Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Watered Down Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

I have several gym mates who when to tournaments over the past few weekends. My gym is a very new gym, so many of the guys haven't been training very long, 9 months to a year at the very most. These guys have been destroying guys from other gyms. Not just guys in their own belt ranks and skill levels, but guys who have been training a while, and have advanced belts. Most recently, one of the guys, who has only been training for about 10 months, beat a purple belt at a tournament in Tennessee.
Now, I am not a great BJJ guy. I do ok, I have been training a while, and I have built up some skill over the years. The guys at my gym are progressing at a rate that I have seen at other schools, but they are nothing special. The guy that did the tournament in Tennessee, is a guy I normally smear all over the mat on a daily basis. This is not knocking his skill or pumping up my own, however this is as it should be. I have been training BJJ for almost 8 years now, and it is expected that I do this to a low ranked beginner.
So, what is the deal? Why have my gym mates had so much success over much higher ranks in competition?
The reason is the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has become as watered down and diluted as the other traditional martial arts. It is very difficult to find a karate or taekwondo school in the US that is worth the price of admission. Most are belt factories that will turn out black belts with out really looking at the skill that they are pushing out. Why is that? Because guys who did not deserve to teach opened schools and started handing out belts.
Case in point... We have a guy at the gym who just started BJJ a couple of months ago, let's call him Bill. Bill sucks. As well he should after training for just couple of months. A couple of days ago we learn that Bill owns his own school in a nearby town, and, incredibly, is teaching a BJJ class. This guy who barely knows a sweep from a submission is teaching other people Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, wearing a black belt, and PROMOTING his own students.
Now say I am a guy who trains at Bill's school. I don't know any better. To me, Bill seems like a guy who knows what he is talking about. I train for about a month with, Bill and Bill promotes me to blue belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
I work hard, and in another two months Bill promotes me to purple belt. I decide that I want to test myself against others of my same skill level, so I go to a BJJ tournament as a purple belt, that is my rank after all. My first match I line up against a white belt in the absolute division. I get smashed and then submitted within the first two minutes of the tournament. Later on I learn that the white belt has been training for 3 months at a school run by a true black belt.
In the most embarrassing, humiliating way possible I have been exposed as a complete fraud. Why? Because I was taught, and promoted, by a guy didn't know squat about BJJ.

This is not the student's fault. He didn't know any better. He trained at a gym that, to the best of his knowledge, was lead by an experienced, skilled instructor, and taught the proper technique. It is the fault of the instructor. He KNOWS that he isn't qualified to teach that class. He KNOWS that what he is teaching is not the best technique. He knows it, because he knows he is incompetent.

It is very important when you look for a place to train that you are getting what you are paying for. If the guy leading class wears a black belt, he will be able to tell you who he earned his belt under. From there it is VERY easy to verify his status. If the guy is cagey about where he got his belt, doesn't tell you right away, or says he will get back to you, he is a fake. You don't have to even think about who you got your belt from. More than likely, you are good friends with this person, as you have been training with them for years. So why would you have to get back to someone about them? Why would you be cagey? You wouldn't because where and from whom you got your belt is a point of pride.

I will give you an example from my own experience. About a year ago, I started at a new school in Oklahoma City. The BJJ instructor is a black belt, and I asked him where he trained, and who was his instructor. He immediately smiled said he was a Nova Uniao Black Belt under Leonardo Tapias. A quick Google search later, and I found pictures of him with Leonardo, articles about his tournament wins and losses in major Brazilian BJJ magazines. Very easy verification. If I ran in to someone tougher to nail down, you just get on the phone and call the school that he was associated with. Easy, and it ensures that your getting the most out of your training dollars.

This watering down of the belts is something that is sad to see, but was inevitable. Before martial art movies became so popular, martial art schools were very tough to find. Almost all of them were good, because the community was so tight, that the faker would be exposed and shunned. Then the craze hit, and everybody and their little sister was teaching karate. Finding a school wasn't difficult, but finding a good one was. As more and more people want to get involved in an activity, the more people will rush to provide that activity. Some will simply be looking to line their pockets while providing the least amount of content as possible.
Now with the success of the UFC, and MMA as a whole, the styles of BJJ and Muay Thai are getting their watering down as well. People not qualified to teach are now presenting classes in both arts to grab the unsuspecting student.
I find it sad that the belt around my waist is becoming less and less meaningful due to the actions of the unscrupulous and incompetent. However it is best to remember Royce Gracie famously saying "A belt only covers 2 inches of your ass. The rest is up to you."

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