"Oldest Karate School in Denver, NC"

Celebrating 36 years in Denver, NC (1977-2013)  

Karate Rank Explained 2013

                                                                                                                Read about the titles within the ranks of the Martial Arts.

Sōke (
宗家?), pronounced [soːke], is a Japanese term that means "the head family [house]."[1] In the realm of Japanese traditional arts, it is used synonymously with the term iemoto.[2] Thus, it is often used to indicate "headmaster" (or sometimes translated as "head of the family" or even "grand master".) The English translation of sōke as "grand master" is not a literal translation but it does see use by some Japanese sources. It can mean one who is the leader of any school or the master of a style, but it is most commonly used as a highest level Japanese title, referring to the singular leader of a school or style of martial art. The term, however, is not limited to the genre of martial arts.
Sōke is sometimes mistakenly believed to mean "founder of a style" because many modern sōke are the first generation headmasters of their art (shodai sōke), and are thus both sōke and founder. However, the successors to the shodai sōke are also sōke themselves. Sōkes are generally considered the ultimate authority within their art, and have final discretion and authority regarding promotions, curriculum, doctrine, and disciplinary actions. A sōke has the authority to issue a menkyo kaiden certificate indicating that someone has mastered all aspects of his style.[3]
In some schools such as Kashima-Shinryu there is a related position called Shihanke (
師範家 hiragana: しはんけ?) meaning "Instructor Line" that fills a very similar role. A Shihanke is essentially a second training lineage that exists autonomously from the Sōke. In arts where there is a Shihanke and a Sōke it is possible for the position of Sōke to essentially be a hereditary honorary title in the Iemoto system while the Shihanke is responsible for the actual teaching and operation of the school [4]
The widespread use of the term "sōke" is controversial in the martial arts community. Traditionally it was used very rarely in Japan, typically only for very old martial arts, although it has become a somewhat common term for headmasters of schools created in the last few decades that attempt to reconstruct or emulate older styles of martial arts. Some modern western sōkes have used the title Sōke-dai (
宗家代?) as a title for their assistant as the leader of their school. The Japanese character dai used in this context translates as "in place of." Thus, a shihan-dai, sōke-dai, or sōke-dairi means "someone who teaches in temporary place of" the main instructor, for reasons such as the incapacity of the sōke due to injuries or illnesses.[5]

Shihan (
師範?) is a Japanese term, often used in Japanese martial arts as an honorific title for expert or senior instructors. The term is frequently used interchangeably with English terms such as "master instructor".
Various martial arts organizations have different requirements for the usage of the title, but in general it is a high title, 4th dan,[1] that takes many years to achieve. It is sometimes associated with certain rights, such as the right to give out black belt (dan) ranks in the name of the organization. However, the title is generally distinct from the black belt ranking system (dan'i).
The use of the term is completely style or organization specific, as is the process of becoming a shihan. Within the Bujinkan it has been said that you become a shihan when the other shihan start calling you a shihan. although in other organizations it is achieved with obtaining a particular higher dan grade. In other organizations, for example Shodokan Aikido, the title is organizational and less strongly correlated to rank.
Titles are not always used the same way from one style of martial art to another. In general they are used like this....

Sensei, means, He who has gone before. Usually only 3rd dan and higher that are instructors receive this title. It is incorrect to assume that all black belts are Sensei. The title may be issued at 2nd dan, but never below that rank. 2nd dans that are Sensei are rare. It is rarely given at that rank.

Shihan, A masters title. Usually given at 5th dan. It may not be given in some styles until 6th dan. Sometimes it is awarded to a 4th dan, but never to anyone below 4th dan. Some styles award a Shihan -Dai title at 4th (means something like master in training), then award the full Shihan title at 5th dan.

Renshi, Usually reserved for 6th dan and higher. May be used in a few styles at 5th dan. Basically most people think that Renshi means "Polished Expert".

Kyoshi. Usually awarded at 7th dan. Is thought to mean Teacher. Note: while the common belief is that a person holding a Sensei title or higher can open a dojo, in Okinawa it is common to not allow anyone to open their own dojo until they reach Kyoshi and 7th dan. Thus many times Kyoshi is called a teachers rank.

Hanshi, Usually reserved for 8th dan or higher.

Soke, There is only one Soke (pronounced So-Kay) in any style. That person is the head of the style. He holds a rank between 5th dan and 10th dan. He is not automatically a 10th dan as many people assume. Yet no matter what the Soke's rank, he is the only one that can award any rank to anyone he see fit to. That is because the Soke, while holding a rnak, is also considered to be "beyond the rank system". Shogo Kuniba is a classic example of someone becoming a Soke, yet holding a lower rank. He inherited the style from his father at only 24 years of age. His official rank was only 5th dan(Godan). There were old more senior students in the style, but his father passed the style on to him. Officially he was in control. Privately the senior students while subservient to him continued to teach him. his rank was raised over the following years. Note: Kuniba was the youngest person to ever inherit a traditional style in Japan.