I’ve seen many different structures for promotion in BJJ. These different traditions/ceremonies are a big part of the jiu jitsu experience. I was on The BJJ Hour Podcast a while back discussing the meaning (and lack thereof) of belts, during that podcast one of the hosts mentioned that belt ceremonies give us an opportunity to celebrate in an otherwise grueling and difficult sport.
The first place I trained at when I started training seriously would surprise people with promotions at the end of class. It was relatively unceremonious and random. Another place I trained at would have occasional “belt ceremonies” during which people would be given promotion. Another place would surprise people and then they would run the gauntlet (get beaten with belts down a line as a rite of passage.) At my current academy the instructor lets people know well in advance about their impending promotion, they are given a curriculum to brush up on and then given a formal test (for which there is a nominal fee), we sometimes do the gauntlet, and sometimes do a different sort of gauntlet: the person who just got promoted sits in the middle of the room and has to roll with everyone who is there, I think it depends on the individual’s preferences (if they want to get beaten or not.)
I feel that surprising someone with a belt is a double edged sword. On the one hand, that surprise is such a pleasant feeling, and it really makes the jiu jitsu experience special. On the other hand, what if their family wants to be present for the promotion? What if they have other friends that want to be there for the promotion? I’ve personally gone out of my way to be at promotion ceremonies of my good friends, if they didn’t know they were being promoted in advance I’d have missed out on that.
Belt tests are interesting to me because they quantify information that isn’t necessarily quantifiable. For example: how can you measure someone’s improvement? Not all blue belts are created equal and not all black belts are created equal. Very often the decision to promote someone is relatively arbitrary as they may not be as good as most people at that rank but they have been training for long enough and have improved enough to deserve promotion. Belt tests very often cost money, and that’s frowned upon by people who don’t take belt tests. I’ll say this: the amount of money my belt test cost me wasn’t really a deal breaker at all for me, I am happy enough with my training that that a few bucks every few years for what is essentially a chunk of my professor’s time that I occupy (think private lesson…) isn’t a big deal.
I’ll touch on the topics of gauntlets and other ceremony traditions in another article. What do you think of belt promotions? Should a person know in advance about whether or not they’re going to be promoted? Or should it be a complete surprise?