How the BJJ Belt System Works: Key Competencies You Need to Level Up in the Sport
The BJJ belt system symbolizes a student's progress in learning technical knowledge and mastering practical skill. Part of the uniform worn by the practitioner is a colored belt, and the belts are awarded to the student based on merit. Some schools incorporate stripes to indicate skill level within the color level, while others award solid colored belts until after the sixth degree black belt has been earned. Traditionally, the BJJ belt system has been informal, with instructors awarding belts when they feel their students are ready.
Some academies, however, take a more formal testing approach. This is particularly true at the higher levels, when promotion is more contentious. Today, we will discuss the nuances of the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu belt system and explain to you what key competencies you need to level up in the sport.
What Do All the Colors Mean in the BJJ Belt System?
As a white belt in the Brazilian jiujitsu belt system, your job is to create a frame of reference for all the learning you will do in the future. Consider BJJ as a jigsaw puzzle, and at the white belt level you are piecing together the edges of the puzzle. Learn how to learn; then focus on building a strong foundation on the fundamentals.
Perhaps the most essential skill you can learn as a white belt is how to relax. There is no exaggerating how important this is. Nobody expects anything from you at this point. Focus all your mental energy into learning everything you can about each training session. Do not dwell on any losses you may experience during a sparring match.
Remember to learn a technique really well before you move on and learn another technique. Trying to absorb and execute too much information at once is a hinderance rather than a help. Take the time to learn a few crucial techniques and movements so you do not become overwhelmed and bogged down with information you can't retain all at once.
Conditioning is another key piece of the puzzle for white belts. Practicing the moves you are learning is a lot easier when you are in peak physical condition. Outside of your BJJ classes, take other physical conditioning classes throughout the week.
Here are some great goals to have at the white belt level:
Learn the names of each main position and become familiar with each of them on a basic level. For example, you should be able to watch a sparring match and identify the guard position.
Develop the Right Attitude
Learn to be humble. Grow accustomed to the fact that you will be beaten by students who are more advanced than you. This is particularly important for large, naturally athletic students who have excelled in other sports.
Become Familiar With the Sport
Grow accustomed to the sport of jiu-jitsu. Take careful note of how your body moves across the ground and how your opponent uses his weight and strength to resist you.
Master a Technique at a Time
Choose one technique from each position and try to master it. Study and practice one sweep, one submission from back mount, and one guard pass, for example.
At the BJJ belt level of blue, you should focus almost exclusively on your defense. This makes it nearly impossible for anyone to tap you out. You will probably not be promoted to purple belt until you have a rock-solid defense and can escape from every classic submission and major position without too much trouble.
Furthermore, you should start to get good at guard passing. As more complex guards emerge every year, this becomes harder. However, the more time you spend in your opponent's guards, the more thoroughly you understand them and the more proficient you will become at overcoming them. The closer you get to purple belt, the more time you should spend inside your opponent's guard, studying it and learning how to deal with it effectively. Good goals to have at the blue belt level are:
- Have two solid escape options from Side Mount, Back Mount, and Mount
- Master three guard passing techniques: one each for the open, half, and closed guard variant
- Fight in at least one competition
When you reach the level of purple belt, you should be learning the art of movement and using momentum to your advantage. By practicing sensitivity and timing, you will learn how to generate momentum and redirect your opponent's momentum to your advantage. You will become much better at conserving energy during your sparring matches.
While sparring is integral to jiujitsu at all levels, when you reach the level of purple belt, you really need to put in the hours. Practice grappling with closed eyes and "flow" rolling to help take you to the next level.
The purple belt is the point where you finish laying the foundation of your matches. Revisit your defense strategies and make sure you have mastered your escapes and are extremely difficult to submit.
After around a year of holding your purple belt, take a long, hard, honest look at yourself. Where are your weaknesses? Once you have identified these, focus your training on turning these weaknesses into your greatest strengths. This will make you a more well-rounded and difficult opponent.
At this point, your guard should be highly effective. You should be familiar with each guard and dangerous from at least two of them. Learn how to attack from any position and begin to learn attacks using a combination of techniques. You should be comfortable with an initial setup and at least one counter to your favored attack's standard defense. Good goals to have at the purple belt level are:
- Become adept at passing and using the most commonly guard position variants, such as the spider, deep-half, and de la Riva
- Be able to execute three submissions from the Mount, Back Mount, and Side Mount
- Properly execute three combination attacks from the guard position
At the level of brown belt, you will begin to shift your primary focus to attack. By this point, you should have an air-tight defense. This will allow you to be more aggressive in your attack. You should feel comfortable on the mat from a defensive standpoint.
It is also at this point that you should be able to teach the art of BJJ to others. Many practitioners discover they have a passion for teaching and begin to pursue a career in coaching. You will also find that teaching is one of the best ways to gain a deeper insight into everything you have learned up until this point.
To take your fighting to the next level, recognize that your performance is intertwined intrinsically with your mental and physical health. As you improve these two things, your BJJ performance improves. We recommend the three following goals at this level:
- Teach a few classes at your local academy
- Master your balance and weight distribution in the top positions
- Have at least two three-phase attack sequences from each primary position
By the time you earn a black belt in the BJJ belt system, you should be comfortable in the guidelines and techniques that you have learned along the way. You feel at home riffing during your sparring matches. Your comprehension of the art is deep and intuitive. Even when you face a move you have never seen before, you feel comfortable feeling your way through it instinctively.
When you reach the level of first degree black belt, you should start to look at everything with a new perspective. You should be able to see subtle nuances in fundamental movements you have practiced thousands of times and continue to hone and refine your technique. You should also be able to draw inspiration from other martial disciplines. Some good goals at the BJJ level of black belt are:
- Practice yoga to make jiu jitsu practice and performance easier
- Consider training in a functional martial art, such as MMA, judo, boxing, wrestling, or Muay Thai
- Understand that the journey is never over
How Long Does It Take to Get a Blue BJJ Belt?
While there are no prerequisites for holding a white belt, the IBJJF, or International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation, requires fighters to be at least 16 years of age. On average, it takes around two to three years to earn a blue belt, depending on how much effort you put into your classes and how often you spar.
The average jiujitsu level is the blue belt, and this is where your journey truly begins. At this point, you generally have a good enough grasp of the basics to defend yourself effectively against most standard submissions. When you get to this level, you should be able to hold your own against other recent blue belts.
Some blue belts seem to have a knack for jiujitsu and progress to purple belt in just a couple years. However, it is very common for a jiujitsu fighter to take four years to progress to the next level.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Black BJJ Belt?
Degrees of Black Belt and Beyond
Once you have risen through all six ranks of black belt in the BJJ belt system, there is a red and black coral belt, a red and white coral belt, and a red belt. Before you can progress to a red and black coral belt, you must teach and perform at the black belt level for at least five years.
Before you can ascend to the level of red and white belt, you must train and teach at the level of red and black belt for at least seven years. Before you can obtain a red belt, you must teach at the red and white belt level for 10 years. The 9th degree red belt is the highest belt held by any living Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner.
According to the IBJJF, if you earn your first-degree black belt at age 19, it will take you until age 67 to obtain your ninth degree red belt. To date, the only recipients of a 10th degree red belt were the five Grace brothers and the pioneers of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
The BJJ belt system is unlike any other belt progression. There are no requirements for becoming a white belt, and from there the progression goes to blue belt, purple belt, brown belt, black belt, red and black coral belt, red and white coral belt, and, finally, red belt. There are six degrees of black belt and 10 degrees of red belt, although no living BJJ practitioner holds a 10th degree red belt currently.
While in the BJJ belt system it takes only two to three years to rise to the rank of blue belt, it can take up to 10 years to earn a black belt. To earn a ninth degree red belt takes 48 years after receiving a first degree black belt. Most of this time is spent teaching the art to new students. Wherever you are in your Brazilian jiu-jitsu journey, remember, your journey is never over. Take care of your mind. Take care of your body. Remain humble. Never stop learning.