Sakizuke: The Ranks You Don’t Deserve!

sakizukeThis morning, I was exchanging with my friend Leandro Barros from Brazil. We were discussing ranking in the Bujinkan.
He had read an article on Sakizuke by Duncan and was wondering when he should grade his students. (1)

This article is a reminder about the benefits aspects of the Sakizuke system. (2)

In modern Japanese, it means “appetizer.” (2)
When breaking it in two, you get “earlier” (3) + “add” (4).
Both mean that the “real stuff ” is coming later.

Sakizuke is a typical Japanese concept. It is the way Sensei gives ranks in the Bujinkan.
The black belt ranking in the Bujinkan is not a system based on rewards like in sports. You know why? Because the Bujinkan is not a sport! The Bujinkan teaches Budō, not entertainment.

The Sakizuke is for the black belts. But beginners need a comprehensive grading system. For many years I did like everyone not having exams for my students. Then I noticed they were quitting fast. So in 2005, I created a grading system for the Kyū belts covering the whole Tenchijin, and they began to stay. For a beginner, I guess it is essential to know what they know. Also, do not forget that in Japan, you get a black belt when the teacher thinks you have understood your basics. Shōdan, first Dan, means that you move wrong but that you are accepted as a student by your teacher. Coloured belts for Kyū is a Westerners’ invention. (5)

You can find the various modules for beginners on Koimartialart, my streaming platform . (6)

The real question is how do you rank your black belts? This is where the Sakizuke system comes into play. To understand the Sakizuke, imagine you get a gold medal and then you are asked to win the race. This is how it works.

Duncan says it better:
“The ranks in the Bujinkan are for the heart. Those with the right heart will accept rank from their teacher without question. Students having a feeling of discomfort or inadequacy for their new rank, should then go away and train hard until they become worthy of the grade. This is understanding Sakizuke and the correct feeling to have when dealing with the Bujinkan grades.”

Many criticize the system without understanding it. These teachers still have a sports mentality. The Sakizuke is typically Japanese, it is part of Budō.

I have a pleasant memory that might help you understand it. When I was 13th Dan, I had a coffee with Sensei in his house. At one point he said that he wanted to promote me to 14th dan.
I told him that I was not worth my 13th dan yet. He looked at me and said, “yes, but you are getting close to deserving it. This is why I want to give you a 14th dan.” I objected that I would be back to Japan four months later and that he could give it to me at this moment. “No,” he said while filling the diploma, “If I die tomorrow, you have the rest of your life to be worth it.” This is Sakizuke.

Your rank is a potential level. It is up to you to deserve it or not. Many high grades in the Bujinkan don’t understand it, which is why some have a deplorable level. Don’t be that kind of black belt. Be aware of your level and study hard to be worth it. At the end of the day, your rank will not protect you in the streets, train hard if you want to survive.

Bujinkan ranks are traps for your ego, they are a challenge to your intelligence. Accept them but train harder and fill them with sweat. See your rank as a container. From the outside, it looks like the Schrödinger’s cat who is dead or alive; your tank is either full or empty. What is inside only depends on you. (7)

The Bujinkan is Ura, so leave the Omote, and enter the Ura side, because there is much more to gain for your Budō and your life.

Be happy!


1. “Thoughts on Ranks” by Duncan Stewart (June 2012),
2. Sakizuke 先附 or 先付け; appetizer, postdating
3. Saki 先; earlier
4. Suke 附; to add, to join, to attach
5. Coloured belts: When Jūdō came to Europe, Kawaishi Sensei was forced to accept the coloured system by the French federation of Jūdō in exchange for a working permit! This system was then adopted worldwide, in and out of Jūdō. More on that:

Author: kumablog

I share here on a regular basis my thoughts about the Bujinkan martial arts, training in Japan and all over the world, and

5 thoughts on “Sakizuke: The Ranks You Don’t Deserve!”

  1. Very nice! I once explained this to a guy who went to the Seinin Dojo Facebook page to complain about two young shihan he saw in a pic.

    I’d like to expose to thoughts I had too (transcription of what I wrote to the guy). The way I see, they come as consequence of Sakizuke:

    1) ‘Though authority exists within Bujinkan, it arises more spontaneously and based on know how acknowledgement, rather than by “look at my belt”, or “I’m a dinosaur in the art”, or “I can only be better and know more, because I’m older” feeling. It’s more flexible and meritocratic. Just how a martial art should be.’

    2) ‘Final remark: Jûgodan or Dai Shihan doesn’t mean you mastered it all, because, as I said, grading is about what you need to know. The cup is empty. Fill it to the mark. What is the final mark?’

    About this second thought, grading as a reward implicitly means there is a way to know all there is in an art. When you’re a top rank, symbolically, there isn’t anymore rewards the art can give you.


  2. Since time ago I was suspecting something similar, but I was not told so clearly. In the seminar this weekend (02.08.18-04.08.18) in Dubai there was a mention to this approach and today I found this post.
    Even, during my kyu-period to receive a new rank was never cellebrated as a gift by me or my buyus, to receive a new rank was always very slow (something that we used to like and feeling proud about) and a feeling of pressure used to come related to it. This is very nice for ego, because receiving something “when you deserve it” can make people to become vain (Because he/she “deserves it”, it is his/her “right” to receive the promotion); to receive something “you do not deserve yet” push the person to work for that, something I think more stimulating and more useful for our growing up as budokas.

    Miguel Ángel Moya (Spain)


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