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Grading Structure Explained

Updated: Nov 27, 2023

The recent evolution of Japanese arts introduces a contemporary approach to training within the Bujinkan "umbrella" organization, overseen by Hatsumi sensei. Departing from the traditional shoden, chuden, and okuden levels, the current system incorporates kyu and dan grades, reflecting a fusion of modern and ancient methodologies.

While our students have yet to receive kyu or dan ranks in the nine systems, Hatsumi sensei has implemented such grading for the broader Bujinkan organization. The present rank structure embraces a modern framework utilizing kyu and dan grades. Still, it preserves the essence of the ancient shoden/chuden/okuden format, emphasizing three general levels of training and comprehension.

The kyu grades, ranging from 9th to 1st, are marked by green or red belts, symbolizing the preparatory phase for Budo Taijutsu. Advancement beyond the kyu ranks signifies readiness for genuine learning at the first dan or first-degree black belt level. The dan ranks, represented by black belts, are further categorized into three overarching levels: Heaven (1st to 5th dan), Earth (6th to 10th dan), and Man (11th to 15th dan). These divisions loosely correspond to the traditional shoden, chuden, and okuden levels.

As Hatsumi sensei, the soke or inheritor of the nine systems, holds the authority to reorganize training material and rank structures within the Bujinkan, all ranks emanate from him.

Diverging from conventional martial arts, where ranks signify specific skill sets and establish hierarchical authority, the Bujinkan's approach to ranking differs significantly. Hatsumi sensei resists defining strict criteria for ranks, arguing that such an approach can stifle the essence of a real martial art. Instead, he encourages instructors to establish their own standards, emphasizing essential principles over standardized tests.

Above the 5th dan, Hatsumi sensei's criteria for awarding ranks remain elusive. Dan ranks do not inherently indicate an instructor's technical proficiency or teaching ability, and they do not confer specific authority over lower grades. The meaningful interpretation of Bujinkan ranking lies as a personal connection between the awarding teacher and the recipient student, making each rank as unique as a real combat encounter.


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