Jiu Jitsu Belt Promotions: Should They Be A Surprise?

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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?

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Emil Fischer is an active purple belt competitor under Pablo Angel Castro III training at Strong Style Mixed Martial Arts and Training Center near Cleveland Ohio (www.strongstyle.com). For more information, other articles, and competition videos check out his athlete pages at www.facebook.com/emilfischerbjj www.twitter.com/Emil_Fischer and https://instagram.com/emilfischerbjj/. Emil is sponsored by Pony Club Grappling Gear (www.ponyclubgrapplinggear.com), The Original Amy Joy Donuts (www.amyjoydonuts.com mention Emil Fischer when visiting), Valor Fightwear (http://valorfightwearusa.com/ discount code COOKIES), Cleveland Cryo (www.clevelandcryo.net discount code EmilCryo,) Impact Mouthguards (www.impactmouthguards.com discount code EMILIMPACT) and Gladiator Soap (www.gladiatorsoap.com discount code EMIL.FISCHER), Hydrus (www.hydrusperformance.com discount code COOKIES) as well as a brand ambassador for Ludwig Van (www.ludwigvantheman.com discount code FAMILY).

11 COMMENTS

  1. Hmmm this is a good question. Being fairly new to Jui-Jitsu I guess I just assumed that all gyms did it the same way my gym does it which is to surprise students. After reading this article I feel like some other ways would also be cool. I liked the idea of having to pass a test in order to move up. This way the student would would know exactly what was expected of them which would help the student know what to work on when rolling. Sometimes I personally have the feeling that I would benefit from knowing what I should know at certain points or even to know what things I should be focusing on and what things were most important to know. That being said I know that everything is important. As far as wether it’s better to be surprised or to be told I think maybe getting a stripe promotion should be a surprise and the belt promotions should be planned. This way the students family or friends could attend. Or maybe it should be up to each individual to decide what they preferred? This was definately an eye opening and thought provoking article. Thanks!

  2. My school does testing and we have a set curriculum and I like it because it gives me something to focus on, skills to master, I know what is expected of me so it gives me direction. That being said I’m preparing for my blue belt test and I may not feel the same way when I’m further along, we’ll see. As for ceremonies I know how it feels to get a stripe in class and I always enjoy seeing a classmate get one, we are certainly taking a journey together and it’s wonderful to see someone’s hard work recognized.

  3. In my school there is an interesting thing going on: Although belt promotion and receiving stripes have scheduled dates for tests and a small fee, stripes for any belt can be randomly given after competition or after class… I feel this combines both of the benefits of both methods.

  4. I think knowing in advance is better. Gives you a clear path to focus on while you train. When you are about to get promoted, it gives you that confidence boost and the feeling that all your effort wans’t in vain. The thing about the surprise promotion is that one might be a little… let’s say… jealous if he/she doesn’t get the promotion, but a training partner gets it before.

  5. Weave always told as many people as possible and stress the fact to not tell the person getting promoted. It helps when you have affiliate schools as well. We usually accomplish our goal to surprise the person but Im sure some find out before they get it.

  6. I hope I am not one of those people who is promoted just based on improvement and training longevity. I don’t care if I stay a blue belt forever, I would rather that than become a purple belt that can’t live up to his rank.

  7. My belt promotion was a complete surprise to me, my coach actually informed my family beforehand, I liked this as I think it had a little more meaning than a formal belt test. My coach even used his old blue belt to promote me. I liked that as it was sort of like he was passing down his knowledge to me. I have nothing against belt tests and I see how they could be useful, I just don’t think belts should be given based solely on a database of techniques. However, that is just my opinion.

  8. It’s weird to read this post today, because my situation make me really ponder the question presented.
    A few weeks ago, right before rolling with him, my instructor tells me that they will be handing out belts and that I would be receiving mine. However, I haven’t received it. So everyday from that point I would take my phone into the gym just in case so that I could take pictures.
    But today, I was talking to the 2nd in command about it and he stated that he thinks that it’s because I have only been training for 6 months. Hindsight being 20/20, I would have rather been surprised by receiving the belt, than waiting for it and find out I’m not going to receive it. I know belts don’t matter, but it means something when your instructor feels you’re at a certain level, especially considering how long it takes and how much sweat, tears and dedication it takes to move up the ranks.

  9. It’s weird to read this post today, because my situation make me really ponder the question presented.
    A few weeks ago, right before rolling with him, my instructor tells me that they will be handing out belts and that I would be receiving mine. However, I haven’t received it. So everyday from that point I would take my phone into the gym just in case so that I could take pictures.
    But today, I was talking to the 2nd in command about it and he stated that he thinks that it’s because I have only been training for 6 months. Hindsight being 20/20, I would have rather been surprised by receiving the belt, than waiting for it and find out I’m not going to receive it. I know belts don’t matter, but it means something when your instructor feels you’re at a certain level, especially considering how long it takes and how much sweat, tears and dedication it takes to move up the ranks.

  10. As an educator and coach, belt promotions should not be the focus. Yes, I have received the surprise belt and felt honored. Yet, the growth and development should be the focus. If a coach does this with a formal curriculum or informal instruction, there should be ample quality feedback for every BJJ practitioner. When quality feedback is provided on a consistent basis, a surprise or planned belt is even more valuable. As a current purple belt and have trained for 7 years, the quality feedback always helped my Bjj. As a result jumps in Bjj concept comprehension as well as application were achieved. The belt soon followed.

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