Wow, tough question huh?
How do you really answer this if the answer is “no”?
My first BJJ instructor was not a black belt, in fact, I think that when I started with him, he was a purple belt. He got his brown shortly before I left the school (for reasons that none of you should give a f*** about). And has since gotten his black belt.
Correct me if I am wrong (as I usually am), but I want to say that there are only something like 8 BJJ Blackbelts in Minnesota and about the same number in Wisconsin (another shout out to Mike Ellefson for his promotion to black belt. How’s that target feel on your back?).
That’s not too many. And I want to say that there are two schools that take up 4 of those black belts in Minnesota alone.
Is that to say that there are only 5 schools in the entire state that teach BJJ?
Of course not.
Then, is that to say that any school that does not have a black belt head instructor (or at least a brown with stripes) are worthless pieces of s*** that you shouldn’t spend money on?
Let me get back to that one in the hopes of infuriating a few people along the way.
The main problem that I can see with not having a high ranking head instructor is best expressed in an analogy:
Growing up, many young boys look to their father as the penultimate example of all that is man. He is the best at everything and could beat up anyone (whether that is the truth or not). When he wants, he can school you at any sport or any race. He is next to God in your book.
Then one day, when he is really trying, you beat him. Maybe your beat him at 1-on-1. Maybe it was a foot race. Maybe you tapped him with a flying omoplata. Whatever it was, instead of feeling excited, your heart sank. The day you always wanted to come was finally there, but instead of being happy, you were sad. You had just beat God.
He was never quite the same person to you after that. Eventually, you were winning more and more. He could still get you once in a while, but things had changed. And you would never get them back.
And now, since this got more serious than I generally like, an intermission:
I love that clips. Someday the IBJJF will take my advice and allow nunchucks.
Where the F*** was I?
Oh yeah, God is dead.
Well, that’s is a scenario that I have seen and heard far too many time in terms of BJJ schools. Most come from a white belt that got disenchated after his blue belt instructor got pissed because he was winning.
One horror story involved a small place with a blue belt instructor (don’t ask about it, it isn’t there anymore). One of his students was rolling with him and got him in an arm bar. He got pissed and said the student couldn’t leave the mat. They rolled again and he got stuck in another arm bar. The yelling was soon to follow and he lost no less than one student.
What’s the old say, “I got my blue belt, it was either quit or open a school?”
Is that to say that people can’t learn from a blue belt? Or course not. The foundation is the there. The problem is that when you are a head instructor at a school, you are putting yourself at the top of the mountain. You are “the best”.
And the worst part is, you aren’t getting your butt kicked anymore, so you get stale. You don’t have the mat time or experience to make up for how rapidly this new generation of BJJ enthusiasts has become. Youtube has got people trying things that we didn’t even know existed.
Does that mean you shouldn’t got to a school that has a blue belt as a head instructor?
…crap, I don’t know. What do you want to learn? What do you expect to get from it all? Are you just looking to get into the art and progress at a steady pace or are you looking to take your game to the next level?
Remember, there are enough schools around that someone who already has a blue or purple or brown belt won’t be interested in going to a place that has a head instructor that is their same rank (or lower).
To remedy this, the majority of head instructors that I know, who don’t have their BJJ black belts, have a black belt in something else (judo, kung fu, whatever) or have a background in wrestling. That way they can incorporate other facets into the school so that the aren’t held to the same standard.
Also, keep in mind that there is a lot of politics involved in BJJ. People leave schools all the time. They don’t have their associations or the people that can give out rank, so you see guys that might have five, seven or ten years in, but either have no rank or just a blue belt. It doesn’t mean they can’t beat the tar out of you, they just don’t have the belt to prove it.
Not to mention people like that guy from the Submission 101 videos that used to wear a black belt even though he was only a blue or purple. Douche.
So, is your instructor a black belt?
You know what, that question isn’t nearly as important as this one:
Are you getting what you want out of your school/instructor? Because if you aren’t, rank might not have anything to do with it. There are enough options out there that you can find a place that will test you and take you to the next level.
As a t-shirt once said, “The belt only covers two inches of your butt, you have to take care of the rest”
This random tirade brought to you by Mountain Crest beer. Think you can’t get a good six-pack for $3.70 (after tax)? You’re right. You can’t.