How many classes should it take for me to get promoted to each belt?

January 15, 2008

How many classes should it take for me to get promoted to each belt? I have a friend whose instructor told him exactly when he should expect to be promoted to each rank. I think that’s a great idea for an instructor to let his student know when they’ll be getting promoted. What’s your opinion on it?”

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Well, I’m not sure if I’m the best person to answer this question because my views on belt promotions aren’t what the current views that you may have heard or read about on grappling forums these days. But I’ll give it to you anyway, since you asked! 😉

If that approach works for the instructor and he’s able to produce quality students that meet his standards, that’s fine. But I don’t think that should be used as a rule or expected from all instructors. In case you didn’t know, it took me 9.5 years to get my black belt (2 yrs white, 2 yrs blue, 4 years purple – my hardheaded years, and 13 mos brown). Doing that entire time, I never asked Lloyd Irvin when I was getting promoted and I never saw or heard Lloyd ask his instructor (Leo Dalla) when he was getting promoted. Dalla passed on to Lloyd (and he passed it on to us), the concept of improving our jiu-jitsu and spend less time worrying about when the belt promotions would be given to us. So, that’s what I did and I think that approach is definitely considered “old school” these day.

Nowadays, with the “Americanization” of grappling, students don’t think twice about asking when they’re going to get their belt stripes or promotions (even when their grappling technique sucks)
as if it’s their right to know the exact moment it’s supposed to happen. They want to be assured of the payoff before the work is put in on the mat. And, unfortunately, some instructors have catered to their students for business sake. At the same time, I don’t think it’s right for instructors to hold students back at certain ranks for non-performance reasons (like to have a top competitor be held at a certain weight division to help teams win tournaments), but it does happen and probably always will happen because some think that’s the way it’s supposed to be. That’s the other end of the “When to Promote” Debate that leads to schools having 4 year white belts that beat up visiting blue and purple
belts because their skill level doesn’t match their belt level.

Belt ranking has become a motivational tool for people to train harder and that can be a bad thing, especially when the ranks don’t come quickly and people feel like they’re wasting their time training since they’re not being rewarded. People should train hard because they want to perfect the art, not just to get a promotion so they can get on the grappling forums and brag about how fast they’re moving up the grappling ladder. Each grappler has to ask themselves if the reason they started grappling was for the knowledge or the belt. And for the majority (in my opinion), they grapple for the belt. I really believe if ten people had the chance to train exclusively with Rickson Gracie with only one belt promotion (from white to black belt) and no timetable when they would get promoted, at least 7 of them would decline the offer and go somewhere where they could get stripes and belts to “let them
know where they’re at” on the mat.

Although I believe that 12-24 months is average for most belt promotions (depending on the individual), I don’t think there should be a time limit on any belt promotion. If you trust your
instructor’s training right and has your best interest at heart, believe in his judgment and assessment of where you are. Your technique should do all the talking about where you should be on the belt line, not your mouth.

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Paul M. Greenhill, “The Wise Grappler”, is the creator of The Wise Grappler System and author of The Wise Grappler Ezine, a weekly ezine that provides grappling and mental mindset training tips for the older (over 35) and non-traditional/non-competitive martial artists. To learn more about “The Wise Grappler” and to sign up for more FREE tips like these, visit his site at www.ihateyoungpunks.com or paul@thewisegrappler.com.