Think about the one personal accomplishment that took you the longest to achieve. Whatever accomplishment you thought of, I doubt it was as strenuous as obtaining a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (Bjj) Black Belt (BB). It’s arguably the hardest martial art BB to acquire. Setting aside the physically demanding training involved and the fact that you have to be good at both Gi and no-Gi. An average BJJ BB (IMO) trains at least 3x a week, every week for about 10 years. I know that there are outliers E.g. Irvin, Fowler, Stevens, Penn, etc. but let’s be honest, you ain’t them.
With knowing that, why are we seeing more and more schools producing sub-par upper belts in record times? It’s the same reason why other martial arts have become watered down and commercialized once they come to America. The answer won’t surprise you. It’s money. Specifically, some BJJ instructors are starting to see what other martial arts instructors saw about 30 years ago. When you give people stuff they want, they tend to stick around. Hence, Pavlov.
Ivan Pavlov was a scientist who lived in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s. He’s most famous for realizing that if you rang a bell every time you fed a dog, the dog would start to associate the bell with food. Eventually, Pavlov could simply ring a bell and the dog would get excited and start to salivate even when no food was present. Do you see the correlation?
You initially enjoy Jiu Jitsu because it’s fun (dog reacts to food naturally). Then you get promoted and begin to associate showing up to class with promotions (dog understands a ringing bell means food and reacts to bell). Eventually, you will continue to come to class even when the instruction is terrible, all because your chasing a promotion (bell rings with no food present and dog still reacts). This is called “Classic Conditioning”
“Classic Conditioning” has a bunch of terms associated with it. The one I’m going to focus on is “extinction”. Extinction happens when you stop associating the stimulus with the reward. Because a “usual” belt promotion takes a while, extinction can and does occur. This is the same reason Children’s promotions happen more frequently (one stripe a month according to IBJJF). The reason for this is because their patience is even smaller. And here lies the problem.
As an instructor, you start to realize that people are inherently impatient. Most people, if not stimulated frequently, won’t stick around. As a result, certain shady/greedy instructors figured out a way around this. The answer? Promote students quickly and constantly. Does it work? Yes. You will have a packed school that brings in a lot of money. Is it ethical or good for the sport? Hell no!
When karate was introduced to America in the late 40’s. It was the real deal. But, over the years, the aspect of producing quality martial artist took a back seat to making money. Now, almost 80 years later it’s been watered down to an unrecognizable form of its badass origins. Years ago, when I heard of someone being a BB, it meant something. Now when someone tells me they’re a BB in anything other than BJJ or Judo, I’m unaffected. It’s like they told me they graduated high school or got a part time job. I mean, it’s cool but it’s not impressive in the grand scheme of things.
**Side note: I’m not talking bad about karate as a whole, I’m speaking in generalities. There are a few good schools and styles still out there**
I love Bjj. It’s one of the greatest things ever created. And when I tell someone that I’m a BB, I want them to be impressed. I know it’s narcissistic but it’s true. I want them to associate those words with “It took me a really long time, dedication and pain to get to where I am”. This is the reason promoting fast is bad. You are watering down the achievement of every person that has reached that coveted goal. This is the same reason a fake BB fires up BJJ guys. They are spitting on our sport.
So how do we fix this problem? It starts from the top down. We must be better instructors and not give in to impatient, flaky students. If someone doesn’t have the patience to stay with it for the long haul, then they don’t deserve a BB. From a student stand point, have some patience. You’re not a child. You don’t need to be promoted every month. You’re also not a dog looking for a piece of meat. Your stimulus to show up to class shouldn’t be the belt. It should be the journey of actually learning Jiu Jitsu.
A BB shouldn’t be something that you can “buy”. If you are the owner of a “Belt factory”, please stop. And if you attend a place that is participating in this type of behavior, I suggest you find a new school. A BB needs to be difficult to earn. That’s what makes it special. If it was easy, everyone would have one.