There is a tradition in certain Brazilian jiu jitsu schools called "running the gauntlet", which occurs after you've been promoted. Normally that involves everyone else in the club taking off their belts, forming into two rows, then 'whipping' the newly graded student as they walk (or run) down the middle. Sometimes this is extended to all sorts of occasions, like birthdays: I remember when I trained at Nova Força, there was a whipping or three almost every session. Reasons ranged from somebody washing their belt through to welcoming an old student back to class.
For many, belt whipping is a team bonding exercise. It is a way for the club as a whole to celebrate your success: these are the people who have seen you sweat, bleed and struggle, overcome your limitations and reach the next level. They've twisted your limbs and choked you out, while getting mangled and strangled in return. They are your training partners and your friends, the people who offer you advice and support along with the bruises. They want to be a part of your achievement, because in a very real sense, it is their achievement too, as a team.
For others, however, belt whipping is barely removed from the macho 'male bonding' of frat-boy antics and hazing rituals. You've already been squashed, squeezed and crushed for several years to earn this privilege, and now you're expected to let everyone else beat you up with impunity. You might well think you've suffered enough, and could at least have the opportunity to prove your skill, such as by a lengthy spar against all your team mates. That is just as painful, and offers you the chance to give as good as you get.
Personally, I would rather do without belt-whipping (for a range of opinions on the topic, check out this and this). I much prefer the tradition at the Roger Gracie Academy and its affiliates, where a promotion entails a handshake and a round of applause. Alternatively, there is the method Roy Dean uses: after he has decided somebody is ready for the next belt, he asks if they would like to perform a demonstration, involving techniques and then sparring. It is an optional exercise, not a test, which has resulted in numerous beautiful videos up on YouTube, such as this fine example by Jimmy Da Silva:
Compare that to the infamous test at Godoi Jiu Jitsu (though also note there are plenty of hugs and smiles at the end):
Why is it that grown women and men will happily let others slap them around with belts, or even drop-kick them in the chest? I suppose you could equally ask why do we let people try and cut off the flow of blood to our brains: both are fairly strange, as consensual activities go.
I have noticed that there is an unusual attitude to pain in contact sports, especially martial arts. There are those who will take a perverse pleasure in suffering through an especially tough warm-up, or grin after a really intense sparring session. Surviving physical hardship becomes a matter of pride, as well as a method of team building. Everyone shares in the experience, turning something potentially unpleasant into a story to laugh about with your friends.
On the few occasions I've been present at a belt whipping, I've stood off to the side, my belt still tied around my waist. However, if for some reason I was to be the recipient, I'd probably take part. While I don't think there is anything wrong with one person sitting out, denying the whole class their tradition is a different matter (especially if it's only when I get promoted, which is naturally a very infrequent event). As ever, to each their own.
2012: Facebook Discussion (Jiu Jitsu Style fan page)
2012: Why the Jiu Jitsu Ironman Is the SBG Way (reddit comment thread)
2012: Belt Whipping: Why??? (The Underground)
2011: Origins of Belt Whipping? (The Underground)
2009: The Gauntlet (The Underground)
2009: Belt Promotion Method (NHBGear)
2007: New Blue Belts at 302 (EFN)
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