Monday, April 8, 2013

Classical Martial Titles In Danzan-Ryu

Ranks and titles in martial arts fall into a couple of categories. Most often, modern martial arts use the system popularized by Judo's founder Jigaro Kano. This is known as the "Kyu-Dan" system and incorporates colored belts indicating the Kyu 級 ranks; those below black belt. The Dan 段 ranks are the black belt ranks. Another system is most often seen in classical japanese martial arts and is sometimes called the Menkyo, or license system. This includes ranks that reflect the student's level of technique mastery with such titles as Oku Iri 奥入 (entering the depths), Sho Mokuroku 初目録 (initial catalog) and Go Mokuroku 後目録 (further catalog). The Danzan-Ryu Jujutsu 檀山流柔術 system primarily employs the Kyu-Dan scheme for indicating rank, but there is an exception to this.

Recently, the 2013 Kodenkan Jujitsu Okugi® class was taught to about 60 Danzan-Ryu black belt instructors by Professor Tony Janovich. This class had previously been held in 1993 and 2003. Along with his teacher, the late Professor Sig Kufferath, Professor Janovich designed this course based on the special black belt course taught in 1948 by Danzan-Ryu founder, Professor Henry S. Okazaki. This 1948 class was attended by Sig Kufferath. As in Professor Okazaki's class, the later classes instructed the attendees to the Danzan-Ryu Jujutsu curriculum, including the higher level techniques of Shinnin No Maki, Shinyo No Maki and Shingen No Maki. At the end of this class, the graduates received a certificate of complete transmission, known as a Kaidensho 皆傳證. Depending upon their level, each of the graduates received a formal title of either: Renshi 錬士, Kyoshi 教師, Shihan 師範, and starting in 2003 included Hanshi 範士, and in 2013 Dai Shihan 大師範. After this latest class some of the graduates were interested in the meaning of these titles and this article will shed some light on this.

Renshi: The initial title awarded to some graduates is called Renshi and the Japanese kanji for this term is 錬士. Most often this title is defined as "trainer". The characters for this are Ren  meaning "to refine, temper or polish" and Shi .meaning "gentleman" or even "Samurai". I would suggest that the Renshi can be thought of as one who refines and hones the student's skill. Looking deeper at the character for Ren, the left side is the character for "metal" and this word suggests the forging of metal as in the process of creating a valuable sword. I am also reminded of the passage from Old Testament that speaks of the coming Messiah, thus: "for He is like a refiner's fire" Malachi 3:2.

Kyoshi: The next title is Kyoshi and is most commonly used in Japan as the word for classroom teacher. The characters for this term are: Kyo  meaning "teacher" or "doctrine" and Shi  meaning "expert". We may wish to think about this term as one who is an expert in the doctrine, knowing exactly how things should be done. They may be considered as the teachers who are particular about the details.

Shihan: Most often this term is defined as "master" of a particular discipline, be it martial arts, music, tea ceremony, medicine, flower arranging, etc. The characters are Shi  (as in Kyoshi) again, meaning "expert" and Han 範 meaning "pattern" or "model". We may think of the Shihan as the teacher upon whom others are modeled. The Shihan is like the mold into which plaster is poured in order to repeat a perfect item.

Hanshi: The title of Hanshi is usually reserved for those who have achieved an advanced level of mastery of a discipline. Formed by the characters Han  (as seen in Shihan) and Shi  (as seen in Renshi), this suggests one who is a "teacher of teachers". It is sometimes thought of as "grand master".

Dai Shihan: This title 大師範 means "great master". It is reserved for only a very few.

This is a brief description of the titles found on the certificates from the Okugi classes. One important note about such titles is that they should only be used in written form and should only be used as prefixes, such as "Tanaka Yoshimatsu Shihan". It would be inappropriate to use the titles as: "Renshi Yamada", "Kyoshi Williams", "Shihan Smith", etc.


  1. Thanks for the explanation, Prof. I guess you didn't need a reminder to update the blog after all.

    It was a pleasure to meet you last weekend.