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Graduating Students

It’s that time of year when many academies begin their graduation ceremonies. Awarding hard working students and celebrating their triumph.

As a student, reaching the next belt level is an important step in your journey. Not only does it mark your progression in skill but also several milestones in your life.

Getting that promotion at work.

Graduating from school.

Getting married.

Even those student that care less about ranks and belts still care.

When you put so much of yourself in to studying Jiu Jitsu and achieving a rank you’re going to care.

But knowing when the proper time to graduate a student is a big deal.

As a student all you have to do is train hard, be consistent, compete a little and you will be on the right path.

But I would argue that instructors have it harder when it comes to deciding on the right time to promote their students.

In Death of The Gauntlet, I wrote a little bit about the Jiu Jitsu graduation process.

“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.”

Rite of Passage

If a belt test is the rite of passage then your instructor is the purveyor of the rite.

Promote a student too soon and you may run the risk of your student failing due to their own ambition and inexperience.

Ex. You have a tough white belt that is able to give blue belts a hard roll but lacks the technical skill of a blue belt.

If you were to promote this student too fast you would only reinforce the weaknesses in his or her game that would eventually have to be addressed at later belts.

Or maybe the student has the skill and abilities to move up but are not yet mature enough.

This happens often with younger, talented students that might have things together on the mats but off the mats are a complete mess.

At the end of the day, every student that you personally promote is a reflection of the standards that you hold as an instructor.

But hold a student too long at a rank and that student might lose interest in training, decide to go to another academy or even worse, miss out on their prime competition years.

A friend of mine going through the ranks was gifted with the talent, skill, and abilities to win multiple world titles at the purple belt and brown belt levels. But he spent many of his best years repeating wins at the lower belts when those years could have been better used making waves in the black belt division.

Everyone progresses at their own rate, has their own goals that they want to achieve, and motivation levels.

Instructor knows best

As an instructor you have to find the right balance between those two extremes. Promoting too fast and waiting too long to promote. You have the find that sweet spot. Somewhere in the middle.

Whenever I was considering a student for promotion I had a small checklist of questions that I would use to evaluate the prospective graduate.

  1. Time spent training – Consistently and regularly attending classes.

  2. Motivation – Are they enthusiastic to train and learn, or do they have to be incentivized to come and train?

  3. Maturity/Leadership – Do they set a good example for other students? Do they help lower ranked students? Do they get along with the other students?

  4. Skill – Do they possess the necessary skill for the next belt level?

  5. Age – Age matters greatly. Younger students will need to compete more and prove their skills in tournaments versus older students.

  6. Goals – Is the student looking to become a great competitor or are they training for recreation?

I will be honest here. Despite your best efforts.

Some students will fall out of training even after being promoted

Some students will never live up to their potential and it will suck.

Some students will leave your academy despite you awarding them a new belt.

Regardless, it has to be your decision to graduate a student. You have to trust in your judgement and be willing to upset (or even disappoint a few) students along the way.


“We make sacred pact. I promise teach karate to you, you promise learn. I say, you do, no questions.”

– Mr. Miyagi, The Karate Kid

You have to trust in your instructor’s decision to promote you.

Deciding to graduate a student is highly subjective and it really depends on what qualities or behaviors that your instructor wants you to epitomize. Behaviors that they want you to be a perfect example of.

I know it’s not always a black and white process.

For instance my instructor is big on students maturing in their lives outside of Jiu Jitsu. Not partying too much, training diligently, and being a good person off of the mats.

When and how long it will take for a student to be ready.

Only he knows.

I simply trust in his years of experience and his judgement.

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