Before Jigero Kano invented Judo in Japan in 1882, there was no kyu (kyu is the Japanese equivalent of gup) or dan ranking system. Prior to this, most traditional Japanese arts of the period used the complicated menkyo ranking system to license student skill levels. The ranks were usually shoden, chuden, okuden, mokuroku, menkyo, and menkyo kaiden (license of total transmission) but the order and titles of the license often differed between the different arts.
The ranks were usually awarded using specially created certificates or handwritten letters from the licensing teacher or founder. Often, the higher ranks were also presented with a densho, manuscript scrolls of instructions or records of secrets recorded by the school founder. Some densho provided detailed instructions and graphic illustrations of particular techniques, while others used descriptive words or characters that served as memory aids for advanced techniques. Some of these documents were meaningless to outsiders unfamiliar with the specific language of the particular art.
Due to the secretive nature of the arts and their instructors, there was no way to evaluate or compare equivalent skill levels of students from different schools. The minimum time in rank between the licenses varied between on the schools.
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