The matter of high ranks and age is a contentious issue over which many a heated discussion has occurred. This however should not become an issue as one only has to look to history for the solution to the argument.
Even a cursory glance at Okinawan Budo history will reveal that high ranks were in fact bestowed upon the masters of old at a very early age within their personal training and advancement. Many masters received their master and or even grandmaster certification at the ripe old age of thirty to forty years of their personal existence upon this sphere.
A closer examination will also reveal that these same masters had trained with their respective Sensei on average less than five to six years.
Karate history is abundant with masters who received their high level Dan grades at an early age. Masters such as Shimabuko Tatsuo Sensei who was awarded his 10th Dan by Toyama Kanken Sensei (1888-1966) in 1959 at age 36. Yamaguchi Gogen Sensei (Gojukai), Nagamine Shoshin Sensei of the Okinawan Matsubayashi Shorin-Ryu style, Oyama Masutatsu Sensei (Kyokushin) to name but a few who received their headmaster recognition at a very early age. Shoreikan Goju Founder Toguchi Seikichi was graded to the “Hanshi” (Grandmaster) level aged 41 years of age, Gojuryu Meibukan headmaster Yagi Meitoku Sensei received his “Hanshi” recognition aged 46. The current Grandmaster of Isshin-Ryu Karate, Shimabuko Kichiro was graded as the headmaster of the style at the young age of 32 years, following the death of his father Shimabuko Tatsuo Sensei in 1975.
It was the Japanese who through the vehicle of the Federation of All Japan Karatedo Association (FAJKO), introduced the concept of time in grades and age requirements …. all in direct contrast to Okinawan karatedo history. History is abound with examples of the Japanese enforcing their policies (political and otherwise) upon the operation of Okinawan Karatedo in many cases forever changing the face of the unique Okinawan art. Many Okinawans and Japanese Sensei have openly stated that they now believe the true nature and art of Karatedo will be passed on to future generations by Westerners. A look at today’s ever-expanding karatedo world just may see this becoming fact.
In the ‘modern’ karatedo scene today, the issue of ranks, age and time-in-grade seems to be within the realm of martial arts politicians then that of the practitioners themselves. The evidence of history is irrefutable and makes all such arguments null and void. The fact of the matter is that the awarding of grades has and always will remain a personal decision in the relationship between the instructor and student ….. just as it was all those years ago on a tiny island known as Okinawa.