Should BJJ Black Belts Also Be Role Models Off the Mats?

Should BJJ Black Belts Also Be Role Models Off the Mats?

Photo: Joshua Halvatzis, Goliveco at Frota Academy in Zurich, Switzerland.

So, we keep hearing about all of those “abnormal” belts promotions- guys who promote themselves, a public shaming belt demotion, and even a recent double junior black belt promotion. It’s as if the meaning of the belt itself had been obliviated.
In this article I want to present my perception about belts, belt promotions, and what it represents both in a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner (such as myself), but also in the eyes of the non-Jiu-Jitsu population.

Let’s start with a basic question- Why do we need belts for?
The establishment of the belts system was originally founded by Jigoro Kano, the inventor of the Judo and founder of the Kodokan Dojo. Kano decided that divinding the students to different ranks will give the beginners (AKA white belts) something to look up to, and to give the ones who reached the rank of a master (AKA black belts) something that represents their hard work and devotion. With time came the addition of the black belt, and afterwards all sorts of ranks, depends on the martial art, as a motivational tool for young students who need much more incentives than the adults.

As everyone knows, the BJJ belt system has five different belts- white, blue, purple, brown and black.


Every belt represents a chapter in a BJJ practitoner’s path, and a belt promotion takes time, which gives that student a chance to learn, develop and gain maturity both in the BJJ world, but also as an individual outside the gym. Whenever a lower rank looks at someone with a belt at a higher rank, he looks at it with admiration, hoping to be wearing the same belt one day. This means that a higher rank belt will always serve as an example to the lower rank guys, whether he likes it or not, and I’m afraid that’s a consideration not every professor takes when promoting one’s rank.

From time to time, I see news broadcasts about violent black belts who hit their wives and pick up fights, black belts who take advantage of young teenage girls coming for lessons, trusting those black belts to guide them and give them confidence in themselves. Those are the times when I’m at my most furious. I keep asking myself two simple questions- “who promoted them? and why”.
To me, a martial artists is someone who is in control of his body, mind and spirit, and tries to reach perfection in every aspect of his life. When one’s reaching the rank of a black belt, a BJJ master, that title sticks to him, and will never let go. From that day on, he is not just a master, but also a worldwide BJJ agent, an ambassador. From here on, everything that he’ll do will be labelled as a “Jiu Jitsu master has…. etc. etc.”. In order for us to correct the wrongs in the current belt promotions system, this must be understood and be taken in consideration.

To conclude, I want to thank all of our BJJ ambassadors out there. Without you, this magnificent art would not have achieved its well-deserved place among other martial arts, and we wouldn’t be able to thrive the way we do right now.
Keep being your best every day, keep Jitsing away.

Written by Shai Gilad

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