Athletes can be among some of the most superstitious people when it comes to playing their sport. For example, Michael Jordon wore his University of North Carolina shorts under his Chicago Bulls shorts every basketball game. Tennis player, Serena Williams always bounces the ball five times before her first serve, and twice before her second. Sometimes these sound weird but it hard to argue with the success some of these athletes have had.
In Jiu-Jitsu and many martial arts there is one superstition that may sound gross but at the same time common practice among Jiu-Jitsu students. Traditionally, few people wash their Jiu-Jitsu belt.
I come from a Karate background. I was always told the story of white belts turning into black from years of training. A white belt would turn yellow from sweat, green from grass stains, brown from training in the dirt. Then over time, eventually take on a black appearance. By not washing the belt, experience level could be distinguished. Though it makes for a great story, it seems like many modern martial arts have adopted the belt system from Judo. Though there is still some debate as to its historical influences.
In Jiu-Jitsu, students may seldom if ever wash their belt. There is a widely known superstition that washing the belt will lead to washing away knowledge. It’s as if the information and experience gained in class gets transposed into the belt you’re currently wearing. A new belt also symbolizes a new beginning, and a clean start during the next stage of the Jiu-Jitsu journey. Though there is no scientific evidence to back up this claim, many students still choose to not wash their belts.
There are some concerns with not washing the belt. The obvious would be hygienic. Not washing the belt can cause a build up of dirt, bacteria, and other harmful things.
Rolling around on mats while sweating can cause greater build up of bacteria. Belt durations in Jiu-Jitsu can often be longer than other martial arts. For example, many students can have the rank of the white belt for well over a year before being promoted to blue. This can be longer than other martial arts such as Tae Kwon Do that have more belts in their system.
I personally never washed my belts when I did Karate. I do however wash my belts semi regularly in Jiu-Jitsu. I often will hang dry the belt post training, and then wash it every couple weeks as needed. Knowing what we know about microbiology, it may be ideal to pass on this tradition but it’s ultimately up to the student to decide. If you decide to go without washing the belt, I would recommend purchasing multiple ones to rotate through.
Washing the belt is a controversial topic in BJJ. Do you wash your belt? Why or why not?
Patrick J. Flores
Gracie Barra Chino