Demotions in Jiu-Jitsu
Recently, I was speaking to a friend who is a black belt and head instructor at a Jiu-Jitsu academy. They told me that they had just taken away stripes from one of their white belts and that white belt almost cried when they did so. I was taken aback as you almost never hear about demotions in Jiu-Jitsu, except for maybe self-demotions when someone is switching academies and they either take off stripes from the previous academy or go down a belt level altogether. In fact, Enson Inoue made headlines in 2016 when he demoted himself to purple belt and then re-promoted himself back to black belt.
Apparently, while demotions are not a common practice in the general BJJ community, it happens more than we realize it does. Some instructors do this with kids who don’t listen in class or when students get lazy and don’t train, slack off, or have a bad attitude in training. Demotions may not be as harsh as taking belts away, but rather, a stripe or half stripe at a time. This serves to re-motivate people to work harder and work to keep their rank.
In academies where head instructors hold their students to a higher standard, holding back belts or stripe promotions are a common practice because they expect their students to be able to defend their rank. This is often where the term “sandbagging” is thrown around, as there are people who clearly excel beyond their existing rank but have not been promoted yet because of time or more titles to be won.
Honestly, if I were to have to switch academies to one that was notable for creating world champions, I’d feel really uneasy about keeping my current rank in an environment where I know that competitive purple belts could possibly out tech me. However, it would likely push me to work that much harder to defend my rank all the time. This is not to say that I don’t believe in myself or my rank, but rather, every academy has a different standard for promotions whether it would be skill, time in (but not necessarily equating to skill), or a combination of both. For me, personally, I’d like to know that I can hang at my rank at pretty much any academy that I went to train at.
If demotions were a common practice in BJJ just as much as promotions were, how do you think that would affect your work ethic in training? Do you think that you would become better because there are consequences to inconsistencies in training, attitude, attendance, etc.? Instructors, do you think that you would see an increase in consistency in attendance and level of training? Just some food for thought…