Jiu-Jitsu: Not All Medals Are Created Equal

Photo credit: teamparamountlive

Recently a picture began circulating of a competitor holding up a gold medal with one hands and gesturing a thumbs down with the other.  The caption of this picture talks about how there are people who receive gold medals for simply showing up and that anyone who takes a picture on the podium without a second and third place up there with them is suspect.

A local competitor with whom I am Facebook friends reposted this picture with its caption and in the comments of his repost expressed that he feels that a medal is a medal.  If he showed up to compete and no one else did, there is intrinsic value to the medal.  I feel this is a topic that, one way or another, we all encounter.

For starters, I personally consider any award that one doesn’t have to win to attain a “participation ribbon”.  That is to say, an award for simply showing up.  If I am in a 3 man bracket and I take third or a 2 man bracket and take second, I’ve accomplished nothing in terms of the tournament.  That is not to detract from the inherent success of having the guts to show up to a competition but a medal implies a victory outside of oneself…

Personally I don’t have a problem with someone posting a picture of themselves up on the podium with no one, or with one other person, as long as they clarify that when they post that picture.  Don’t encourage other people to congratulate you for showing up and either not competing at all or losing.

A valid point that this local competitor made is that the IBJJF doesn’t really make it easy for someone to change brackets if no one is in their bracket with them, and for that reason the medal is in some way a symbol of the experience.  Again, a perfectly valid point but there’s the pesky reality that you still didn’t beat anyone to get that medal.

The action of showing up to a tournament is in and of itself a victory over your own fears and potentially lazy inclinations.  You should take pride in showing up at any tournament.  The medals that we receive should be a symbol of victory over another person or other people, when no such victory occurred the symbol is, at least in my mind, null and void.

What do you think of participation awards for adults?  I think that if we’re going to encourage people to be proud of medals they get for showing up, everyone should be handed a medal at the door of every tournament they do that says “I showed up today!”  I do, however, believe that every tournament should set minimum bracket numbers, and offer people spots in other brackets if those numbers aren’t met.  I think 4 is a fair number.  In order for victory to feel sweet, there needs to be a loser.  Not saying that I take joy in another person’s sadness, but this is a sport in which most matches have a winner and a loser, and for victory to take place there must be a loser.


  1. Thumbs up for a carefully considered and well-written argument. I have to disagree with your friend’s assessment of the IBJJF, though. Just yesterday their staff contacted me to let me know I was in a single person bracket for an upcoming tournament. They clearly explained the three options available to me and handled all the details from there (I’m not going to weigh in and take a selfie on the podium, by the way).

  2. At the NY Summer Open, there were 5 people, including myself in the division. I was stuck in the “pigtail” round, having to fight once to join the other 3 in the semis. I won a hard fought match to advance, then in the semis I simply got out-maneuvered in a points loss to the eventual winner.I was a little angry, at first, to have to fight once to simply get in the medal round; however, as a result I ended up with far more pride in my bronze, I’m sure, than the other bronze winner who did not have to win to earn his medal.

  3. I tend to agree with the author. I saw someone in a two man bracket lose his only match. So he received an IBJJF Silver Medal. He then proceeded to sign up for his age divisions open weight. No one signed up so he received an IBJJF Gold medal. He had one match and lost but got two medals. He is now ranked in IBJJF and in the top 5 for his age, weight and rank. I guess the real downer was he posted a pic of both medals with the word ‘boom!’ as if these were accomplishments. I just don’t like medals for showing up. Then again, I have never received one for just showing up.

  4. I am in the Master6 division so often run into this problem. I try to change brackets to at least get a match but am not always successful. Sometimes I will have 2-3 in my division only to,show up on day of tournament with no opponent and no way to change brackets. I sometimes just take the gold and compete in the open division. When you’re old like me just showing up ready to fight is not trivial. Saying this is a participation ribbon like a little kids track meet is demeaning. If you show up ready to fight that is a win against a lot of opponents other than the ones on the mat.


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