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  • Writer's pictureBusy BJJ

The complex job of promoting students

“With great power comes great responsibility”! I know… kind of cheesy! But uncle Ben was right and that’s a very important message to all BJJ instructors. Being a BJJ instructor is a lot more complex than most people imagine and you have a lot of unqualified “black belts” out there running schools improperly.

I feel bad for my students. I see people from some other gyms getting promoted very quickly (too quickly most of the time) and I’m considered strict with my promotions. It’s sad to see students from other gyms, sometimes with half the time (and half the technique/experience) of my students, getting promoted and my students patiently waiting to one day EARN their next belt. It’s depressing to see guys who are not very talented and/or dedicated getting their black belts in a very short time. Is BJJ really becoming a McDojo? How far can instructors promote none-qualified students just to keep them happy and paying their membership?

I believe today you should get your belts faster than back in the days when we had only our instructors to learn from. Today, instructors have many more options in teaching, with so many new techniques being invented/developed. While this makes our jobs much harder, it is also greatly interesting as it provides the diversity in teaching technique. Not to mention all the books, magazines, DVDs and the amazing Internet too! Twenty years ago, you could only see the world champions in action if you were there when it happened (save some secret video tapes from master Paqueta). Today you have BudoVideos broadcasting live!!! How cool is that?!

What most instructors don’t understand is that a belt is not just the recognition of knowledge a student has, but is much more than that. The higher the belt the more people you have looking at you as an example. So the student’s attitude is crucial for his/her promotion. When you grow in BJJ you are not only growing as a fighter, but you are also growing as a student and greatly as a human being. It could almost be considered a religion or psychology (or a mix of both)! There is something about learning how to beat your opponents, but always finding somebody who can beat you, that makes us confident and humble at the same time. There is something about helping your teammates, and teaching them how to beat you, that establishes second family environment.

It’s important for the instructor to understand the correct measurement of growth in a student. You should never compare a student to another to decide your promotions. The comparison should be with how much the students improved since the last time they got promoted. If they improved considerably, you promote them. If not, you need to guide them on how to grow. I remember when I started teaching BJJ I asked my instructor what was the criteria to promote a student. His answer was “you just know when they are ready”. At first it seemed very vague, but through out the years teaching I started to understand what he meant. It’s not just one simple criteria. It’s a combination of facts such as technique improvement, self control, self confidence, self esteem, attitude on and off the mat, etc…

I think every gym creates their own unique culture on belt promotions. If you promote the students really fast and make a big deal about it, they will expect to get promoted fast and, if they don’t, they will be disappointed and complain about it. If you take your time and promote them when you are 100% sure they deserve it, they will only expect to get promoted when they are really confident about the promotion. The secret is to always talk to your students. Always explain why they are getting or not getting their next belt. Don’t be afraid to communicate with them. They chose you to be their instructor and they appreciate when you guide them.

Professor Mario "Busy" Correa.

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