I was sitting here watching over past Game of Thrones seasons. And, I came across a phrase I heard many times in the military, "If you want lead, first learn to follow."
Most people don't get this but, you will hear it in team sports as well. What does it mean? It means that you must first learn to do things you would not enjoy doing. To place a greater focus on duty, to follow orders to fulfill a goal, then do what is comfortable or desired. You learn to do this under the command of someone else.
But, the thing is this person doesn't just command, they lead. Leaders lead the way, as the saying goes. A leader sets the example by action. They don't tell you to suffer being cold, wet, tired and hungry. They do it with you, suffering in silence as they place duty above comfort. They take satisfaction in things they have suffered through. They set the example. They might be telling you what to do but, they are following someone else's orders. Someone else is telling them "go here be miserable and do it for a reason they may not fully understand." More important then leading you is following the orders they are given to reach goals needed to fulfill the mission.
That kind of experience prepares you to lead. Leading means you set the example. In terms of martial arts this is seen as instructors who lack the discipline or resolve to lead by setting the example. Setting this example can go from lying about others, drawing out conflicts and drama and, making up stories about themselves.
A self-styled "master" or "Soke" is not so much a concern to the martial arts world, it is often other frauds declaring others to ne frauds. Nor do they really matter, as far as that goes that someone is legitimate or not. What is a legitimate martial art anyway? A system useful for self-defense is legitimate to some. A system with a long lineage is legitimate to others. A system with aliveness practiced in sporting competition is a legitimate martial art to others... What someone considers legitimate is of no real consequence.
Why? I know your mind is riddled with that word, that question of why not? Or why this or what if that? It doesn't matter because by and large the martial arts is a joke. Rank is not of much concern as ability. A boxer with no rank and a certain amount of ability holds a great deal more respect in a fight then someone with a belt or a piece of paper saying they are 10th Dan grand guru.
When discussing the matter of rank, I have heard people argue which is better the Kyu/Dan system or the Menkyo system. This is honestly a pointless debate. A Menkyo license was simply a means of controlling a trade within a geographic area by means of granting certain members of incorporated families to practice a trade and to what standard. Menkyo could be given or taken away based on internal politics and carried as much weight as a grade in the Kyu/Dan system.
In the Kyu/Dan System, martial arts rank and a teaching license among the various organizations are regulated by the parent organization. Much like the Menkyo system, a license to teach must be issued by the parent organization. If a person doesn't have the ability to follow someone who taught them their art, they don't have character or experience to make a good teacher. They were never a student.
If you want to lead, you must understand how to follow. We've covered how a good leader leads by example. A good teacher doesn't just show you techniques, they build you up and set the example by doing it themselves. Of you want to teach, you must understand what it is like to learn.
This is vitally important for a teacher to do this because, they must put themselves in a position of a student. Rank is not a sign of skill, it is a sign of position. The only sign of skill is ones ability to fight... A good fighter doesn't aways make a good teach but a good student makes a great teacher.
You see, the Kyu/Dan system is based on the grades in the Japanese public school system. Each belt, each grade is a level of training based on learning certain material. Using this system you would learn certain techniques, principles and forms at each grade. A person who was studying and practicing advanced levels of training (Dan or Black belt grade) students. Much like the Menkyo system a licensed instructor would have a teaching license issued by the parent organization. They would meet certain qualifications and standards.
In Brazilian Jujitsu, rank is awarded based on the standard of how well one does in competition. Now there are a host of things competition doesn't prepare you for. But, there are a host of things competition does provide.
In some styles of Karate, competition and kata are part of the standard for gaining rank. In other styles of karate only kata are used to determine rank. Some styles of karate use non-contact or light contact sparring, something common during the early years of karate in the 40s to the 60s, others are more concerned with full contact sparring (something pioneered by the late Count Dante/John Keehan).
What you study produces the results for skill and knowledge. I could easily point to "legitimate martial arts" which are utterly useless in real life self-defense situations. The simplest truth is that, rank has no bearing on skill. Rank is much like going to college, before you can have the rank to teach you must first "pay your dues."
A student learns the basics, gains the knowledge just as a college professor must start with kindergarten when they are child, graduate from basics of grade school to attend Jr High and High school. Graduate from high school attend college. The more vital the course and harder to requirments to graduate. Martial arts are no different the harder the training the higher the standards placed on the student.
In my little country state of West Virginia we have people who graduate from the school of hard knocks. Often many street fighters having been raised in violent homes and associating with violet people they develop traits that most martial arts, except for the full contact competitive sports, don't produce.
So in viewing martial arts as physical skills with technical knowledge akin to automotive repair or being an electrician. Rank is either a social position within an organization or a grade of learned knowledge and physical skill.
In terms of tradesmanship, I have friend who would make an excellent example. She is a wonderful mechanic. She is a better mechanic then her husband and while he has a certification in automotive repair she has years of working on cats with her father. She lacks the certification to get a job in a autoshop but, she has the knowledge to repair a car and could as an uncertified mechanic open her own automotive shop.
It doesn't matter what the rank structure is Kyu/Dan system, Menkyo Kaiden System or a simple system of titles. Perhaps a hybred system of all three...
The reflection on rank is also a reflection on attitudes and political ideologies. Those obsessed with rank and titles are often obsessed with what rank others have or claim. Who cares if a person claims to be a grandmaster in a martial art? I don't remember Royce Gracie claiming to ne a grandmaster or even claiming to ne a master. We know je is a master by his competition record and demonstrated skills. I don't think he is a master as Tae Kwon Do style jump spinning back kicks or Wing Chun style trapping. I also don't want a proctologist doing my open heart surgery either. I mean they are both doctors right?
In American politics we have seen a similar argument about professional politicians and how Donald Trump isn't one. We see an idea of "experts" being used to declare someone without said and presumed "expert certifications" as a basis for taking away said "non-experts" rights. This is seen in the justifications for the anti-Trump rioting and for every 2nd Amendment Argument where it was said people don't need guns (non-experts) because we have police officers (experts). Yet even the experts have issues with exessive force and wrongful death based on mistakes that have been made.
When addressing rank does the rank matter or the context of the knowledge and context of the claimed expertise? Do you demand the world comform to your desires for how they should think and act, like the millions rioting because they did not get the president they wanted or, do you make the best of what you have and accept the ranks of others as imperfect productions outside the context of your martial arts system?