In a time when kids are being handed “junior black belts” and the now former UFC lightweight champ (a blue belt at the time) submitted his much black belt predecessor with an arm bar, a question arises of the actual meaning of a BJJ belt. Royce Gracie once said it very accurately “A belt only covers two inches of your ***. You have to cover the rest.”
I have always understood belting in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu as upholding two singular ideals:
- The belt is a reflection of the individual, not of others.
- The belt is entirely subjective. One person may see a blue while another sees a brown. And vice versa.
Another set of elements involved is an individual’s human potential. Most people will never be on the same level as Buchecha, even if they start training in early childhood and get really good. The age at which we start training can determine our ultimate ability to excel at competition. However, there are always exceptions to any rule, as one can observe when watching Helvecio Penna who started Jiu Jitsu at 31, and has competed in the Adult division as well as his age group, often achieving great success. Does Penna’s success in the adult division downgrade other older practitioners who only compete in their age group?
Another factor to bear in mind is that those who can do can’t always teach and vice versa. Many great instructors are not accomplished competitors, but they are able to build accomplished competitors. Last time I checked the revered John Danaher hasn’t beaten any well known jiujiteiros on the competition scene but he is considered one of the best coaches in the world, and rightly so. So what does his belt really mean?
A resounding opinion is that a belt means whatever you want it to mean. It is a symbol bestowed upon you by your coach to signify that you have been training for long enough, or have improved enough to warrant recognition and respect. More than that, for most schools each belt shows a given level of competence.
So what does your belt mean to you? For me, my belt is a symbol of my Professor’s confidence in me. He saw his student and decided that he wanted to promote that student. Promotion is defined by www.merriam-webster.com as
- the act of moving someone to a higher or more important position or rank in an organization
- the act of moving a sports team to a higher position in a league
- something (such as advertising) that is done to make people aware of something and increase its sales or popularity
All of these are appropriate when defining what promotion means. A promotion can be the act of elevating someone, the act of forcing a student to compete against stiffer competition or merely to let other people know the value of that student.
What does promotion mean to YOU?