“I train just to train. The belts shouldn’t matter.”
This is a phrase you may hear said by certain hobbyist jiu jitsu practitioners, in effect attempting to paint an image as a ‘humble’ martial artist. This was recently muttered in the locker room by a four-stripe blue belt after a training session at the Gracie Academy and before the belt ceremony. When I asked him whether or not he was staying for the ceremony, he said this exact quote.
The instance brings to light a fundamental flaw in the perception of the belt as a symbol for the journey. This student was clearly ready for their purple belt, so far so as even having his name called to come receive the belt. When no one stood up, it was clear that he had vanished and would have to wait another year to have his name called.
A professor of mine once told me that nobody likes the guy who constantly pines about promotions or stripes, but equally worse is the guy who never shows up to a belt ceremony and is satisfied staying at his same rank for as long as humanly possible. This can be identified by the term ‘false humility.’
The belt ceremony was in itself a rich experience, as I witnessed many friends and training partners level up. The speeches and perspectives shared by the professors were invaluable. This is a consistent theme at any belt ceremony I have attended in the past. Every practitioner left that room with greater insight on their journey and with greater connection to their training partners.
Atos Black Belt Kristian Woodmansee recently ad-libbed about the topic on his Facebook page, stating that as a lower belt he would be ‘reprimanded’ for asking about the belt. He believes that with proper communication between student and instructor regarding what one needs to work on to attain the next rank, having the belt as a goal can serve a dutiful purpose. Here is an excerpt of the post:
“I am no one to tell a motivated person who wants to work hard and accomplish a goal that they can’t talk about it. If focusing on being a black belt and getting it makes that person work harder and better, by all means please focus on it.”
I have had many people tell me that they don’t believe they are a certain rank when they are promoted, that they wish they were held back. I hold to the belief that you are not ready for your belt until the day you get it. This takes all the guesswork and responsibility of the decision blissfully out of your hands and thrusts it upon the instructor. While it may seem a bit tedious to ask about what one would need to work on to get to the next stripe, given that stripes are arbitrary between academies, it is not a crime to ask an instructor what they expect out of someone that holds a certain belt rank. Belt ceremonies are often a time where you gain a greater insight into what represents a certain belt from one’s school.
As Peter Parker’s uncle once said, ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’ To be thrust with a higher standing by your instructor is a huge honor. It shows great camaraderie and leadership being in attendance for your teammates, whether or not you are in line for getting promoted.
Arman Fathi is a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Brown Belt under the Redzovic Family in Chicago. He is currently living in Southern California, training out of the Gracie University under Rener and Ryron Gracie as well as training and competing under Lucas Leite at CheckMat La Habra.
Follow him on Instagram @RealArmanHammer