The Gauntlet / Belt Whipping Ceremony

The BJJ Gauntlet / Belt Whipping Ceremony

For those of you who don’t know, there is a tradition in some bjj schools where students that get their next belt will get whipped in the back by all the other students.

I’m not a fan of this tradition and we don’t do it at my school.  The pain starts at about :50 seconds.

The only thing I like about this tradition is that you’re denying the comfort of the body.  I think our modern life puts so much emphasis on comfort and convenience that when we occasionally choose the tough and painful decision, it reduces our slavery to our moods and physical comfort.

Belt whipping reminds me of some fraternity initiation.  I personally think this is the kind of behavior you often get with a lot of young males in the same room.

So what does this say?  Congratulations on all your hard work, now we’re all going to hurt you!  Maybe it’s like a gang initiation, where the new gang member gets beat up by all members of the gang for 2 minutes.  The new member feels they’ve earned their way into the gang.  With a new bjj belt, hasn’t the student earned their belt with tons of frustration, injury, disappointment, and mat time?

It reminds me of middle school.  I was in a group of 5 friends that used to hurt each other a lot.  If one of us ran at another and slammed our knee into their thigh, and they dropped in pain, only one was hurt and the other 4 were laughing.  So 80% of the time you were laughing.

I was at a seminar not too long ago, and a few of the students were promoted to a higher rank.  The instructor said it was time for them to run the gauntlet.  I didn’t want to disrespect the instructor, so I very lightly touched the students with my belt.  What do you think of this tradition?


17 Responses to “The Gauntlet / Belt Whipping Ceremony”

  1. “Do not let the body be dragged along by the mind nor the mind be dragged along by the body.” – Miyamoto Musashi

  2. Jason says:

    we do it in our school. anytime i do it i go lightly. although no one gave me the same respect

  3. D says:

    I think that is one of if not the most ignorant traditions in the martial arts. It serves no purpose whatsoever but to discourage new people especially kids from coming into the art. If the japanese didn’t start that tradition, and it’s not practiced by the gracies then why do it. It has nothing to do with training, it has nothing to do with denying the body anything. The body and mind are hardened and conditioned through long training. The body is denied comfort through training. Not hitting people in the back with a belt like a bunch of retarded neanderthals.

  4. Vince says:

    “I think that likening this sort of belt ceremony to fraternity initiations is apt, and I think it happens for very similar reasons; in the end, to contribute to group cohesion and feelings of belonging. You asked, “With a new bjj belt, hasn’t the student earned their belt with tons of frustration, injury, disappointment, and mat time?” I say yeah. & I also think if as an instructor and academy you haven’t earned a students’ loyalty day after day in a similar fashion, silly belt ceremonies that mimic the behavior of primate tribes is a cheap way to try making up for it.”

  5. Dee says:

    I agree with your thoughts. I think I understand how that “gauntlet” got started, it’s well known that the harder it is to get into a club/clique/group/whatever, the more the group has bonded. But the bonding should come by the learning which comes through being there for your brother/sibling, from learning what it feels like to help him/her up to his feet, and also learning what it feels like to be helped up in turn, not some initiation hazing. The stories you swap later should be about how you learned your lessons and earned your wisdom, not from how horrible your initiation ceremony was. The ceremony should be a humble event, not a “humbling” event, if you haven’t learned to be humble by then you need further struggle, not a beating from your brothers. (ps, not trying to be sexist with the term “brothers”, I’m just trying to be succinct.

    Go in Peace, and may you lead a boring life, and never have to use your skills towards purpose.


  6. pty says:

    We do the gauntlet tradition in our academy, hey, and nobody exaggerates the whiping, I do think is a good tradition to form a brotherhood kind of environment.But againa, I do respect all opinions about it

    Have a great day!

  7. Mike says:

    As a veteran and former soldier I like this tradition. In the military we give ‘blood rank’ to promoters when they have their pin on rank on their uniform we punch it on. It hurts but I’ve never been prouder when I’ve had my stripes punched along with the feeling of accomplishment. There is a bonding that occurs over the whole thing as well. It brings the group closer and everyone looks forward to when it’s their turn. It’s also a tradition in the military as well as a tradition within the bjj gym.
    I can see where someone may question the practice and it is important to uphold traditions but should we really compare ourselves to the gyms in Japan and Brazil? BJJ comes from Brazil, granted, but when an art transfers to a new place it is going to go through some changes. Just look at different martial arts when they change or are adopted by different countries. We didn’t even consider combining striking and grappling until the UFC started. Now you don’t see a lot of linear gyms that only offer one type of martial art. They try to offer a little of everything because martial arts evolves and will always change with the culture
    This doesn’t mean you have to go with the flow of everything. If you’re not comfortable with a tradition then that is your personal preference. I trained at a gym where they didn’t do it and I trained at a gym where we did. I liked the one that did a lot more than the one that didn’t. I found that I got closer to everyone quicker at the gym that held that practice. It wasn’t solely for that reason but it does help everyone bond faster. Holding that tradition opens up more lines of communication and gets everyone talking more than a place that doesn’t, unless they have another sort of gathering or team activity outside of drills and sparring.
    In the military the only ones that could give you your blood rank were the ones who were the same rank or higher. That is a distinction from the gyms I’ve seen. I also notice that some people hate the tradition because they fear the pain. I got my stripes stuck in my collar bone and had to get pliers to pull them out. They weren’t terribly deep but they were in there solidly. All the ones who opposed blood rank seemed more afraid of the pain than anything else. I can understand the fear too I wondered why anyone would want pain on such a great day but my pain was a badge of honor and a right of passage all in one. All the time it took to earn my rank, the effort,the pain, we’re summed up in all those shots I took to get my blood rank. It was like a highlight reel and made me prouder than if I just had a handshake. I also looked at it as an initiation ceremony. I was being welcomed to a new rank by my peers. If you’re looking for a deep meaning to the belt whippings to justify it then you can think of them whipping the old belt sense out of you to bring in the new. Out of the fire of the belt lashings you will be forged into a new belt level. The gauntlet can also symbolize the gateway from one rank to the next. Philosophically you can think of it as a reminder to retain your humility in your new rank.
    That’s just my opinion. If you want old school ancient tradition I’m sure you could find a school that does that. I can’t wait to walk the gauntlet into my new rank. Maybe it’s just because I’m used to it but I’d feel disappointed without some sort of welcome. It seems lame for an instructor to hand me a belt and a handshake without something that welcomes me into the community of the next level. I’m sure it’s not very PC to welcome some sort of initiation or hazing but I think the world needs to be a little more tough skinned about everything. I’m far more proud of my bruises and scars than moments where I was insulted and had to pull someone aside and correct the problem
    Let me just add one more thing on tradition. The military salute evolved from the dark ages where knights used their right hands to raise their visor to officials. Similarly warriors would raise their right hands to show they had no weapons. This evolved into the salute we know today. I’d say that that USA perfect example of changing a tradition to tailor it to the society of the states

  8. Ryan says:

    Thanks for your perspective Mike!

  9. james says:

    I think that tradition or whatever you call is it foolishness. I would never subject myself to that humiliation in the name of bjj. That nonsense serves no purpose whatsoever. And it only serves to turn people off to the club or school. Could you imagine a teenager coming in to visit with their parents and see that nonsense. A modern bjj school is not a fraternity and it’s not the military and it’s not a brotherhood it’s a public business. I’m there to learn, the instructors are there to instruct not whip people with stupid belts. And any school that I happened to be a member of that starts that tradition after I join I would immediately demand termination of my membership or I would be getting an attorney and suing the crap out of the school and the owner. The face of BJJ gets more ridiculous every time I look at. These schools have gotten so far from what the Gracies have established it’s ridiculous, colored gis, and every UFC wanna be opening a BJJ school/ mc dojo on every corner and it’s more and more sport oriented. And answerthis question why is it thatthese guys, just because they have a blue belt think they are qualified to teach someone. These black belt instructors are getting these lower ranks to teach. If you are the head instructor at a school and have earned your black belt you have an obligation to do most of the teaching. And if you can’t then you are short changing your memebers but subjecting them to people that are not qualified. Teaching is an art form in and of itself. Stop sending your blue belt down the line to teach me. Helio Gracie did not envision BJJ as a sport and the Gracies to this day don’t teach it as such so why are these instructors doing so. I wish someone would whip me with Gi belt, I’d knock them across the room.

  10. C. Mac says:

    For my part, I’m fine with the ceremonial aspect of the gauntlet. I would also expect the members of my team NOT to be idiots – meaning that a full wind up, with the intention of “really making it hurt” is going too far. We excersise restraint with chokes, joint locks, slicers and much more… so why would the gauntlet be any different? I trust my team mates.

    Several other comments referenced the Gracie family… I know there are several Gracie schools, and that none can claim to speak for all of the Gracie family. That said, in Relson Gracie’s recent red belt (Gracie Grandmaster) promotion ceremony in Hawaii (2013) lower ranks were also promoted. Relson’s ceremony DID include a gauntlet. This is not a rumor, I have both seen the video and talked to a black belt who personally went though the gauntlet while he was at Relson’s ceremony being promoted. I can see both sides, and would encourage anyone opposed to speak up and say “no”. I doubt anyone would really care.

    Finally, if you say “NO” to the gauntlet when it’s your turn – you better not be whipping anyone else!

  11. Phil Romov says:

    Honestly I don’t see what the problem is about. You’re already cranking on each others joints and choking each other out daily, nevermind just smashing your weight on them and fighting for positions.

    Getting whipped by belts during a promotion seems like childs play in comparison. If you think its humiliating or degrading, I humbly question that you train jiu jitsu at all. The whole point of the gentle art is to get used to being humble, and degraded, in a worse position, and staying calm and working your way through it…

    Just keep your gi on and you’ll be fine!

  12. Phil Romov says:

    And another thing – if in your school people are belting during the ceremony so hard that its leaving marks or is super painful – I think that’s more a problem of the school not teaching the proper self respect or the students not learning mutual care for their training partners during rolling, and it just translates itself into disrespect during the belt ceremony.

    The belt ceremonies I’ve seen, the only hard belt whips come from training partners who are already good friends with the promotee, and other people go normal strength or easy, which isn’t painful at all.

  13. Phil, it’s just about what kind of culture I want to have in my school.
    In regards to people leaving marks, that is really common. If you guys don’t do that in your academy, then you guys are doing a nicer version of it.
    I appreciate your comments, except for questioning whether I actaully train. I’ve been training at least 5 days per week for the last 20 years. No need to question whether I train because you don’t understand or agree with my point.
    I have a different perspective on BJJ than many others, and that’s why I write this blog.

  14. Frank says:

    Visited your students today … Sorry I missed you. So instead I am reading your posts. I agree with your perspective, but have had two instructors do alternate rites of passage. In Judo, each player throws you once. In Japanese JJ THE PROMOTED STUDENT rolled with every member of the class for one minute. These were meaningful to me, but the gauntlet is offensive, particular when a black student shared with me in private that he would never paeticipate in that, which shook me up and first formed my thinking bi this matter. Looking forward to meeting you next time I visit your dojo!

  15. That’s interesting Frank!

  16. Mike Mahaffey says:

    I know this is an old post, and many people have strong opinions about this. I have been thinking about it lately, as I recently heard a podcast addressing “the gauntlet”, and I also just saw a facebook video of a gauntlet from another school yesterday that seemed pretty brutal. Here are my opinions:

    1. I do not think it is necessary or enhances BJJ training at all. In our school, the person getting promoted rolls with everyone for one minute each. That promotes BJJ, allows the person to show their skills, and is physically exhausting but shouldn’t be injurious.

    2. It is illegal. Hazing is illegal by Michigan law:

    3. What about kids? Lots of schools have kids classes. How would you think a parent of a kid would feel about their 10 year old attending the school if they saw one of these gauntlet ceremonies.


  17. Thanks for your observations Mike!

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