How Whipping People With Belts Became A Part Of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
In the year 2013, after 6 years of competing in Mixed Martial Arts and the occasional NAGA tournament (submission grappling without the traditional Brazilian Jiu Jitsu kimono), I’d finally met a ‘Gi’ coach that I liked and embraced training in competing in the Gi. I’d always considered myself a “no-gi” guy and didn’t find training in the gi to be all that important toward an MMA career. But over the course of my journey as an athlete I came to TWO realizations:
1. 99% of the best submission artists at the top levels of MMA all train in the Gi.
2. If you ever plan on opening your own academy and teaching BJJ, you’re probably going to want traditional Gi BJJ rank for credibility.
So After 8 months of training in the Gi and cleaning out bracket after bracket every weekend in the white belt division, I tested for my blue belt and passed with flying colors. The test was over things like the IBJJF point system, different chain attacks and sequences from different positions, all the stuff a blue belt should know, not rocket science. Then April 23rd, I experienced the ‘not so gentle’ part of the gentle art, The gauntlet. Basically what the gauntlet is, is when you are promoted to a new rank (belt color) everyone in the academy lines up on either side of you forming a human corridor, with your coach standing at the end. Your coach gives a small speech, and whips you across the back as hard as he can with his Gi belt and you walk back and forth down the middle of the row of people while they do the same. In some academies, the number of laps back and forth one must complete through the gauntlet is dependent on their belt color.
Not every BJJ academy partakes in this ceremony and even at our academy, people are given the choice of whether or not they want to have one (although peer pressure and tradition usually sways people into doing it). But just like the gi vs no-gi debate has drawn lines in the sand between the pseudo political parties of BJJ old heads and hipsters, the gauntlet vs no gauntlet debate is a never-ending one. What some people see as a rite of passage and crucial part of the Brazilian jiu jitsu journey, others see as senseless hazing with no real place in the roots of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Where did the gauntlet come from?
In Portuguese (the native language of Brazil) , The gauntlet is known as “Corredor Polonês” which translates to Polish corridor. Which Ironically, is a strip of German territory awarded that was awarded to the newly independent country of Poland by the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, granting them passage to the baltic sea between two Nazi territories.
Despite the fact that Brazilian jiu Jitsu is the only martial art associated with Corredor Polones, the ritual itself does not actually trace back to the BJJ ‘motherland’ of Brazil. Prior to the mid 90’s, the ritual was relatively unknown and uncommon in the BJJ community. If you mentioned the word polish corridor to someone they would probably think you were referencing some kind of sexual innuendo. The birth and widespread popularity of the gauntlet ceremony is actually attributed to a Rigan Machado black belt by the name of Chris Haueter. Chris was one of the first 12 men outside of Brazil to earn the rank of Faixa preta (black belt) in Brazilian jiu jitsu. In an interview with BJJ Heroes, Chris said that his experience with the American military influenced his decision to conduct Corredor Polones on new promotees at his academy:
Having returned from some military training, and being kind of young and dumb, I thought we needed some sort of hazing ritual. Many, including some Brazilians, will disagree that it started at the Machado Academy, the brothers were not there as they were filming a movie. For a while, it got out of hand.
Despite its questionable roots, The gauntlet is a common practice among hundreds of BJJ academies all over the globe. Jiu Jiteiros find honor in the rite of passage and all of the colored ranks find camaraderie among each other having all gone through it at least once. But Some of the moguls of the BJJ community however, take a strong stand against the gauntlet despite cultural pressure to take part in the ceremony. The following excerpt was taken from Caio Terra’s Facebook account following a promotion ceremony at his academy in California:
Tonight we had belt promotions and for the first time we did NOT do the gauntlet.
In this day in age we should not condone hazing or impose it on people who don’t want to do it IMO, we are too smart for that.
If people want to do the gauntlet it’s their choice. Congrats to every one who got promoted, for those who did not keep training and keep working hard. Your time will come!
In the process of putting together this article, I spoke to many different Jiu Jiteiros of all different ages genders and belt colors, and got a lot of different responses:
“It’s sort of like when you get promoted or graduate from a school in the Army, you get “pinned”. Being pinned means they place the badge or rank on you chest or collar without the back on the pin. Your NCO slams his fist down on the pin, leaving an imprint on your chest or collar bone(ouch). It sucks but it’s part of gaining rank or graduating”
Others were not so supportive
“I’m completely not a fan and against it! I already plan on not taking part in it when my promotion arises. [during ceremonies] I choose to snap photos at these events then to take part in the whipping. I also hate the pressure that you have to do it! Because I know everyone says you don’t have to do them but come on you know everyone is talking s*** if you don’t! I’ve been to 3 maybe 4 “ceremonies” and I just did NOT have it in me to hit/whip my teammate/friends/family! I want to love my fiends/teammates/family and encourage their progression I do not think whipping someone is how you show it. I feel the practice is sick. And it’s the only thing I hate about jiujitsu! I know I’m just a white belt but I find the tradition to be sadistic”
The word sadistic tends to pop up a lot when talking gauntlets.
“Personally I feel like it’s a right of passage. It’s tradition. And it truly let’s you know where you stand among your peers. The rule is “the harder they hit you, the more they think you deserve it” well for me I got hit HARD and even though it hurt it still made me humble and proud to know that everyone thought I deserved it. “
Others prefer their gauntlets to take the form of live rolling.
“I don’t think whipping or being whipped makes you a better fighter nor is it cool that even though [professor] says you don’t have to you still feel pressure. But hey they can call me a p**** for not doing it but I will show them otherwise on the mat. Hard for me to get over all the sadistic laughter and be a part of it. So I will choose to sit out. Never been one just to follow the crowd if what the crowd is doing is against my values”
So what say you, interwebs? Is the gauntlet an integral facet of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, or nothing more than senseless hazing? sound off in the comments!