Reader Question: Is Self Demotion Sandbagging?

Belts can be a funny thing.  I’ve seen white belts with natural ability or prior grappling experience that can do things that most white belts can’t do, and I’ve seen un-athletic, older or somehow disabled/injured black belts who may not perform up to the standard that we generally associate with black belts.

We recently received the following question from a reader who’d like to remain anonymous about a higher ranked individual demoting themselves:

“First, I’d just like to ask my name and email be kept anonymous if this is posted. My question is about belt ranking, and in my mind sand bagging. I learned recently through a higher level belt that frequently stops in that several of the higher level belts at my academy “demoted” themselves or started over at white before being promoted back to blue or higher at my academy. I was kind of horrified to hear this, and a bit demoralized being a white belt who’s gladly taken his lumps this past year with truly no previous grappling experience. Am I right to be mad about this?”

I guess that the first thought I have when I read this question is: are the individuals in question competitors?  If they aren’t then none of this really matters.  They can roll with a telephone cord wrapped around their waist for all I care.  When that individual is a non-competitor, their belt only matters to them…

As far as reasons for self demotion, I’ve seen a couple of instances in which individuals were considering self demotion, and weren’t wrong to consider it.

For starters, if an individual takes enough time off that their skills go back to square one, they may talk to their instructor and ask if it’s okay to go back.  Secondly if an individual trained under an unscrupulous or irresponsible instructor who prematurely promoted them, they may be justified in considering demoting themselves.

Self demotion can be an act of humility, the person is saying that, at this given time, they don’t feel they deserve their belt.  That conversation should be had between them and their instructor at the time, and no a decision that is made alone.  The truth is that when you demote yourself, you are also denouncing whoever promoted you, or at least denouncing your own experience.

On the other side of things, if you demote yourself in order to win competitions at a lower rank, then you are a scumbag.  Competing is hard enough as it is.  Winning or being good doesn’t make you a sandbagger, refusing promotion or demoting yourself to continue doing so does.

So to respond to the gentleman who wrote in to us, the only belt that matters is your own.  The only person’s experience that should matter to you is your own.  However, if you see one of these guys who demoted themselves trying to compete or competing at a lower rank than the highest rank they’ve been awarded, feel free to let the tournament know.  Hope this helps!


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