BJJ’s Most Popular Position: The Sandbagger

4 min read
What is Jiu-Jitsu Sandbagging and what does it mean in the BJJ culture whether your a competitor or recreational practitioner

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BJJ’s Most Popular Position: The Sandbagger

What is Jiu-Jitsu Sandbagging and what does it mean in the BJJ culture whether your a competitor or recreational practitioner

Location: Sherwood Park, Alberta

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Photo by: Anett Meszaros

Every gym has at least one, and I’m sure you have an image of a particular person in your gym when the word “sandbagger” comes up. This term is used a lot in Jiu-Jitsu, especially among competing practitioners. It’s also not likely to be used as a compliment, haha. It gets thrown around here and there, even when it doesn’t necessarily apply. 

BJJ Sandbagging?

What exactly is a sandbagger? Why is it generally a bad thing to be one? How do people get labeled as a Sandbagger? These are all questions that may arise from people new to the Jiu-Jitsu scene, and it’s time they got a solid definition of what the word really means.

“Sandbagging” or “sandbagger” is a term used to describe someone sitting at the same belt level for a significant amount of time or someone held back from a promotion despite winning tournaments that further prove they are ready for their next belt. 

How does sandbagging happen

This can happen for several different reasons. In fact, there are so many that no one could tell you all of them. It’s important to realize that a BJJ promotion only occurs when your professor or coach decides you’re ready for the next belt and different coaches conduct their promotions differently from others. 

In BJJ, there is no worldwide standard for promotions, your Jiu-Jitsu lineage makes a big difference, and often you get promoted differently if you’re a competitor or recreational practitioner. Additionally, some gyms promote students based on attendance, some base it on improvement and attitude, and yet others choose to promote based on the amount of time they’ve had their belt. 

Sandbagging… their coaches choice

No matter the case, it’s necessary to keep in mind that a teammate or competitor can’t just choose what belt they have, so don’t pick on them or criticize them if they’ve had their belt for longer than what you feel is necessary… it’s ultimately their coach’s decision. 

Back 30 or so years ago, it was common with some lineages where if a student asked for a belt, their professor would hold them back an additional 2 years just for asking. And today, it is still very uncouth to ask to be promoted…. many coaches will hold you back longer for it.  

Sandbagging is not always bad

The above said, at times, holding a student back from a promotion may be necessary. They may have stopped training at some point in time due to injury, work, or any other life event. However, others may be stuck at the same belt strictly due to their age. A perfect example of this would be AOJ’S Cole Abate. 

There’s no doubt that the 17-year-old prodigy has made quite a name for himself. Beating high-level black belts while still sitting at a blue belt can stir up a lot of drama in the Jiu-Jitsu world. Many call him a sandbagger and judge the decision of Prof. Guilherme Mendes and Prof. Rafael Mendes, the Mendes Brothers for keeping him at the same belt. 

These people fail to consider that if they were to promote him to purple, he would no longer be allowed to compete through IBJJF as there is no Juvenile purple belt division. Is it fair of them to take away more opportunities for Cole at such a young age strictly because he’s proven to be better than so many? No, not at all. As previously mentioned, this is a perfect example of how sandbagging may be appropriate.

The same Jiu-Jitsu journey

The beauty of Jiu-Jitsu is that everyone is on the same journey; however, we’re all taking different roads. Some may take longer; some may be much quicker. In the end, everyone deserves the privilege of enjoying their journey to wherever their path may lead them. Support one another, and don’t be quick to judge if someone is taking longer than you are. Your road may be shorter, but that doesn’t make you any better than anyone else. 

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