I made a lot of mistakes as a Jiu Jitsu teacher since I started teaching at the age of 15: I was wrong because I didn’t understand what my student needed, I was wrong to exhaust my students before training even started, I was wrong to want things to always go my way (after all I was the teacher), and that was just the start. But perhaps my biggest mistake and it must have cost me hundreds of students, was creating the “gauntlet run” to celebrate their graduation, where the student runs between two lines of people whipping him with belts.
It all started as a joke at my academy at the Federal Club in Rio where I started teaching alone in 1988, (at my master’s academy we didn’t have that custom), so I’m not sure where I got this terrible idea, but the fact is that I used it for a long time and it has spread through Jiu Jitsu at a frightening speed.
Possibly other teachers like me started this on their own and maybe some I influenced. For these, I sincerely apologize, but the fact is that this ritual became part of the environment of Jiu Jitsu academies. The students endured it and even enjoyed it because it seemed like a test, like the ones we see in war movies where military barracks prepare their soldiers to face upcoming difficulties. The students felt they deserved that new belt because they had endured the beating.
Time passed, and the Jiu-Jitsu academies increasingly focused on competition, always prioritizing the participation of tough students. There was no necessity to change the graduations because, being tough and thick-skinned was basically an obligation. After all, these were guys training for competition, so running the gauntlet was nothing.
One day I had an experience that made me rethink everything. With every passing day, I started to understand we were moving away from what Jiu Jitsu needed in terms of offering Jiu Jitsu to everyone, and not just to the competition class. At a graduation ceremony, the mother of a student was present, and her son was going to graduate that day. She was proud at first, probably expecting a glamorous ceremony, when suddenly the corridor was formed. Death screams were yelled out by nearly all of the 100 students on the mat, and there was the boy, going through that insanity. His mother was terrified and told the boy’s father to report it to the police! The father was torn between the pride of seeing his son graduate, or, calming the mother down. In the end, the son was graduated, and his happiness made the mother abandon her complaint. Instead, she just congratulated her son. It was however the last straw, and proof that something very wrong was happening. It had to change.
I never allowed it to happen again in my academy. On the contrary, now the test is not of endurance but of technique. The belt exams have taken the place of “running the gauntlet” and the result is arguably better. My students are subjected to a fair exam, which tests them with what really matters. It’s also a metric to know if my school is succeeding in teaching them good jiu-jitsu.
This change did not happen in isolation, and I can’t attribute the growth of my academy to that alone. I have told you some of changes that I implemented in my school, and all of these together produce the result I have today. But certainly, running the gauntlet should be abolished from all Jiu Jitsu schools in the world.
How do you guys celebrate your student’s graduation?
A big hug. Until next time