Blackbelt Entitlement. I describe it as the act of treating other people like shit based on some self-obsessed delusion that black belts are more important than individuals who do not possess the rank of black belt. It’s a plague that permeates the jiu-jitsu community all around the world. Like most plagues, it likely started somewhere quiet and out of public view. The origins are certainly much older than the age of social media, so as I’ve mentioned before it likely went undetected for many decades. However, we now live in the era of digital social media, and with that we have seen the rapid growth of jiu-jitsu around the world, but with easy access to social media we also have a new ability to keep our jiu-jitsu community in check. There is no governing body that can police the way people run their businesses or the manner in which they treat their students. Jiu-jitsu businesses exist in the free market, and because of that people have to vote with their feet and with their wallets.
Let’s take a step back and remember what it is that the black belt primarily represents.
- It represents an amount of time and dedication to the craft.
- It represents a basic level of technical understanding and the ability to execute those techniques in a live sparring situation.
- It represents an ability to proficiently teach these techniques to other people.
That’s about it. But you might be thinking that they deserve respect. And the answer is, of course they do. But so does everyone else who does not wear a black belt. So this just takes us back to the whole “treat everyone with respect” idea that all humans should adhere by.
Every other type of social benefit that a blackbelt instructor might be accustomed to is simply an act of kindness and generosity on the part of the student. Probably because they genuinely respect and care about their instructor, and the student is likely very grateful for the time and energy of their instructor. You see, jiu-jitsu is transformative. It changes people’s lives for the better. In many cases, jiu-jitsu saves people’s lives. And the instructor plays a pivotal role in that transformation. So it’s perfectly understandable that a person might put their instructor on a pedestal and hold them in abnormally high regard. But I think it's critical that people who pass through life changing experiences via jiu-jitsu also remember to give themselves credit for their transformation. It is through their own hard work, sacrifice, and dedication that makes a life changing experience occur. It’s a beautiful thing when people help people improve themselves, and I think this is the basis for the rapid growth of jiu-jitsu these past 2 decades.
However, there is a dark side to this story. The opportunists.
Some instructors, unfortunately, use their position of influence to take advantage of people. There are countless stories I’ve been told about instructor manipulation, control, and abuse. The list of inappropriate situations that have occurred over the history of jiu-jitsu is surely endless. Just to name a few: instructors using belt promotions to manipulate students; instructors verbally belittling their students; instructors intentionally strangling their students unconscious; telling people who they can and cannot be friends with based on personal/team rivalries; instructors having affairs with their students and/or their students spouses; inappropriate touching while training. To be honest, the list just gets darker from this point on. You get the point.
Does your instructors or professor deserve respect? Absolutely. But so does the student. No matter how experienced they may or may not be. Equal respect. Top-down, and bottom-up. I’m just speculating here, but I believe the problem lies in the fact that people are inclined to be generous with their respect when it comes to someone who can trash them in a physical altercation. It sounds ridiculous, I know. I’m not saying it’s right, I’m not saying that’s how people should act, but I think it’s a factor that exists. Our jiu-jitsu instructors are badass. Jiu-jitsu is badass. It’s easy to admire people who are badass at any combat art. The problem is when the blackbelts become accustomed to this admiration and begin to expect it.
From a personal standpoint, I dislike excessive doses of admiration. I dislike being called “Professor” or “Sensei” (Josh is perfectly fine). I hate when people bow to me (unless I’m in Japan). I don’t like excessive or over-endearing compliments. I like being respected, and I like when people like my jiu-jitsu. But I don’t want to be put on a pedestal. I think the rule that some academies have about how lower belts are not allowed to ask blackbelts to train is the dumbest fucking thing that I have ever heard of. I love when blue, purple, and brown belts ask me to train. I prefer they ask me, actually.
In my experience, every academy is very very different. Each academy has a different vibe, and that vibe is usually set by the professors and instructors. If you don’t enjoy being there, go somewhere else. If you are being abused or harassed, go somewhere else. I know for a fact that some abusive professors will threaten their students with false information about how if they leave their academy they won’t be able to train anywhere else. This is largely inaccurate. For every shitty abusive instructor, there are hundreds of amazing instructors who will welcome you with open doors. Don’t get trapped in a situation that makes you miserable. Find a professor or coach who cares about you and your well-being. Find a team with people who support you and uplift you. Find a place that makes you happy.