In light of some recent promotions on the island I would like to propose a more obvious and public distinction between merit based and time based rank in BJJ.
An elite black belt once told me: "75% of black belts I've rolled with are just purple belts that got promoted". He went on to state that these black belts from various clubs had barely improved since purple belt, they just kept attending classes and eventually got their next belt due to time served. I didn't believe him back then.
Alas, over time I have come to see the truth of his words. I have seen people promoted in spite of the following:
1- They almost exclusively train inside their own club with low level grapplers (some barely ever train).
2- They rarely if ever travel to train with legit people.
3- They refuse to roll with anyone skilled that drops in to their gym.
4- They and their students show glaring deficiencies in skill despite many years of training.
Somehow they are getting brown and black belts. These are grapplers who would be blue belts, at best purple, at legit high level clubs. I've been quiet and polite about this nonsense for too long.
Let's begin with the obvious, belts mean different things at different academies. What is less obvious is that certain schools intentionally misrepresent what their belts mean, not only to the community but to their own students. Most people know that competitors are typically held to a different standard than hobbyists, but what many don't know is that with non competitors there is a distinction between merit based and time based promotions. The reason for this is twofold: First is plain old greed, and second is the popular notion that everyone can be a black belt.
Let's start with greed. I don't have to explain why people sell belts to obviously unskilled grapplers like Ari Bolden, scammers unwilling to do the work to become the thing they wish to present to the world. But the line is not always so clear. We live in an age of infantilization and self delusion, where people are told they can be whatever they want to be. This is so demonstrably false it would be laughable if not for the damage it is causing to society at large. If you are 5 feet tall and rock a sweet wheelchair you will never play in the NBA. One of the reasons we love sports is because it is a stage for human potential and teaches us how to handle victory or defeat and how to work towards genuine self esteem based on achievement. Accepting the lie of self esteem without basis in reality is delusional. But the delusion has spread so far that an increasing number of people believe not only that they CAN be whatever they want, but that they are ENTITLED to be the thing they want, and worse yet, without doing the work necessary to EARN being the thing they want.
In martial arts we also hear much about respect and loyalty, which are code words for politeness and obedience. Though many of us will speak in private about the affiliations well known for either low standards or outright selling rank, we rarely see public criticism. This is partially because once you accept that everyone can be a black belt, it becomes almost impossible to say that someone doesn't deserve the rank. Perhaps not everyone should be a black belt. Black belt is an expert rank, brown isn't far from it, many people will simply never do the work, or straight up don't have the potential, to accrue the skill or knowledge to earn that mantle. For instance, not everyone can be a PhD. People who barely graduated high school and show up once in a while to a university lecture don't get to call themselves Professors and don't get to teach people seeking higher education. So most people who train BJJ will top out at purple belt skill or knowledge wise, and that's ok.
But that would mean that mediocre grapplers (who believe they should have schools) would have to admit their limitations and be honest to prospective students. There is nothing inherently wrong with a decent purple belt offering classes, so long as they are honest about the difference between their services and those of a legit black belt. But when they seek to obfuscate the difference by pursuing advancement in rank with minimal improvement in skill or knowledge, then there is a problem. So we have an atmosphere where a savvy businessman can muddy the waters disconnecting rank from skill/knowledge, knowing they can sell more to the underqualified because ambitious and skilled people don't need to purchase legitimacy.
I know this will never change, but I am hoping we can add the terms "time based rank" and "merit based rank" to our lexicon. That way we can publicly discuss what we privately already acknowledge without having to be rude and say that someone isn't very good or that they don't deserve their rank. If everyone's belt is just a reflection of their own journey, let's be honest, some people have less potential than others, and some people aren't particularly dedicated to improvement, they just want to teach BJJ because they feel entitled to do so. It would be nice if you knew who was who before you sign up for classes.