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Frequently Asked Questions

Teacher, I have heard there are in fact very few grandmasters alive today. How did you attain such a high level?

The answer is really very simple — with time and effort.

Some say that high rank must be awarded by some special person or some agency that is recognized as an authority. Others say, rank is awarded by some special test a practitioner takes to prove his skills. Still others say, rank is determined by how much time one may have spent in training. Each of my past teachers awarded rank in different manners.

My last teacher, Ch'ang Tung Sheng, would at times test his students, then award a rank. At other times, he would simply give you a rank he thought you deserved.

In my case, I have many different ranks in each of my art forms. For example, in Kenpo I am a seventh degree black belt. This rank was given me by my teacher John McSweeney. To attain my first degree black from him I had to learn the traditional techniques and forms of the system. He then promoted me to seventh degree black belt after near thirty years had passed. His decision was based on my time and experience with continuing my Kenpo.

In Judo, I am a low student, only because I did not continue to go farther. My goal there was to enhance my understanding of balance and basic throws. In the Shuai Chiao I have a seventh degree black belt issued by Ch'ang Tung Sheng. Ch'ang taught me directly and some time much later asked me, "What rank do you want to be?" My answer was "Whatever rank you make me."

So you see, each of my teachers awarded rank somewhat differently. None of these methods are wrong, it is purely up to the head of a system to determine the methods of awarding rank.

In our circle of people, rank is based on the family. A grandmaster is called "Shr-Ya" in Chinese. This translates as "Shr" meaning teacher, and Ya meaning grandfather. This rank is attained after many years of practice and the creation of many students, disciple and teacher levels.

Like a Family

It is much like your own family. Once you have children you are called a father, when your children have children you are a grandfather and so on. I have given birth to many teacher levels, and they now have students of their own. These are my grandchildren. Their teacher becomes their parent and I become their grandfather. My teachers become their great-grandfathers and so on.

A student or child is one who has trained one to five years. From five years to ten years of training is called a disciple or young man or woman. Ten years and further of training and you are a man or woman. A teacher level is called Sifu, which translates as Si, meaning teacher, and Fu, which is derived from the Chinese, Fuchin, meaning father. Hence, Sifu means teacher/father.

The Chinese ranks are really based on the family. When a student enters the art he or she is called a child. They do this even in the Karate systems, they call it a Kyu rank which means child. A Dan rank is considered an adult. It is a sign of growth. In the Chinese a grandmaster is like the grandfather of the family. This indicates time spent in the arts, knowledge of the system and wisdom attained through the life experience.

As head of my system, my rank of grandmaster was simply earned through the course of time. I became a grandfather. Rank has always been a point of argument among many people in our arts -- who is higher; who is greater. This shows a lack of understanding.

"It is yourself that makes you what you are, by your actions, efforts and determination to succeed at whatever you do."
An expression that I often use is "call me anything you want, but don't call me late for dinner". What I mean by this is that rank is really unimportant. It is only food for the ego and nothing more. However, people want to be recognized for their efforts, therefore, rank exists. I also realize there are those who have not attained any real levels of mastery yet they call themselves teachers and masters. This fact will always be the case within our arts as well as any other field oftraining.

My advice is, don't go by titles for titles can be very deceiving at least. Go by the what you see and hear from the so called masters and Grandmasters. If they are true, you will see it. Often I say to my students, I am really just a beginner in the arts. In fact this is true, for we are all but learners in the journey we call life.

Remember, there is no one special who waves his magic wand and makes you a master or grandmaster, it is yourself that makes you what you are, by your actions, efforts and determination to succeed at whatever you do.

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