Photo: BJJ Legends Magazine
MMA legend and BJJ black belt Enson Inoue has been retired from MMA since 2004 (he had a short comeback fight in 2010), but he has recently started training Jiu-Jitsu again after taking a 10 year break from the sport.
Inoue is Japanese-American and hails from Hawaii, but has made his career in the US and Japan. He one of most well known MMA fighters in the world having fought in the UFC, Shooto, and being a major star in Pride Fighting Championships. He has submitted Randy Couture, and faced Minotauro Nogueira, Igor Vovchanchin and many others…Inoue is a long time BJJ black belt(promoted in 1998) under John Lewis. He has also competed in ADCC in a super fight vs Mario Sperry.
In a startling turn of events he decided to demote himself to purple belt. He announced today:
I know this journey will be long and hard and I want to be real. This is no bullshit nor is it a joke but I’m going to demote myself to purple belt.
I got a black belt 18 years ago and as we all know BJJ is always evolving. I jumped off the BJJ bandwagon 10 years ago and it has pulled far far ahead.
I did the Purebred beginning class again today and again ALL the moves were new to me. Also my body has stiffened so much that I couldn’t even move fluidly.
At the time I got promoted to black belt I was a black belt at that time. However, what BJJ has become I can honestly say I am NOT a black belt. Yeah it’s cool to be a black belt but to me a true black belt should be technically and spiritually sound. I feel confident spiritually but not technically.
A black belt is not about status but about respecting the art of BJJ and for me to put a black belt on would be disrespecting the sport.
So I’m officially a purple belt and this is where my journey back to BJJ will continue.
The BJJ community reacted with a mixture of admiration and non-comprehension.
Chris Haueter, one of the first American Black Belts in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, was particularly critical of Inoue’s decision:
We take responsibility and respect the rank appointed to us. Downgrading oneself in rank is not humility, it’s false humility. Jiu Jitsu is bigger than any one person. We will never have complete control of anything let alone our art. We practice, we do not master.
Adapt to your handicaps, be it age, injury, time off the mat or a lack of understanding “the new game” or some new technique.
Respect the professor who ranked you. Unless you promoted yourself, you can’t demote yourself. Drive on. Don’t quit.
Fabio Santos (Coral belt agreed):
Howard Liu (owner of HCK Kimonos) defended Inoue’s decision:
Inoue saw the comments and wrote back explaining his choice:
Lots of people going off on my decision to demote myself to purple belt after 18 years at black.
I hope you all understand that this wasn’t something I decided on a whim. I gave it much thought and I came to this conclusion.
It is something I feel very strong about and if it wasn’t I wouldn’t be giving up a BJJ black belt, something many dream about obtaining.
Maybe I shouldn’t have and maybe I should have just kept the black on because I did earn it but something just didn’t feel right. I felt I was disrespecting the art and most of all I didn’t feel I was being true to myself.
Don’t get me wrong I didn’t demote myself so I can enter tournaments and win a medal in purple belt because I will not compete until I earn my black belt back. Besides I didn’t get back into it to compete but instead for exercise and flexibility. Competing again is secondary and if it happens, it happens.
So there many the respect my decision and many that disagree with it but the bottom line is I did what I thought was proper and what I felt was the right thing to do.
He then added:
It has been brought to my attention that I may have disrespected the instructor or the group that has awarded me my black belt. By all means the last I wanted to do is disrespect them. I felt the opposite that by respecting them I will refine my technique and the understanding of the art so I can represent them with honor. I didn’t want to go roll somewhere and be so out of the loop that it would put shame on the people who gave me my black belt.
It’s not their fault I dropped off the grid and didn’t keep up with the movement of BJJ. It was my movement and nothing to do with them. I understand that I earned my black belt 18 years ago but let’s be real it’s a different art today. If I were going to close the door of my BJJ career then I would have closed the door as a black belt. But I have chosen to set foot in the BJJ world today, which is almost a whole new art, and I honestly will rank myself as I stand in this era.
I see it like… If I was considered a specialist on cell phones 18 years ago the dropped off the grid of cell phone technology then came back today, can i still call himself a cell phone specialist? No but I can call myself a cell phone specialist of back in the day. Could I know everything about the old flip phones and 18 years later pick up an iPhone and tell you how to use it? I don’t think so. Would you feel right mingling with the iPhone specialist and be able to say your a iPhone specialist too. I couldn’t.
I will forever honor my Nova Uniao black belt via John Lewis and I will always be a Nova Uniao black belt. I will it get promoted by anyone and become their black belt. I will just accept the opinion of a legit black belt of this current era and progress back to a black belt and represent Nova Uniao with honor. Then when someone asked me who gave you your black belt I can proudly tell them knowing I’ve represented them well.
It is in no way because I can’t beat the higher belts but more what I feel is an accurate assessment of my true BJJ level today. I plan to train and roll with the likes of John Lewis, Egan Inoue, Steve Roberto, Jeff Starks, Steve Roberto, Jared Weiner, Baret Yoshida, and all my other Purebred black belts and if they feel I can should move up to brown or even black I will do so. Until then I’m purple.
Again no disrespect intended and if I did disrespect anyone, my sincere apologies. With that said, I would also appreciate some understanding and respect on my decision to do what I feel is proper. It is my journey and I just want to be real.