Brown Belt Syndrome

This is a phenomenon that occurs in martial arts classes. Not everyone catches it, but many do. In most dojos the brown belt is the last of the kyu grades before one gets a black belt at first dan. Technically at brown belt you are still “boy”. There is a certain type of brown belt who believes his {or her} level of skill to be higher than it is. They are determined to impart their omniscience to the lower grades and can in fact pass on poor technique. There is a related phenomenon with postgraduate demonstrators in undergraduate laboratories. On occasion I have seen someone with brown belt syndrome hurt lower grades particularly if said lower grade is outperforming them, some of them can be quite nasty justifying to themselves that they are toughening up the recipient of their ego at work. On occasion I have seen someone with this syndrome reminded of their place on the dojo rankings and painfully so.

If you have never been to a full contact or grappling dojo and decided to go to one it would be wise to not be too cocky. Not everybody gets into martial arts for the right motive. I have been badly injured at a sports judo dojo when some arsehole rammed me as hard as he could into the mat during training {note not competition}. I gained a c5-c7 cervical spine injury which caused me to lose most of the use of my left arm and to follow a diet of codeine for near a month. Now some 14 years later I have about 92% strength in my left arm, on occasion it still trembles beyond my control.

In a good dojo the instructor will gradually ramp up the difficulty of technique and the severity of contact. If say a 5th dan Aikido dude gave it to you full Ki from the outset you would be unable to hack it. So, people can have abilities that you know nothing of.

Brown belt syndrome arises out of egoic head swelling and self-importance.

A while back I watched a series of Jiu Jitsu videos in which a Gracie trained petite woman took on blokes at grappling in a park. They may have thought they would simply be getting a cuddle. She choked them out one by one. One dude kept coming back for more and she choked him out maybe four times before he conceded. He found it difficult to accept. It may not have gone through their minds, but if she had wanted to, she could have killed them. A big ego could have ended in death.

My favourite part of judo was groundwork, and my favourite techniques were choke holds. I have been choked to the verge of unconsciousness, so I know what it feels like.

If you don’t know what you are getting into a little caution and much reduced arrogance is sensible.

In Kyokushin Karate there is hyakunin kumite or 100-man kumite. This means 100 rounds of 90-120 seconds of full contact, no gloves, sparring. The kind of individual who can sustain that is hard to imagine. Steve Arneil was one of them, he set up the UK Kyokushin. I still have partially conditioned knuckles thirty years on. I never made it to the lofty grades where I might suffer this syndrome. If in trouble I suspect I would only have to hit someone once, even now.

In a different dojo with a highly Japanese trained sensei, I have been on the mat with several others when one of the guys started giving the sensei some attitude. The sensei switched, looked directly at him with a death stare and said if you want, I will take you all on right here right now. Luckily the geezer who was emanating attitude metaphorically shit his pants and the sensei calmed down close to his normal very well balanced and encouraging self.

In the old days people died in dojos.

Have you ever inflicted brown belt syndrome on anyone?

Have you ever been on the receiving end of brown belt syndrome?