Jiu-Jitsu Letter

Promotion Motivation

When we watch people roll, we notice the belt colors. But really, it’s the roll that shows us where we are. It’s better to be a very good blue belt, than a questionable purple belt.

After all, these belts don’t have any real standard. There are likely dozens of blue belt competitors that can submit a black belt hobbyist in an open mat, let alone a tournament.

I do question instructors that promote quickly. Sure, they base on their own criteria, but there are (bad) reasons to promote someone sooner than later. I’ve heard some justifications, like keeping someone motivated, or rewarding them for sticking around, neither of those having to do with actual skill development or mastery.1

Here’s Roberto Pedreira again, from his book, Jiu-Jitsu in the South Zone, 1997-2008:

However, the market seems more or less saturated. There is competition between academies for new students and to keep the old ones. It’s ok for white belts to switch schools, because most new students quit soon anyway, but once the student has a colored belt, he is considered a traitor to change affiliations. Carlson called them creontes, after a character in a Brazilian soap opera. The term caught on. This may be one reason for the relatively rapid blue belt promotions.

Now, add some “us vs. them” drama and fantastical storytelling to the mix, and you can generate undeserved loyalty. (I’ve witnessed this.)2 People become blind to red flags, or worse, they willfully deny them.3

  1. In kids classes, there are a bunch more colors and stripes to hand out, since they’re great for giving kids something to aim for. They’re kids. ↩︎

  2. Influence, by Robert Cialdini, first changed the way I viewed marketing, but in rereading it over the years, I see the principles in action everywhere. ↩︎

  3. The Gift of Fear, but for BS. ↩︎

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