Black Belt Titles

Title Meaning Rank Age Years of Practice
Sensei the one who came before sandan 25 10
Tashi the helper (expert) yondan 30 15
Renshi the polisher godan to rokudan 35-40 20-25
Kyoshi the teacher nanadanha to chidan 45-50 30-32
Hanshi the master teacher kyudan to judan 55 min. -
60 min.

The title of Shihan is a very special title used for the highest ranking instructors of yondan or higher with twenty years of experience and covers a broad range of higher ranks and ages.

The title of Sensei is an honorable one and can be used at all advanced levels.

Alternative Titles

Throughout the martial arts world there is much confusion as to the title, ranks and honorifics of the instructors. Much of that confusion is based upon a lack of understanding of its origins. Since the ranking systems originated in Okinawa and Japan and then brought to the Western world much was misunderstood and much had absolutely no meaning or relevance to the Western mind. In truth, the terminology was quasi adopted but the concepts were more so.

Titles such as Sensei, Tashi, Renshi, Kyoshi, Hanshi, Soke, Shihan, Shinan and Meijin have more or less been used by various systems. The use of Soke, Shinan and Meijin are not as familiar as the others and maybe should not be used, as their meanings are very difficult to comprehend and therefore have been abused.

The Soke is considered in the line of kinship and can be granted to only one person. The Soke is an individual of exception character in all aspects, martial, social, intellectual, and emotional, that the future of a system depends upon him. Usually, this title is given to someone who has achieved an eighth degree black belt with many years of learning and understanding.

The Shinan is an originator but not anyone who simply says that they created a new system. This could be very tricky for any number of reasons. Can a brown belt that learned a few techniques at different schools can turn around and claim to be a Shinan because he decided to go on his own? Not really. We are referring to a seasoned practitioner and one that has received a license by his instructor.

Meijin is as high as you can get and is usually issued by a governmental authority or some ultimate ruling body. Currently, there are none in the Western world and it is doubtful that there are any in the Eastern world for that matter, either.

We know that the Sensei is the teacher-actually the one who comes before. There are special levels within that title: Shoto Shidoin or junior instructor, Shidoin or instructor and Koto Shidoin or senior instructor. Within the Kenryukan, a sensei cannot hold a rank of less than third degree black belt and then only after taking a special test.

The Tashi is the helper or expert. Here we have the concept of someone who holds a fourth degree black belt or higher with a Sensei title already. The Tashi brings the student to another level.

The Renshi is the polisher or master instructor. The holder of this title is usually a fifth degree or better and over the age of 30. In olden times, the Renshi was a soldier who would instruct and lead other soldiers through training. The Renshi is an expert.

The Kyoshi is an associate professor. Within the Kenryukan, the holder of this rank usually has a minimum rank of a seventh degree black belt. In olden times, the Kyoshi would be the leader of an army.

The Hanshi is the professor-the highest ranking active instructor, a master who attains an eighth degree black belt with an age of over 55 and is awarded such a title by the governing body of the organization. The Hanshi leads to system into the future. Technically speaking, Myron M. Lubitsch is a Hanshi within the Kenryukan and the worldwide organization - the Shorinjiryu Shinzen Kyokai.

Now we can get into an even more esoteric methodology of ranking and that is of the License Systems. Actually there are number of such licenses: the initial or beginner –shoden, the second level or chuden where the student has reached a halfway point in the systems knowledge. The third level or okuden is where the student has learned the hidden or secret techniques or Oku Iri. The fourth level is the Menkyo or license to teach. Here the holder understands the philosophy, physical techniques within the system. The next level or Menkyo Kaiden signifies the practitioner has mastered all of the physical, mental, and spiritual teachings of the system.

The Menkyo Kaiden a person who is permitted to perform a specific duty by the authority of the chief instructor, the chosen student, who could be called upon to succeed the chief instructor or to establish a branch school for the chief instructor. Could there be more than one license given out? Yes, upon occasion. The student who had been awarded the rank of menkyo kaiden could be called on to succeed to his master or to found a branch of his master's school.

To confuse the situation even more we have the soke daire and the soke kyoju dairi. Both are representatives of the chief instructor and both can teach. However, the soke can teach only at the request of the chief instructor while the soki kyuju dairi not only teaches but also acts as an administrator.

To make matters worse, some claim that each rank of black belt holds a special title unto itself. So, starting from shodan or first degree black belt to judan or tenth degree black belt the titles would be as follows: yushi, gyoshi, shushi, kenshi, kengo, kenren, kenkyo, kenhan, kenmei and kenshei.


Obsolete Titles

Title Rank Definition
Yushi 1st degree A brave person.
Gyoshi 2nd degree A person who is on the way to enlightenment
Shushi 3rd degree A person who has finished the first step towards the top.
Kenshi 4th degree A person who has some samurai spirit and techniques of karate.
Kengo 5th degree A strong samurai or budoka.
Kenren 6th degree A deeply experienced or disciplined budoka with the samurai spirit
Kenkyo 7th degree A person who has all the technical skills to be a samurai and is chivalrous and is able to defeat strong enemies and helps the weak.
Kenhan 8th degree A budoka who is able to teach general skills and the way of the Samurai to others.
Kenmei 9th degree A budoka who has a bright mind and a good heart.
Kenshi 10th degree The strongest and spiritual among all samurai or budoka, the best samurai or budoka in skill, strength, spirit and knowing manner.


Title Definition
Deshi A true disciple. One who changes ones life to follow the guidance of the chief instructor. Not a casual student.
Jiki-deshi The direct disciple who is expected to carry on the teaching and school of the master.
Uchi-deshi A live in student. One who assists the instructor in all matters every day.
Soto-deshi A disciple who lives outside the dojo.