Levels (級・段)

Shuji/Shodo levels are assigned in a similar fashion to most dojo styles of study (i.e., Karate, Judo, Kendo, …). The levels are divided into Kyuu (級) and Dan (段). The kyuu levels progress from 10 to 1, with 1 being the highest. The dan levels work up to 8. Special societies have ranking systems above 8th dan. My information is for the Japanese Calligraphy Society (日本習字)

Shihan (師範) is classification as an instructor. There are four levels of Shihan licences achieved upon reaching each of the first four dan. Kyoju (教授) is a kind of master status achieved at 5th dan.

reading level notes
shin unranked level assigned once work is submitted
十級 jukkyuu 10th minimum level after submitting work
九級 kyuukyuu 9th
八級 hachikyuu 8th
七級 nanakyuu 7th (Dec 2005) my initial level
六級 rokkyuu 6th (Jan 2006)
五級 gokyuu 5th (Feb 2006)
四級 yonkyuu 4th (Mar 2006)
三級 sankyuu 3rd (Apr 2006)
二級 nikyuu 2nd (Jul 2006)
一級 ikkyuu 1st (Dec 2006)
準初段 jun-shodan pre-beginning (Jul 2007)
初段 shodan beginning (Dec 2007) elementary license
準二段 jun-nidan pre-2nd (Jan 2009) slack study period
二段 nidan 2nd (Jul 2009) intermediate license
準三段 jun-sandan pre-3rd (Jan 2011) eight month hiatus
三段 sandan 3rd (Jul 2011) advanced license
準四段 jun-yodan pre-4th
四段 yodan 4th (Jul 2012) full teaching license
準五段 jun-godan pre-5th
五段 godan 5th personal target set in 2006
六段 rokudan 6th
七段 nanadan 7th
八段 hachidan 8th highest level in this system

Rank is never decreased. If one submits a work inferior to a prior work, then rank stays at the same level. My observation has also been that the skill difference between ranks gets greater as one moves up; although the difference may seem subtle to the casual observer.

There is a children’s ranking system that has the same labels.  If a child reaches hachidan or turns 18, then they are moved to the adult scale. Moving to the adult system is accompanied by a practical test to determine one’s appropriate level in the new scale.There is no exact difference between levels in the two systems, but when one moves to the adult system they are set back to a lower level. I don’t discuss the difference in class to avoid discouraging young students, except when someone has completed the test and needs encouragement. Starting at age 40, I was required to use the adult ranking system. A few of the young ladies in my school have achieved 5th dan and one achieved 6th dan on the adult scale. It is very impressive to watch how they handle the brush.

From shodan students must start painting kaisho script using the advanced model, instead of the beginner’s model. From sandan students can start using the reisho and tensho styles. Also, from sandan students may submit works to the shoyuu gallery (書友ギャラリー), which is a relatively free form opportunity. The gallery model is only words in printed text: the submitting artist must decide which style to use. Every month I study the chosen works and the judges’ commentary on said works. Having achieved that level I hoped to submit entries, but have gotten mired in daily life and have yet to make time for it.

Advance to 6th dan and above is attempted when the student feels ready for the challenge and requires a practical exam with about ten models being submitted in a month. Several models only state what words to write and what style to use; the applicant must search out which forms to use. The exams were given once a year in Kyoto until 2011. Now there are two application periods each year and the exam may be written at home or a local classroom and sumitted by mail. There are no intermediate levels above 5th dan.


8 Responses to “Levels (級・段)”

  1. thirstie Says:

    Hey Bikkuri,
    I just found your comment on my blog regards my shuji. Thanks heaps for the encouragement, it was much appreciated. I would really like to know what strengths you were talking about. I know little about the art, and my Japanese is still very elemental which compounds the issue as my instructor speaks no English! Thus my study consists entirely of trying to copy the characters as accurately as possible. However, this also de-intellectualises the process and perhaps allows a more intimate understanding of the raw balance of the characters.

    I will definitely check out the book you recommended.


    p.s. i like your handle

  2. Sloth Hath its Rewards « Neo-新びっくりブログ Says:

    […] telling me to pick up my work from January when I show my face, because I have been elevated to pre-second level (準二段・jun nidan). I was a bit surprised because I only practiced once in January and I […]

  3. Josh Says:

    Thank you so much for laying out the ranking system! I’ve tried searching for it online but somehow never seemed able to find it until now (and I had tried asking Japanese friends too!).

  4. びっくり Says:

    I realized I hadn’t updated this page in a long time, so today I modified it a little. Note that there are no intermediate levels above 5th dan.

  5. Jose Lecuna Says:

    Dear fellow Shodo practitioner:

    I’m writing you from Venezuela, S.A., where I have been studing Shodo for years now with a local, independent teacher. As I would like to be evaluated, (and certificated) I’ll apreciate a lot your advice about how I can join, and go thru, this Shodo rank system. Thanks in advance

    • びっくり Says:

      Sorry, I have not been active on my blog this year, so I just noticed your post today. I will contact you again.

      Great that you have been continuing for many years. Regular practice is important to develop good habits and to have the brush feel more natural in your hand.

  6. Jose Lecuna Says:

    Thank you very much for your kind message, I’m really happy to have news from you; as we say here in my country: “better late than never”
    I’ll be waiting for your next contact.

  7. [INFO] Morning Musume ’14 12th Generation Official Profiles Revealed. | Ishida Ayumi Singapore . (石田亜佑美シンガポール) Says:

    […] Skill: Calligraphy (Level 7 , One rank below the highest […]

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