This last week I got a little taste of what it's like to have a sleepless week. More of which is heading my way in less than two months from now. Regardless of what zombie-like state I may be headed for my friends assure me that it's the best thing in the world. For those who haven't caught onto what I'm referring to, take a moment.

Anyways, besides being in a slight daze I'm gearing up for another business trip which is bringing a lot of things to a boil just before my departure. Always trying to get more done than time allows but I know no other way. I promise I have not forgotten certain articles that are very important for me to complete. I've also got other topics that I'm interested on writing or commenting on.


Hope I'm not shooting myself in the foot by starting this now but one of the topics that have been on my mind and have made some news recently is 'promotion/grading' in BJJ. I think for many students the criteria for promotion is something of a mystery and with the buzz about online-grading it raises a lot of questions as to the standards of one school of thought versus another. When I started training there were certain unspoken rules about getting promoted that I learned of the hard way. In the past I got stripes for beating visitors that wanted to flex. My blue was given to me casually over dinner, no ceremony, no whipping and I think it was over a bowl of noodles.

Anyways, it was understood that one day you'd be thrown the new belt after however many years/hours/minutes and tournaments you put in to earn it. You had faith and without warning, one day your hard work and dedication would be recognized. So now with the growing number of schools that are endorsing testing, be it online or not, people are beginning to make a clear distinction of what each belt represents and the skill-set the student must possess and execute in order to dawn the new colors. So what does this say about the overall standards and what each belt represents and how these may differ from one school to the next? How does this address the 'different types of blues/purples/browns/blacks' as we all have our own reasons for training jiu-jitsu with different goals. I recently heard the phrase 'a competition blue-belt versus a regular blue-belt.' Is there a need to make such distinctions outside the context of competition or inner-school conduct?

I want to elaborate more on promotions but would like to hear from you guys/gals your thoughts on the subject. I'm not looking to polarize the community on this matter but thought it an interesting topic. -Luke

***comment on this post or e-mail me at bjjasia@gmail.com


Eric said...

I recently attended a local tournament out here in Nor Cal and was amazed at the level of skill of all those who attended. There were kids in the Jr. division who's half guard game were arguably better than mine (I am a blue belt), white belts that looked like blues, and blues that looked like purples. It's funny that you wrote this article because it struck a chord with me.

I'm not much of a competition guy but I can see how it changes your mindset after your get into a few. My point of view is that competitions should aid in your learning of the game, not define it. Most of all, I don't think competitions be it the mundials or mma is the be-all end all of BJJ. Remember that Judo was created to improve one's life for the good of society. I would hate to think BJJ is making a direction where the only thing that counts is how many tourmanets wins one has.

Joel said...

Best of luck with the present and future lack of sleep!

On the issue of belts it seems to me that this is an issue that no one school or organization can really police on their own. It is similar to grade-inflation at universities. If one university takes a stand, its students will understandably be afraid that their lower grade will prevent them from future advancement. For universities, reputation for high standards makes the difference. i.e. a C at a top-tier institution with a reputation for not handing out A's will be recognized for what it's worth because the CV/resume identifies the issuing institution when it really matters(at least by other university's admissions committees).

If it were possible for the lineage of the belt to be displayed on the belt, this could really help the reputation issue. i.e. some sort of logo or patch from the issuing professor/org...just some random thoughts...

LUKE said...

Please keep the feedback coming. I've already received some e-mails on the topic and would like to hear even more. All good stuff. -Luke

Ray Elbe said...

Good topic of discussion.

I've always felt like there were two types of students, competing students, and those who don't compete.

It's impossible to judge those two on the same criteria for belt promotions.

Often the "Competing" student makes training his life. He is younger, and spends 5-6 days a week in the gym, training 2-3 times a day. This guy is in great physical shape and is doing all the other things that go along with preparing for competitions.
(Weight training, competition reviews, proper diet, etc)

Generally the other guy has a passion for BJJ, but a life that includes other priorities. He has a family/kids, a demanding work schedule, nagging injuries, or a personality that doesn't garner that competitive spirit.

Both of these guys are important for the gym. The competing student helps advertise the school, while the non-competing student generally adds an ambiance to the facility that helps lighten the mood. (Generally these guys are the ones who ACTUALLY TAKE THE TIME to help the newbies)

...Both students need to advance, in order to stay motivated.

When I was younger, I didn't undertand why I was "still a blue" when I was submitting the newly promoted brown belt...but the older you get, the more experience you gain...you begin to learn that perfromance has very little to do with the journey of BJJ.

The whole new trend of 'online grading' seems to be the way the sport is going. With Youtube, and all the different networking sites, its really easy to establish a relationship with someone your not seeing on a day to day basis. (I think that is why you see the rise in "online dating").

To me...the real thing is having a relationship with the person who promoted you. Establish a bond so you guys both understand what your goals are. At the end of the day, the belt is just a belt...it doesn't define you.


Anonymous said...

Here is the question.

If you win Mundials as a Blue, Purple, or Brown...that means your the best belt in the world at that weight. Do you deserve a belt promotion then?

Niti said...

Belt promotion is a BIG homework from your instructor. He would like to see you work harder, improve yourself, more competitive without any refusal. you can't be lazy bum anymore since many people want to beat you and keep challenge you all the time.

For me it more like bigger rock on one shoulder as one get higher belt.

LUKE said...

I think some great points are being brought up here that will really help with the piece I am writing. Some of the topics I look to hit are:

student body/dynamics
competitor vs. non-competitor
age & personal goals
instructor & background
community & size of school

Keep'em coming.

LUKE said...

Being a champion at any level is a big accomplishment but how else are students judged/graded besides their performance in competition?

I've met some students that were kept at white-belt for up to 5 years due to their character/attitude, regardless of their skill.

Anonymous said...

I think it's really important to get the blue belt in a "reasonable" period of time. One to two years shows you are dedicated to showing up and working diligently.

But purple is trickier. I think you need both some competition chops AND a good repertoire of fundamental techniques.

By competition chops I don't mean necessarily placing, but the matches had better be close, and it helps to advance a round or two or three.

Just training at our own gym isn't enough. We get too used to each other. Tournaments step things up a notch and throw us in the ring with the unexpected.

Eric said...

I think a big part of the picture is the type of atmosphere that the instructor sets for his school. Chances are that if you have mma fighters and competition heavy students at a particular school, youre going to have higher caliber students coming out of there. On the other hand, for casual people looking for something to do or families looking to get their kids into an after school activity, this might be intimidating.

Nothing against mma fighters, but if I had kids and want to introduce them into martial arts I'd rather them go into a school thats fun and educational than one that just pumps out tournament grade fighters. There needs to be a right balance. A school can't progress if it's too laxed but I honestly don't think competion focused training is the only way to learn BJJ. You'll burn the casuals out and the only thing you'll have left are the cauliflowered ear hard core enthusiasts that train 24/7.

Eric said...

One more thing..

Every school has it's "top dog" or "A-team" students. These people are very important for the school, as they serve as both a rallying point and an inspiration to everyone else. It shows the lower end students that the instructor's training really works and to believe in themselves.

The instructor also has a role to play in this. Aside from training he also needs to teach his students how to believe in themselves. After all isn't this the goal that's advertised in flyers for all martial art schools? To develop self confidence, a good attitude, and a healthy spirit?

Anonymous said...

Which NorCal tournament was it - the American Cup? If so, that's more of a super regional tournament, put on by the same promoter who does the US Open in Santa Cruz.

NorCal doesn't have too many truly small meets. LA is hopping with them.

hoin said...

i personally believe that competition is the way to make your game click. you learn to listen to your body on what you can and can't do. also after each competition, you review the tape and will start to think about how you can do better next time. it change your mentality from laid back into being more aggressive.

as for eric's comment for mma fighters training, i usually find those guys going really really hard. they'll have strong wrestling background and pushes the pace a lot. i remember one of my teacher saying, if you want to be strong, go hit the weights. if you want to learn bjj, be relax, composed and go with the flow.

for agree with anonymous with that you should recieve your blue in a 'reasonable' period of time. as lingering for a long time will make you lose focus and stop improving.

i believe that purple belt is the ability to help other students during class.. ie coaching them during sparring, the ability to point out mistakes to other students. competition results is a must.

Anonymous said...

regarding promotions, i believe that promotions should be based on competition results. but, how about independent students with no lineages who keep winning in tournaments and don't get any promotions. how do they get promotions. i believe that we should make room for the genuinely skilled regardless of lineages (just like in other sports).should we let them just go to waste. i suggest that tournament officials should have the authority to promote students who are winning in tournaments on regular basis. That would set the standard in belt promotions.

Ben said...

I hope BJJ can keep its high standard when it comes to grading.

I believe that the purple should remain a belt that is hard to achieve... blue belt requirements vary widely from school to school, but it should even out at purple in my opinion.

Competition should factor into gradings, but so should other aspect, especially technical prowess, but also how much the student helps make the other students grow.

Or to put it into more blunt terms from the great poster 'faixarua':

"blue belt=gonna submit most beginner ease include guys from karate and kung fu.blue belt able not get hurt if fight muscle head steroidy on beach or outside club.

purple belt=he nasty guy.gonna be able smash people.SMASH THEM.

brown belt=able twist evryone up real good and still not breath heavy.he not even gonna fight in street no more incase he kill someone.

blackbelt=professor.sometime nice sometime if upset bit dangerous.if pass his guarde he gonna be upset so careful.some blackbelt
crazy other nice guy.some gonna contrate on vale tudo,other gonna teach jiu jitsu for student.some gonna be very technical other just tough if guy both he gonna do well in mundial.


Wade said...

This reminds me of an episode of the fightworks podcast. When you can pretty much dominate everyone in your current belt rank, or when you can hang with the belt rank above you...its time for a promotion. Competition is just another way to stress test your jiujitsu.