Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article stated that the identity of Demi Lovato’s current jiu-jitsu instructor was unknown. In light of new information, and in the interest of accuracy and fairness to all parties, we have printed an update to this story, which can be found at the bottom of the original article.
Pop star Demi Lovato, who has long espoused the benefits of a jiu-jitsu practice for her mental health and general well being, has earned her purple belt, according to an Instagram post from Rigan Machado.
The promotion has stoked some controversy in online combat sports circles, where the singer has faced speculative criticism for reportedly training exclusively in private lessons, rather than sparring with other students, and still receiving her blue belt from Gracie Barra’s Orlando Sanchez within a year. At this time, her current instructor is unknown.
Update (February 8, 2023):
As speculation and controversy continued to mount in online circles, Demi Lovato’s current jiu-jitsu instructor, Chris Light, came forward on social media with a post on his Instagram account on February 8. In his post, he clarified that he and Lovato “have trained consistently for the last 4+ years with minor breaks for her very public life and work schedule,” describing the pop star as “a dedicated martial artist.” He additionally pointed out that by the time he met her in 2018, she was already a blue belt under the late Orlando Sanchez.
Light further implored the jiu-jitsu community to reexamine its own biases and attitudes toward different training journeys and needs in the sport. “The level of disrespect and vitriol I came across from this was so disappointing,” he wrote. “Having trained 20+ years all over the world and helping push this art to people from all walks of life, it definitely dampened my spirit to see.
“I believe that the mats are a sacred place. One of the very few places we actually have left in this world where people can go and develop real connections. No bullshit. Jiu-Jitsu brings people together. You can go anywhere on earth, and walk into a jj gym, and find some extended family. Let’s not let that get away from us. Whatever you feel constitutes “real” Jiu Jitsu (sport, street, privates, sparring, classes), I urge you to promote those opinions respectfully and productively to help push the art forward, not divisively.”
Light’s post has received nearly 2000 likes, with luminaries from the jiu-jitsu world chiming in to thank him for his words and voice their support for Lovato. Multiple-time IBJJF world champion Claudia do Val furthermore pointed out a troubling double standard for high-profile women who enter the sport, writing in the comments section of Light’s post, “Nobody seems to question when male celebrities are promoted, it’s only a problem when female [celebrities] achieve anything […] I wonder why!”
Regardless of where any individual stands on the matter of celebrity promotions as a whole, Do Val’s question is one that will likely continue coloring the discourse around the subject — particularly as more and more public figures of all genders decide to don the gi.