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You have to trust the person doing it to have the right motives, see above.I once read in a great essay, I wish I could find it, someone saying that shodan (the 1st black belt grade) stretches from 3rd Kyu to 3rd Dan. there are shodans with questionable technical competence, and others who are exceptional.You may reach a point where your own feeling about your own progress needs no external guidance or validation, which is great, in many ways. I’m also not suggesting you shouldn’t the grades of others, far from it.
They of course have analogues in other martial arts and even other human endeavours. Most Japanese martial arts have black belt or Dan grades, and white or other coloured belts or Kyu grades leading to that point.
In a lot of cases when people are wondering about grading, they are wondering about the path to the first “black belt” grade or shodan, so that will be my main perspective, but many comments are general.
When you finally get shodan you will have to come to terms with just how much you don’t know, and the fact that you are the same person you were the day before. Grades can improve you only as a side effect, as you have actively learned to obtain them, or that they allow you to move forwards again.
They can also change you for the worse, if you think they are about dominance over others, or they make you less aware of your own learning, or otherwise complacent.
By being active learners, you also help your instructors to learn themselves. In any case, the point is, it is up to you, if you want to achieve a certain grade you need to work actively towards that goal.
This seems obvious, but you should be looking at your organisation’s grading syllabus and actively ticking things off, become aware of what you know, and retain that, and start identifying what you don’t know.So how seriously people take it, is a matter of perspective. As a result, I think it’s important that you grade from someone whose technical form, philosophy and personality you respect.Or if not, you can ask your own questions about the legitimacy of your grade.So it is expected that most serious students will progress to Dan grades.You don’t need to start with amazing intrinsic skill, you don’t need to be really smart, you don’t need to be amazingly young or fit, you need to be consistent and focused and actively learning.That’s what the do means in aikido or iaido or whatever.Learning and teaching in the martial arts is much the same as in other endeavours.It’s intended as a foundational level at which point your basics are sorted out, the stabiliser wheels can come off and your journey really begins anew.Here is the embarrassing truth, the Japanese describe Dan graded students collectively as , “those that do not have dan grades”.So, here are some thoughts that may or may not be useful. All martial arts are man made systems and someone appointed themselves in charge.Those people then graded other people and are often above the grading system themselves, or are 10th Dan.