I've been dragging my feet on being promoted pretty much ever since I received my blue belt. I've always felt like I had too many holes, not enough game, for whatever level I was at, whatever stripe or so on.
Trust your instructor, everyone says... but what if I don't trust the *system*?
When I started BJJ, everything I'd read and heard told me that there was none of the McDojo, blackbelt-in-3-years, train six months per belt bullshit in BJJ that I knew was endemic in other arts.
Now, with some time, I am not sure. Granted, it's nowhere near as bad as some other martial arts with kids getting blackbelts at age 10-12. But here's the problems I have with some of the ways it seems some people (okay- I) am/are promoted in BJJ. (I'm not trying to make blanket generalizations about everyone, every school, everywhere, all the time.)
1. A pro and a con of BJJ is there is no list of techniques that you have to be proficient at to progress from one belt to another. Some schools do it this way (Roy Dean for one) but at my academy and many others, your progress is measured very individually. This is great, to accommodate differing physicalities, ages, attributes, interests etc. This sucks, if you feel like you got promoted too soon and aren't being held to the same standard as others. This sucks, if you feel like you should be able to hold your own against other people of similar size and similar belt.. or greater size and less-experienced belt.. but you can't.
2. I think (in my experience, which is very limited) it might be that some girls get promoted faster than boys. Or another way to say it would be that boys are better at certain techniques when they're promoted than girls are, at the same promotion level. This is maybe also true for older jiu jitsu practitioners as compared with younger ones (meaning people who are 40+ when they start compared with those who start around ages 18-20).
There are probably many reasons for this, but I suspect a major one is that there are lots more average-sized men than there are small people/women/older people doing jiu jitsu, so smalls/women/older people don't get as much practice with techniques almost working. Men have all kinds of training partners about their size, women usually don't. Men have greater room for error... whereas it seems women have to get the technique EXACTLY right for it to work. So we have a harder time "homing in" on the idea. I think this is especially true when learning sweeps and reversals, to a lesser extent but still true in things like escaping. As a result, average guys learn fairly quickly that "this" sorta-kinda worked, so they keep trying "this." Women/smalls/olders have experiences where "this" doesn't work (they're in the same "sorta kinda right" place but lack the same capability to make it work despite less than perfect technique) so they stop trying it. It probably was close to working, but the difference between "kinda working" and "not working" seems to depend on physicality that is maybe not available to smalls/women/olders.
So taking myself as an example: I got my blue belt after grappling about 7 months, and of that only 4-5 months was at a recognized jiu jitsu academy, taught by a blackbelt, with any kind of purposeful curriculum. By my accounting, September 2011 will mark 3 years of jiu jitsu for me... but I'm JUST NOW getting some of the stuff that is considered the most basic for whitebelts. How did I get a blue belt without ever having ONCE triangled a fully resisting adult opponent (of either gender) to submission? without ever having cross collar choked, from mount or guard, a FRAO? without ever having once swept a FRAO?
I have a little bit of a top game. But my sweeps and reversals and guard game lag way behind. I am not blaming my gender, I'm not trying to escape responsibility, I accept this is my fault. But I do reflect on my rolls with my teammates, and I think I learn jiu jitsu in a different order than average guys. And therefore, maybe I wasn't promoted because of proficiency in the same array of techniques as the guys. Maybe I was promoted because of time-in-service, or effort, or whatever... but I know I'm not as capable of executing as guys my same rank.
Does that mean I'm not "as good as" the guys? maybe so. Probably so :)
Or maybe I can look at jiu jitsu like... a circle. Imagine a circle divided up into a thousand little squares. (for argument's sake.. there's probably more than a thousand.) Each square is a technique, a movement, an elemental concept of jiu jitsu. Triangles, sweeps, armbars, hip movement, grips, base, connection-- "It's in there!"
Maybe some people start out learning on square one and proceed sequentially. By the time you get to 75 or so you're a blue belt. Some others, maybe women/smalls/olders, or maybe just me-- might start at one, skip to ten, then 17, then 150, then back to 33. They get their blue belt and maybe they've dabbled in 75 squares' worth, but they're scattered around the circle.
The point I'm feebly trying to make is that it doesn't really matter what order you learn your squares in. Eventually, we'll all be black belts. We'll have all the time we need to carefully color in all the squares. Some of the squares are best learned in a certain order; sometimes we'll do better in competition jiu jitsu if we have learned the first fifteen in order, or at least have the first fifteen somehow in there. Maybe women/smalls/olders (or people who learn at home in the garage watching DVDs, or people who learn from instructors with widely differing educational philosophies) don't "perform" as well against more traditional opponents, early on in their games, because of the factors I discuss above. But I suspect that at the "end" (when we're all multi-degreed blackbelts with years and years and years on the mats) we will all have covered all the squares on the great circle of jiu jitsu, and whatever order we did it in, we'll have filled in all the holes.
So it shouldn't really matter when we get whatever belt, as long as we keep on training.
What do you think?