Yudansha Units System

japan staircase greenI haven’t written in a while so I thought I’d post something I give my Brown Belts, an article from our first issue of the Black Belt Bulletin — a newsletter for members of the Black Belt Club. I hope it inspires other Black Belts to continue their training.  Enjoy.

Level progression in the Black Belt ranks works a little differently than earlier ranks. You still must complete the requirements of kata, techniques, defenses, and kihon. However, the field of material that must be covered is vast, and not taught in a linear fashion. This is why Master Bagnas developed the Yudansha Units System (YUS). You can earn points for various activities, specialized training programs, tournament participation, and instruction duties. However, there are minimum time-in-grade requirements that must be met.

Time-in-Grade Chart:

Rank Minimum Time-in-Grade Units Needed
2nd Degree 1.5 years 50
3rd Degree 2 years 75
4th Degree 3 years 100
5th Degree 5 years 125
6th Degree 5 years 150
7th Degree 5 years 175
8th Degree 5 years 200
9th Degree 5 years 225
10th Degree 10 years 250

What is the Yudansha Unit System?
Traditional Japanese dojos call the body of Black Belt members the Yudansha. This term is excellent for what the YUS represents, a tracking and training system for Black Belt members. As part of the Golden Leopard Kempo Yudansha, you are offered a variety of training paths. This system helps the GLKO track your training so the Testing Board knows what to expect from you during the Black Belt test.

How does the System work?
You can earn points by participating in various activities, including seminars, tournaments, and special classes. Since Black Belt material is taught on a rotating cycle, everyone may acquire different knowledge yet still be eligible for promotion. This allows you to choose your emphasis in the arts, whether you prefer the gentle training of Tai Chi Chuan (Taijiquan) or the ancient weapon arts of Okinawan Kobudo.

By the master level, you must know all these sub-arts however you get to choose what you start first or what is offered. The amount of work you put into your training will produce the best results and the fastest promotion cycle. Some of the options allow for personal study and research, in addition to life-skills improvement.

An instructor must record all points gained on your permanent record to count. If you feel there is any discrepancies or errors, please contact your Chief Instructor to get it resolved. Once you believe you qualify for the next test, your instructor will verify your units and put you on the next Black Belt test.

If there is interest, I’ll post the ways to earn points. All you have to do is write a comment below. When I get enough interest, I’ll post it as a new article.

The Hawaiian Blessing and Other Customs

In traditional Karazenpo go Shinjutsu  (KGS), you bring your new belt and new uniform to the ocean. Soak them in the ocean water. Let the water saturate the belt and uniform. This blesses them with the spirit of the ocean and provides you with the strength of the seas. This is called the Hawaiian Blessing. It’s a wonderful custom that was forgotten by many schools and instructors.

Black belt takes time

Black belt takes time

Another custom of KGS is twisting the belt. Twisting of the newly awarded belt takes some of the newness out of it. Usually, they come out of the wrapper and into the hands of the recently advanced student. The belts are stiff and nearly untieable. The twisting or breaking-in of the belt signifies the efforts you put into training. It also represents the fact that you are not new even though you have a new rank.

During Black Belt ceremonies, there is a custom of breathing into belts. Breathing into the belt transmits the spirit of the Testing Board into the new belt. The master or grandmaster put a bit of their knowledge into your belt. The belt (also known as obi) represents your knowledge of the art and loyalty to the school. This custom links you spiritually to the lineage of your ancestral teachers.

Black Belts also have another custom issued by the master. Getting hit by the belt signifies the combat element of the art. It demonstrates you can take punishment and hardship. The ceremonial hit also symbolically tempers the spirit, forging your perseverance and reminding you of humility.

Finally, newly ranked Black Belts drink a shot of saki when the Testing Board presents it. This ceremonial drink represents camaraderie–sharing a drink with your fellow students. You are now a member of the Yudansha, the Black Belts of the school. You have earned the right to represent the school because of your diligence in training and skill in techniques.

These are some of the more interesting customs found in Karazenpo go Shinjutsu. There are undoubtedly more. Does your school have a custom? Tell us about it in the comments.

How to tie your Karate belt

The karate belt knot is a simple square knot. The tricky part is getting the belt around the waist. There are two methods of doing it, the “Twist” method and the “Narrow” method.

The Twist method is easy. Find the middle of the belt. Put it on or near your belly button. Wrap the ends around your waist until they come to the front again. Then tie the knot. This produces a twist in the back where the belt crosses over itself. Some people find this uncomfortable when they roll or slap out.

The Narrow method is trickier but makes a single belt line in the back. Start with an end and place it on the hipbone. Start wrapping the belt across the belly and around until you get to the end. The end should be in front of you otherwise make adjustments to get it there. Pull the initial end out slightly from underneath the wrap. Measure that they are nearly the same lengths.

If not, then slide the whole belt around until the ends are the same lengths. Then tie the knot.

Whichever end is on top is the first link. For this demonstration, it is the right end. Tuck the right end under BOTH layers of the belt and pull until snug. Then loop the left (the same one that was right a step before) inside the right. Pull both ends until the knot is secure.

If you started on the left hip then just reverse the left and right notations. The Karate belt knot should look like a square knot. Below is a demonstration of tying the belt so you can see how it works. Play it a few times until you get it.

Our school has a few customs for tying a belt. These are not universal rules since I’ve discovered most schools have similar or no rules regarding the belt. Breaking these rules won’t result in Manner Ninjas attacking you in the night. It won’t even get you kicked out of a respectable dojo. They’re here just to provide guidelines on proper behavior and etiquette. Respect the belt and you respect your accomplishments.

  1. Perform a belt blessing before putting it on. This involves two steps. First touch the folded belt to your forehead, lips and chest representing the uniting of mind, spirit and body. The next step is snapping the belt — holding two folded ends and pulling quickly to produce a snap.
  2. Don’t let the belt ends drag on the floor while wrapping or tying the belt. This is demonstrated in the video by holding the folded section until it is wrapped around the waist. It gets easier with practice.
  3. Kneel down when a Black Belt  (or higher-ranking Black Belt) dons their belt. Some schools require you to face away from the Kamiza (the portrait of the Grandmaster or front of the room).
  4. You should kneel down when tying your belt. (Although this is not observed much anymore.)
  5. Always fold your belt after use. Keep it clean and put away. This is a good practice for everything you own, fold it and put it away.

Does your school have any belt traditions or customs? I’d like to hear about them.

Why is Monkey Dance 14 Different?

As a derived style of Kajukenbo, we must look to their required kata to learn more about our syllabus. Traditional Emperado Method Kajukenbo uses Monkey Dance 13 and 14 as developmental kata. They teach moving footwork and stance work. They are simple yet vital foundational moves. In our style, we practice footwork with our Moving Blocking Sets – the Eight Point with half-moon steps for example. We practice stances in other drills and Kamuki kata too. There’s no need to add additional stance-only kata. We need to prune the unnecessary leaves to promote proper growth.

Low horse stance in a kata

Low horse stance in a kata

Secondly, Monkey Dance 11 is the Okinawan Kata Naihanchi 1. This kata was first taught by Grandmaster Mitose when he introduced Kenpo to the Hawai’i. It could be said that this is the first and only Kenpo kata. However, we can look to other systems and related styles to see what they do. Famous masters such as Chosei Motobu have two Naihanchi kata in their system. If it’s good enough for the Motobu family, it is good enough for us.

Therefore it seemed logical to include the second Naihanchi as Monkey Dance 14. It’s a beautiful kata and it teaches great techniques. This kata is very timely in the curriculum and challenging for Brown Belts. It also adds another kata with the traditional Mitose opening – something that I personally like and enjoy performing. Naihanchi 2 also acts as the capstone for the Monkey Dance or Palama kata series.

While we’re on the subject of Kata, I prefer to call the Kempo kata Kamuki. Calling something 1 Kata when all forms are kata is confusing for students and instructors alike. The Monkey Dances are called Palama by Kajukenbo in honor of the first YMCA program in Hawai’i. My inspiration for using Kamuki is it’s the second Kajukenbo YMCA location and its first initial is “K”. This helps me remember that it’s the equivalent of Kata. So Kamuki 1 is 1 Kata. Kamuki 2 is 2 Kata. Kamuki 3 is 3 Kata and so on. Less confusion once you get use to it.

Changes should not be made lightly but they are important. As the analogy previously mentioned, pruning is necessary to improve growth. Redundancy is important to emphasize key movements and techniques. More than that, it becomes a hindrance and leads the system to skew its character or effectiveness.

For instructors out there, what have you trimmed from the curriculum and why?

How Phases Work

Teaching a room full of student at different skill levels has vexed instructors for years. What is the best way to keep everyone progressing towards their next rank yet have the least number of instructors on the deck? How do you adjust your lesson when key student levels don’t show up thus sending your plan into a tailspin? Over the last decade, there has been a movement towards Phase Curriculum. Implementation of this concept has been perfected over the years and it helps the instructor plan his class better.

Black belt teacher helping a yellow belt child

Black belt teacher helping a yellow belt child

First, you must understand the concept. Phase Curriculum is a new paradigm for teaching and ranking. It disassociates material from the rank. So Technique 4 is no longer a Purple Belt technique. It is a technique in Phase 2. It also requires each rank to have the same amount of material. Phases don’t work in an increasing curve of material. Each rank must be teachable in the same time block – usually four months. In a sense, it remakes each Phase a college class.

Next you must understand how the concept is implemented. Each Phase is a block of time, say summer or fall. This block of time is assigned a Phase, like Phase 1 or Phase 4. These Phases are snippets of material that are the focus of instruction during that time period. When the time period or block ends, there is a rank test. Then the next Phase begins. If Phase 2 completes, then the next Phase is 3.

How does it equate to rank colors? This is where the concept gets tricky. Our first three ranks are Candidate ranks. These allow the new student to get comfortable with balance, terms and punching. They are very simple ranks – lower than beginner is – they are introductory sessions. For us, these classes remain the same, outside the Phase circuit.

We start the Phase Curriculum at Purple belt. The former Second Purple material is now Phase 1. First Purple material is now Phase 2, and so on. After you graduate from the introductory cycle, thus you are Purple Belt; you join the Beginner class. Most likely, they are not on Phase 1. Regardless, you join the class and learn say Phase 4 material. Normally, that’s Blue belt material. However, at the end of the cycle, you get promoted to your next rank. You still need Phases 1-3 before you can change classes. The next Phase is 1, and now you learn that material. Other students who finished all the Phases at this level are now Green Belt and move to the Intermediate class.

The classes are divided into ability ranges, namely Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced. This equates to Purple-Blue belts, Green-Brown belts, and Black belts. This prevents a new Purple belt from learning difficult Brown belt material. The difference between Purple and Blue belt material is minimal so learning that material “out of order” shouldn’t be an issue. And “out of order” is really a subjective decision anyway. Someone long ago decided to do it that way and poof, it’s “traditional”.

By the time you reach your Black Belt test, you still have all the same material as if you went “in order”. But it has tremendous benefits for the instructor. Now, he only has to prepare for one “level” of material. Everyone in the same class is learning exactly the same thing. The three higher-ranking folks aren’t learning a different kata from the lower ranking folks. Everyone can work together on the same thing at the same time. Now the instructor doesn’t have to split his or her time between two or three groups in the same class. The instructor devotes their full time to all the students at the same time. This is much more efficient.

Here are the highlights of Phase Curriculum. First, classes are divided by similar skill-levels and everyone learns the same material at the same time. Next, those that complete each segment can advanced to the next skill level class, or stay in the class for the next phase. Rank is measured by time and material, but the material is not bound to a particular rank. Finally, by Black Belt, all material is covered.

That’s Phase Curriculum in a nutshell. Its benefits to you are more instructor time and regular advancement dates …and a less stressed instructor.

Who Can Test Anyway?

NOTE: This article is only for students of the Golden Leopard lineage. It does not apply to other arts or other schools of Kempo.

Who’s authorized to perform tests? What ranks can they grant? These are questions I use to ask myself. What I discovered is there isn’t a standard. It’s all made up. Each style, system and organization has his or her preferences and procedures. To insure the propagation of our Kempo style and the need for consistency, I decided to pen my own “standard” that applies to all students under my lineage. (1)

The Certificates

I issue several certificates. The last award will not be available until I attain those levels myself. They are listed for the sake of completeness.

  1. Member of the school – denotes an active member of GLK.
  2. Rank Advancement – an award for the completion of a rank.
  3. Dan Rank Advancement – an award for the rank of Black Belt and confers the rank of Sibak.
  4. Provisional Instructor – authorizes to teach on a limited basis. There is no title awarded.
  5. Instructor – authorizes to teach as a certified GLK instructor and confer the title of Sifu.
  6. Tester – authorizes to rank up to (and including) 1st Brown Belt. There is no title awarded.
  7. Master – authorizes to rank up to 4th Degree Black Belt and confers the title of Master.
  8. Grandmaster – authorizes to rank up to (and including) their grade of Black Belt and it confers the title of Grandmaster

How It Works
A roving testing board that visits each school does all testing. Other approved masters or I train this testing board. Not only will they be verifying the abilities of the students; they are also evaluating the quality of the instructor. The instructor will get a review by the testing board on his strengths and weaknesses (teaching skills, adherence to curriculum, martial skills). (2)
Colored belts
At the mandatory weekly instructor class, weaknesses will be addressed and strengths will be examined and duplicated.(3)

This means an authorized “Tester” goes to the school and performs the kyu rank advancement test with the help of the resident chief instructor. The “Tester” and their “Sifu” will approve each test candidate.

After the test, usually at the next regional meeting, the “Tester” will give the “Sifu” an evaluation of his students and teaching. This is designed to be a positive and constructive evaluation to ensure quality.

We don’t allow an instructor to rank his own students because inconsistencies arise between schools when this happens. This system has worked well for other “schools” and it works well for us.(4)

What Ranks can be given?

As mentioned above, someone with the “Tester” award can to rank up to (and including) 1st Brown Belt. That’s all the ranks below Black Belt. A Testers rank can range from 3rd Degree to 4th Degree.

Someone with the “Master” award can rank up to 4th Degree Black Belt. This authorizes them to run “Black Belt Tests” on their own without the Headmaster. However, this is frowned upon since I like to be involved in all Black Belt Tests. The Master ranks are 5th (Jr. Master), 6th (Master) and 7th (Sr. Master).

The award of “Professor” can rank up to (and including) their grade of Black Belt. Basically, they can rank anybody anything. I prefer to award the “Professor” title myself, but it isn’t exclusive. The Professor ranks are 8th (Associate Professor) and 9th (Professor). Just to note, I really can’t rank anyone this high because I’m not this good yet. This section is just here for completeness.

What about 10th Degree Black Belt? That’s for Grandmaster Gascon or his heir to decide. Honestly, I don’t think I’ll ever be a 10th degree. I feel a system should only have one leader. Our system is Karazenpo Go Shinjutsu—the original Shaolin Kempo. We have the good fortune of having the founder (Grandmaster Gascon) available for questions and training.

Quality Assurance
Another quick note to add is the concept of re-qualification.  Currently, every two years both Instructors and Testers need to retest for their award to keep it current. We don’t want folks with teaching credentials sitting around for years getting rusty then popping up to teach again. The same is true for Testers.

Prior to the retest, we hold a seminar or training intensive to make sure all the Instructors and Testers are still up to standards. If there is new procedures, we want them to know. If there was a particular drift from standard style, we want to discuss it and clear up that topic before it divides the organization. If there are new, better ways of teaching something, we want the Instructors to know about it.

Conversely, if the Instructors or Testers have some problems or suggestions, the senior Instructors want to know. It’s a bilateral discussion and sharing. We explore the art together, not hand down judgements from an Ivory Tower. None of us are that good, especially me.

If in doubt, ask to see the Head Tester’s certificate. He (or she) should have a copy of it when they visit the dojo for testing. Don’t feel awkward about questioning their authority. You’re just interested in preserving the art and following the rules. These rules are designed to help all of us stay on track. Without guidance, some people start to do their own thing. This results in inconsistency and bad feelings.

Just remember to train hard and give your best effort at all tests. It’s your time to shine and show your progress.

(1) There is an exception. Anyone under Grandmaster Fugate should follow his guidelines.

(2) Taken from the interim _Rules and Regulations of the Golden Leopard Kempo Organization_, 1999.

(3) Ibid.

(4) This system is borrowed from the United Studios of Self Defense, East Coast. It’s a solid way of ensuring quality of black belts within a system. Often times, different masters are softer or harder than others, which begins to skew results and cause friction.