How Should Our Sport Treat Highly Talented Lower Belts?

Anyone who has ever commented on one of my articles knows that I very often troll the comments.  Sometimes I engage in heated discussions, other times I use those comment sections to voice my own personal opinions, one which I am not comfortable putting in the Jiu-Jitsu Times’ name.  Every now and again I draw inspiration from these comment sections, and for that, thank you to all of the readers who make comments, even ones I don’t like.  Check out this comment about blue and purple belts made by a reader on a recent post:

r0wdie June 1, 2017 at 12:57 pm

Are we getting to a point in the ‘sport’ where belts are meaningless in the competition world? These blue and purple belts are putting on amazing shows and the learning curve is unreal. Coming from a wrestling background, I never felt comfortable with the belt system in competition. The ideology is such that you always competed against the best because that is who you’re training to beat. This was always thought to close the gap faster. I understand the tradition, history, and legacy of the belt system, and I think inside the gym it is beneficial. But when competitors are training full time and there is a cash prize, it seams to defeat the purpose. To me, its akin to calling Olympic athletes ‘amateurs’. Are we getting to the time that these meaningless nomenclatures are just a relic from a bygone era?

This comment was in response to a special invite bracket coming up in Upstate New York being put on by Global Grappling League. This bracket will feature some of the top blue belt grapplers, grapplers who for all intents and purposes possess black belt level skill sets.

Is it wrong or in some way harmful to the sport that lower belts become so very skillful that their skills greatly surpass their rank?

I read on the Reddit about a blue belt who won his division at IBJJF worlds.  This blue belt has a 20 year wrestling pedigree to add to his BJJ skills.  Is it fair that other blue belts who have only been training for a couple of years are examined under the same lens as someone who in many positions has black belt level skills?

I don’t have definite answers to this, but there are some facts that can help clarify the situation:

  1. The competitor more often than not does not choose their own belt, and the IBJJF penalizes “premature” promotion.  This means that I could be a second degree black belt in Judo; a master of sports in Sambo; and a UFC fighter with a 10-0 record, 8 by submission, and if I competed as a blue belt, my instructor would be obligated to wait for a set amount of time before allowing me to compete as a purple belt.  The IBJJF doesn’t care.
  2. Kids get to train for as long as they want until they reach 16 and are still only eligible for a blue belt at that age.
  3. Promotions are often based on an individual’s progression, not their level relative to others
  4. While being a freak athlete will win you many matches, it won’t get your promoted
  5. Ability to do something doesn’t necessarily translate to an understanding of what you are doing.  Belts are only partially based on ability; the rest has to do with deeper levels of understanding

So, is it right that in this sport there are those who can train on a professional level even at lower ranks?  What’s a reasonable alternative?  


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