Results: BJJ Belt Promotions/Gradings Part I

Image used with permission from Scott Wallace

The main (academic) purpose of the study was related to the variable experiences of belt promotions (or gradings if you are in the UK) within the BJJ community. Belt promotions in BJJ run the gamut from elaborate events involving hundreds of people to a simple handshake and the passing of a new belt at the end of a training session.

They are also an extremely polarising topic and while almost everyone who has been training in BJJ for any length of time has come across the famous quote, attributed to Royce Gracie, that "A black belt only covers two inches of your ass. You have to cover the rest", it is also true that receiving a belt, for many people, is an extremely powerful experience and it can even signify the culmination of over a decade of effort. Moreover, even those in the early stages of BJJ training often report being motivated by a belt promotion to train harder to live up to the higher expectations associated with their new belt.

Image used with permission from Vagner Rocha Martial Arts 

 Belts designate ability, status and seniority within the BJJ community, can be translated into legitimacy to teach and are thus inevitably objects of desire. And yet, there remains a palpable sense within the community that focusing on gradings/belt promotions is an unworthy goal and one that is distinctly inferior to the purer motivations in which belt promotions are a mere insignificant side effect of making progress.

Other common criticisms are the lack of clarity regarding promotion criteria, the potential for personal relationships in a school to trump ability, sandbagging- i.e. instructors artificially holding people of higher ability at a lower belt in order to win more tournaments and debates surrounding the benefits or conversely the problems of belt whipping gauntlets.

To illustrate the polarisation consider a few extracts from answers provided in the survey:

 "Grading ceremonies are an extremely important part of the sport. In BJJ belts are not handed out easily and they are largely based on merit. Therefore, with all the blood sweat and tears we put in, it is important to mark the occasion with a ceremony." 

"I believe that certain traditions and practices separate Brazilian Jiu-jitsu from other martial arts, particularly those watered down and or commercialized. BJJ is a truly special art that demands a special level of commitment; it is a unique and trying path...This is why the belt testing, and gauntlet tradition is so important. It is a reminder of our martial roots, and the tradition of perseverance BJJ demands. Not only does a whipping gauntlet turn away the weak of heart, it also  demonstrates the difficulty of the path to come for the lower belts, and elevates those who have achieved a rank in their eyes. No one ever forgets their gauntlets, and I think for true practitioners, it is a source of pride."  

"Grading ceremonies for non black belts are generally meaningless... belt whipping is ridiculous, pointless garbage that should be confined to frat houses.  Belts are meant to keep your gi top shut, and indicate roughly how your developed your jiujitsu skill set is, not for obnoxious hazing."

 "Belts are pretty much bullshit and I'm not going to throw away money for some piece of cloth."

"I fail to understand the need to inflict pain or humiliation as a part of these ceremonies or those involved in BJJ.  It certainly appeals to a segment of the population, but I am not one of them. I suffered intense physical abuse as a child and it's quite traumatic to endure these ceremonies. That is the primary reason I do not participate in whipping other students."

Regardless of which arguments your sympathies lie with, it is clear that there is no uniform position across the community. My overall impression from the survey and from across forums is that, by and large, people tend to justify their own school's practices. This isn't always the case though and in particular people who've trained at more than one location tend to be more critical/more objective about their current school's practices.

In terms of the data there is lots of interesting findings to get to and for this topic I have a lot of fine grained data on various aspects of promotions (e.g. How long does the average belt gauntlet last/who is involved/how painful are they?) and attitudes towards them (e.g. How far do people invoke tradition vs. pragmatism? How positive/negative are people about their past experiences?). For this post however, I'm just providing some more general info about the prevalence of various practices, the frequency at which they occur and how much they cost on average.

Any comments/feedback, as always, are welcomed and I do eventually respond to all direct emails. Also for info about sample size/demographics please see the following posts: Survey DemographicsBJJ Demographics.


Results: BJJ Psychology Part I

The previous posts have dealt with some (relatively) objective demographic measures but with this post I'm moving into some of the more subjective (& thus controversial) psychological data. This week I'm covering data on motivations for training & the relative proportion of individualist & collectivist personality traits (technically referred to as allocentric & idiocentric). Motivations were recorded by having people rank each item in order of importance and individualism/collectivism was measured by a popular 16 item scale (devised by the cross cultural psychologists Triandis & Gelfand).

The findings reveal a relatively balanced mix of personality traits amongst the BJJ community but are also lower on the individualism scores than is typical for a US heavy sample. This suggests that being part of the BJJ community pulls people into a more collective mindset. Another interesting result is that the most competitive and individualistic trait is actually the weakest orientation indicating that although BJJ is ultimately a competition between individuals, it is very much still a team sport! This also corresponds with the fact that 'Having Fun' was the No.1 motivation for training.

When dealing with the more subjective data its important not only to remember the limitations of the sample (i.e. 727 people, predominately North American males using BJJ/MMA forums) but also to note that psychological scales are often subject to debate/differing interpretations. To help address this when designing the study, I tried to select only well-validated and commonly used psychological scales but even so for all measures reported I'll be including links so those who are interested can take a look at the various scales in greater detail.

As usual, if anyone has any further questions about the data (or the scales!) feel free to leave a comment or contact me directly and I'll be happy to provide more information/answer any questions.

And finally, sorry for the delay in getting this post up, my supervisor was over visiting Japan so I had a bit of a hectic week!


Results: BJJ Demographics

Last week I provided some general demographic data about who exactly completed the 2012 BJJ belt promotion survey. This week I'm starting to get into the real meat of the data by focusing on some of the specific 'Brazilian Jiu Jitsu' demographics. The results/trends reported are all based on averages (corrected for outliers), but even with that it's important to bear the general demographics (see the previous week's post) of the sample in mind, before drawing any broader conclusions. 

Still, despite the typical survey limitations there are some nice trends which are likely to apply to their wider BJJ population (such as the time spent training by various belts, the proportion of roles for each belt, etc.). There are also some things that surprised me from the data, specifically:

1) The relatively high average age of people training in BJJ: I had kind of expected averages, at least for white and blue belts, to be in the low twenties, maybe teenagers and people in the early 20s aren't taking online surveys? 

2) Committed white belts: 6 hours would translate to roughly 3 x 2 hr classes a week or 4 x 1.5 hr classes. 3/4 sessions a week is certainly normal for lots of white belts but the average? It seems a bit higher than my personal experience suggests!

3) 6 hours being the mean/median average amount of hours trained: Again I had expected there would be more beginners training once a week that would pull down the average but while there are plenty of people who meet that profile they are offset by a large group training more frequently (typically 3-5 times a week). On a side note, the highest hours training a week reported was 40 and the lowest predictably was 0.

There's plenty more data to come and I haven't even touched the topic of gradings/belt promotions yet! So feel free to drop me a line if there is any specific data you are curious about. I'm also happy to share more detailed results with anyone interested in the statistical nitty gritty. Next week I'll dig into some of the psychological data relating to motivations and personality types.


Results: Survey Demographics

Well, its almost one year ago that I launched the belt promotion/grading survey and I haven't managed to get round to posting the results, as initially promised. I've got lots of good excuses for this (including having a newborn son, moving to Japan and being crushed by PhD work) but the fact remains that an update for the BJJ community, who collectively put hundreds of hours into completing the survey, is long overdue! 

As such, from now I'll be starting to post weekly updates that break down the interesting findings from the survey and hopefully help to provide some (partial) answers to longstanding questions surrounding BJJ belt promotions. I'll also be detailing how the findings relate to the ritual project I work on at Oxford and what exactly some of the more unusual questions were about ... but first up today is the basic demographics to help introduce who exactly the respondents are.

In total there were actually over 1,000 responses collected but due to dropouts/requests to keep data anonymous the final total sample ended up being 727. Women seem quite poorly represented with only 36 respondents but this could be representative of the overall proportion of women training (5% fits with my experience but I wonder if everyone else agrees?). There was a nice mix of experience levels but less national and ethnic diversity than hoped for. That said, given that the survey was in English and most respondents came from a selection of popular North American message forums such a skew was somewhat predictable.

I've represented the data in some infographics below and while some of it is rather unlikely to be relevant to the results or people's training experiences it is good to get a better idea of who the data analysed comes from.

The next post will start to dig into the more specific BJJ data, with a breakdown of the relevant BJJ demographics including team affiliations, years training, different schools attended, motivations for training and so on. Finally, just a quick note to say thanks to everyone who took part and for being so patient to hear about the results!


BJJ Belt Promotion/Grading Survey 2012


mage used with permission from Scott Wallace

mage used with permission from Scott Wallace

Belt Promotions/Gradings are a part of every BJJ school and what they involve (or should involve ) often becomes a topic of heated debate across on-line forums. However, there is very little clear information  surrounding things like; just how common are belt whipping gauntlets and how painful are they typically? Do people roll during gradings and if so how many training partners do people roll with in an average grading? Do different teams have standardised grading procedures or does it vary club-by-club and teacher-by-teacher? Questions like these and many more are what the BJJ Belt Promotion/Grading Survey 2012 seeks to provide definitive answers to.


The survey has been designed by researchers at Oxford University and the data collected will also contribute to a large international academic project focused on exploring rituals across a variety of cultures and settings. Martial arts and combat sport's communities represent some of the most strongly bonded groups in modern societies and yet they are typically ignored by academic research.

It is my hope that this survey can simultaneously provide a host of interesting information and statistics to the worldwide BJJ community and also introduce world class researchers to the benefits that can be gained from working with martial arts communities. 

This blog will also be kept as an ongoing site for those who want to run other surveys focused on the BJJ community and if you would like your survey to be promoted please go to the contact page and drop me an email and I'll be happy to help!

Thanks for reading and I hope you will take 20-25 mins to complete the survey!