After much reflection I have come to the conclusion that a promotion whether it be a stripe or a belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is an acknowledgement that the practitioner is on the right track more so than a symbol of status. Jiu Jitsu is a life long journey and while we need training partners to improve it is also an individual journey at heart because each person’s Jiu Jitsu journey is different. The starting points for students differ even though end goal could be the same. Some paths require more work than others.
The belt system in Martial Arts is still a relatively new concept as instructors found that having different colored belts that represented ranking were a great motivation to students (especially European students). This relates to the modern form of martial arts that we have here in the USA today. Americans are very concerned about status whether it is social or economic or whatever. A lot of people put stock on the color of the belt as a representation of their status. In a sense for some people this is a form of validation. Is this a bad thing? No. It is a good thing. It gives people goals to work towards. It helps to keep people interested and allows them to know that they are getting better. The ranking is an outward reflection of the student’s dedication to the art.
I am still very new to Martial Arts. I grew up playing football, wrestling and lifting weights. There was no belt system in these sports. It was all about skill and proficiency. If you were skilled you “started” (ie played first team). If you were not as skilled then you would not get as much play time. So how could someone tell that they were getting better? You would tell that you are getting better by competing against another opponent whether it is in practice or a game. So coming into a sport / Martial Art that incorporated a ranking system was new to me and I really did not understand it. What did all of these different colors and stripes mean?
Now I get it. The stripes and belts are an acknowledgement from the professor to the student that the student is on the right track and doing the necessary work. I am also seeing that the stripes and the belts are like a “high five” along the way. By no means do I feel like a belt or stripe is a destination because Jiu Jitsu is evolving and growing every day. The one thing that I have observed and experienced in my school is that the higher belts do not look down on the lowers belts. The students at Neutral Ground do not display that level of arrogance. If anything, the higher that a person is ranked the more humble that I have seen them.
Walking in the door as a fresh white belt and seeing the different color belts is attractive but it is easy to get caught up in just pursuing a belt color instead of just experiencing the journey of Jiu Jitsu. To me the Jiu Jitsu journey is about self-improvement, self-discovery and brotherhood. It isn’t about status and ranking. It is being able to do something that I enjoy with other like-minded people who enjoy the same things. Since I have started my journey I have been transforming from being more Earth based to now having some Water-like fluidity.
Sure getting a rank feels great but it pales in comparison to walking in through the doors of the dojo and seeing my Jiu Jitsu brothers and sisters ready to roll.