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Rigan Machado promoting Ashton Kutcher to purple belt last month has created quite a buzz. Some people think it was too fast, and that he is getting a preferential treatment because he is a celebrity. Some people feel that they are qualified to criticize the legendary instructor, and that only serious competitors should be promoted so rapidly.

Most people questioning his promotion have probably never trained with him, and have no idea how good he is. It is selfish to think that only your time on each belt level is appropriate, and everyone must follow your promotion schedule. Is it possible that some people learn, and advance faster, and are just more gifted than you? Should you question the instructor who has been training, and teaching longer than most of us have been alive?

Slow promotions hardly ever get the same reaction. People clap, and congratulate; holler good job, well deserved! People assume that this person must be really, really good. But you don’t know how lazy he has been; perhaps that individual was barely doing warm-ups; skipped the rolls with the most challenging partners, and turned on the teaching mode as soon as he was in a bad position. He gets praised because he stayed on that belt for a long time, and time equals to being good.

What is worse? Being super talented, and moving up fast or being unexceptional, and getting through the ranks with barely doing the minimum, and being promoted according to the “schedule”? If you question fast promotions, you should also question the other end of the spectrum.

Most black belts agree that we should not focus on the color of the belt but rather on our personal development. It is natural to try to compare our own progress to our team mates’ because it makes us feel better about ourselves. We want to know that we are good. Heck, we want to be better than mediocre. We want to know that we are not the worst in class. And comparison gives the immediate reward of feeling good even on a terrible day. It’s a constant balancing act of not getting overly caught up in the ranks, and staying focused on the personal goals of improvement. Find the balance, and you will enjoy training for years!