Rank Is Not An Indicator Of How Much Respect A Practitioner Deserves

black belt vs white belt

I’ve written it many times, and I’m going to reiterate: while your belt may mean something to you, and mine means something to me, “the belt” has no single concrete meaning at any rank, and thus means nothing.

There’s a trend, albeit not a popular one, of being disrespectful to those of lower rank.  I see it all the time: offhanded comments about white belts, implications on online threads that white or blue belts shouldn’t have or express opinions, and even the occasional real life instance in which a white or blue belt is “put in their place” when in reality they’ve done nothing to deserve this kind of disrespect.

I remember one instance in which I witnessed this sort of behavior in person.  I was attending an IBJJF tournament, and I watched as a guy who was coaching a competitor correctly protested something the referee did that benefited his competitor’s opponent.  I don’t remember the details, but what I remember was 1) he was 100% right, and 2) the opponent’s coach’s rebuttal was, simply “Aren’t you just a F****** blue belt?”  And no one checked him.

While it is often true that being of a lower rank means that you have trained BJJ less or less consistently than someone of a higher rank, it doesn’t really mean a whole lot more than that.

I’ve seen upper belts tell lower belts to move during live rolling, and while this may be a simple way to determine which party should move in the event of two parties encroaching on each other, it’s also potentially very impolite.  A better way to go is that whichever party notices the other party encroaching first should be the one that moves, easy peasy.

I also have heard of instances in which higher ranked practitioners became testy because a lower ranked practitioner asked them to roll.  As long as it is done politely, a new white belt should be able to ask a black belt world champ to roll without fearing repercussions.  And yet we have this notion that lower belts should quietly wait on the side until a higher belt asks them to roll, as though they are lower class citizens.

There are, of course, instances in which belt color is important.  For example at competition, someone of a higher belt color shouldn’t be entering a lower division, and generally instructing is reserved for purple belts and higher (though not always) because it can sometimes take the amount of time needed to reach purple belt to even begin to grasp what this jiu-jitsu thing is all about.  However, if the way you treat your training partners and teammates is determined by the color of their belt, there’s a good chance that you’re a jerk.

Always remember, if you are an adult that pays money that you earn at your job to do jiu-jitsu, other people on the mat with you are also adults, with families and mortgages and lives off the mat who pay money that they earn at their jobs to do jiu-jitsu, and you should do your best to behave accordingly.


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