Just because you have a gold medal does not mean you are equal to other gold medal competitors. Let’s turn back to the fall of 2015. There was an uproar in the Jiu Jitsu community over gold medal competitors posting pictures on the medal stand without a second or third place challenger. Jiu Jitsu Times aptly responded with an article “Jiu-Jitsu: Not All Medals Are Created Equal.” It said that participation medals are not the same as medals won by beating other competitors. Same goes for medals acquired for losing all matches but ending up on the podium anyway.
You would think this might be the end of the debate. Think again. The day of the IBJJF New York Spring Open 2016, a gym owner and head instructor posted a picture of himself on Facebook on the podium with his master’s black belt gold medal without any challengers. His caption was that he did his part to train and make weight and thus he rightly deserves the gold medal. He even went so far as to call out his potential challengers for not showing up. This is appalling for many reasons and we can see that the debate has continued.
First, this gym owner never had any challengers and he knew weeks in advance that there was no one in his division. At that point, he could have changed his division, weight class, or requested his money back from the IBJJF. Yet the gym instructor did not compete in the open class. Surprised? You wonder if he actually wanted to compete that day. It seems that he wanted a free gold medal without doing any work. This man is a joke.
Second, the gym instructor is supposed to be a leader of his community and set a good example for his students. His medal is not equal to the other master’s black belt competitors in different divisions that beat multiple opponents that day. He shouldn’t have posted the photo only to brag about his training and diet as his greatest accomplishments. That’s just doing the bare minimum in order to compete like everyone else. He is bragging about not being exceptional.
Third, the real damage this does is that it sets a bad precedent for his students who want to compete at IBJJF tournaments. It sends a message that the end goal is an empty gold medal. He didn’t struggle. He didn’t win a close match. His technique didn’t prevail. He should be embarrassed.
In no way does his actions encourage students to learn for the enjoyment of learning, develop a refined skill set that can actually beat other competitors, or validate that the gym instructors Jiu Jitsu in a legitimate. We have yet to see if the gym owner can even perform the fundamentals.
Fourth, the show of arrogance devalues the gold medal that his fellow competitors fought and earned that day. Let’s be honest, the gym instructor did not earn that gold and IBJJF should not hand out participation medals in divisions where there are no challengers. This kind of show-boating degrades the hard work other competitors did on the mats that day in competition.
So, if you are a student and your head instructor or gym owner posts a photo on Facebook in a similar fashion, what can you do? Well, my best advice is for you to reevaluate your academy, the head instructor, and the technical knowledge you are receiving. If you only use internal means to evaluate your school, you probably don’t have enough information to make an accurate assessment. You need to compare your school, instructor, and knowledge to external sources. Since we are talking about the behavior of gym instructors at tournaments, you should probably seek out what other head instructors/competitors are doing and how they interact on the podium and with their students. Here’s my advice: leave your gym immediately and never go back.
Here is an example of what a real gold medal means: Black Belt World Champion and head instructor Romulo Barral closed out the European Open class division with his student Felipe Pena. Barral let his student take home the gold medal. Both competitors had beaten everyone they faced that day. The message this sends is that fighting in the Europeans wasn’t just about bringing home a gold medal for Barral. He knew he was the best that day because he beat everyone he faced. Barral also knew that it was his responsibility to set a good example for his students and the community at large.