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I would like to address the issue concerning the use of titles such as Soke, Shodai, Grandmaster and others, as well as some other issues. It seems that there are many traditionalists who are offended by Americans using these terms. They would rather see the use of the title Soke dropped, and Americans use the title of Founder. They don't understand why Americans insist on using an Asian term. They are also complaining about 40 year old Grandmasters. The last time I heard so much whining and crying was from children in a daycare center, and even they didn't cry as much as some of these people who call themselves martial artists. I will begin with some facts that many may or may not know.

First, I will address the issue of Americans using Japanese terms. This has been going on since the Japanese arts were brought to America. After all of these years, Americans still butcher the name Kara-Te. We pronounce it Ka Rotty. We also see it used in conjunction with the word "American". Schools call it American Karate. Is Karate American? Absolutely not, but people call it this anyway and it has been accepted as the norm. What about the Koreans? The Korean Yudo Association has changed its name to the Korean Judo Association. How dare those Koreans use a Japanese term (Judo). Isn't saying Korean Judo the same as saying American Karate? How about American Kenpo? Many American martial artists use the term dojo or dojang, yet no one complains about that. Many of the modern schools still teach Asian terminology, respect and discipline. So, this is okay, but once the word Soke comes into play, it's taboo. It was acceptable for Americans to use the term Sensei. Why is it okay for a 3rd dan to be called Sensei, or a higher ranking Grandmaster to go by the title of Shidoshi, but not okay for the founder of a system to have the title of Soke? This does not make sense.

As far as the title of Soke, Shodai or any other Asian term, why do Americans use it? Well, I am sure there are several reasons. Probably one reason is just because it sounds better than Founder. It is related more to the martial arts. I, myself, prefer the title Founder, but regardless, what difference does it make as long as the person has trained hard and earned the title. I cannot speak for everyone who carries the title of Soke, but I can honestly say that those I have met do not require anyone to call them by this title. Of course there are those who use the title of Soke to impress people which is not a good practice. Anyone who founds their own system is a Soke or Shodai, however, that does not mean they should go around calling themselves Soke. Maybe some of the old Masters such as Ueshiba, Kano, Shimabuku, Oyama and others never used the title of Soke, but nonetheless, all of these men were.

As for 40 year old Grandmasters, let me shed some light on this subject. Bruce Lee was only in his early 30s when he passed away, yet he was and is still highly respected, yet he never earned a black belt. His art of Jeet Kune Do is still practiced today by many and Bruce Lee is still admired throughout the world.

In 1968, the then 26 years old Tadashi Yamashita, tested for his 7th Dan in Shorin-Ryu Karate, and so became the youngest person ever, who achieved this rank in Okinawa, as well Japan's history.

At age 31, Hwang Kee combined Soo Bahk Do / Tae-Kyon, Karate Formd out of books, with the Chinese T'ang method and developed Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan.

At age 40, Mas Oyama established his Kyokushinkai headquarters.

Grandmaster Kang Uk Lee of Tang Soo Do was a 6th Dan at the age of 29 and by the time he was 40 received his 9th dan.

Ji, Han Jae of Sin Moo Hapkido studied with Choi, Yong Sool from 1953 until 1956, only three years before opening his own school, An Moo Kwan. In 1957, Ji held the rank of 3rd Dan in Yu Kwon Sool. Only six years from his beginning with Choi, Ji Han Jae claims to have founded Hapkido in 1959.

A dare 22 year old with only a few years of study in Jiu-Jitsu found his own art and call it Judo. Jigoro Kano was born in 1860, received instruction in Jiu-Jitsu for the first time in 1877, and by 1882, he founded Judo. By the time Kano was 40, Judo had come to enjoy great popularity.

At the age of 41 Taekwondo Grandmaster Haeng Ung Lee was promoted to 8th Dan.

In 1967, at the age of 39, Sifu Tze Dschero Khan Chen Tao Tze was promoted in Taiwan to the rank of 10th Duan in Kou-Shu. He is the founder of the Chinese Kempo Association (1964) and Chan Shaolin Si Kempo Karate.

Regarding martial artists who found their own systems, they are not doing anything that the Grandmasters and Masters of the past didn't do. If you look into the history of what people consider traditional martial arts, every art was founded by someone who trained in different arts before developing their own. Look at the art of Hankido. This combines Korean Hapkido with Japanese Aikido. Mas Oyama trained in Chabi (a combination of Kempo and JuJitsu), Shotokan and Goju-Ryu before developing his Kyokushinkai. This is true tradition. I laugh when so-called traditionalists make comments about newly founded systems. They don't seem to realize that at one time the art they are studying was also considered a new martial art.

In closing, there are followers and there are leaders, however, a good leader must have been a follower at one time. Some people are just not leaders, but they should not slander those who are. If it weren't for leaders, we would not have arts such as Aikido, Judo, Kyokushinkai, Isshinryu, Tang Soo Do, and many other martial arts. So, why is it that only Asians can found their own style or system after only a few years of training, yet Americans with 20 years or more in the martial arts who develop their own system are looked down upon? Are Americans too stupid and unworthy? I don't think so. I do however think there are a lot of people out there who are close-minded about change and new ideas, and others who are jealous that they are not leaders. It is time for those who call themselves traditionalists to open their eyes and do some research, and maybe they will see how the martial arts grew to where they are today and be thankful for those people who took the chance to be leaders.

I have recently received a letter from a group stating that martial arts organizations with mixed styles are just made up of individuals who could not make it in the real martial arts. What they are basically saying is that Hwang Kee, Morihei Ueshiba, Yong Sool Choi, Mas Oyama, Jigoro Kano, Tatsuo Shimabuku, as well as more modern martial artists such as Wally Jay, Bruce Lee, and many others who founded their own styles and systems could not make it in the real martial arts, or possibly these dinosaurs as they call themselves are just a bunch of followers who could not make it as leaders and they are jealous of those who do lead. If you are a follower, then follow, if you are a leader then lead, but one should not look down on others for having a different outlook on things. The world would never evolve and progress without those who take a chance.


The use of Master ranks up to e.c. 20th Dan (Master rank)
was common in ancient Korea, and Japan, but not used for the last 90 years.
Other Grandmasters who came again up with this old traditional ranking system are:

  • Soke Masaaki Hatsumi(16th Dan Nin-Jutsu)
  • Grandmaster Cacoy Canete (12. Dan Modern Eskrima)
  • Grandmaster In Suk Pak (12th Dan Tae Keuk-Do)
  • Prof. Gilberto Pauciullo (11th Duan Kung-Fu)
  • Grand Guru Jose G. Mena (12th Dan Philippine Arnis)
  • Prof. Olohe Kolomona Solomon Kaihewalu (12th Dan Lua)
  • Shihan Jose Augusto da Silva Costa
    (12th Dan Karate Gojitsu-Ryu)
  • Grandmaster Nes Fernandez
    (12th Dan Philippine Kali-Arnis-Escrima)
  • Shodai-Soke Joseph M. Victory Jr.(12th Dan Ju-Jitsu)
  • Dr. William Chow (15th Dan Kempo)
  • Dr. Anton Tariba (12th Dan Taikido Martial Arts)
  • Also Grandmaster Bok Man Kim's "Chun Kuhn Do"
    System goes up to 11th Dan

This very informative article was partly written by Soke Ed Annibale and with kindly agreement provide to us.

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