Many academies have a system in place by which they promote between promotions. This is done by putting a little tape “stripe” on the bar of the belt of the person being promoted. Like belts, stripes can be relatively arbitrary, however stripes have an even deeper level arbitrariness (yes, that’s a word) as they do not have any bearing on competition. Let’s take a look at why stripes exist, what their potential value is, and what their potential drawbacks are.
Stripes are an indication of a person’s progression through their belt rank. One stripe is much further from the next belt than four stripes. They give instructors a way to provide their students with tangible sort of feedback. They also can serve as an indicator of how to roll with a person (a one stripe or no stripe guy may not be as good as someone with 3 or 4 stripes.) Some schools require a certain number of stripes on a white belt in order to even roll.
Just to be clear: I think the stripe can be a very valuable coaching tool, and it definitely has its place in our world. I won’t criticize the striping or belting process, but I am very interested in the broad terms with which we are often judged. The way I see it is that the stripe doesn’t matter. My stripe, your stripe, any individual’s specific stripe can mean a whole lot. Like the belt.
What is the qualification for a stripe on a purple belt? Is it the working understanding of 5 more moves than prior to the stripe? 6? Is it 2 tournament wins? There are no universal qualifications for it therefore it is arbitrary.
I’ve seen some of the very best competitors not get stripes added to their belts for a long time, and I’ve seen guys who practice casually get striped up quickly. I’ve also trained at schools that don’t offer stripes at all, because they view it as a cheapening of the belt itself.
At the end of the day, stripes keep people interested. Belts take a long time to earn in jiu jitsu and stripes are small victories that can keep practitioners who may not feel very confident in the game. It can be frustrating to roll with higher level competitors who have more time to train than you. The stripe is a reassurance that you are heading in the right direction.
I value stripes for that reason alone. Personally I view stripes and belts as meaningful on the individual level but because of their arbitrary nature, how can we really attest to their significance?
How many stripes do you have on your belt? Does every stripe feel like an achievement? Or do you value the work put in to get that stripe over the stripe itself?