Black Belt Worship: The Path to Cult-like Behavior

“Incompetence should not be rewarded with blind loyalty” –Lord Varys, Game of Thrones

Throughout my experiences in Jiu-Jitsu I’ve had the pleasure of training at different types of schools. Many of them are welcoming and supportive that are only looking to do one thing, promote the art of Jiu-Jitsu in any way they can. However, sometimes you come across a school that worships affiliate black belts. When you come across a gym like this, RUN IN THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION!

A healthy respect for a black belt is a good thing because they’ve earned the respect, they’ve put in the time, and more often than not, they’re extremely humble and gracious. There becomes a problem when a gym starts putting their black belt(s) on a pedestal that is akin to worshiping a god. Here are some things to look for in gyms that worship their black belts like a cult.

They talk incessantly about their affiliate black belt’s credentials. There is nothing wrong with being proud of your affiliation and its lineage. You should be. Jiu-Jitsu has a rich history of great figures and being able to trace your team’s lineage back to the dawn of Jiu-Jitsu is an amazing aspect of the sport. The problem is when the team member, owners, or black belt them self, need to remind you why they’re “great” and why you should be lucky to train under them. Remember, a black belt is just a person who got really, really good at something. They don’t have magical powers (even though it might seem like it when you roll with them), and they most certainly don’t need to be worshiped.

You are pressured into attending every seminar they hold at the gym or other location. Seminars can get expensive and if it’s something you don’t want to attend at your home gym then you have the right not to attend. A symptom of a gym cult is when the owner or black belt constantly pressures, or even shames, their member into attending a seminar. This is a blatant money grab tactic and should never be something any practitioner should experience. There is no excuse for this and if you ever feel like this is happening to you I’d suggest finding another gym.

You have to wear their team uniform at their seminars. There are many different types of Jiu-Jitsu schools and many times if you attended a seminar at their gym you wouldn’t know what their lineage is unless you asked. An obvious sign you’re in the midst of a gym cult is if you attend a seminar and everyone is wearing the same gi with the same patches all over it. There is no better way to feel alienated than showing up to a seminar and everyone has a uniform with “Team Bomba” patches everywhere.

Black belts are just people who got really good at a martial art through countless hours of practice, but they are just that, people, and to hold them up as anything else is a symptom of a much bigger issue in a Jiu-Jitsu school’s environment. Jiu-Jitsu is for everyone and if your gym ever makes you feel like an outsider because of an opinion you had or because you didn’t want to attend a seminar then you have the right to take your business somewhere else.

Keep rollin’ and protect ya neck.


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