To my generation, Fabio Gurgel was considered one of the best Jiu-Jitsu practitioners ever, a real pioneer in the early days of Jiu-Jitsu and MMA. Some of you might even know who he is :). A few weeks back, he wrote a long post on Facebook about how he felt that his biggest mistake as a teacher was using “the gauntlet” with his students.
The gauntlet used to be considered a rite of passage in Jiu-Jitsu. It worked like this: when it came for a belt promotion, the class would make two rows. Everyone would take off their belts, and the “graduate” would take off their gi top and run down the line while the class whipped them.
Now when we opened BBJJ in 2005, we decided there would be no “gauntlet”. It seemed a moronic, irresponsible ritual. So as it turns out, Professor Gurgel would land us squarely on the right side of history.
As can happen in the lifecycle of a school, a few of our early students left as a group a couple of years later. One of their main grievances was that, without the gauntlet, we weren’t following the “tradition” well enough. Now, I don’t have any ill will towards them personally, but I stand by my decision. Some of them are still training, but with great injuries; most of them are not, mainly because they chose to focus on the violence of the practice rather than its true nature.
Just because we believe something to be right for a long period of time, does not always mean it is. Copernicus was put to death for claiming that the earth rotates around the sun. Once social consciousness accepted the fact that Copernicus was right, people stopped trying to prove that the sun rotates around the earth.
So, I asked this question back in 2005 about the gauntlet: do we really believe that it’s a good thing just because it’s been done this way for so long? Is it beneficial in some way to the morale of the practitioner? Is it a team-builder, good for camaraderie? And to both male and female practitioners: would you like take off your gi top and have your classmates whip you with belts as you run down the line?
If we’re to advance, we need to challenge those archaic traditions which don’t make sense any longer. Maybe these long-held beliefs violate our sense of what’s right and wrong, or maybe our gut tells us that something’s off. So no matter who or how many are performing the rite and rituals, we can stop and ask ourselves if they’re useful or helpful or progress-oriented. And then let we can let our values be our guide.
Listen to the podcast here: The Martial Arts Mind Podcast
For more about our larger project of cooperative Jiu-Jitsu and martial arts training, please visit the
Brooklyn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (Brooklyn BJJ) website here.