Whether you're new to Jiu-jitsu or have been training for years, it can be tempting to fall into a mindset that questions the legitimacy of another person's belt rank, or perceived skill level. This often happens when we compare ourselves to other people, wondering why they have a certain belt and we do not. There is a danger to this type of thinking because we set up subjective comparisons. The truth is, Jiu-jitsu is a meritocracy and ranks are awarded according to an objective matrix of knowledge, skill level, experience, practical application, attitude and time. Here are a few things to consider if you fall into the trap of this thinking.
-Rank is bestowed by a student's coach, who often has a decade (or in some cases many decades) of experience in teaching and evaluating. Trust that this coach is also putting their reputation on the line when they promote a practitioner. Their judgement and experience will nearly always trump your perception.
-A particular rank doesn't necessarily mean that person can submit everybody lower than their rank. This is true even at the highest levels. Often, rank takes into account personal growth and accumulation of knowledge. Rank is a recognition of growth as much as it is a statement about absolute skill level.
-Have you ever seen a high-level Jiu Jitsu practitioner get on the mat after a long time away get submitted by lower belts? Life happens. Whether it's family responsibility or injury recovery, sometimes life takes us away from training. And when we come back, we may not be performing at our optimal levels. That doesn't diminish that person's rank; it simply means they are in a different phase of their training.
-Attitude -- this last one can be one of the most difficult barriers to overcome. Think you should be promoted and you're being unfairly held back? Maybe you're tapping higher belts all the time. But you feel like you're forever going to have those four stripes and that next belt is just out of reach. The problem might not be your skill level. It might simply be your attitude. Your coach is looking for an attitude that includes a certain level of humility and the willingness to help others. If you find yourself in this situation, do a self-assessment or ask for some honest feedback from your training partners or a higher-level belt.
Jiu-jitsu is a tremendous art because when you accomplish your goals, you know that they are built on merit. We can all improve our attitudes as we continue in our BJJ journey and help those around us.
See you on the mats.
Professor George Sernack