Study finds BJJ belt whipping ceremony doesn’t build bonds

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The Corredor Polonês (Polish Corridor) or Gauntlet is a controversial Jiu-Jitsu ritual, in which a student celebrates the acquisition of a new belt by walking as their training partners whip he or she with belts.

There are multiple problems with this. One, it’s stupid. Two, it’s not a Brazilian tradition. It was started by Chris Hauter, one of the first twelve people to earn a black belt in Jiu-Jitsu outside of Brazil, in the 1990s.

“Having returned from some military training, and being kind of young and dumb, I thought we needed some sort of hazing ritual,” explained Hauter to BJJ Heroes. “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.”

A number of not stupid instructors have dropped the ritual, and a number of not stupid instructors never started it. Now psychology researcher Christopher Kavanagh from the University of Oxford has studied the Gauntlet, and published his finding in a paper titled Positive experiences of high arousal martial arts rituals are linked to identity fusion and costly progroup actions.

After surveying 605 BJJ devotees, 52.9% of whom had undergone a belt whipping, Kavanagh found no evidence that the painful ritual was associated with greater identity fusion overall.

Yeah, Science.

“I had trained in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for a number of years before starting my PhD, so when I started focusing in my research on painful ritual experiences the belt whipping gauntlets that are a (controversial) part of many BJJ promotions came straight to mind,” said study author Christopher Kavanagh of the University of Oxford to Eric W. Dola for Psy Post. “Moreover, martial arts communities are often overlooked in research despite the fact that they are common across many societies and usually involve highly dedicated people and tightly bonded communities.”

“Despite widespread claims that hazing/shared experiences of pain are uniquely able to bind people together, we found that there was no difference on group bonding measures between BJJ practitioners who had experienced belt whipping events during their promotions and those who had not.”

“What did predict group bonding and pro-group action across the sample, however, was how positively people judged their promotional experiences. So if people had a positive perspective of the painful belt whippings they endured during their promotions, they did feel more bonded to their team, but the opposite was true for those who did not.”

“This result suggests that people who run martial arts/sports groups need to be wary about making any hazing-type promotional activities mandatory. Instead, if they care about group bonding and still want to perform painful rituals, they should let people opt out; without shaming them. A number of BJJ schools already do this, or have banned gauntlets altogether, but there are also many where grueling gauntlets are the norm.”

Image courtesy of Josh Jitsu.