A Few Words on Belt Promotions

I have noticed on my social media at this time of year, my many bjj friends all over the world posting about their graduation to the next belts. The end of the  calendar year, many academies have a club photo day and belt and stripe promotions. It is a happy time and many photos are snapped as the new belts are proudly tied around deserving waists.
The Facebook comments are filled with congratulations and “long overdue!” and “well deserved!”


The stock response when asked, for many bjj practitioners, is “belts are not important to me,” communicating the idea that the priority of training should be on acquiring skill and knowledge, not on trying to achieve the next belt as soon as possible.

But I think that belts ARE important. 

fernandopromoOne’s journey in training bjj is a long one and filled with many ups and downs. There may be long periods where the student of bjj can feel stagnant and frustrated with a lack of progress.
For those who persevere through those peaks and valleys, a stripe promotion can add a fresh burst of motivation to continue training.
It is a public acknowledgement from your professor that you have been attending classes regularly, you have improved in your technical level and are progressing upwards in your study of jiu-jitsu.

You should be proud to accept the promotion and promise yourself to rise to the new standard. Enjoy the fruits of your hard work and discipline!

diogopromoOver the years, I have witnessed more than a few people who were disappointed after a round of promotions when they did not receive an expected (or more accurately “hoped for”) promotion.
In the majority of the cases the students were not regular in their attendance in class and the professor was looking for a little more from them before they were ready for the next graduation.
From an instructor’s point of view, I feel many students place far too much importance on “who tapped who” in the sparring sessions as the measure on who should be promoted.

I have witnessed sparring sessions where a heavier, more athletic student submits a smaller, more technical student. Even though the heavier student got the tap, the smaller student demonstrated far more technical ability in the roll.
It might be a surprise to both students that the smaller student has displayed high enough technical ability to warrant another stripe, while the heavier student still relies far too much on their size, speed, and strength in the rolls.
Not all students come into bjj with the same potential. A more physically talented student may need to demonstrate more technical skill even though they are dominating many rolls in the academy.

The other side of the reaction after promotions, are the students who graduated to blue or purple belt and express to me privately that they didn’t feel deserving of their promotion.
That student may be a monster on the mat, but in their minds, felt much pressure to live up to a higher standard of the new belt.
14603_884518918247937_4606847149174958090_nTo them I respond that many people have these thoughts upon a new belt. But your instructor has much experience in evaluating these things and would not have awarded the promotion if they were not confident in your abilities.
In fact, how many times have we seen our fellow students at a high level of skill long before they actually went up in rank? In these cases the familiar comment “long overdue” may be perfectly fitting.

My first bjj instructor said one time in his heavily accented English as he wrapped 2 new stripes on my belt (after a long period without a promotion) “The stripes sometimes take a long time to come, but they always come if you keep training.”

Congratulations around the world to all the students who now are wearing new belts!

Credits: Mark Mullen 
Gracie Barra Black belt based in Taipei, Taiwan
Twitter: @MarkMullenBJJ