At their heart, belt demotions signify that someone’s previous rank was believed too generous, and they are no longer recognized at that rank. Unfortunately, they can also have political motivation, and very often they are a trope in BJJ Soap Operas, as they generate lots of High Drama.
BELT DEMOTIONS BY INSTRUCTORS
“BJJ is getting so watered down!” Combat that by busting everyone down to white belt. At one point, Saulo Ribeiro demoted all his new students to white belt, requiring they earn their rank through him, regardless of previous rank. In theory it is about the sanctity of the sport, belts needing more meaning, etc. Similarly, if a student is constantly getting the crap kicked out of them by lower belts, maybe they should be busted down. Drama potential factor: Medium-high.
“Screw you!” While a well respected person in BJJ may be able to demote someone without it causing a lot of Dramatic Fallout, Politics can come into play if Big Name A demotes students who come to him from Big Name B. It tells Big Name B “We’re going to the mattresses.” Drama potential factor: High.
BELT DEMOTIONS BY STUDENTS
“I suck.” Lots of folks have anxieties about their skill level, especially at blue belt level. Let’s say you transfer to a school where every lower belt kicks your butt. You feel super insecure, so you decide to demote yourself. Even Georgette peeled her stripes off after a class where she got smushed. Drama potential: Medium to high.
“It’s been a loooong time.” It could also be that someone earned a belt, quit training for 8+ years, then came back. They might decide to come back as a white belt. Drama potential: Low.
“Screw you/I respect you!” Demoting yourself can be a way to tell your former instructor that you disliked them and the things they stood for, or that you have no confidence in them. It could also be a way of saying that you respect your new instructor much more and are coming in fresh. Drama potential: Medium to High.
DEMOTIONS HAVE BACKLASH IN OUR COMMUNITY
From other students: If you are demoted and you compete, you will absolutely be called a sandbagger, and it may be considered cheating. You may also not be permitted by the organization to compete at your newer, lower belt level. You may also be looked down at by your former teammates.
From instructors: If you self demoted, a new instructor may take it as a red flag that you don’t respect your former instructor. If demoted by a new instructor, your old instructor may be terribly offended. Our community is small, and social media makes it even smaller. Pictures and status updates DO get back to your old instructor. Unfortunately, instructors are people who have pride, ego, emotions, and can feel insulted, hurt, offended, or angry by things their students do. Some of them are also active in social media.
RECENT BELT DRAMA ONLINE
Recently, on Facebook, Keith Owen disavowed a student’s belt:
I disavowed someones belt today.
I awarded someone a blue belt last year and they showed a COMPLETE lack of integrity AND dishonesty in some dealings with another person. I don’t think it’s right to take a belt away because people truly earn the belts I present them BUT I can certainly disown and disavow them.
If anyone asks me about this person in the future I will say “I no longer sanction their belt because of “A Lack of Honesty and Integrity.”
Please Please don’t think I’m not trying to hold myself up as some kind of poster child for perfection in all things ethical. BUT I’m trying to make a good faith effort to be a better person and only surround myself with people in my life, school and affiliation who are trying too as well.
What this person did was inexcusable and I’m not putting up with it. Let that be a lesson to everyone who is my student or affiliate.
This is vague enough that anyone not involved would easily nod their head, filling in those blanks with whatever details they think fits. What is exactly is “a COMPLETE lack of integrity AND dishonesty in some dealings with another person?” Someone sexually harassing another student, bullying someone, stealing, maybe even infidelity? This would have been a PERFECT statement to Maldonado and Schultz after the NYE sexual assault.
SO WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?
Apparently this “dishonesty” was a person leaving his affiliate school to go train at another. The “COMPLETE lack of integrity” was the person removing the belt they were awarded and putting on a white belt. I became aware of this belt situation by way of this Reddit thread: “Keith Owen bullies a young woman after she leaves.” I have had major disagreements with Keith Owen’s writings in the past, so I was not surprised, nor even remotely skeptical, especially given his articles such as “Creonte.”
She never came clean that she was getting ranked at another school and what’s more she is starting over.
It was a complete and utter shock that this young lady would not only change schools but disregard her blue belt that she rightfully “earned”!
WHO SHOULD BE “BLAMED” IF AT ALL?
Is it the student who took off the belt? Is it the instructor who supported that decision? Should anyone be blamed, or should the former instructor merely shake their head and silently judge that person? At what point should instructors make an “official statement?”
Heck, how many folks out there have wanted to change hairdressers, but were too scared to tell them face to face?
The person who demoted herself is a young, female blue belt. It’s common for younger women to feel intimidated by older men in power, and it can be hard to stand up to someone trying to sell you something, especially if you want to avoid drama. Heck, how many folks out there have wanted to change hairdressers, but were too scared to tell them face to face? Avoidance is much easier than confrontation.
Teachers in general should take a stand about Big, Important Events, and let the small stuff slide off. They need to be bigger than student drama. Students don’t generally want to disagree publicly with their instructors, so commenting on drama polarizes schools and communities. Be responsible, and be the better person. If you are tempted to Take a Stand, ask yourself “why?” Did the student actually do a Big, Bad Thing? Do they deserve to have stigma attached to them? Is it worth “warning” their new gym? Will it matter in a year or two? If not, let it go.
When black belts take stances against former students, it can serve as a Big Red Flag. The Internet never goes away, and your statement will stand. Will a new student think twice before visiting your academy? Will you sound petty or bitter? Will they be worried about what awful things you would say about them?
TO STUDENTS CHANGING SCHOOLS/BELTS
Have a short, heads-up conversation with your old instructor. It doesn’t have to be face to face. Our community is small, and they WILL find out, so let it be from you first. Be direct and factual. If at all possible, try not to make it A Big Deal. If you go into it expecting it to be High Drama, I guarantee you will elicit that response. Be cool, and remember that Life Happens, and sometimes a school just isn’t a good fit, and that’s Okay.
Jiu Jiu’s Questions: What are your thoughts on belt demotions? Are there any cases you think belt demotions are understandable, or are they always a Big, Dramatic Thing? What about this Belt Disavowal situation, or disavowals in general?