There’s been a bit of discussion regarding the Elements Jiu Jitsu grading process so I thought I would lay it down here for all to see. Please note that I am not talking about the process of determining when an athlete is ready to be graded but the actual act of awarding of that new rank to the athlete.
First though I would like to discuss the most common grading methods found in BJJ. There is no uniform grading method in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and there are significant differences between clubs. While I have witnessed around a dozen different grading methods these three are the most common.
1. No Method.
The most common approach is that the coach will simply hand out the new rank at the end of a class. There’s no ceremony beyond the coach possibly saying a few words or the class lining up in rank order. While having no ceremony or tradition when awarding rank results in some lost opportunities it is still infinitely preferable to the next most common tradition.
2. Belt Whipping.
A belt whipping ceremony involves the newly graded athlete walking down a corridor formed by the other club members while being whipped by their belts. This is really little more than hazing and has nothing to do with Jiu Jitsu; a more skilled athlete can handle being whipped no better or worse than a lesser skilled athlete. This practice is stupid at best and the fact that it so widely performed is depressing.
3. The Technical Test.
This is usually what most people think of when they think of a grading. In the technical test approach the athlete is usually required to perform certain number of techniques from memory against an unresisting opponent often within a time limit. As the name implies this can be an actual test – failure to recall a particular technique can result not being awarded the new grade.
Needless to say we take a different approach.
Gradings at Elements aren’t tests of recollection. No one will ever be asked to demonstrate a particular technique from memory in order to qualify for their next grade. Technical performance is the sole measurement used when awarding Brazilian Jiu Jitsu belts and grades and an athletes technical ability is best determined over weeks and months and not during a single event.
Each Jiu Jitsu promotion is something to celebrate. It has usually taken years for the athlete to achieve the skill level that is merely represented by the color of the Jiu Jitsu belt. In the case of brown and black belts, this can mean a decade or longer of hard training.
During that time everyone, from the newest white belt to the most seasoned upper belt, helped play a part in that athletes growth. It is the entire Elements Jiu Jitsu community that helped mold that individual athlete’s game and our grading process reflects this fact.
The following is an excerpt from the Elements Jiu Jitsu Training Manual.
A grading at Elements has three main purposes:
1. A grading allows the coaches and the athlete to see how the athlete responds to pressure.
2. A grading creates a distinct link in the athlete’s mind that their rank is something earned and not something given.
3. A grading helps builds a sense of community in the Elements Tribe.
The grading itself will take the place of a regular class and has a typical format of a half hour of fairly intense drilling followed by some general rolling before all the attendees line up in rank order and those grading are called out one at a time to face their particular test. The tests differ according to the rank the student is grading to and are as follows:
White Belt First Stripe –
For the First Stripe Grading the athlete will do a no time limit, submission only competition style roll starting from the feet against one of the coaches.
White Belt Second Stripe to Brown Belt –
For all grades between White Belt Second Stripe and Brown Belt the students will face an Iron Man rolling session. During an Iron Man the athlete will face a fresh opponent on the every minute with no rest with the number of opponents faced equal to the rank they are grading for. For example, someone grading to White Belt Third Stripe will face three opponents one after the other, someone grading to Blue Belt will face five opponents and someone grading to Brown Belt will face twelve.
Black Belt –
As Black Belt is a special grade a special grading takes place. When someone grades to Black Belt in Elements Jiu Jitsu a grading is held in which they are the only person participating. While gradings from White Belt through Brown Belt are demonstrations of skill and an athlete’s ability to persevere whilst facing extreme stress Black Belt gradings are a demonstration of skill and that athlete’s personal expression of Jiu Jitsu.
During a Black Belt grading the athlete must demonstrate shots, throws and submissions on their feet followed by demonstrating pins, transitions and submissions on the ground. The athlete selects which techniques they are demonstrating ahead of time and they should reflect their personal style.
The standup technique demonstration is followed by three 3 minute rounds of takedown sparring and the groundwork technique demonstration is followed by three 5 minute rounds of rolling.
Masters Age Athlete Grading Process
The grading process for athletes over 40 years of age for Purple and Brown belt are a 6 minute Iron Man and a 7 minute Iron Man respectively. Master’s age athletes can request to participate in full length Iron Mans if they wish.
Belts mean something only if they are sincerely valued by both the one receiving the belt and the one giving it. Gradings are only valuable if they mean something to both the coach and the athlete.