A Black Belt Is Not A Symbol Of Infinite Wisdom

While there are those who fake or underqualified out there, you can generally assume that BJJ black belts are really, really good at jiu-jitsu. Many of them have spent at least ten years training to perfect their techniques and submissions, and you can probably trust their opinions on most jiu-jitsu-related topics. If you seek advice on bettering your technique or preparing for a competition or motivating yourself to keep coming to class, yep, a black belt is probably a good person to ask.

There is, however, a weird sense of “hero worship” that exists in jiu-jitsu (and perhaps martial arts in general) that prompts many people to treat every word that comes out of a black belt’s mouth as gospel. Sometimes it disguises itself as fan-based support for a famous athlete — we love to read life advice and motivational quotes from people who have climbed the ladder of success in our own sport, after all. But that fandom can quickly reveal itself as toxic when an athlete says or does something that would be heavily frowned upon if they weren’t, you know, them.

Blame it on pop culture or the rose-colored glasses through which we were raised to view martial arts masters, but a lot of people assume that because someone is a black belt in jiu-jitsu, they’re also good role models by default. In many cases, they are worthy leaders, having established themselves as role models within their own academy and the local BJJ community. But in many other cases, they’re just good at jiu-jitsu… and that’s it. Their training has given them the knowledge they need to break someone apart a million different ways, but it hasn’t given them additional wisdom or knowledge outside of the BJJ bubble.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing — it’s just the nature of progression in a sport. There are plenty of really great people who start training and, years later, are still really great people as they rise through the ranks. Jiu-jitsu didn’t make them better or worse as human beings, it just taught them how to do jiu-jitsu. And, yes, in some cases, jiu-jitsu does humble people, teach them the value of being on a team, or help them learn to be leaders.

The reverse is also true, however. Bad people who start jiu-jitsu often stay bad and later become bad people who know how to hurt you. Or maybe they start jiu-jitsu as decent people, then develop an ego problem as they get better.

In any of these cases, a black belt remains a strip of fabric tied around someone’s waist that communicates the idea that this person really does know jiu-jitsu. It’s no indication of the character of the person wearing it, and it’s certainly not a stamp of approval that marks every piece of life advice its owner posts on social media. It doesn’t make them innocent of crimes, and it doesn’t make them incapable of making bad decisions or downright ignorant comments. Certainly, it doesn’t make them any more worthy of support if they do opt to make those bad choices, either.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting your jiu-jitsu to be more like that of a famous grappler, and if you have someone in your life who’s amazing at jiu-jitsu and amazing as a human being, then you should absolutely take advantage of the fact that you can look up to them as both an athlete and a person. Just remember that someone’s expert-level jiu-jitsu doesn’t make them an expert on science, politics, or morals, and adjust your B.S. meter accordingly.


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