Ranks and Titles, Part 2

Before you go on, check out last week’s post if you haven’t read it already!

Ranks and Titles, Part 1

So now, let’s talk about titles. What do things like “SiFu,” “Sensei,” or “Professor” mean? How does someone get these titles?

One of the easiest ways to understand this is to look at the traditions that are used in academics at colleges and universities. First off, back to what we discussed last week - a person cannot just attend college sporadically for 20 years and end up with a degree. They must complete a course of study that has been laid out by a professional and then pass all evaluation by a higher authority before earning an actual degree.

A degree from a university is much like a black belt. It demonstrates that a certain amount of knowledge has been acquired in an individual subject, or in this case a martial art. However, a degree does not give that person the ability to teach others and give out degrees. 

But why not?

A baccalaureate degree is not the end of someone’s path in learning that particular subject. In fact, in many ways it just allows them to begin. They can now pursue a career in which they will learn a tremendous amount more through experience, or maybe they will pursue higher education within that subject area. They cannot, however, teach others. At least not yet.

According to study.com, if someone wants to be a professor at a university they should be prepared to do the following:

The minimum level of education required for college professors is a master’s degree, which can qualify an individual for work as a professor at a community college. A doctoral degree is typically required to work as a full-time, tenure-track university professor. You should be prepared to earn an undergraduate degree in your chosen subject area, go to graduate school, complete a Ph.D. program, conduct independent research, and write and publish articles in scholarly journals.

In addition, you may need to gain teaching and research experience as a graduate assistant, or gain work experience in settings like governmental, nonprofit, and the private sector related to your field of study. The key skills you want to build include critical thinking skills, communication skills, computer skills, and knowledge of classroom management.

The same is true in martial arts. 

A black belt does not stand as one's ability to teach, only as a testament to their technical accomplishment.

There is a multitude of examples of highly talented black belts who are not good teachers. In fact, some of the best martial artists on the planet are terrible teachers because the arts came naturally to them and they have difficulty getting someone that does not have natural ability to perform the techniques.

One of my good friends and teachers, Felipe Costa, is both a world champion and a great teacher. The reason for this is he lost over and over again before he ever won. He is at this time still the only person to win the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu World Championships in an Adult Black Belt division who did not previously win it at one of the lower ranks - he always lost. BUT, his losses gave him a greater understanding of the techniques than many other world champions and the patience and passion that a great teacher must have to pass on what they know to someone else.

Felipe Costa, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Black Belt World Champion

Felipe Costa, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Black Belt World Champion

The ability to teach is what makes a “sensei” or “sifu” (which both mean teacher, by the way -  Sensei is Japanese, and SiFu is Chinese). And just as we discussed with rank, it is important that these titles are bestowed upon someone by a higher ranking practitioner of their art. In the martial arts world especially, because there is not one governing body or accreditation system used universally, it is important that a prospective student does their research to validate someone’s background in the art they are claiming to teach, and that they have the authority to do so.

At Progressive Martial Arts Academy, we use Chinese, Japanese, and American titles to show the mixed origins of the arts that we teach. They are as follows:

Sempai (Japanese) - Senior Student - usually brown belt or senior. We bestow this title upon all of our Black Belts and instructors.

SiHing (Chinese) - Very Senior Student - usually brown belt or senior. This title is typically given to one student in the Academy and is senior to Sempai.

SiFu (Chinese) - Teacher - usually 2nd-degree black belt or senior.

SiGung (Chinese) - Teacher of Teachers - This is a very senior practitioner who is awarded this title by the system founder or head of the family - usually 7th degree or senior.

Professor - usually 8th degree or senior.

Grandmaster - 9th or 10th degree, can have more than one grandmaster.

SiJo (Chinese) - Founder of the system, or head of the family. There is only one head of the family.

That's it for this week! I hope this answered some of your questions about ranks and titles. Did I miss anything? Send me an email with any questions or topics you'd like to see covered on our blog at dcorrigan@pmaoakridge.com.