“Belts Don’t Matter” is Jiu-Jitsu’s Biggest Hypocrisy

“Belts Don’t Matter” is Jiu-Jitsu’s Biggest Hypocrisy

Guest post by Bill Jones, the head instructor and president of Top Level Martial Arts in Cuyahoga Falls, OH. He has been training martial arts since 1985 and holds several black belt ranks, including a Black Belt under Master Pedro Sauer. If you would like to learn more, contact bill at http://toplevelmartialarts.com


I started training jiu-jitsu in 2004. Before that, I had been training martial arts since 1985. I have been fortunate enough to be around some of the brightest minds in martial arts history. In fact, if you’re around these greats long enough, you’ll find a very common train of thought, despite vast differences among the arts they practice. They all begin to preach the importance of longevity in the art.

You see, as you get older, inevitably your friends who began training with you will start dropping out. This happens either because of regular life getting in the way, falling too far out of shape, or just a lack of interest. As we grow older, our value for the art changes and we tend to see things in a different light. Without fail, they all start to say things like, “A black belt is just a white belt who never quit” or “Winning is not important, learning is”, “Don’t have ego, let yourself get into bad positions and try to work out” and the most famous of all, “The belt doesn’t matter.”

And it’s largely a lie.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I feel these masters all believe what they are saying at the time they say it. But that has never stopped them from touting the gusto of their own members and black belts over that of a rival. I have at in a room with a certain well known BJJ practitioner who I can directly quote as saying, “Belts don’t matter to me. I don’t care what belt you wear. That mentality is why my blue belts tap purple and brown belts at most academies they visit.” That sentence is a contradiction, plain and simple. And it sends the wrong message in too many instances. And it’s very similar to a message I have heard over and over again.

I even fall victim to it. I recently had a student visit an academy in Vegas. He’s currently a white belt. When he came back I was elated to hear that he was tapping blue and purple belts. I had to hold myself back from saying anything because I didn’t want to send the wrong message.

Here’s the Truth for You

Belts Matter! It’s that simple. They matter to the BJJ instructors and they matter very much to the practitioners. I could quickly name off a multitude of people I personally know have held themselves back from promotions because of how much they respect the belts. They simply didn’t test or transferred schools and took a demotion. On the other end of the spectrum many instructors hold people back from promotions for a whole host of reasons; their technique isn’t ready, they aren’t winning tournaments, they don’t train enough, they aren’t dominating other members of the same rank, and the list goes on.

You see it at tournaments all the time. No gi events where people say things like, Ohhh…look. That Brown belt just got beaten by that blue belt. It happens to the point that people actually start judging his worth or the value of his school against that. People not getting promotions until they take a gold medal in their division is another common practice.

What’s The Point?

So, why the sudden rant? Today I had a discussion about jiu-jitsu with another instructor. The man says he can teach jiu-jitsu to a person who trains only 1 time per week. My question was, “While I think they can learn some stuff, do you honestly believe you can build a black belt if they train only once per week?” His answer, of course, belts don’t matter. Of course they don’t.

Look. All I’m saying is that we should call a spade a spade. Belts in BJJ matter. Statistically, there’s no art more stingy with their belts. We have a certain expectation. Most blue belts can beat most white belts. Most purples can beat most blues and so on. We all accept that exceptions exist, but we really do care. So much, in fact, that we actually have a thing called a “Dojo Storm” where people go and challenge schools they feel are promoting too fast or are not properly representing the art. That, my friends, is straight ego.

Next time someone tells you they don’t matter…just call em out on their BS.

See you on the mats!