Promotions & The Value of the Belts

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Promotions & The Value of the Belts

Promotions in Jiu-jitsu are kind of a big deal,  mainly because they are few & far between, and don't happen very often.  We celebrate these milestones for our teammates & training partners.  We look forward to our own eventual promotions usually with a mixed feeling of nervous anticipation & dread.  Often times, while some part of us wants to eventually achieve these milestones, when that moment finally comes, we often feel that we aren't yet ready.  This feeling is totally normal & represents a very healthy attitude towards promotion.  The reality is that, usually, once you start to become comfortable at a certain belt rank, thats about when it changes.  This little bit of discomfort is very important for our continued development.  Like many things in Jiu-jitsu, it is through pressure & discomfort that we learn the most.

The belt system as we know it, is an adaptation of the system of colored belts originally developed by the Founder of Judo, Jigaro Kano.  Originally, the concept was developed to group athletes by relative skill levels for sport competition.  While the belts aren't the focus or reason for training, they are important as they do represent distinct milestones & levels of development.  They are good markers of progress and they can help with setting shorter term goals.  The journey from white to black belt in Jiu-jitsu is typically so long it is helpful to break it up into more manageable chunks.

So, how does one best deal with promotions.  First, trust your instructor.  Whether you believe you are "overdue" for your next promotion, or you don't feel you are ready, your instructor knows best.  As an instructor, each and every promotion is something that is done with a great amount of consideration, and they are never taken lightly.  The best thing to do is just to continue to do what you are doing & not worry either way about promotions.  If you just continue to train & strive to get a little better each day, the belts will take care of themselves, and you will look back in a few years and be very surprised at how seemingly quickly you have achieved a high level that, as a beginning student, you may have never thought possible!  Realistically, you are going to do the same thing the day after you receive a new belt promotion as you did the day before-just show up & train!

Secondly, recognize the belt for what it is.  Just because you have earned the right to put it on, doesn't mean you have earned the right to wear it.  You earn that right everyday on the mat through your continued training.  There is always a breaking in period with any new belt, and it will take a while before you feel comfortable at that level.  You have to grow into the belt.  Look at it as an opportunity to step up to a higher level & a higher standard.  Don't hide behind it because of fear or anxiety!

Finally, don't put any unnecessary extra pressure on yourself.  Often, students get a new belt & feel that now they can no longer tap to a lower belt.  This is non-sense.  If you are training correctly, you have to put yourself in vulnerable positions & always be willing to learn through failure.  Because of the fact that the nature of belt promotions in Jiu-jitsu tend to be based on your actual performance, it is true that in general the higher belts should be more skilled and able to better control lower ranking students.  However, thinking that you can never get caught by someone of a lower belt level is just purely ego, and is not a productive attitude for continued improvement.  Everyone, including black belts, makes mistakes, and this is how we learn.  The belts are not magic.  Simply putting a different colored piece of cloth around your waist doesn't give you special powers overnight.  Take a moment to celebrate your accomplishment, and then, just get back on the mat & keep training!

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