A high rank is like a flag of challenge when sparring lower ranks. The yellow belt sees the blue and believes he cannot hurt him or will need to fight for his very life in order to win. The blue belt is frightened or intimidated by the black, thinking this is a master who knows it all.
In either case, the higher rank may not be as skilled a fighter, as the fact remains that we are not all of equal skill in every area. Some black belts are great fighters, some great teachers, some have precise forms or technique, others show indomitable courage and commitment. Age, skill level, physical capabilities and well-being all factor into whether or not the higher rank will be more successful in winning over the lower.
If both ranks understand this, it removes the misconceptions that higher rank always has to win, or that lower rank has to use excessive force. Training is beneficial only when all involved are learning, and sparring is no different. Winning is nice — but not the end goal.
Students need to be taught that higher ranks are to be respected and yet are not invincible. Instructors should never place themselves on a pedestal of superiority or invincibility. Instructors and high-ranking belts have earned respect due to status, position, and dedication, but it would serve us all well to remember there is always someone out there who is better.
It’s possible that that someone may be a lower rank.
An integral part of martial arts is humility, in diffusing violence and lowering aggression, in choosing when and where and how to escalate. When violence is necessary, it must be used decisively and definitively; in other situations it must be avoided, along with any hint of posturing or arrogance.
The high rank is indicative of a combination of things: skill, dedication, attitude, commitment, time invested, competence… It does not equal invincibility. It does not mean you are the best. It does not mean you are always right or that you have nothing left to learn. It means you have courage, competence, commitment, a positive attitude, perseverance, enthusiasm, love of your craft, and years of effort invested. It means you have earned respect; it means you can hold your head high and walk with humility and still have much to learn.