is no blue or red pill, or any plug to download competence in your brain; there are only many years of hard training. Rank is not competence and a belt doesn’t do the training for you. If we witness that everyday in our lives and in the dôjô, the majority tends to forget it. Whoever we are, whenever you are in Japan you are only a student and not a teacher. My brother Pedro explained it nicely in a recent FB post, please read it****. Pedro explains that there is only one sensei, Hatsumi sensei. If you believe yourself to be a 先生 sensei maybe what you call sensei is only 浅才 sensai (a lack of ability).
In each class you can see those “sensai teachers” teaching their lack of understanding to their partner instaed of training. They often train with a kyû belt or a young black belt. These “buyû” have no 武勇 buyuu martial prowess, they are simply 不優 buyuu badly skilled!
Their 自信 jishin (self-confidence) is 児真 jishin (childish reality).
These sensai teachers are the perfect illustration of the Dunning-Kruger effect*****:
“The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their mistakes. The miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self.”
The more unskilled they are and the more they believe in their own value. They train fast in order to hide their incompetence. They inflict pain to their partner thinking that the more pain they give, the more skilled they are. Don’t get me wrong, to inflict pain is ok but why doing it when it is unnecessary? They hide in the back of the dôjô (far from sensei) to teach their own 無能, munô (inefficiency) to their victim of the day.
Over the years I have tried to tell them not to do it, but it proved to be useless as they are only listening to themselves and do think they are good. Maybe this is why I have so many high ranks teachers disliking me. A few years ago two guys came to Nagato sensei and said: “sensei we don’t understand” and Nagato sensei answered: “you don’t understand? then go back home!”. They still come to Japan and train with him regularly. But if he can say that, as I am not Japanese people consider me wrong, arrogant or incompetent.
But how can it be different?
Each time they come to Japan they are promoted. This persuades them of their own value. They have no doubt. When they return home to their worshipers (no one forces the students to pay the training fee) believe their teacher is good because the “Japanese Shihan” give him a higher rank. This is a vicious circle.
Another reason for their wrong behavior is that the “ranking race” stops at the Jûgodan level. So these “unskilled individuals” will eventually get to this rank. And having the same rank will consider themselves equal to you. I recently experienced it as a freshly promoted Jûgodan corrected me on a waza I have been training when he was still wearing pampers!
There is no shortcut to experience! 応答能 ôtônô, (competence) is acquired through time and the belt you wear is only a piece of fabric. Rank is not competence it is a trap for your ego.
So please enjoy your next training as a true 学生 gakusei (student) and don’t forget that being a gakusei means to 学 (learn) 生 (life) and that it is the chance that Hatsumi sensei is offering us.
* koi fish: the Japanese bass. For some reason there is a huge stuffed koi in a glass box at the entrance of the dôjô. Maybe a ninja bass, who knows.
** www.koimartialart.com gets about 1500 visits per week. All the dvds from www.budomart.com are available in online streaming. We did that to serve as a “Bujinkan library” of all the waza in order to help the teachers and the community to remember the general forms. A video is always better than a written text as simultaneity is visible. This is not the case in a book where everything is linear. Disclaimer: these are my interpretations and they are not “official bujinkan” material.
*** cognitive dissonance: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_dissonance
**** Pedro’s post: “Gisei” you can find it  here: https://www.facebook.com/pedro.fleitas.5?fref=ts
***** Dunning-Kruger effect: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect

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