Teaching titles explained

The United Kingdom Budo Federation is honoured to award the traditional Japanese teaching titles (shogo 称号) of Renshi, Kyoshi and Hanshi.

These titles represent teaching excellence and are the typical mark of respect among peers in traditional Budo and must have links to traditional Japanese institutions.

Renshi 練士 (typically awarded at around 4th/5th Dan), Kyoshi 教士 (typically awarded at around 6th/7th Dan) and Hanshi 範士 (typically awarded at around 8th/9th Dan).

The root of these Shogo is in a time when Dan grade titles were not normally awarded past 5th Dan, therefore one would go from 5th Dan to Renshi to Kyoshi to Hanshi. However it is a little more complicated than this.

Judo founder Jigoro Kano established the Dan grade (Dan-i) system in martial arts in 1882. It had previously been used in other activities not related to martial arts. In 1886, Kyu grades followed.

In 1895 the Dai Nippon Butokukai issued the first Shogo, which was designed to be a kind of Samurai teaching title. The name of the title was Seirensho, it was awarded initially to Kendoka.

In 1903 four Kyoshi and seven Hanshi titles were awarded for the first time. They were awarded to swordsmen of Koryu styles including the Itto Ryu, Musashi Ryu and Jikishinkage Ryu. The minimum age of 60 was established for the title of Hanshi, which was later lowered to 50.

In 1934 the Seirensho award was replaced by Renshi. In 1937 the grades of 6th Dan (rokudan) and above began to be used and so Shogo were used alongside them. Therefore as a practitioner a 6th Dan without a Renshi title would still outrank a 5th Dan with a Renshi title. In 1957 it was decided to award grades as far as 10th Dan (Judan).

Shotokan Karate founder Gichin Funakoshi was famously awarded the title of Renshi which caused some to claim his grade was 5th Dan, but as a founding master he was of course “beyond rank” and at the time there was no higher Dan grade. His own student, Hironori Ohtsuka (founder of Wado Ryu) attained the rank of Hanshi but would not be considered senior to Funakoshi.

Renshi’ means a ‘Polished teacher’ of a particular martial art. The “Kanji” for Renshi is made up of Ren (as in Renshu) meaning Train, Polish, Refine; and Shi (as in Bushi) meaning Samurai or Gentleman.

The Kyo in Kyoshi means a philosopher or professor. The Han in Hanshi means exemplar or model.

After the second world war the Kokusai Budoin (International Martial Arts Federation IMAF) emerged in Tokyo, and later the Dai Nippon Butokukau returned to Kyoto and both awarded Shogo in addition to Dan grades.

The chairman of Dai Nippon Butokukai is prince Higashikuni, and of Kokusai Budoin, Tokugawa Yasuhisa, therefore both have links to the royal and shogun families.

From example Goju Kai founder Gogen Yamaguchi and Shotokan master Hirokazu Kanazawa were awarded 10th Dan and Hanshi by Kokusai Budoin.

The United Kingdom Budo Federation began in 2005, originally called IMAF GB and was official branch representation of Kokusai Budoin/IMAF. The UKBF later left IMAF and became associated with the Dai Nippon Butokukai. In 2006 we held a course to celebrate 50 years of British Karate which was attended by the UK’s senior masters of the Kokusai Budoin and the Dai Nippon Butokukai.

In 2007 the national director of the Dai Nippon Butokukai awarded the UKBF the mandate to award Shogo and personally awarded the first Renshi titles to our directors at the time. UKBF is now independent but we still maintain close relationships with Japanese institutions and Japanese masters.

To use an example of how awards might sequence, UKBF director Keegan Sensei was awarded 4th Dan on 4/7/2007, followed by the title of Renshi on 8/5/2010. He was then graded for 5th Dan on 18/12/2012 and 6th Dan on 14/6/2018 and then awarded Kyoshi on 20/1/2019. Keegan Sensei previously joined Kokusai Budoin as a 2nd Dan Karate (Kanazawa Hanshi’s division) and 2nd Dan Nihon Jujutsu (Sato Hanshi’s division) in 2003 and was graded 3rd Dan by Parsons Kyoshi in Nobetsu Hanshi’s division. He rejoined Kokusai Budoin in 2012 and the Dai Nippon Butokukai in 2017 as a 5th Dan in Karate and Jujutsu (Hamada Hanshi’s division).

The teaching titles of Renshi, Kyoshi and Hanshi are awarded as Shogo (literally ‘from society of fellows’) by the discretion based on an individual’s teaching experience, reputation and skills. They are not automatic and should be regarded as recognition of one’s teaching reputation among peers. Teaching titles are not used ‘on the mat’ (a Renshi is still addressed as Sensei) but may be added after one’s name, for example John Smith Renshi.

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