I watched a young blue belt compete the other day. In his first match he was up against someone slightly larger than him. His opponent had set up his phone on a tripod to film the fight, he was wearing an international patch, you know the kind, with 3 letters of the country, and had friends and family cheering from the elevated seating area.
The ref calls the two onto the mat, they shake hands.
The opponent confidently pulls guard... the young blue belt steps past his guard straight into knee on belly and then takes an armbar. The opponent resists for a couple of seconds, once slipping his head, before the arm is firmly secured and the tap is forthcoming. The whole match lasted less time than you have been reading this blog post.
I continued to watch that young blue belt throughout the day. In 9 other matches he submitted his opponents in less than 1 minute. He had 14 matches in 4 divisions (gi/no-gi weight/open) and won all 14 by submission. Where I come from we have a name for blue belts like him.
A purple belt.
Try as I might I can't articulate why this is a problem for our sport. For some, maybe many, this post will sound like the clarion call of a loser, making our sport weaker, fighting the rising tide of ability, hating on winners. Please don't misunderstand me: I see the massive benefits our sport gains as we move from a mostly amateur unknown sport, to a well known semi-professional sport, and possibly in the future to a professional sport. We now have the issue of semi-professional, that is full-time if somewhat meagerly recompensed (if at all recompensed) blue, purple and brown belts competing along side amateur, that is not full-time, blue, purple and brown belts.
A rising tide lifts all boats, and the supposition that a blue belt world champion now could beat a regular brown belt of 5 years ago if true, of which I personally have no doubt, does mean that the average blue belt is likely to be better trained and more technical now than 5 years ago. This is great for the sport!
With all that having been said, to some, maybe many, the sense of injustice of having a certain set of blue belts tear through their counterparts week in week out at competition while they wait for their next shot at the Worlds or Europeans, does not sit well.
Regardless of where you stand on the issue of sandbagging, or if you think it's not an issue at all, here is my proposed solution:
There is an upper time limit in IBJJF competitions at which you can compete at blue belt.
For example, this upper time limit could be set at 3 years. If you first register and compete at blue belt in the European open in January 2019 then after the Europeans 2022, you can no longer compete as a blue belt in IBJJF competitions, regardless of whether your coach has promoted you to purple belt. Of course if this rule existed coaches would promote their blue/purple/brown belts at that point even if they missed out on 🥇 third time around.
The length of time I have suggested is a guess, instinctively 2 years seems too short, so 3 seems good to me. I would imagine for brown belt it should be raised to 4 years.
I am trying to imagine which group of people would be unfairly disadvantaged by this. Excepting the people that are blue belt for 4 - 5 years and competing regularly, the sandbaggers, as this rule is designed to keep them in check.
You have amateurs that don't train very often, who can legitimately and without any shame spend 4+ years on each belt. They might enter only one competition a year, and that might be their local IBJJF open, but I somehow doubt these people will be too upset by this rule, rather use it to say to their coach.
Hey teach, I've been a blue belt for 3.5 years now and competing for over 3 years, long enough that IBJJF says I can't compete anymore at blue anymore... AHEM 🙄.
There are the semi-professionals who compete regularly and medal at most tournaments they go to, but I would imagine most, even the competitor in this post, are not actually blue belts for longer than 3 years. They are dedicated athletes that train 5 or 6 times a week, and that kind of consistent mat time will always trump the amateur blue belt who trains inconsistently 2 or 3 times a week. I imagine this rule will not impact them.
Then you have the semi-professionals that get injured and require surgery with 6 - 12 months out, and when they come back they find even though they've been a purple belt for 18 months, even they've actually only trained and competed at purple for 6 months and their window for winning the big IBJJF competitions has been drastically shortened. There could be mitigating circumstances introduced later for this small section of athletes (IBJJF love admin, almost as much as they love making $$$ 🤑).
What do you think? Let me know your thoughts, abuse me on reddit, tweet at me bro, violently disagree with me off the mats. I'm a brown belt and have been training BJJ since 2007. If you'd like to hear more of my thoughts, I have a BJJ podcast with my friend Dec, we even have an episode where we discuss sandbagging, my thoughts there are much less coherent. I'm also involved in organising a European BJJ camp this summer for purple belts and upwards, so stop sandbagging at blue belt and join us 😉.