What exactly makes someone qualify for a promotion in Jiu Jitsu. Plenty of schools have their own criteria, but what are some of the few requirements that should be general. I've had this discussion with hundreds of people and its interesting hearing others thoughts. Does winning a tournament mean you are ready for promotion? How about being able to demonstrate set technique? What about grappling better in the academy? Would you also count "time" as a need for promotion?
I've been teaching for about 8 years now and from my own personal experience of wanting to be promoted to the students I teach and the parents of students, this is a very difficult situation for instructors. Mainly because this, no one likes being told what they are not good at, or that they are not ready, which then gets interpreted as "Not good enough", or a parent hearing that about their child. One of the toughest things to do that I've found is reflecting on ones self, and speaking the truth about others on where they need to improve on. These are things many people fail to do for various reasons. So lets talk about some of the questions asked above.
"I am winning tournaments at my belt level and should be promoted". This is the same category as "I am performing well against the higher belts in my academy and should be promoted" situation as well. I truly do not believe winning a tournament means you are ready for promotion. For example, take Olympic level Jordan Burroughs who is technically a white belt in Jiu Jitsu. Put him in many blue and purple belt divisions and he will do quite fine. Does that mean he deserves a higher belt? My opinion, no. He's not winning off Jiu Jitsu, just wrestling. Jiu Jitsu is an art that we are trying to master. It's not the art of grappling. Art of grappling is not Jiu Jitsu. Jiu Jitsu is a style of grappling where one is using technique, leverage, and the lease about of strength in order to defeat their opponent. I've seen tons of guys who are large tap people would or escape a position/submission using explosiveness, strength or speed, and while they are succeeding in the grappling portion of training, they are not using Jiu Jitsu. People tend to base their success and their skill level on those they roll with. Especially at the lower levels. Think about this, Floyd Mayweather, put him in any Karate school and have him spar with anyone. Who is going to win? 99.9% of the time, Floyd will. Does that mean Floyd gets a black belt in Karate? No, he isnt using Karate, just boxing. Performing well in a tournament does say a lot about your level but should not be a major deciding factor in promotions. In a tournament, game plan, athletic ability, and conditioning play a major role. As well as simply just mismatches. Someones style could work best against someone elses.
Demonstrating technique? Having a set number of techniques you need to demonstrate, does this count? I do not believe so. Though, it may play a factor, it cannot be the sole choice. Some schools do testing and some schools do not. Will testing your students be the deciding factor on how well your students become? Either you teach good Jiu Jitsu or you don't. Demonstrating set techniques just means that you are preserving the systems/techniques your instructors want to be preserved. Someone could pass the test but have no actual application of the techniques, just like someone could graduate school with a degree and be book smart but still be horrible at their job.
Time? "I've been here for a long time, I am due my promotion". This one bothers me the most. Time is never a factor and should never be a factor in promotion. Age, yes but time? Everyone learns different and as you start to become a higher belt, the instructors want to make sure the students are being developed properly. We would be doing a disservice to our students if we promoted because you simply just show up. This is what participation trophies are and they do not benefit anyone, especially a child that is being developed.
I truly believe there isn't one way to properly promote students, but I feel the most effective way is to have a structured test to preserve specific techniques/systems, and live rolling. This also cannot just be it, the instructor needs to be invested in their students especially as they are getting ready for promotion to see holes in their game and develop them properly. Some schools are against "testing" or a card attendance system for promotion and I believe this is because A, they dont understand it and think people are just being promoted based of demonstrations or "Katas" and B, their schools are much smaller. It's easier in a smaller academy to know all your students and develop them properly. It's still 100% doable in larger academies, but requires a different technique and system to do so. This is also where testing becomes more valuable.
Jiu Jitsu teaches you so much. Not only are you learning self defense, but you are learning things like perseverance, emotional control, physical balance and control, critical thinking and much more. When you want to be promoted but do not get promoted it sucks, but it teaches you so much and though you may be upset and feel negativity, it actually is very beneficial. Here's a short story, when I was a purple belt I was tapping the majority of brown belts I rolled with. I felt I shouldve been promoted. I saw guys I know I could beat and know more than get promoted and that made me jealous. I was told I was getting my brown belt at a seminar and bought a nice belt online for when I get promoted. I was told right before promotions that I wasn't getting promoted and that Relson would promote me in a few months. This upsetted me so much and I was mad at everyone else but myself. When confronted by the owner of the academy and a mentor of mine, I was told that I would then test next week in front of one of our black belts. I had to know the self defense and I didnt know really any of it. I came from a different affiliation where the self defense was not taught. This then forced me to learn the self defense over the next couple months properly so I could pass my test for brown. Moral of the story, I refused to self reflect and when forced to, it helped me grow so much as a person. Not only that, but not I became more valuable as an instructor because of the knowledge.
Hey! My name is Stephen Miller and I am currently a Brown belt under Relson Gracie, training at Gracie Maryland (www.RealJiuJitsu.com)