Sunday, May 1, 2011

A generation of participation trophies, ribbons, and now...BJJ Belts? (pt 1)

I had a couple conversations regarding belts with a few of our students today and a topic touched upon in both was that of belt promotions.

The first conversation was in relation to kids belts. It seems that many BJJ kids programs have created their own belt structure due to their preference for what they perceive to be a necessary marketing tool. It is designed to give the kids a regular promotion as a physical representation of their improvement. One student related how in TKD her niece's had a belt test every 6 weeks. BJJ used to be anti-mcdojos, but are we heading in this direction too?

The initial BJJ belt structure was organized so you would be at a given belt for a fair amount of time (years, plural) before being promoted. How many gyms follow the official IBJJF belt protocol for kids (or adults)? Not many from what I've seen. The kids at the tournaments have all sorts of belt colors, some even follow the adult system (against IBJJF official regulations).

We decided when we started our kids program last fall that we would follow the official IBJJF guidelines instead of designing our own marketing gimmick (gag). We wanted to commit to the intent of the system. In doing so, we ended up demoting 2 of the kids who transfered from elsewhere so their skill level would match the belt we would give them. And contrary to the popularly held belief in martial arts (including BJJ) marketing, neither child minded at all. In the 6 months our kids BJJ program has existed, we have not broached the subject of belt promotions with the kids at all. And only one of them at one time inquired how to get a black belt, when told he couldn't be awarded one for a while and it was explained that he would be told when he was ready for promotion, he dropped the subject and never brought it up again (he's eight).

All the children work hard every day, they learn, ask questions, train, and have fun! We are even taking the majority of them to their first BJJ tournament next weekend in Ashland, VA. But because we don't emphasize earning a physical representative of their improvement to outwardly express it, they don't need one. As children will do, they simply follow our lead and example. And ultimately isn't it better for them to be learning to enjoy the process of earning success instead of being focused on an outward representation of it? Isn't that more of a lifeskill than anything?

Has our society's desire for participation ribbons and trophies and the idea that everyone earns the same rewards begun to ruin our culture and by extension BJJ? I believe to some extent it has. Everyone is not created equal, some are more naturally gifted physically, some mentally, and others with sheer determination and drive. Shouldn't rewards go to those who shine? Otherwise, they aren't rewards at all...they are in fact, meaningless.

Shouldn't we teach our kids at a young age that they can have anything they want, but only IF they work for it. That if they choose not to, they can't complain and demand/expect the same rewards of those who do? Shouldn't they be taught to win and lose graciously instead of being forced to believe in the idea that no one wins or loses? Because, in life, that simply isn't true at all.

Elsewhere in our society they are being forced to believe a fairy tale. But what about when real life happens and it shatters that vision? Will they be prepared?

What happens when a generation of children become adults that don't know how to work hard for (and appreciate) success or how to win and lose with dignity?


  1. Ah, logic and sanity! What a relief.

  2. Wow, going to post a link to this on my blog. Couldn't have said it better myself. Our school operates the same way. There is no belt test. In fact, Fabio clearly tells people that there is no time limit for when you will get a belt or stripe. He tells us not to focus on belts, but on learning. And if he thinks someone is prideful and thinks they deserve the next belt, he just keeps giving them stripes to show them that their attitude is wrong.

    Not only does giving out belts as marketing tools rob the person of personal growth, it also waters down the sport itself.

    Great post.

  3. What an amazing post! I have been building and teaching a kid's program for almost two years at my school, and I couldn't agree with you more. Very well said!

  4. Great post. My instructor views belt promotions in the same way. As a parent of two students, and as a student, I appreciate this.


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