Wednesday, June 30, 2010

But I was back on the mats in the afternoon.

You know the upside to having the memory of a goldfish?

By the time you need to leave for night class, you have forgotten crying after morning class.

OK, ok, so I didn't forget so much.. but blessed by ya'll and your comforting comments, I forged on.

Busted I was, though, by the new Machado guy, who apparently reads this. Erkkk. Good thing I didn't say what I really think of him! ;)

Anyway, class was all right, back attacks and whatnot; positional sparring was broken up by weight (as always) and tonight's lightweight group was all whitebelts, plus me and Lee, a purple. Thus I felt like I knew a little something, as most of the time I was able to make things happen in the right order with a minimum of fuss and thankfully no tears.

Afterwards, discretion being the better part of valor, I accepted the offer of a roll with a really solid female whitebelt. She hasn't been training long, but she's fit, strong, analytical, persistent, and totally not ego-driven. I must admit, I didn't really give away much, so maybe it was less helpful to her than it was to me... but I didn't go balls-out either. Caught her with a looping choke and a high lock guard triangle to armbar combination from guard, and a baseball bat choke from knee on belly that Donald refreshed my memory of just last night. I felt a little better... but not good enough to be cutting more athletic tape just yet. My issue isn't so much with being a blue belt, so the fact that I can womanhandle a female whitebelt who weighs maybe 20 lbs less than me doesn't earn me much self-respect.

I'll just be blunt. It's that I don't think my three stripes mean the same thing that male students' three stripes mean. My logical worldview is downright offended by the inconsistency of having the same belt as the Galvaoist Dancer of this morning's class. It just ain't fittin'.*

A friend who trains jiu jitsu in another school, somewhere else, asked me something along these lines. Here's her initial outreach on the issue:

"I wanted to ask your opinion about promotions as a female. From what I’ve read, I know quite a few females who have received their blue belts relatively quickly, 8 months or less. And then I know of several girls that have been white belts unusually long bc of being the only female at the academy or their instructor holding them at a higher standard. . . [snip]I think it sucks that when I get my blue belt, the other guys getting their blue belts will be getting theirs faster than me because they are guys, and when they get theirs I will have already been at their level for months and months."

That's a lot to process. I've already responded and she and I had quite an illuminating conversation but I thought I'd get your take on the issues of promotions.. standards.. gender and other factors.. consistency...

That's right, kittens-- talk amongst yourselves. But aloud, and here, in the comments. We'll continue this tomorrow.

* Two points if you can name the book/movie!


The Part Time Grappler said...

I have a certain way of looking at belts. But that's my way and the day I'm a coach and actually do gradings, that's the way I'd implement...unless it changes by then.

If person X is training with coach Y then my POV is irrelevant.

Bottom line is, is she getting better than she was before? Is she learning? The answer lies in her performance. No one (should) really care how much she knows. This is not academics. It's a physical sport.

Giving game: this means not using strength, speed or exlosiveness to overcome techniques but only to fuel them.

When I roll with purple belts, I give them game. Therefore, I'm a purple belt. End of.

Who taps whom is not important and definitely not relevant to the belt. If a black belt get's tapped by EVERY blue belt on the mat, that could be an issue, but if a purple belt get's tapped by a white belt here and there then that's part of everyday life.

cy said...

Oh, that's a thorny issue. For starters, it seems to me that there is huge difference between schools and teachers when it comes to promotions. And then on top of that comes this business with when to promote females.

My inner sense of how the world should function says there should be no difference. If a female grappler puts in the time and shows a certain standard of technique and application then she should be promoted on the same basis as the males.

I feel the problem lies in the measurement. Everyone has discussed the size and strength disparity, and we can safely say that on average, the men are bigger and stronger. And save for the few lucky girls who go to girls only classes at the bigger schools, the rest of them wrestle with the boys day in and day out.

Even when there are no ego issues, the outcome tends to favour the boys. To do well against comparable sized guys with similar experience, girls have to be better technically. Because when push comes to shove, the boys will use size and strength. Where ego comes into it ("I'm not going to be submitted by a GIRL!"), its even worse.

So at a casual glance, it will appear that the girl/s are not doing so well. Be it against guys who have put in the same sort of time or more senior ones.

I think if it were a martial art that relied on forms, there would be no problem with male vs female promotions. However, we are dealing with an art where progress is measured in live grappling.

Someone is considered blue/purple/etc when he/she can "hang with" the blues/purples/etc. And there is no level playing field, because we all use the attributes we have to complement or make the best of the techniques we apply.

cy said...

If an instructor gives a female a coloured belt based on what he thinks her standard is, it is because in his eyes, she is good enough. The instructor will also know that she has to work harder day in and day out, to "hang with" the boys. He knows the danger of giving out a belt too early. Firstly, no matter how good the vibes are at an academy, freshly promoted people are tested harder. Egos do come out. How many young and tough white belts see it as a feather in their cap to submit {insert belt colour}-belt? Looking at it from the freshly promoted person's eyes, how often have we heard that people don't think they deserved the new belt? Of course, most of them do grow into it and the challenge drives their game forward.

But if we now superimpose the female/male skill vs strength issues, and the likelyhood of some guys being dead keen on proving themselves against a freshly baked female coloured belt, and we can see it will be tough! It was tough before the promotion, and now it's just got a whole lot tougher. I suppose instructors that hold back belts from the girls do it primarily so it doesn't turn sour for the girls. There may also be a bit of self interest here. I doubt that visitors to a school would be impressed by a coloured belt girl beaten convincingly in every roll with lower graded people.

So yes, it does suck, but using the words of someone else (sorry, can't give credit as I can't recall the source): I'd rather be the white belt who hassles the blue belts, than the blue belt who gets hassled by the white belts.

I'm also at a small school. Our instructor has repeatedly told us we will advance slowly and he is stingy with promotions. His reason: as a small affiliate, he wants his guys/girls to be at least as good as the folks from the main school. He wants them to be a higher standard, so that they will represent the school well and they will be respected. And it works, I've seen it. From my own experience, I went for a visit to the head school when I had just received my 2nd stripe. After the class, the black belt instructor commented positively, saying I was more 3 stripe standard, and welcome any time to his classes.

What I'm trying to say is that I'm at a school where promotions aren't given lightly. So the whole idea of having to wait longer than others to get there isn't an issue to me. So if it works out that I take a bit longer than the guys, so be it. I guess I trust my instructor in this, he will know when I'm ready for the extra challenges that will come with the next promotion.

Sorry, this ended up a bit long :-)

Dolph said...

Gone With the Wind (our home in Atlanta is two blocks from the late Margaret Mitchell's home btw).

I have mixed feelings about your friend's email. While I'm a guy, I'm also about her size (I weighed 117 pounds this morning) and not very strong.

So I have not publicly said this next part, though one or two of my teammates were aware of it. Let the flaming begin:

Once I became a three stripe blue belt, I got very nervous about becoming a purple belt. Big new blue belts would beat me like a dog who took a crap on the carpet, and I didn't want the cognitive dissonance of being a purple belt and having this happen.

Additionally, I was happy as a blue belt because I was one of maybe 50 blue belts at my last school. I could come in, train, and not be noticed. There were maybe a dozen purple belts - so a harder crowd to get lost in.

I also liked the fact that blue belts don't have to take on leadership roles (even small ones like leading the warm up), while very occasionally purple belts do. Now I don't shy away from leadership (I run medium-size organizations for a living), but BJJ is my escape from everything else in my life.

All this is to say that I did NOT want to be a purple belt.

I wash my gi belt once a week, and one of my three stripes came off in the wash. I didn't replace it. Six months later, I got promoted to a three strip blue belt again. When a stripe came off in the wash again, I once again didn't replace it. Yes - I know that makes me a sand bagger.

When I knew stripes would be handed out, I'd leave my belt at home or skip a class. I was happy being a blue belt and really wasn't emotionally ready for the promotion.

So I got ambushed. The head instructor walks into an open mat one day, ties a purple belt around my waist and announces that I'm a purple belt.

I didn't see it coming and, if I had, I probably would have found a way to duck it.

But here's the funny thing - - - my game and my technique has improved tremendously since becoming a purple belt almost a year ago. As a blue belt I had this sense of, "I'm good enough for a blue belt". But as a purple belt I thought "Man, I'm the whale dung of purple belts and I've got to get better."

I've seen more improvement in my jiu jitsu skills in the last year, than I had seen in my last two years as a blue belt. I don't think the technical improvement would have occurred without the cognitive dissonance caused by the promotion.

Having said that, I still don't like that being a purple belt has made me a target for morons who want bragging rights about injuring a small, middle aged purple belt.

So it's a mixed bag. I can see both sides.

leslie said...

I've wondered about girls' promotions before, too. My coach told me he held me back by several months: first for the higher standard (I'm his first female blue), and second because there was a group of guys just slightly behind me and he wanted to be sure I could handle the target on my back.

He's also talked about having different standards for different people -- what is minimum blue belt level for so-and-so? Most guys here are young and athletic; they usually get theirs in 6 months (most wrestlers) to 1 year. But there are several guys who waited 2 years+, and even then they're not quite where he would want a blue, but he hopes that the belt will get them to step up. Some guys he promotes when they're minimum level for the next belt; some he holds until they're already 2- or 3-stripe level (and we all say, "It's about time!"). Everyone's different, he says.

Georgette said...

@Dolph: You are so lucky! I spent a girls' weekend in Atlanta three years ago, with two best friends who, like me, adore GWTW and Atlanta by extension. I think we probably put in a solid 4 hours at Margaret Mitchell's home!

More comments to come in the full post.

The Part Time Grappler said...

You start the sport and learn the techniques that help you survive attacks by using leverage. If you can stay safe and use technique to stop the attacks of someone with less skill but more or equal size/strength then you are ready for the blue.

You've been blue for a while and can string techniques together in attack and defence. You can combine multidirectional sweep attacks and often catch white belts and sometimes catch blue belts. You have started to pose a threat to some of the purple belts and almost never use too much strength. You can handle weight differences with intelligence and staying-safe is a big mantra for you by now. You're ready for the purple.

I'll tell you about the brown when I'm there :) In the meantime, I'm gonna focus on my guard games :)

As far as I'm concerned, you are measuring your performance against the "how" you do things, not the "who" you do it against. Skill is forever, opponents are transient.

achy knees and guillotines said...

I like that grading in BJJ is relative and not standardized. This is one of the confounding, yet endearingly nebulous things about our sport. I do feel that a rank bias because of gender is not necessary. Regardless of gender, if you can do it, then you deserve it.

Speaking of rank (soap box here): I do not like the stripe system at least until black belt. I feel that it adds an unnecessary level of critique that really doesn't need to be there, and in some instances has been shown to make the BJJ schools more money (I do realize that stripes are more to benefit the individual not the instructor, and stripes often are given in ernest, not for the school's bottom line). Ridiculous example, but: a one stripe is 25% better than a blank belt and a two strip is 50% (I have actually heard this discussed in a few different settings, with higher belts)? Makes no sense. At all.

As you all know, ultimately rank (and stripes) really just serves as a guidepost to progress and does not show a true measure of ability. It has nothing to do with how well one does on the mat. As the old adage goes, "it is the time spent on the mat has everything to do with how well someone does...on the mat" -keep in mind that this is coming from someone who has avoided belt and stripe promotions like the plague (blank blue belt, but would be a four striper, by now..had I attended the promotion days), not to sandbag or for fear of advancement, but just because I felt I was not ready...

my two pennies

*steps down off of soapbox and prepares to be virtually

Anonymous said...

I read something really clever on this topic online recently - to the effect that the person doing the promoting has to take into account whether giving a belt early, on time, or late, will help or hinder the person's progress. Usually we focus on whether a person deserves a belt, but that made me think that a belt can also be used as a carrot or a stick.

sassy smasher said...

part of my blog...."Which brings me to another person who inspires me. A girl who is quite well known in our BJJ circle. I won't single her out, but she knows who she is..or she should after reading this. This girl is amazing, her dedication to the sport is unreal. She works competitions, she trains hard and has time to blog about it, all while balancing a life, husband, job and etc. She is sponsored, competes and is a compassionate friend to many. It's of no consequence to her whether you are her best friend or mere acquaintance, you are treated just the same. She doesn't hesitates to help you progress your game. I idolize this girl. She is the shit! I was reading her blog just a few minutes ago. She wrote about peeling a stripe off her belt because she didn't feel she deserved it. That bothered me. She is awesome at what she does, she has an infectious personality and is an ideal training partner. I know everybody has off days, but to feel like she needs to peel off a stripe if nuts! It was given to her for a reason, because somebody felt like she deserved it, because she is that committed and is where she needs to be. There will always be somebody who smashes better than you..always. Fedor said that if you don't fall down sometimes, you can't stand up. Let em have their moment in the sun...(there's plenty to go around) besides you bring sunshine to others!"

you get some and you give some

Georgette said...

Awwww :) :)

slideyfoot said...

Just catching up on my Google Reader, so you may have posted a follow-up, but my quick response would be:

As a feminist, I obviously feel that there should be equality between genders. It is wrong if women are being treated differently purely because they're women.

However, in terms of belts, I'd argue their only practical purpose is to enable you to compete against higher level people (naturally there are lots of other issues too, like the target drawn on your back Dolph discussed, but that varies from person to person).

If the woman in question wasn't too bothered about competing against blue belts (I assume not, as it appears she was still finding things competitive at white belt), then the only reason to have a blue belt would be personal pride. Her coach has already told her she's got the skill: she just lacks the bit of cloth to go with it.

If it was me, I'd be perfectly happy at white belt until it got to the point where I felt I wasn't being challenged in competition anymore.

Georgette said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jldude said...

I'm with Dolph -- as a four-stripe White, I'm having too much fun to get my Blue. Deathly afraid of it in fact. There's no pressures and only a little target on my back (from the lower Whites).

But I go on my merry way, giving the upper belts a hard time (and if I tap a lot, that's to be expected and tells me what I need to work on) and I actually can make a lower White's day when they get a tap on me.

As to stripes, I was so naive and had so much respect for it that when one came off in the wash, I didn't know that I could just put replace it -- I thought ONLY the person who promoted me could do that!! Anyway, that's when I got called a "sandbagger" -- which as a former poker player I knew exactly what it meant. Funny how the term transferred over to BJJ.

I'm just enjoying the ride and your blog (as i did liam's and leslie's and shogun) and planning to get around to side control's and slidey's.

G -- you know your true belt is? -- Tie-Dyed!
thanks for sharing.

Georgette said...

JLDude-- haha, wouldn't that be cool?

Glad you enjoy the blog. And glad you reminded me of this post-- I've been meaning to write a followup to it for a while now. Maybe this will get me going!