What is Shodan-ho?
What is shodan-ho? First let's start by defining what shodan means. Literally translated, it means first degree. It is a Japanese term that refers to the first level of black belt in Japanese martial arts. The suffix ho is translated as provisional, junior, or probational. Thus, a shodan-ho is a provisional black belt.
Generally speaking, the karateka (student) has not quite fulfilled all requirements to earn the rank of shodan. Different styles of karate and even different schools within the same style use different belt markings to designate a shodan-ho. Most common appears to be a black belt with a white stripe running lengthwise throughout the obi (belt). Another option is a black belt with a brown stripe running lengthwise throughout the obi. Not all styles or schools within a style use the rank of shodan-ho. Those who do utilize it, have different sets of criteria for its use.
Note that the provisional status of ho is not limited to shodan. It can be applied to any of the kyu (lower than black-belt) ranks. For example, a provisional first-kyu would be referred to as ikkyu-ho.
Back in 1987, I earned my shodan-ho. I was only 17 years of age. One of the requirements for shodan was that the student be at least 18 years of age. Shortly after this achievement, I ceased training. I'm not sure the reasons but at 17 years old, you can take your pick (college, social life, etc...). Now, at age 34, I decided to start training again. I am once again a student of my same sensei, Jorge Smith. Although I am clearly above the age of 18, I am still considered shodan-ho. It is appropriate that I keep my provisional status in this situation (in my humble opinion) after 17 years of not training. A demotion to brown belt would have also been appropriate (again, in my humble opinion).