Author: Bret Gordon
Here at the American Jidokwan Association, we offer training and certification in both Taekwondo and Tang Soo Do. Of course, this often comes with the question of how someone can earn rank in multiple arts simultaneously. The simplest answer is that they are the same art, separated only by minor curriculum requirements that once learned the practitioner becomes eligible for certification.
However, this opens up a broader discussion on the subject of cross-ranking in the martial arts. What is cross-ranking? Is it legitimate? How can one do so? Let's dive right in...
Using our organization as the first example, as I stated before we treat Taekwondo and Tang Soo Do as essentially the same martial art. Our expression of Taekwondo lends itself to a more Japanese/Okinawan Karate approach, rather than what is commonly seen in sport/Kukkiwon Taekwondo, and of course Tang Soo Do is simply the direct translation of Karate anyway (using the older kanji for "China Hand"). In both arts, the same fundamental techniques are taught with the same body mechanics.
The primary difference in our Taekwondo and Tang Soo Do branches is what poomsae/hyung are taught. Therefore, if a black belt in our Taekwondo branch was to learn and demonstrate the required forms for Tang Soo Do, why would we make them go through all of the gup ranks again, demonstrating the same basic techniques, simply because they learned new forms?
We view their prior training in one branch similar to college credits from one degree that can be transferred towards another, with only the new material needing to be learned before certification. Better still, some of our AJA schools teach the two arts simultaneously by requiring both sets of forms for each rank and issuing two certifications from the start. But that's how we do things. What about the martial arts community at large? Let's say you were looking at a local instructor in his 20s or 30s, and his resume looked something like:
5th Dan - Tang Soo Do
4th Dan - Shotokan
While it's possible he started at white belt in each system and only focused on that art while working his way up, it's just not likely. And that's ok! (Cue the pitchforks) What's more likely is that he was a 4th Dan in Shotokan, worked his way up in that system, and then transferred to a Tang Soo Do school where his rank was accepted, he learned whatever new material was required, and he tested for his next rank.
The assumption that someone who holds high rank in multiple martial arts has trained in each art from white belt upwards, with standard time-in-grade, is a faulty assumption and leads to accusations of misrepresentation and fraud when in reality it lacks understanding of the arts themselves and how they are intertwined. We have to look deeper at both the individual and the arts they claim rank in themselves.
The video above is an excellent demonstration of the relationship between Japanese and Korean Karate. While there are some minor differences in execution, it's clear that both practitioners are performing the same form and it wouldn't take long to make any adjustments when transferring from one art to the other. This is not limited to Kanku Dai/Kong Sang Koon, but every form in the Shotokan and Tang Soo Do syllabus.
So, if a Dan level practitioner of Shotokan wanted to transfer to Tang Soo Do (or vice versa), should they have to retest for every colored belt rank (along with waiting the standard time-in-grade) or simply make the corrections/adjustments for that particular style to the material they already know and be recognized where they are, and eventually test for the next rank if they so choose? In my personal opinion, and that of everyone I know, the answer is clear. Except for ego, there is no logical reason to hold them back (or worse, drop them in rank) if they can demonstrate the material to an acceptable standard.
It's important to note that this concept only applies to related systems. Tang Soo Do and Taekwondo come from Shotokan so the connection is clear, but Shotokan and Goju Ryu, for example, are fundamentally different from each other on every level. They're both only Karate in name. There is no shared material, and even the most basic techniques are performed with entirely different body mechanics. Aikido and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, or Judo and Kempo, have nothing in common either. Naturally, in these situations it would be unreasonable for a practitioner to assume their prior training could be credited towards advancement in their new art.
Of course, all of this is at the discretion of the issuing body for said certifications. Some organizations make it fairly straightforward to transfer into the art, and some make you jump through endless hoops. Even organizations or branches of the same art do not always recognize each other's credentials, for one reason or another.
Mastering a single martial art takes years of dedicated practice and study, and taking on another art entirely is not a decision to take lightly. Those who do should never jump organizations or styles to simply collect rank, however in my opinion it is equally wrong to hold someone back from progressing due solely to time. The calendar is, and always will be, a poor indicator of skill and knowledge.