I think the concept of higher Dan ranks as a sign of skill and their ease of obtaining from online stores is a self fulfilling prophecy
It is a rare individual that can stay involved with the same organization for 20 plus years and earn the higher ranks. Most students move about from school to school and organization to organization throughout their lives. This lack of a home helps drive this perceived need for higher rank belts.
So as these individuals go out into the world to run their own schools they buy their rank to prove their skills to others. Or they band together as a group and appoint Dan ranks to each other as the leaders of that organization.
It is a vicious circle and not one that will go away. And to really step off the cliff maybe the concept of starting an organization and promoting each other to a high rank is the proper way of doing things. For at some time in history someone had to break convention and start all the organizations.
That being said, Dan ranks are what each organization makes them and your Dan rank means little to the school across the street or across the ocean. School and teachers should instead focus on the journey and brotherhood for the Arts instead. After all, isn’t the real purpose of being in the Arts one of self protection and betterment?
There comes a point where belt stripes just don’t mean anything. If I look at Martial Arts training as a historical exercise the Dan ranks don’t make much since.
A student goes to learn an Art and eventually becomes proficient enough that the teacher graduates them to the level where they are allowed to be a leader in the school.
Next the student has acquired the skills to teach others the foundations of their Art in their own place.
Finally after many years the old student has reached the place where they now have students they have taught which teach other students. He is now a teacher of teachers.
By the time the old student reaches the point of being a teacher’s teacher, he has been exposed to a multitude of others who know his own style as well as people with different styles. If they are a good teacher they will also be a student and continue their education by exposure to these outside influences.
I know my view is convoluted and does not play well with modern acceptable practices. So to go even further, the concept of time in grade means little to me. Over the years I have come to believe that students do not learn according to a standard path and loose contact with their original governing bodies. They also add skills from other styles and instructors that move them further and faster ahead in their learning than could be possible staying with a single organization.
The typical dojo saying “the truth will come out on the mat” is very true. I would much rather train with a brown belt who has been around the block a few times and learned the hard way than an 8th Dan who simply got the belt by being around for 30 or more years. This is not to imply disrespect to those who have real skill and warrant our attention for lifelong service and have the skill and understanding to be at that Dan level. I can name many who warrant this rank.
In essence every student is a freelance Martial Artist. They should be willing to learn and understand other styles, concepts, and play the role of both teacher and student. I also think that by the time we all reach old man or old woman status all our Arts will actually be the same Art. The human body can only move and react in a finite number of ways and as we lose strength, speed, and flexibility we will find that my Art is your Art.