Jiu-Jitsu Letter

Black Belt Proxy

A visitor came by after classes were over. He trained elsewhere, but lived nearby. He told me he was a purple belt and competed a few times. He name dropped some people. We had a friendly conversation about the art, business, and BJJ current events. Then finally, he asked, “So who’s the black belt here?”

Seth Godin recently wrote about false proxies in a blog post called, “Avoid false proxies”:

False proxies include: Height, race, gender, attractiveness, charisma in meetings, famous college, etc.

It’s easy to imagine that we don’t fall prey to these irrelevant signals, but a quick look at the height of elected officials makes it clear that we do–we keep picking the tall ones.

The belt is a useful proxy, but for whether a practitioner is a good teacher (or human), it’s false. There are scumbag black belts all over. On his podcast, Craig Jones goes on a (humorous) rant about cultish tendencies in BJJ gyms that go on because of rank.

I know of a black belt school owner that not only allowed bullying and sexual harassment to go unpunished, but also betrayed his business partner and stole the school for himself. And I’ve heard of another who sleeps with his students and even hits on his students' wives and girlfriends.

Now, if a prospective student or parent visited, how much value should be given to these people’s rank? Are these the kind of people you want to learn from, or have your kid be around?

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