BJJ Poll: Do You Prefer Formal or Informal Belt Ceremonies?

by Caleb on August 13, 2011

We know that about 60% of the time, an instructor surprises the student with their promotion to a new belt. But what we don’t know is if that’s actually the preferred method by Brazilian jiu-jitsu students!

How do you prefer to be promoted to a new belt? Do you like formal, scheduled belt ceremonies where the graduation is known in advance, or do you like it better when things are less formal and there’s more of a surprise involved?

Let us know your thoughts in the comment section of this post and please vote too of course. If you have any funny belt ceremony stories, share away!

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Stephanie August 13, 2011 at 8:27 pm

I think the idea of a surprise is really fun and kind of exciting…. but I will admit I do like the option to plan ahead and bring a camera. =)

slideyfoot August 14, 2011 at 5:47 am

I definitely prefer informal. I’m keen that BJJ avoids making the same mistakes as other martial arts, like TKD. A formal belt ceremony in itself isn’t a bad thing, but to me that feels like a step down the road to paid gradings, tests, extra belts for ‘motivation’, etc (which is already happening in some BJJ schools).

Also, I don’t think it is beneficial to over-emphasise the importance of getting a belt. Naturally there is nothing wrong with being proud of your promotion, but I much prefer the focus to remain on gradually developing skill within class, rather than the belt itself being built up as a major goal. I think that an informal belt ceremony helps with that de-emphasis, as it becomes just part of training, not some huge event.

I could see that a more formal system might make sense for children, who may need more motivation, but not for adults. “How long will it take to get my blue?” is a very common thread on BJJ forums. The question should instead be “how can I get better?”

As ever, I’ve babbled about the topic of belts before, here and here. My favourite belt promotion story, which illustrates what I was talking about above, came in the comments to one of those, from Jim:

“At my old school (almost 20 years ago), our instructor (Craig Kukuk, one of BJJ’s Dirty Dozen) was the opposite of ceremony. No one knew when people were promoted. He’d do it after class, before class, during class. One guy found his blue belt in the back of his truck. When he promoted me he said, “Oh. I meant to tell you. I promoted you to blue belt something like two weeks ago. My belts haven’t come in yet. When they come in, I’ll give you one.” I don’t even know how my best friend got his blue belt.”

Trey Whitaker August 14, 2011 at 7:03 am

We do a mix at our dojo and they both have a place. For example, black belt tests are formal since there’s a long, tough test beforehand and usually a crazy party afterward. The formality seems appropriate given the years of training and gives the belt winner an opportunity to invite friends and family.

The lower belt awards are informal and are surprises. I do like the idea that these spring out of nowhere and are based on the instant when a practitioner is ready.

Steve Kaiser August 14, 2011 at 11:57 pm

Informal and old school. By that I mean walking the gauntlet and being whipped. Looks worst then it is and it means so much more.

slideyfoot August 15, 2011 at 2:56 am

@Steve: I’m not a fan of belt-whipping (as per this), but it does seem to be popular among a lot of schools. It would be interesting to know when, where and how it started.

I asked Carlson Jr about it a while ago, and he said that he remembers belt whipping coming in during the ’80s. Apparently his father didn’t like it, preferring to do throws instead.

Author_of _The_Lazy_Man's_Guide_to_Grappling August 15, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Slidey,

As far as odd places go in receiving a belt, a guy I know told me he received his belt at a bar while drinking with his instructor.

And as far as throws go. It’s cool to a point. When I received my Green Belt in Judo there were 17 people present. I developed a fear of heights after about the 10th throw. :)

Author_of _The_Lazy_Man's_Guide_to_Grappling August 15, 2011 at 2:23 pm

I’d prefer that my professor just give throw it to me in the middle of class and then I could keep rolling.

ninjamurf August 15, 2011 at 4:10 pm

Old school for me. Handshake and a hug. Sometimes we’ll still get thrown by the higher belts (provided there are higher belts in the mood after class to throw you) but nothing written in stone except for getting called up by Fabio, having him take off your old belt, putting on the new one, hug and a hand shake, along with a “congratulation brother!” I remember actually asking Fabio about the belt whippings and he wasn’t a fan. I think he said it started years ago as a light slap on the ass from everyone. But now it’s turned into this contest to see who can leave the biggest welt on your back. No thanks. I’m not a wuss by any means (at least I don’t think so?) but I have an issue with people that I like, and train with, trying to actually do me harm while I’m just supposed to take it. This isn’t a gang initiation. You can’t just shake my hand and ask me to roll?

Jay August 15, 2011 at 10:35 pm

Well, if you can’t handle a smack on the ass with a cotton belt you gain always decline the promotion I guess…

Jay August 15, 2011 at 10:55 pm

I should make it clear that this was not pointed at anyone in a negative way. Personally, I just am in favor of keeping this tradition.

Rodolfo August 16, 2011 at 6:09 am

I prefer informal, because to me it means that the teacher have been paying atention to my moves or that my progress have been outstanding, so I can really now that I have improve myself.

Andy August 16, 2011 at 11:06 am

I prefer informal for most belts but I can see how some might find it nice to plan ahead for a black belt promotion.

The other belts are great but I would be happy if my instructor planned ahead and notified my family to be there on a date with a camera and share the moment. I am sure by that time you will have developed quite a relationship (hopefully) with your instructor and that he or she would know who to notify.

bjjwarrior August 16, 2011 at 6:35 pm

I’m 100% with Slidey, formalizing ceremonies is one step closer to having a grading structure that (in my opinion) would take away from the live art that BJJ was created as.

It’s not the ceremony that’s the issue, it’s the road it could take grading onto. However, this could be another topic entirely.

My academy tends to have promotions two or three times a year. There’s a mid year, and end of year. Our teacher will hand them out in front of everyone and give a handshake and a “well done”. Then, there will be times when John Will or Rigan Machado make their way over to New Zealand and the instructors want to use those times to promote.

Informal for me, all the way.

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