BJJ in my eyes October 2009 – Achieving a BJJ Black belt, and the responsibilities you must accept with it!!! Part 2

 William and Carlos Spar

Professor William Vandry sparring with his mentor Master Carlos Machado

Last month I discussed more of direct protocols involving responsibilities, protocols and some personal and philosophical requirements that I have learned from my instructors (Carlos, Roger, Rigan, John and Jean Jacques Machado), and moreso, from my own life, upbringing and my own philosophies.

Last month we also discussed a little on teaching, and different mentalities and personalities that directly affect student behavior, and what those disciplines should change to for the value of teaching and spreading the BJJ philosophy.

Ranking structure in BJJ is grey at best generally to the public.  The best research or requirements at times are the best defined.  I generally have researched Gracie Barra and of course my instructor’s mandatory requirements for belt testing and certification.  I feel that the best way for me to teach, rank and develop structure, is to adhere to the closest principles of the founder of our martial art, the Great Carlos Gracie, and of course with our modern day adaptations.  Different federations do different ranking.  Basically here are the standards I adhere to for rank:

Grand Master— Red Belt — 9th & 10th degree
Master— Red and Black Belt — 7th & 8th degree
Professor— Black Belt — 2nd through 6th degree
Instructor— Black Belt (red and white band with one stripe)
Assistant Instructor — Black belt (red and white band)
Fighter— Black Belt (No band)
Assistant — Brown belt
Intermediate Student — Purple belt
 Intermediate Student — Blue belt
Beginner adult Student  White belt
Advanced child student – Green belt (16 and under)
Intermediate child student – Yellow belt (16 and under)
Beginner child student – White belt (16 and under)

Regarding actual testing or stripes, authority has to be granted to also teach.  When my instructor Master Carlos Machado asked me to start teaching, I was a blue belt.  It was the first Machado association in Texas in 1996.  I felt uncomfortable at first, because I did not want to claim instructor status.  Carlos instructed to me that it was not an authority of giving rank; a blue belt was more of a club issue that could start up a class specifically for training and spreading the message of Jiu-jitsu.  I was already a business owner, and did not need to teach for my career, or to simply find a trade.  Of course, it’s ironic how things happen in life.  I now teach out of my headquarters in Austin, Texas, and I have a satellite of association academies under me in Texas (Austin, Luling, Seguin, South Austin, Brownsville, Weslaco and Harlingen).  Qualified instructors that adhere to my curriculum and training standards run all of these academies or associations.  I travel to teach seminars during the year at these academies, and our goals together are to reach out to learning students that need development, introduction or constant training and education in Jiu-jitsu.  Our style never ends its science.  We always develop new ideas or theories.

When you receive a Black belt in BJJ, and I have been one now for over 7years, there are misunderstandings and incorrect assumptions.  For instance, a Black belt itself does not represent or is even authorized as a practitioner to develop or open a training facility under his instructor’s certification.  These are protocols that are carefully selected and trained in.  A black belt in BJJ is just a starting phase of learning to actually teach.  For instance, my instructor Master Carlos Machado has a multitude of Black belts, but not all of them are certified or authorized under him to teach.  Most have their own careers outside of the martial arts, while some do teach.  This happens on a national level, and has been part of our American culture for decades.  After World War 2, many young college kids from Japan were actually teaching some martial arts.  Some of them weren’t even Black belts.  In the 70’s there was a surge of Karate and Kung fu in the USA.  In the 80’s Tae Kwon do and Ninjitsu became the popular style, and most of these arts became popular through movies or Olympic sports.  In the 90’s here comes BJJ and MMA.  BJJ was so popular when Royce Gracie won his first two UFC’s that like other arts and popular cultures in the USA, out of nowhere we had people teaching that never did a lick of training.  We had Black belts in different styles that ‘claimed’ to teach BJJ.  Going into the 21st century, that got exposed when BJJ Black belts actually could be traced relatively easy.  Why?  Because there were very few of them, and the limitations of certified Black belts were easily found.  It seems in this day and age, and I have been in this business for 14 years, it generally becomes more of a status issue.  I have paid my dues, and have maintained training with my instructors since day one.  I respect them, and host them occasionally at my own academy.  I like to promote my lineage (The Machado brothers), and also my own philosophy I have learned and grown to teach better over the years.

I have had people contact me that wanted to ‘test’ for rank that I have never met.  This is a selfish philosophy, and certainly for the wrong reasons.  I remember a person in 2001 that came by my academy and offered me basically a bribe for testing.  I basically told him he was offending me, disrespecting my philosophy, and told him to leave.  He did.

I have Black belts ranked under me, but not all of them are certified to teach, or teach as an association academy.  Some assist me at my academy, and others out of town such as Black belts King Webb (Luling and Seguin , andManny Galvan ( teach out of their own official academies.  Both of these Black belts have trained under me for years, followed protocols and have also been certified by me to teach and are under my association to teach.  Not all Black belts were meant to teach or are physically talented, but do understand the concepts of BJJ.

Teaching itself seems to be at best a combination of a code of honor and self serving.  By this I do not mean that instructors are both, just that you have some here and there.  By teaching itself, one needs to know a curriculum.  One must also have a sense of correction to a student.  This itself many people try to implement when teaching.  I was talking to my instructor about the subject of different students.  I was discussing some students that are just absolute perfect students, they study, train, develop, are curious about their own self development, they enjoy learning and have become a great martial artist.  Many times, I notice that these students are either single and hard at work, have goals, are very friendly people and have a good overall community intent.

I then brought up the subject of other student types.  Not just at my academy, but overall in our BJJ and MMA community.  For example, there are at times students that seem to just drift from school to school.  Well, right off the bat, excluding them being around a terrible school, many of these types seem to think that they are searching for something, but they don’t know what.  Usually people like this are relatively antisocial personalities.

I have seen pretty much all walks of life come to my academy interested in training.  I remember a gentleman coming in discussing how he always loved to get into fights, and trained with an instructor in his garage that taught him all these good ways….Jedi knight syndrome…the force…..whatever BS these type of people can drum up.  These types usually are not going to be great students, but are usually drifter types.  Many of these are those that seemingly just cant make a friend, or hide their disruptive personalities.  All of us started as children, and we have had to rid ourselves of immaturity, irresponsibility and other unethical patterns of behavior.  Some adults romanticize or fantasize themselves as positions of power in BJJ or MMA, and when they do so, they never understood the basic principles of martial arts or the philosophy.

In my kid’s class, these are traits that are must be dealt with as a BJJ student, and to learn to develop into a leadership type personality.  I have some absolutley phenomenal children that learn to wrestle with smaller kids at a very controlled level.  This is going back to the ethic thing.  I know they will develop this when they are adults, and probably before then.

Going back to bad habits, the tough guy, MMA thing originated from Brazil was not so much about a challenge mentality. It is very similar to boxing in the USA when poverty level kids wanted to learn to get out of poverty.  Parents generated that.  In Brazil, BJJ and MMA seemed to be a pattern for that.

I have learned one thing from my instructors, the Machado brothers.  Rigan Machado was undefeated for nearly two decades, and has won state Greco roman championships, Sambo world championships, Judo tournaments and of course BJJ tournaments.  The brothers overall have never felt they needed to make their career out of MMA.  Jean Jacques Machado fought a very good MMA fight in Japan years ago, but in Japan they are very respectful, polite, and the fans are just absolutely great.  They applaud very politely, and it was fun while Pride was going for a while.

My chief instructor Carlos Machado has never fought a professional MMA fight, but his skills are never questioned.  I will also state that any MMA fighter in the world has something to learn from all five brothers.  Why?  Because they have never spewed moronic fillips or stupid homilies to the general public offending another fighter or competitor.

They also have grace when sparring.  I learned this early in my career as a student.  When I train with students, even at times a new white belt may accidentally elbow me, but this is a new student.  This is not a competitor, or an enemy.  And this gradual mold into developing skills, strategy, calmness and humility is what students can develop after time.  This humility will always develop them into a higher belt level.  And most great Black belts like current champs such as Marcello Garcia espuse this humility and good will.

These ramblings of different subject matter come back full circle on the issues of responsibility.  Responsibility is not stamped with a Black belt in BJJ; it was a journey on the way to achieve one.  And in that journey from White, Blue, Purple, Brown and then Black, the knowledge is accrued through experience, mentorship and developing not just physical BJJ skills on the mat, but the ones off the mat as well.

When learning to mentor a child, or talk to a student about a few pointers on his game, or to give a few ideas of nutrition, refer a good chiropractor for his injury and the like, these are all graduating and testing points.

I personally have branded myself with the responsibility of student development as a Black belt in BJJ, but this itself is not just about their fighting ability, knowledge, or how good they can get or how many tournaments they win or lose.  No, this is a much higher standard to me.  It is overall about being a martial artist, a philosopher, a fighter, a mentor, a visionary, an athlete, a community leader, and a person with a sense of destiny.

These nuances are tools that enable the other.  I had my nephew visiting me a few years ago, and I taught him how to hold doors open for people, and especially being kind to older people.  I also told him to say thank you when people hold doors open for you.
He asked me what if people don’t say thank you?

I smiled and told him: “It’s actually ok.  Sometimes some people don’t develop social skills, or learn proper manners and respect.  But don’t ever let that change you from practicing what you know is the correct philosophy.”


Absorb, and think.

Professor William Vandry

Vandry BJJ Academy: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), Muay Thai Boxing & Judo – Austin, Texas.

Submitted by William Vandry on Sun, 10/04/2009 – 05:34