Niccolo Machiavelli once said "Men honor titles but titles do not honor men..."
Machiavelli was talking about the human need to belong and to be known by position. Think about it for a minute, if you will... we confuse position with purpose and potential. From aristocratic bloodlines to politicians the game is all in the name. Men honor; respect & service, titles; a term of status. Titles (terms of status) do not honor (serve) men.
The simplistic depth of the statement is simple, yet has profound repercussions on how we view the world. What happens if we see the terms of police man, warrior, soldier, congressman, president as empty words defined by the action of the individual who holds the title. A police man who sells drugs isn't a police men, hes a criminal, but you will still show him respect as a police man, right? A warrior who doesn't fight a war (even private one's) isn't a warrior, do you respect a coward because he wears the title "Warrior." How about a soldier who never enlisted; and therefore not a soldier?
Nobility comes from actions, not a status of bloodlines or family names. The same is just as powerful a revelation in martial arts. Titles like Grandmaster, Master, Sensei or even ranks especially those of the Dan grades all demand a certain amount of respect but to what end?
Fredrick Nietzsche in Beyond Good and Evil said that the idea of nobility was a mater of delight in leading. His exact quote was "There is an instinct to rank, which more then anything else is already the sign of high rank, there is a delight in the nuances of reverence which leads one to infer noble origins & habits."
This quote is a direct expression to the issue at hand that rank & titles of rank leads to the inference of noble origins and habits. As such those who hold rank & titles of rank are inferred the noblest of ideas simply because the "title is honored by men. But, simply holding the title does not manifest as noble origins or habits.
So the end result is the very simplistic notion that Rank and titles in martial arts do not mean anything other then paying class and organizational dues. Martial arts organizations have added extreme ranks of 15ths Dans and have a vast number of 10th Dans that in keeping these masters under the reins of the "Grandmaster" of the system additional ranks had to be added. Traditions; rituals of initiations are used to "teach secrets" and the great secret is that there is no great secret.
No hidden hand or magic formula for achieving success. The ego of self-importance gives the title holder some motivation to express superiority through confidence. The secret is hard work and rank is a sign of hard work but only so far as the individual uses that hard work to improve the self. Or am I inferring a noble idea & habit to the idea of rank?
The end result is that in martial arts the idea of rank is often filled with notions of enlightenment, wisdom, skill and even (believe it or not) divinity. If rank meant competence or was a sign of it I'd be amazed. The end result is a level of true superiority that rank is an expression of, that rank is awarded for actions and merit.
All that matters isn't rank or title but ability to apply what is being sold to public. The politicking and infighting that goes with high ranking martial artists in many organizations reflects the self-serving attitude we see in politicians. This is why many new organizations established by younger martial artists are created as quickly and end just as quickly as they appear.
In Sansetsu Jujutsu of ninjutsu one is taught a reflection of these western concepts; the notion of face is evolved into a term for mask. The title and the noble ideas it expresses are all considered masks. Psychological architypes of the ego used to express a self-definition the individual desires to play out. All because me Honor Titles...