In light of a recent announcement by a jiu-jitsu organization in Rio de Janeiro, there has been a bit of discussion surrounding whether or not lower belts should be allowed to teach jiu-jitsu. I think there are many sides to this discussion.
For starters, a bit about my history: when I first started training jiu-jitsu back in 1999 (I took many years off in between then and now) my first instructor was a white belt who was a close friend and training partner of a gentleman who at the time was a blue belt under Relson Gracie and has since earned his black belt from Relson. If I didn’t have this white belt there to teach me, I may have never been exposed to jiu-jitsu.
However, a lot of what I learned at the time lacked some crucial details and I developed some bad habits that later had to be broken. I’m not saying that my instructor taught me those habits, but he also didn’t prevent their formation.
A lifetime later, I train pretty seriously under a black belt instructor, but I’ve learned a lot from people of lower belts as well. One of my main training partners just recently got his purple belt and has taught me a lot in the short time I’ve been working with him. And don’t even get me started on my leg lock guru/coach who is a mere brown belt. Let me point something else out: I recently interviewed Rumina Sato, an MMA legend and a world class grappler who is a purple belt. Belts are not necessarily a good indicator of someone’s knowledge.
A while back I was involved in a podcast series called The Verbal Grappling Podcast, and one of the episodes featured a teenaged blue belt that, with the blessings of Ryron and Rener Gracie, opened up a level 1 certified training center. The podcast also featured a black belt who was very upset at him for opening up a gym in an area where there were black belts with academies. We later had Rener Gracie on the podcast to discuss the topic further.
The point that I made during the first podcast, which was then echoed by Rener, was that the market determines what people can and cannot sell, and yes jiu-jitsu is a product that instructors sell to their students. Granted it is way more than that, but at its finest, most minute level it is a product and those that markets themselves the best and provide the best products will build the best/most successful academies.
Case in point: when I moved back to Cleveland I shopped around for a gym, and wound up initially joining a gym with the highest level black belt in the area when at the time there were lower level guys who were way more active in running their academies and provided way better one-on-one attention to their students. Eventually I found my way to an academy that provided me with the kind of training environment that I wanted.
I think that establishing rules like this doesn’t really help the growth of jiu-jitsu because it takes all types of instructors to teach, and the more gyms that are out there, the more diverse our community will be. I think that as long as someone isn’t lying about their rank or lineage, they should be able to do whatever the heck the want. If a purple or even white or blue belt wants to start a gym, so be it, but their lack of credential will be a major disadvantage on the open market.
The jiu-jitsu community polices itself, and if someone is lying about their rank or lineage they will be sniffed out and exposed. But if someone is honest about their rank and lineage, and they want to start a program, there’s a good chance people will discover jiu-jitsu. Let the market determine who gets to teach. I’ve seen black belts who can’t teach and blue belts who are incredible grapplers and instructors. I’ve even encountered rare white belts who have a high level understanding of grappling concepts and are great teachers.
What do you think? Should lower belts be allowed to teach? Or does it water down the art?