To Gi or not to Gi…

That really is, not just a valid question, but the real question when it comes to black belts attending tournaments today who are not competing. When I was a younger kid in Karate attending tournaments every single black belt was in uniform except the promoter for the event. The promoters were often in a dress shirt and tie and some even wore a full suit. By the 1990’s that had drastically changed and it was not uncommon to find black belts judging or at events in street clothes.

Many organizations have rules that permit senior ranking black belts to not wear a uniform. Some organizations, such as the AAU, have official suit and tie required for judges. So there are times where it is permitted for a black belt is not required to wear a Gi or have one at tournaments…but then there are not. This past weekend, while I was at a tournament, I took time to look around and I saw several black belts not wearing uniforms…and not helping out with the event either. Those are the people that I will address in my blog today.

These black belts are the same ones who other black belts judged for years as kyu ranks. They were at events, competed, and black belts gave up their time to judge them. So they show up to tournaments with students, don’t wear a Gi and hide out trying not to judge or help with the event…and that is not a black belt attitude. It is, in my personal opinion, a pathetic attitude. Some of them even when to the black belt rules meeting and then ran off when they asked for non-competing black belts to stay to be assigned to rings. So here are some things that all of those “types” of black belts out there need to know from those of us that are real black belts…and yes I said REAL.

First off if you go a tournament you should wear a Gi. If not you have no business being the floor at the event. Only competitors and judges are permitted on the floor yet you parade around, in street clothes, acting as if you belong but don’t even have the decency to wear the appropriate attire.

Secondly many black belts gave up their day to judge you when you were a kyu rank, or even competing as a black belt, student. They didn’t have to. They had students there competing too. They sat in those chairs for hours judging you. You OWE it to them to pay it back by showing up in a Gi and judging. I find it appalling the number of black belts who come up with all sorts of excuses to “hide” out so they don’t have to judge or help. That is part of what being a black belt is about if you are going to a tournament.

Next, if you aren’t a 6th degree black belt or higher in rank, you put on your Gi when attending a martial arts tournament. That being said I personally feel everyone except the promoter and arbitrator should be in a Gi. The word professional means to wear the appropriate uniform for the event, career, in which we represent. Not being in a uniform at a tournament, even if you aren’t competing, is not professional…it is lazy.

Yes, I understand you have students there, so do I but I am in Gi, on the floor, judging and helping out. I would love to watch my students. I would love to be able to coach them on the sidelines. I would love to take pictures and video too…but I am a black belt and have a job to do. So I grab my gi, put it on, judge and help the promoter…not because I have to, not because it is the right thing to do but because it is the BLACK BELT thing to do.

Over the years I have had black belts in street clothes want to “interject” their opinion or thoughts on a point scored, or a kata scored. They stand off to the side of the ring in their jeans and t-shirts. They walk around the event never helping out. They always claim they are there for their students and don’t want to judge because their students “come first”. Sorry but all of our students come first to each one of us…it is just some of us believe in leading by example which evidently you do not. So the next time you stand there in street clothes and want to argue with me as a judge then understand why I am not giving you a lot of respect…because you haven’t done anything that day to earn it.

In my dojo my black belts know that you will be in a Gi if you go to a tournament, even if you are not competing. You will be on time to the tournament, make the rules meeting and volunteer to judge. A black belt who claims to be professional should lead by example in everything they do, not just talk but through actions. This is part of the traditional martial arts…and if you don’t claim to be or claim to be a “sport” or “modern” black belt you still can show up in uniform and help out. It is the right thing to do period.

At the last event a black belt instructor from a school in my area showed up in street clothes. There were students from that school competing all day too. This black belt did nothing but walk around. This person is a low rank black belt and has done this before at other events. So I have little respect for said person because their butt should be in a uniform and judging period…especially since this person is a low ranking black belt.

So, the next time you are going to an event bring you Gi. Put it on. Get out there and help. Be a BLACK BELT in actions instead of just saying you are one. Pay back all those other black belts who judged you over the years. Quit being a pansy and sitting off to the sidelines trying not to judge, not to help out…quite simply BE A BLACK BELT.

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