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