How Do Instructors Determine Promotions in Jiu Jitsu?

By Leslie Gardineer

The ranking system in Jiu Jitsu is very different from most other martial arts. While this may be relatively easy to grasp if you practice the sport as an adult, it is often more difficult for children and parents of younger practitioners. If you are a parent and don’t train Jiu Jitsu yourself, (and even if you do but, don’t teach in kids class) you probably don’t know every kids personal situation. Instructors are always trying their best to make each child’s experience their own. Jiu Jitsu is a journey, not a race! Kids promotions are never easy. Age, size, athleticism, behavior, disabilities, attention spans and the safety of the child help instructors to determine the next belt level of each student. They work really hard to try and get it right and ensure the most successful path for each individual child. Making everyone “happy” is not what promotions are about.

The current kids’ belt system gives coaches an opportunity to encourage and reward kids more frequently. As a business owner, this is great to keep kids motivated and keep the parents bringing them back. However, as a coach, keeping the parent/child happy and motivated should not sway the decision for promotion. Our society has created this “everyone is a winner” mentality. All you have to do is “show up” and you win! But the truth is you need to show up, pay attention, work hard, show improvement, behave and be a good teammate to truly deserve a promotion. Then, you are a winner! Every child is different and promotions should be based on many different aspects. Hard work, coming prepared to practice, paying attention, drilling the technique, being a good partner and pushing yourself and your teammates consistently will turn your child into a good practitioner.

Another thing to consider is when a child started training Jiu Jitsu.  If a child who started at 15 gets his or her grey belt, they will later get their Blue Belt when they turn 16. This puts a kid who has been training for 1 year in the Juvenile Blue Belt division, a division full of kids who started training when they could walk and are now old enough to be a Blue Belt. This is when instructors may leave a kid at a White Belt a little longer so they can be in the Juvenile White Belt division where the competition will be a little fairer for them (and safer). On the other side, if your child starts at 5, he or she may go through every belt in the system because he or she has 10 years in the kids belt system. You may see a team mate who is 12 go to a solid belt and skip the striped belts completely because they have a shorter time in the kids system. Mat time is also very important to consider. If your child starts the same day as another and train on average 1.5 times per week while the other child trains 5 times per week, it is likely that other child will progress quicker. Mat time doesn’t mean just being on the mat. Behavior and attention span are also big factors when it comes to mat time. Some kids will advance quicker due to athletic abilities, strength or advanced motor skills. Instructors may also keep a kid at white belt a little longer because they are smaller, weaker, have a disability or they don’t pick up the techniques as well. I have seen many kids skip grey belt completely and after only a year or so of training step out into the Yellow Belt division and do poorly in competition. Not only is this dangerous but it can also destroy a childs confidence. They may not want to compete again and may even quit Jiu Jitsu completely.

A new belt often puts a target on a child’s back. The lower belts want to beat them because they’re a “grey belt”. It’s the instructors job to determine when a child should take that next step while keeping all of the above in mind and making sure the child ready. Keep in mind that every child is different. Don’t compare your child’s journey with anyone else’s. Instructors are not perfect and may leave your kid at a belt a little longer than you feel is right. They may not get promoted as quick as their teammates who started at the same time or they may get promoted faster. So be patient and understand that Jiu Jitsu is about the skills acquired and the lessons learned through training and competition.