Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Rank (part 2) by Guest Columnist Eric Smith
Expectations and Entitlement
Paying tuition or a testing fee does not entitle anyone to a promotion. Chuck Norris flunked his first black belt exam. He didn’t complain or quit, he just made corrections without complaining and continued to train smarter and harder. Where we think we are at skill wise and where are instructor’s know we are at can be very different views. Let it be a joy to your instructor to promote you when through their experience they deem you are ready. Through their expertise, they see areas that need improvement prior to promotion that we may not yet see. Make improving yourself your main priority and place it above any desire for acclaim and rewards. A black belt in any art is where you are suppose to start the ‘real’ learning. It’s like graduating high school. Many black belts quit shortly after receiving their belt because their focus was solely on achieving a piece of colored cloth.
It would be easier for our instructors to look the other way and let us pass but they care enough to make sure we are legitimate. Because of this we can wear our rank with real pride and confidence. An instructor who refuses to promote or delays promotion of a student not ready for the next level is a tribute to a great teacher that truly cares about you and the art. Don’t be mistaken to think that your instructor cares just because you are promoted regularly and are basically just required to regurgitate technique. It’s just a piece of cloth, a symbol that only has the meaning that we give it. What matters is that your instructor cares enough about the art and student that they won’t promote until you are ready. This puts pressure on instructors who want the best for their students who whine and complain like children about promotion.
Black Belt and Beyond…The Journey Just Began
Many black belts in martial arts quit training after earning their black belt. Sadly, there focus was on the belt and not truly on the art, or continuous improvement. So once these individuals achieve the black belt ranking, they have no vision or idea on where to go next. Many do not understand the difference between a black belt and a martial artist. The black belt is the starting point and were learning truly starts for the lifelong martial artist who is on a continuous quest for improvement and balance in life and the arts. I’ve witnessed Sensei Ryan Fiorenziand Sensei Tyrone Gooden progress from BJJ blue belt to black belt. They trained hard and long and continue to do so. It is shameful for any of us to use our relationship with the instructors to manipulate or pressure our way to a belt promotion thinking that our journey to black belt will or should be any less demanding or challenging then theirs.
Rewards of the Martial Arts
Martial arts training advocates for improving one’s level of patience, control and humility. These are benefits that we are supposed to derive from training over an extended period of time. Rank is just meant to be a motivator, especially for impatient Americans. Originally, white and black were the only colored belt ranks.
The kyu/dan belt system most martial artists are familiar with was created by Jigoro Kano, the founder of Kodokan Judo. Kano was an educator who knew that people respond to moderate, rather than long term goals. Thus, he divided Judo practice into stages and awarded a rank at each stage to encourage students to train. The concept took hold and today, people train with the goal of holding the next rank.
Again, while rank in general is not a bad thing, it can distract students from focusing on what is truly important. Be mindful not to get caught up in chasing belts which has nothing to do with gaining the real benefits of martial arts training. In the beginning of training, people initially want to be ‘good’ at an art but somewhere along the way they become distracted by the desire for ‘rank.’ Gaining deep knowledge, understanding and the intangible rewards of training should be the goal…a stronger, better ‘you.’ It is easy to become distracted by meaningless tangible tokens: Colored rank belts, trophies, championship belts, titles, etc. Focus more on the internal-intangible rewards/benefits of the martial arts. Don’t become distracted and fixate on the tangible tokens that are relative in nature.
Achievement and ‘Striving’
‘Good’ is the enemy of ‘Excellence’, therefore let us be mindful to pursue excellence in our training to cultivate and balance mind, body and spirit.
Apply your training to all aspects of your daily life. Anything worthwhile in having or achieving is hard to come by. If everyone had ‘it’, ‘it’ wouldn’t be worth much.
Also remember, you are not your rank and your worth as a person is not measured in your personal possessions, material wealth or status. Ask yourself these questions: Am I the best (Insert belt color) BLANK belt at my school? If not, instead of pursuing a promotion to the next level for which you may not be as ready as you think you are, focus on being your best and the best at your current rank.
Second, do you really want a rank that you do not deserve and your instructor knows that you are not completely ready for? Generally, those who are the best typically have the best attendance. One more question, are you good at your current rank or excellent at it? As you think on this, remember not to compare yourself to others.
I want to be promoted to the next level as much as anyone. However, let’s trust our instructors to guide, prepare, and promote us when they deem the time is right. Our job as student is to just train hard consistently and stay more focused on gaining the intangible rewards of martial arts training. I trust their judgment and character to have mine and your best interest at heart.
We are all fortunate to have them guide us on the path that they have traveled before us. Let’s not stress them over nonsense and something that is not a true measure of progress or skill.
Stay focused on what truly matters…developing functional skills, friendships, having the health to have fun training and being the type of person who makes others around you better.
Now go train, trust your instructor’s judgment and the rest will take care of itself! Hard training is a gift that only you can give yourself.
Respectfully; Wishing you all the best in the martial arts and life,
Eric E. Smith
In reference to rank, credentials and bio: Eric E. Smith is a legend in his own mind; The Absolute Ultimate Fighting Champion of all time and Ultimate Supreme Great Grandmaster of the Universe second only to God! Bruce Lee, Shaft, Mr. T, Rocky, Rambo, Clint Eastwood, Chuck Norris and all the other tough guys tremble at his feet. Rickson Gracie taps himself because he doesn’t want Eric to do it to him. He is the blackest of black belts and whatever number of degrees you have on your black belt, he has one more than you. Michael Jackson told him he is ‘BAD’ and Ali said Eric is the greatest. Just kidding folks!
Note from Ryan Fiorenzi:
With over 30 years of experience in the martial arts, Eric E. Smith possesses a wealth of knowledge. Mr. Smith holds the following martial art rank: 2nd degree black belt in Moo Duk Kwan, TangSoo Do under Michael Nunnally; 2nd degree black belt in Doce Pares Eskrima (Filipino Martial Art) under legendary Grandmaster Ciriaco ‘Cacoy’ Canete; 5th degree black belt in Hama Ryu Jutsu(Ju Jutsu) under Professor Walt Hartwich; Associate instructor in Jeet Kune Do/IMB curriculum under Richard Bustillo; Instructor and ‘Bulletman’ in the F.A.S.T self defense system under Bill Kipp; and authorized instructor and black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under Professor Rigan Machado. Eric Smith is a certified National Rifle Association (NRA) instructor. Eric is an Army veteran. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in sociology and is currently finishing requirements for a master’s degree in sociology from Western Michigan University. In 2003, Mr. Smith was also honored by being inducted into the UnitedStates Martial Arts Association’s Hall of Fame as Law Enforcement Instructor of the Year representing Michigan.
I’m proud to call him my training partner and friend!