Belt Promotion

You can’t be involved in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu for very long without hearing people talk about belts. Not belts to hold up pants, or belts as in what you use to hold the holster for your pistol, but belts as in the ranking system.

There are all kinds of topics involving the belt – anything from “does that guy deserve to be an x belt” to “what are the criteria for each belt level”. However, the single greatest amount of time when belts are discussed is spent on the eternal question “When will I get to the next belt”. This drives me insane and I genuinely get saddened whenever I hear that kind of talk.

On the one hand, I understand the tendency. We all like to have an external validation of what we are doing. That is exacerbated in a method like BJJ because the belt levels genuinely mean something. Unlike a lot of traditional and modern eclectic arts, the vast majority of people involved in BJJ agree on what a legitimate belt holder performs like, and is called upon to demonstrate that performance every time he or she gets on the mat. There is not much chance of hiding if someone promotes themselves, or buys his promotion. Anyone can order any color belt they want online, put it on, and put up pictures of themselves with the belt on Facebook. But at some point, they are going to meet up with a legitimate holder of that color rank (or higher) and will have to justify their promotion. So with that permanent credibility check comes a desire to be recognized as being in the same group. I get that.

However, spending any time thinking about it is a waste of time. Because it is based on demonstrated knowledge and performance, you will get the appropriate belt when you deserve it. Thinking and planning on it won’t really help. Here, out of the goodness of my heart, I will give you the secret to getting to black belt – TRAIN! Further, train consistently. If all you have time for is to train BJJ once a week, then train one day a week every single week! You will improve, and when you improve enough, your coach will signify that by giving you the next belt. It is a simple plan, but like the best plans, it works. It might not get you there as fast as you would like, but it will get you there, and you will deserve it when you arrive at your destination.

Perhaps I come from a different perspective, become my coach only promotes once a year, at the yearend Christmas party. No other time. So there is little to be gained by thinking about how to get the next belt. You can totally deserve the promotion in February, but it won’t matter because you are not going to get it until the next December, so forget about it and train. That has been a pretty successful way of going about it. It puts the premium on getting better, and nothing else. When you get better, you get promoted. Simple.

So please, when you step onto a BJJ mat, focus on getting better, not about the color wrapped around your waist.

Here is a clip with one man’s opinion:

And, while we are on the subject of belts, here is a good tutorial for tying the belt presented by my friend and ATT black belt and champion Muay Thai fighter Adam Kayoom (BTW, I prefer the first way he shows, but honestly do the third way most of the time because it is faster and easier):