A scant 100 years ago there was no rank in karate. Instruction was almost always a personal relationship between you and your instructor and through your effort and their guidance you obtained the abilities you developed.
When karate began the desporia to Japan, the instructors felt a need to make karate fit into the Japanese martial structure and a rank structure was developed similar to the Japanese Judo structure. After the conclusion of WWII and Okinawa understanding they were to return to Japanese control in 1972, ranking structure began to enter the Okinawan practice of karate too.
What rank means depends on the circumstances around its usage.
1 . Rank may define your place in a social structure of training.
2. Rank may be an incentive to focus your training.
3. Rank may be a reward for your past efforts.
4. Rank makes it easier for instructors to know what anyone is working on at a given time, useful in large organization settings.
No one definition really defines rank as many of the above and more might be in play at the same time.
Life is continual change and the use of the tool of rank is a way to focus our thinking.
When new rank is awarded it should be understood that you haven’t perfected your past but you are now ready for new challenges. They may include the following depending on the level of study you are at:
1. The responsibility to continue to improve everything you’ve ever studied.
2. Your understanding you now have new studies to focus on in addition to everything else, or to put it another way it’s now going to get more challenging/difficult to move ahead.
3. Understanding the underlying principles behind the use of kata technique and then learning how to apply those principles across your studies.
4 . Learning how to understand the openings a line of attack presents.
Learning how to guide an attack into your surprise response.
5 . Understanding how to use rank to guide your studies when you no longer have an instructor.
Rank is not just a few words on a piece of paper. Its not something to be shared with other people, rank is a personal journey that begins anew each day as much as it begins anew with each promotion.
How do you find meaning in your rank?
Look back have you increased your knowledge and ability since your last promotion?
In time look back and have you increased your knowledge and ability since the last year?
Now look back and have you increased your knowledge and ability since the last day?
It mattes not if you are or are not promoted. What matters is how you approach your rank.