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Increasing Life-Expectancy Will Lead To 11th Dan

The 11th dan in Shotokan karate has been a grotesque idea until lately. But the art has been already having 4 10th dan holders. Will the increase in life-expectancy lead to a 11th dan in the future? An analysis by Dr. Christian Tribowski

This year, Ueki Masaaki of the JKA received the 10th Dan. Together with Hirokazu Kanazawa, Teruyuki Okazaki, and Hiroshi Shirai he serves as the highest ranking Shotokan Karateka in the world and in history. Before those four, no living Karate master hold a 10th dan in Shotokan Karate. And nobody has ever hold a 11th dan either. Yet.

11th Dan Becomes Probable

The likelihood for the awarding of a 11th dan has increased. A simple reason leads to this. When the Federation of All Japan Karate-do Organizations (FAJKO, the predecessor organization of the JKF) established its dan promotion system in 1970 people dies earlier. The FAJKO decided to award a 10th dan only when an awardee had reached 70 years of age or higher (see table 1).

The FAJKO established a system for the awarding of dan ranks. An 11th dan was not intended.
Table 1: FAJKO age and experience requirements for dan gradings and honory awards. Thank you Chuck Coburn for providing us with this table.

Many things have changed since 1970 and so did the life-expectancy. In 1970, the average Japanese male died with round about 72. So, the amount of people, who reached the age requirement for becoming considered for a 10th dan, was much lower. Today, however, the average has grown tremendously. In 2017, the average Japanese male can expect to live 84 years according to data provided by the World Bank (Table 2). With his 80 years Ueki Masaaki Sensei, therefore, is still below the average. Due to his excellent fitness he can expect to reach 100 years of age. We, in any case, wish him good health and a long happy life.

Life-expectancy in Japan has increased and makes the awarding of a 11th dan more likely.
Table 2: Life-expectancy in Japan since 1960. Source: World Bank.

Adjustment of System or Inflation of Dan Ranks

If the system stays like this Shotokan will experience an inflation of higher 10th dan. Because even today, the life-expectancy rises. It rises slower than in the 1960´s or 1970´s. But it rises. 8th dan holders like Nobuaki Kanazawa, who is only 47 years now, have already a life-expectancy of 90 years. Thus, Kanazawa Sensei can practice Karate for another 40 years or longer. We wish him a lucky and long happy life, too.