Belt System in BJJ: Does it Do More Harm than Good? - alldaybjj

Belt System in BJJ: Does it Do More Harm than Good?

A few weeks ago, Garry Tonon posted a provocative (and controversial) statement: Having a belt system in BJJ Leads to more harm than good – CHANGE MY MIND.

Not only did this statement generate a plethora of comments and likes on Instagram – approximately 545 comments and 4,936 likes to be exact – it really does beg the question of whether or not having a hierarchy in Jiu-Jitsu such as the belt system, does more harm than good.

Tonon explains that as an instructor and having a belt system, it causes more drama than it’s worth. For example: people will leave your gym because they don’t think promotions are fair; people will get “butt hurt” when a lower belt taps them; people will quit or become lazy after they achieve a certain rank; it fosters jealousy and spite; and it makes people feel entitled and treat people differently based on their rank. It also blurs the lines of competition level and leads to more sandbagging than if competitions defined their divisions by experience level.

Taking the competition aspect out of this, 100% of what Tonon says is true whether we want to believe (or admit) it or not. How many times have we gotten upset because we got passed up on a promotion, saw someone who “doesn’t deserve to get promoted” get promoted, or we got tapped by a lower belt? Moreover, how many people have left their academies because of those things that Tonon listed above? Many of our past blogs address these exact things.  

However, like everything else in life, hierarchy exists. To put it into perspective, armies, government, and companies would cease to exist if there were no hierarchy. The only difference is that in BJJ, they are often hidden behind belts, titles, and ownership of academies.   

While we certainly cannot change this and discard of the ranking system altogether, perhaps this requires an entire shift in perception of our training and what growth in Jiu-Jitsu means to us. It would be interesting to see what would happen if for a day, week, or month, we completely disregarded belt rank in the academy. Would those who can’t defend their rank not train during this period where belts didn’t exist? Would it push them to train harder to get to that level? Would it change the perspective of higher belts on how “important” it is to get to the next belt? Or would they enjoy learning and improving more than receiving something that symbolizes improvement?

What are your thoughts on the belt ranking system? Comment below. And in the mean time, here’s some comments from Garry’s thread that may spark a more thoughtful conversation on this controversial topic:

In wrestling we don’t have belts and we get along just fine. I don’t need a piece of cloth to tell me where I am in my journey.

Your skills in live situations tells you where you are at in your journey not belt. I’ve seen people get their purple belts doing nothing but private class with their instructors all day without actually stepping into an actual class to do some live training. Never tested if their Jiu-Jitsu works.

Interesting argument but without the positive reinforcement of the “promotion” would you lose membership potential in your academy? What goal would these folks be working towards and how would they track progress?

Well it only hurts people because coaches take advantage and hold people back for years but that is not the intention of the belt system… it has become a business.

I’ve always looked at the belts as a measure of your ability to teach and pass on the art more than anything. Talent levels vary but it helps honor those who’ve at least show up and put in their time and effort. But in the end you are who you are on the mat and I get that belts don’t always reflect who is best.

It’s funny how the most skilled people often care least about the belt. At the end of the day it’s just material and only an indication of skill, nothing more. 

Becomes too subjective. On paper, the belt system is an incredibly useful tool to gauge experience and technical ability levels. Sure there are holes but what human decision based system is flawless? Not possible in my opinion. Besides, you never hear a purple or brown belt say, “Belts are useless,” its a throw away line when you have achieved black belt and especially when you become as accomplished as you. Gradings are a necessary evil and the onus is on the coach/affiliate/instructor to ensure consistency in measurement. It will never be perfect but eradicating it would make it far worse.  

Lea Young

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