The Red Belt Epidemic

With the ever increasing number of so called Grand Master’s or Red Belts as we know them today, not only here in the USA but now all over the world. For the life of me I cannot understand how one can place themselves on the same level of their former-(and sometimes current)-Grand Masters or master instructors?
There is no way in hell that I would ever consider myself on the same level as either
of my teachers, .Hohan Soken or Fusei Kise The only two karate teachers I have ever had in 54+ years) Even the “Kise” of today with all of his watered down and made up new kata is so high above me in knowledge, experience, skill an ability, even after 54+ years of hard training and practice. I find those that are claiming to be Grand Masters,-equal-to those of soken, Nagamine, Nagazato, Zenro Shimabukuro, just to name a few, are just fooling themselves as well as their students.

Those that have had the good luck to have been trained on Okinawa have a different mindset then those that have never trained on Okinawa. I’m not talking about those that go to Okinawa for a couple of weeks a year and then claim to have been trained on Okinawa by an Okinawan instructor. I’m talking about those of us that spent years and years of everyday training on Okinawa.

Today Rank has no meaning! It used to be that a 10th Dan, Grand Master had to be at least 70 years old……Not today. Hell we have Grand Masters that are in their 40’s, 50’s and early 60’s……….. I just don’t get it! What the hell is wrong with people? I have seen people claiming to be a 10thDan here in the States with their instructors still alive. How can that be? The true order of rank used to be: a Grand Master had one or two protégés in case one died, that they would groom to replace him when he passed. So that would mean that there was no more than two 9th Dan’s within a given system. There could be many lower ranks, 8th, 7th Dan’s etc. Here in the States we have multiple 10thDan’s within the same system or style???????????????
Some people say I’m just jealous! I’m not jealous, I’m just real!… If I had wanted to be a 10th Dan I could have been so many, many years ago. I find there is no value (other then ego) in being promoted by a bunch of others from different systems of which 90%+ have been promoted in the same manner; Just my opinion.

Red Belt?

Once you reach the ultimate level of a 10th Dan Red Belt, you have reached it all. You are the big cheese, you are the king rat, the top dog, a leader of leaders amongst your style/system and you are the “Man”.

Now just what does that mean? Well, being a 10th Dan/Red Belt means:

You have reached the very top level of your system/style.
You have learned all that there is to learn in a given system/style.
You are the very best in that particular system/style.
You have over a minimum of 50+ years of training in one particular system/style.
You have learned and been chosen to lead a particular system/style by your teacher, who was the head or 10th Dan that has now passed away or has retired and passed the rains to you.
Can you… (the so called Red Belts)… really up hold and/or meet these requirements? I really have a hard time believing that you can……….. I am a meager 7th Dan with 37+ years in time and grade, with over 60+ years of total experiences “WITH” just ONE system, with only One Grand Master and ONE Master instructor. I can truly say I am no way near the above mentioned requirements, so how can you call yourself a true 10th Dan? God bless you if you can say in all honesty that you meet all of these requirements. It is things like this that have degraded real; karate, turning it into a sport as opposed to a Art. (Just my opinion, and you know what they say about opinions, ha.)

The RED BELT ….  UP DATE!:  

10thdegree black belt, the ultimate highest level one can obtain in Karate!   Also referred to as “Supreme Master”, Supreme Grand Master”, or just plain Grand Master.


1960 to 1964  when I was on Okinawa there were but “ONLY” around half dozen such karate masters on Okinawa that would or did claim such a prodigious title.

Today in 2020 there is reportedly over 135 to 140 people claiming the title “Grand Master” on Okinawa,  YES I SAID ON OKINAWA!

Now this sounds a little hard to swallow.  If in fact there are ONLY a dozen or so true traditional styles/system of karate, how can there be 140 different Grand Masters on Okinawa today?. Logic states that it can not be.

Now here in the United States there are reportedly well over 1000 to a 2,000 + people claiming this title.  It’s truly laughable!  Here in the USA many, many people have made up their style/system so naturally there would be more than the original true traditional 12 +- systems, so let’s say there is 100 different systems here in the States…….  My question is…..   AGAIN how can there be so many real Grand Masters? ANSWER: there can’t be!

The truth of the matter is that there is or was to be only “ONE” Grand master of each style or system period….  So how come we have so many claiming to be Grand Masters today? There is only one answer…………“EGO”and money…….

Let’s look at todays Grand masters here in the States:  Most are very over weight, fat and out of shape people living off of their past (that is if they even had a good past) or made up claims.  These people (as I call them “want-to-be’s”)claim they started karate 50 to 60 years ago so therefore that is their legitimate justification for claiming the title Grand Master. Some claim they have been training for well over this basing their claim that they started when they were as young as 4,5 or 6 years old, YES I said it 4,5,6 years old Ha, Ha.….again this is laughable.

Back in the late 1950’s-60’s on Okinawa one could not get a black belt until he/she was 16 years of age, one could not get a solid colored belt (adult rank) until they were 14 years are older……. What has changed?  The commercializing of the “ONCE  ART” form into today’s commercial sport form of Karate.  Let’s look closely at a person….say 6-to 10 years of age.  Can that person really defend himself against an adult or even a mid teen? (16-18) the answer is of course NOT.  Your body has not developed physically strong enough yet, so therefore ONCE AGAIN more commercially motivated reasoning.

A lot of people say my point of view is out dated, or I’m jealous because I am not a Grand Master, ha, ha. I find this again very laughable.  I am what I am nothing more and nothing less. I’m a 7t degree Black belt that started his training at the age of 17 years old (1960), trained seven days week, up to five hours a day on Okinawa for four and one half years, having ONLY ONE Grand Master (O’Sensei Hohan Soken) and ONLY ONE Master Fusei Kise studying, training but “ONE” style of Karate.  I saw no need to cross train because my system has everything the other styles have and more.  I have never stopped training in my “ART”, I could care less about obtaining rank.   There is no power in the color of the belt you wear nor the rank or title you hold.  Rank is objective, being such that just because you wear a Red & white belt , or s solid Red you can do anything other than what you can do without the belt or title.

Rank represents time, knowledge, skill and ability you should have gained over the many years of hard training.  There are many, many people wearing high level belts that can not hold that rank, that cannot defend themselves if the time came.  What are they going to do….take the belt off and throw it at their opponent. Ha, Ha,

Let’s look at the Korean karate:  First off it appears that every Korean that has come to the

USA was or is a National Champion, how in the hell can this be? It can’t, plain and simple.  The Okinawan systems required that it take a minimum of three to three and one half years to reach a black bely rank, plus you have to be at least 16 years of age, whereas the Korean were and still are promoting their students to black belt ranks within ONE YEARS TIME or less!  They even have black belts at the young age of 6 years and older…..COME ON…. guy’s wake the hell up, it’s BS. There’s a old saying about the Koreans, and it goes like this:  If there are 10 people testing for a black belt, there are 15 people passing… INOTHER WORDS…. No one fail, so each and everyone of them gets promoted.  More commercial BS.

I’m not saying that 100% of the so-called-10thdegree RED belts are fake, but I would venture to say over 95% are.    Lets look at how these “want-to-be’s” get promoted.  There are three basic ways as I see it.  First:  They simply claim they are a Grand Master (proclaimed)  Second: They go before a review board of other Grand Masters (ha, ha) This board is made up of other Grand Masters from different systems/styles that got their ranks the same way.  QUESTION: How can someone from a different style then you judge your ability to be the head of your particular style.  They can’t.   It’s all about EGOC and MONEY.  They have to pay a fee for the promo and of course each and everyone of them pass   Third: Some claim the title because they are tournament champions, they are top winners claiming to be a Grand Master, in what fighting…weapons?  Fighting and weapons are but a very small part of the ART OF KARATE, there is much, much more then just fighting or kata.


Well some have and others will follow are now claiming ELEVEN, TWELTH levels,  Yes I said 11 & 12thdegree Red belts, some are wearing Gold belts……  Now really, can they get any more funny? I don’t think so.   They have made Karate a laughing joke to the outside world, those that are not in karate.  Money, money, money is the driving force today.  We have people claiming to knock out people without even touching them, people throwing CHEE-BALL’s to knock them out/down….. COME ON!  Is there anybody in their right minds going to believe this bull shit?  Oh yes there is, many, many are brainwashed into believing this crap. (I.e. the Dillman followers, ha, ha)

I say why can’t these want-to-be’s just claim to be what they really are?  FAKES!  The answer is: because it will show them to be what they really are FAKES.   Hell, I have more time in grade then most of the have in their total time in Karate.

It’ truly a sad thing for those of you/us that are traditionalist real hard core Karate-ka’s.

James H. Coffman
Shorinji Ryu 1960 – Present
Matsumura Seito 1961- Present
7th Dan-, Jikideshi
Hohan Soken’s first American student