When you join your first BJJ gym everything may seem normal and you’d be having a lot of fun until you have to be promoted to a new belt. The testing and tournament of promotion is one thing, however, after everyone has received their new belt you may be shocked to see something called the Gauntlet take place. Many times, first-time BJJ practitioners are shocked about this and have no idea what the Gauntlet even is until they join their first one.
The Belt Gauntlet, also called Belt Whipping or Polish Corridor, is the process of everyone in the gym lining up with their belts off and the people that have just been promoted running through the middle, being whipped by the belts of their peers. It is a tradition that Chris Haueter started in the early ’90s because he thought it would be fun to have some sort of hazing ritual.
Many in the BJJ world would rather have the tradition stopped, and many more still incorporate it. However, it is important to know when it exactly started, how it works, and why some people say that it should be stopped altogether.
Usually, people are surprised to learn that the tradition is not done at some of the oldest BJJ gyms in the world, while many are surprised at how recent the tradition is.
How Does The Belt Gauntlet Work?
The belt gauntlet works by having everyone in the gym make a line in two parts, with an alleyway in the middle. Everyone who had gotten a new belt will then start running through the alley, being whipped by the belts of everyone else in the gym. The whipping with belts can be as hard as the people want it to be, and many times they will aim for the upper back.
It has been accepted that this process can be quite violent and some gyms have stopped the gauntlet altogether.
The challenge is that those who are doing the whipping can sometimes get overzealous, whipping much too hard or too frequent, with some making claims they missed a person. This means the person needs to run through the gauntlet again as everyone is supposed to whip them.
This is why you will see that in the modern world of BJJ fewer and fewer gyms are actively allowing gauntlets to be run. Many gyms are starting to stop the practice to ensure that members of the gym are not tempted to try it.
Further, many martial arts experts have said that the gauntlet serves no purpose as the promotion to a new belt should not be something someone fears, like the belts, people are being whipped with can cause lasting damage.
It should be noted that many gyms that do incorporate don’t force the students to get whipped and it is typically an optional ritual to take participate in with no repercussions or bullying taking place afterward if you decide it’s not for you.
Is The Belt Gauntlet Important?
No, it is just a tradition that many gyms adopted. While it can seem brutal, and if you are at the wrong gym is, the overall effect that the gauntlet has is one of connection and celebration. If done properly and with restraint the whipping does not hurt, and those running the gauntlet and those doing the whipping are all having one big celebration.
This is usually why you will see people happily partaking in a gauntlet after they have received their new belts, which is why you will usually see people at more controlled gyms continuing the tradition.
It should be noted that the belt gauntlet is not exclusively for people receiving their new belts, it can be a simple initiation process for new people to the gym; however, this is much rarer.
Whichever reason it is, every gym will have its spin on the process, with many not always adhering closely to the original reasons the gauntlet was run. This is why you may find that in some parts of the world the gauntlet is considered extremely important, while in others the gauntlet is almost entirely ignored.
Where Did The Belt Gauntlet First Start?
Around 1990 Christ Haueter, a member of the Machado Jiu-Jitsu academy in California along with another of the first 12 people to earn a black belt in BJJ outside of Brazil started the gauntlet.
Chris has said that the process started because they were young and fresh from the military and thought that some type of hazing ritual was needed. This is part of why the ritual got out of hand as it grew more popular, the people that were willing to partake in it were more likely to lose themselves.
This contradicts with the knowledge of many, as a lot of BJJ practitioners from Brazil will claim that the gauntlet is a long-honored tradition from the roots of the sport itself. However, most of the older gyms in Brazil will not do it at all.
But if anyone ever claims that it has been around for as long as BJJ has existed it is not true, as BJJ started in the 1960s and did not include the hazing ritual.
When Do You Have To Go Through The Belt Gauntlet?
Students only have to go through the gauntlet when they have been promoted to a new belt and if they choose to participate.
It is only after you have undergone a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to be promoted to the next belt. As the tradition has grown around the world, you will also have to remove your Gi top, to ensure the belts are hitting the skin.
The belt gauntlet was only started in the 1990s and is not a tradition of the old school BJJ practices, however, if you would like to participate it can still be a fun ritual. Running through the gauntlet does help to build some character and many times you may be surprised to learn that the gauntlet is not so bad. Usually, because the gym you are in has a few house rules to make it fun for everyone.