End of year graduation — how harmful is it?

Hi Guys, here we are at the beginning of December with the competition year coming to a close. We only have the World No-Gi left which will take place on the 14/15th December. But this time of the year is most famous for the academy graduations, and it’s this subject that I wanted to talk about. I’ve expressed my opinion previously about how I think the graduations should be organised, and why the graduations are the way they are, but today I wanted to talk exclusively about this topic, because I think it’s linked to other problems that Jiu Jitsu encounters. It’s my hope that teachers could start showing that this great party event at the end of the year doesn’t need to revolve around the belt graduation. This would greatly benefit the way Jiu Jitsu schools organise themselves throughout the whole of Brazil.

How is it usually done?

In most academies there is a big party at the end of the year. Independent of the evolution of that student, the teacher puts on a huge event, graduates lots of people and charges them; the money generated from that event is taken as a supplementary salary for the teacher. I believe these events are dishonest and unfair to the student.

The student wasn’t properly evaluated, or perhaps that student didn’t deserve to be there, he was simply a student paying his membership fees and earned his belt just by that fact — it’s a way that doesn’t really have any weight and doesn’t reflect the importance of that moment. Of course, there are teachers who are much more stringent but I still think the system they use is wrong, because it’s difficult to ascertain who is deserving or not. It becomes a very difficult task, which I’ll talk about a little later. And of course there are some teachers who do these evaluations correctly and most importantly take a lot of care in that, but my main point is this: our student needs to know where he is within the process, and needs to be graduated on his own merit, on his own individual effort and not together with lots of people because this undervalues the effort he’s made in order to graduate.

The ideal is that these students know where they are, and what they need to do in order to reach the moment where they will be examined in order to see if they are capable of moving to the next belt. When I talk about being examined, it’s because the importance of being graduated has to exist, and we need to understand how it fits into the system which makes the academy successful.

The graduation has to be directly linked to the methodology. I know if I have a teaching method and I’m teaching that student all those techniques, I can evaluate that student in the right way, and in a way that is consistent. If I don’t have a teaching methodology and I just arrive at my academy teaching whatever technique I like, this will result in the accumulation of a lot of techniques but without anyone understanding the connections. When I come to evaluate my student I want to assess his knowledge of the fundamentals,  but how can I do this if I haven’t taught him the fundamentals in my classes?

Many times it’s because I’ve forgotten — because if I don’t have a syllabus to follow, the tendency is to simply teach my students the position which I train the most, or positions that I like the most — positions that I know I’ve mastered. This creates huge gaps in my student’s knowledge because I’m just teaching what I like to do rather than teaching in a way that embraces the whole spectrum of technique independently of whether I like to do that technique or not. If a technique is on my syllabus, I know I have to teach it — I need to have a class program — if I don’t, my graduation will never be fair, because the alternative is, it would have to based on performance. Doing an evaluation based on performance isn’t fair for the student. Imagine if I had to graduate my students based on the performance of my athletes, some of my best blue, purple, brown belts etc. I can’t evaluate my student using my best athletes as a benchmark.

Perhaps you have the ideology that by implementing really high standards this will give quality to your academy, but it isn’t this that brings quality to your academy. This will make your students leave your academy, this will shrink your number of students because you’re imposing such high standards your student can’t evolve. When you create a teaching methodology where everyone has the possibility to graduate in their own time, and they know exactly what they need to do to get to that moment of graduation, your process will be much fairer. This creates an environment where many more people can evolve with Jiu Jitsu within your academy, which consequently brings you a much larger student base, consequently increasing the number of students who could advance becoming athletes at the highest level.

But if you raise that bar too much, it’s difficult. I like to give the example in my academy — imagine if I only graduated students who had the same technical level, and perfection of movement as Michael Langhi. Nobody would ever graduate. People would get demotivated and they would leave, so your graduation can’t function like this, you have to respect the paths of each individual. For this reason, the belt exams are essential in order for you to evaluate your student.

You can rest assured that your process of evaluation is a fair one and if a student doesn’t pass the exam he simply needs to study a little more in order to graduate. Graduating everyone at the same time, simply for a big party, seems to me like shooting yourself in the foot, and something really harmful if you really want to create a Jiu Jitsu school. You end up imagining that you’re retaining that student because you gave him the belt, but actually you’re forcing the majority of your students to leave because your process isn’t fair. Sometimes, a student will receive a belt together with another student who trained less than half the time of the other. And on the other side, sometimes that guy earning the belt knows he dedicated himself very little and that belt starts to lose its value. Your graduations will lose their value and I think one of the most important things for a Jiu Jitsu school and for a teacher is the legacy you leave — who are the people you graduate — who are the people that you really shaped, because this shows you who you are as a Jiu Jitsu teacher. I think we have to take real care of the graduation process much more than we do today. If you had a graduation based on the individual you would be graduating people year round. That party feeling full of happy people that you have for one day of the year (or two if you do two graduations) you would have every week in your academy, people attaining their goals, earning their belts from their own evolution.

To do this, you simply have to have a teaching methodology to follow so you can evaluate your student within a method, and a belt exam compatible with that method. Your student will be so happy to graduate within a system where he knows he deserves that belt and you’ll stop having students that you sometimes graduate without them necessarily deserving that, or those students who you didn’t graduate and are extremely upset with the teacher, and they start to judge the capability of that teacher. This is another point— the only person capable of graduating a student under any circumstance is the teacher, it’s not up to the student, or what he thinks.

If you have a teaching method this problem doesn’t happen because you (as the teacher) and your student will think the same thing, he’ll know he’s in that phase of being tested where the final word is the teacher’s. You could test a student and not graduate them, there’s no problem in that — this could be part of the dynamic in your school, like it is in mine, not everyone who does the exam will graduate but when you have a good class and a good team of teachers who follow the method, the chance of your student graduating is larger because the exam is compatible with what you’re teaching. This brings innumerable benefits to your school. I’m telling you this, because after I changed, my academy grew, I had more students, my students were happier and they’re better at Jiu Jitsu — because now they’re evaluated within a method. It’s a change that would be really healthy. If Jiu Jitsu academies could do this, they would bring a lot of students into their academy making the process much fairer for everyone.

I hope this has served as an incentive for your academies, but I also understand not everyone will agree and they will continue in the same way, which is also fine.

But please leave your comments here about what you think of the traditional graduation system.

The space below is always free for your comments whether you agree or not!


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