Walking the gauntlet and many of its derivatives have been long standing traditions in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
In my academy, every belt graduation leading up to black belt was always followed up by the entire class lining up shoulder to shoulder. Forming two long lines and quickly untying their belts so that they could brandish them as if they were a weapon, like a sword or a baseball bat. Ready to welcome new graduates to the next level.
It’s pretty messed up, but I was definitely one of those guys that got really into it. I even had my own special spinning move that I would employ to give me even more power in my swing.
For those that haven’t heard, Alec Baulding got his Brown Belt last week. As I’m sure you have noticed, whenever anyone graduates Alec is the guy at the end of the line who does a flying spinning swing to get the most velocity when whipping the person graduating. It doesen’t matter if you are man, woman or child Alec goes full force. It is because of this that we would like EVERYONE to be here tomorrow night when Alec walks the line for the last time in his BJJ career. Don’t miss this opportunity to get some back
-Alliance GM (2010)
I don’t want to get into who or where it started but I do want to focus on the tradition of walking the gauntlet and other traditions like it that are embedded in Jiu Jitsu.
What purpose did it serve?
To some walking the gauntlet represents a form of hazing.
But I’ve always considered it a rite of passage.
An activity not dependent on age, sex, or race. Instead, something that each and every student was capable of achieving given that they trained hard and progressed to the point that their skills were recognized by their instructor.
Something earned through blood, sweat, and often tears.
We talk about Jiu Jitsu not being about belts and more about skills. And while this is true.
It does feel good to be recognized and rewarded for all of your hard work by being awarded a new belt. That’s one of the reasons why the belt ranking system was adopted by most modern martial arts. In order to distinguish between the different levels of skill mastery and as a way to motivate students to continue training.
Once you receive a new rank, it’s all yours. No one can take it away from you.
I think walking the gauntlet and other rites of passages are sorely missing in western society as they are slowly being phased out but not being replaced.
There was a reason that almost every culture at one point or another utilized some type of test, or ritual to mark the transition of an individual from one phase of life into another.
I’ve always thought of the gauntlet as reminder of all of the hard work and sacrifice that you endured in order to progress in Jiu Jitsu, and a lesson on how much more work you will need to put in to get to the next level.
No matter how bad the pain is, it’s only temporary. But the skills and attributes that you gained throughout your training will always be with you.
Why academies are getting rid of it
For years my academy had the tradition of running the gauntlet. But there was one incident which ended up being the last straw. When a student was unfortunately injured during a gauntlet walk. That one event completely changed the graduation ceremony for hundreds of other academies overnight.
It’s understandable from a business perspective to forgo any activity that actively seeks to “hurt” your clients It’s bad for business.
I’ve personally seen a few students take the belt whipping too far to the point that they would chase graduates down the line “hunting” for the perfect strike. Often in their zeal they would aim too high on the back and instead hit their neck and head.
But where do we draw the line.
Students get injured in training all the time but we don’t outlaw all rolling. At least not yet anyway.
There are alternatives to walking the gauntlet such as marathon rolls. Where graduates train with the entire class or participate in a round robin/king of the hill type of training.
But how long until activities like this will be considered too harsh, too unfair, or too dangerous.
We make fun of other martial arts for their no contact sparring or even an outright lack of sparring altogether.
But even those martial arts were legit at some point. Until it changed into art form that only resembles what it once was.
I hate using the term “watered down” with respect to martial arts. But with it’s popularity and spread we will start to see every niche within Jiu Jitsu being catered to.
Most Jiu Jitsu academies train hard every session and promote doing competitions and having students step outside of their comfort zones.
But the opposite is true now as well.
There are students that want to experience the training, wear the gi’s, and say that they train in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu but have no desire to actually train or roll. And there are instructors and academies out there that are all too happy to accommodate them.
Examples. The rise of self defense only academies and online belts.
Future of Jiu Jitsu
It’s sad to see a tradition like walking the gauntlet and many others go away but it’s even harder to believe that subsequent generations won’t get the chance to experience making it through that test and the bonds that are formed and reinforced between you and your training partners. That shared experience of pain and joy. It’s hard to describe to someone that hasn’t gone through it but when you do you completely understand its importance.
Of course it hurts! Having grown men swinging belts at you with all their might is going to hurt.
But it’s only temporary.
Mark of brotherhood
I’m reminded of the Spartacus TV series and the process that gladiator recruits on the show had to go through before being recognized as a part of the brotherhood of gladiators. As a recruit they were seen as outsiders without worth. But through surviving the grueling training, surviving the gladiator pit, and surviving a final test they earned the mark of the brotherhood and acceptance as true gladiators.
I’m not saying that we should hold ourselves to the same standards as these ancient warriors but you can’t ignore the similarities.
Being able to survive all of the hard training, the competitions, injuries big and small, getting tapped out, and then being able to survive the final test of having all of your training partners giving you everything they’ve got. Is the truest test that I can think of.
Being able to survive that means that you are a true badass. That mental toughness and perseverance that you develop, much like your belt will always be yours to draw upon in all outlets of your life. When I think back to my own belt graduations and those of my friends. I realized that it was only a temporary discomfort but the grit and willpower that it took to get through the experience of walking the gauntlet are all things that I took away from that experience and I’m able to apply in other facets of my life.
As a new generation rises, I wonder about the future of Jiu Jitsu. Will it continue to be the effective and practical martial art that I grew up doing? I have no doubt that many schools will continue the old traditions but only time will tell.