After last weeks post Death of the Gauntlet, I was really surprised by the outpouring of responses both for and against the gauntlet and many other traditions like it.
It’s really telling how polarizing this issue has been within the Jiu Jitsu community. So I felt this topic merited more discussion.
In my previous post, I laid out my thoughts on walking the gauntlet and how it can be used as a way of building strong bonds between training partners (if done properly) but it’s also understandable from a business perspective and from a new student’s perspective. How the entire experience can be perceived as off putting, dangerous, unnecessary, etc.
From my initial Facebook post a few of the comments started to delve deeper on the issue with user Kelly commenting that:
Usually when I ask someone why we should have it I hear: because you’re weak, scared, or a punk if you don’t want it. However we all know that someone who sticks around for 6-10 years to get a brown belt is tough, 3 walks up and down the line isn’t what proves it. I know plenty of meatheads that could take the Gauntlet, but they wouldn’t last a week of training. All that being said, I do miss the Rite of Passage. When I got my blue belt I was happy to walk the line. By the time I got my purple, we’d ended the tradition. I’d love to see something done whether it’s an iron man roll, being thrown by everyone in class, going down the line getting collar choked, or anything else that is actually bjj related.
Here Kelly makes a great point as someone that’s experienced walking the gauntlet as a blue belt only to have it no longer being implemented by the time of his next promotion. While this is an issue on an individual academy’s graduation policies. I can see how on the individual level, this can leave a student feeling as if they didn’t properly “earn” their new rank.
Kelly also mentions a few alternatives to walking the gauntlet that I believe are all valid and would serve a similar purpose but that also begs the question of where do we draw the line. Even under the “right” circumstances. Alternatives such as iron man rolling where the new graduate is put to roll/train with the entire class could in the near future be seen as excessive as well.
And commenter Ryan added:
I really agree that there is a pussification effect going on in Jiu-Jitsu lately. In a world of PC police and safe spaces, where kids are taught to protest bullying instead of learning to stand up for themselves, where everyone gets a trophy and where everyone is offended by everything, the presence of the old school Jiu-Jitsu culture is more important than ever. We live in a society where weakness is praised. People need a sub culture that toughens them up and makes them stronger to face the real world. I believe that Jiu-Jitsu is for everyone, but that doesn’t mean the culture has to be softened to embrace everyone who wants in. It means everyone who wants in needs to be hardened to embrace the culture
In Ryan’s writing he leads on to the issue of walking the gauntlet being more than just an issue with in the Jiu Jitsu community but more representative of today’s society in which physical strength and toughness are no longer seen as critical in the development of individuals.
On the other side of the debate was commenter Cane who writes:
Whipping each other is not toughness. Toughness is showing up for class after a hard day at work. Toughness is taking a roll with that young athletic purple belt even though you know he’s going to give you hell. Toughness is refusing to let your ego get in the way of learning. There is nothing at all that’s tough about walking a gauntlet and letting guys whip you on the back. Hazing is about peer pressure and not toughness.
Also, I always call out people who use the word pussification. The toughest people I know are all women and feminizing negative traits is ignorant at best. I have been guilty of this myself but I’m trying to change.
When you become an adult much of what young people think of as tough you realize is all just youthful bluster. It’s time we retire the gauntlet and acknowledge people’s entry into the tribe in a better way.
Cain brings up valid points as well in that training alone can show that one is in fact tough, but again where is the line drawn when even pushing students to train hard or to do competitions can also be seen as a form of hazing and bullying.
I find it interesting how in a lot of the comments (not just the ones I shared here in this post) the words weakness, toughness, pussification and scared all managed to pop up throughout.
While many might gloss over these term as being buzzwords. I think the use and frequency of these words was more than coincidence.
I believe that this is representative of bigger societal issues.
Jiu Jitsu as a martial art and many of the combat sports are seen as rites of passages in today’s society. An outlet for those seeking to challenge themselves and through those challenges better themselves.
“The purpose of the study of Judo is to perfect yourself and to contribute to society.“
How often have you told someone that you train martial arts only to have them remark that they themselves don’t need martial arts because they have a gun, already know how to fight, or insert whatever reason.
For my regular readers I often reference my friend Sam Yang in a lot of my writing.
If you haven’t had the chance please check out his website musttriumph.com. As far as the study of martial arts and philosophy, Sam is definitely one of the thought leaders on this subject matter.
I gleaned this from Sam’s Instagram. On a similar topic Sam writes:
When a martial art is without a coherent philosophy, hazing replaces ritual and bullies replace mentors.
It always takes more courage to be the one person in a mad world who will not hurt others and does not want to be hurt.
And whenever pressured into doing something, if they say “Don’t be a pussy,” from experience it’s always a good idea not to do it. Only times I have ever heard “Don’t be a pussy” is when someone wanted me to do something illegal, immoral, unethical, or something that harms or violates another or myself. By definition it’s what it means, because a “pussy” to a bad person is someone who is just.
No one will try to convince you to do something virtuous by calling you a “pussy.” You will never hear, “Oh, you hurt someone? What a puss.” You will, however hear, “You didn’t hurt that person? What a pussy.” From experience it’s the code word for the morally questionable. It’s asking, why are you scared to do something wrong? To convince someone to do the right thing, you merely have to say, this is the right thing to do.
Over time the martial arts can become the Lord of the Flies. Strong dudes who know how to fight.
I think how you see the issue of walking the gauntlet or any rituals in Jiu Jitsu will be highly influenced by your own individual perception of the experience.
I believe there is good and bad in many of these traditions but it’s ultimately a legal and academy level issue.
If you perceive it as a benefit to the art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, then you will continue to try to keep the tradition alive.
But if you perceive it as inessential to the study of BrazIlian Jiu Jitsu, then you will opt for some other type of ritual.
Regardless, some other ritual will take its place in many of the academy’s around the world.
Whether they will be better or worse than the current rituals and traditions will have to be seen.
More than fighting
We have to determine for ourselves what role that Jiu Jitsu plays in our lives. For some it will be a purely physical pursuit. Something to be used to become stronger, more deadly. While others will see it as more of a philosophical practice, an allegory for life and how to overcome challenges and to better ourselves.
But that’s the beauty of it. It’s what you need, when you need it. If you choose to delve deeper you can. If you just want to wallow on the surface, you can.
Again, I believe the real issue is not in walking the gauntlet itself but in the rites of passage.
I mentioned in my last post the phasing out of rituals that serve as rites of passage but I want to add that many people will instinctively seek out Jiu Jitsu and other combat sports as some of the last remaining positive outlets for this experience.
The mere act of utilizing joint locks and chokeholds is looked down upon by those untrained. Your friends, family, coworkers while supportive of your pursuit of Jiu Jitsu. I’m sure under the right circumstances could misunderstand your participation as barbaric, unnecessary, violent, etc.
But it’s how it’s framed by instructors, students, staff members, and you yourself that will make the difference.
Whether you see Jiu a Jitsu as a tool to help individuals develop into better people, or as an art form that makes you more efficient at beating other people up. While both are true, they both signify two separate but genuine approaches to Jiu Jitsu that we have to embrace.
By sharing our experience on topics like this and discussing them openly we will better be able to educate ourselves so that it doesn’t get taken too far.
Educating students, instructors, and everyone we come in contact with about Jiu Jitsu can be a life altering experience.
That’s what Jiu Jitsu is. An experience.
It’s more than just about fighting.