The belt system in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu can be quite challenging for newbies in the sport. Belts are very common in many other forms of martial arts such as Taekwondo and Karate. Their issuance in these other forms is, however, purely subjective.
In BJJ, however, the belt system has a standardized structure that factors the age of the practitioner and their experience. The rules of the belt system are clearly laid out by the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation.
They are followed by most of the accredited Jiu-Jitsu academies across the globe. In this guide, we are going to detail everything that you need to know about the BJJ belt system.
History of the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Belt System
The BJJ belts are White, Blue, Purple, Brown, and Black. These colors are believed to have come from Judo. The founder – Jigoro Kano came up with a simple belt system comprising white, brown, and black in 1882.
He needed such a system to visually track the progress of his students. Not long thereafter, martial arts adopted a similar belt system, making it a norm within these sports.
In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, the belt system was developed by Helio and Carlos Grace. Initially, they came up with the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu belt system in 1952. The focus of this initial system was on instructorship and not on one’s martial arts skills.
According to this system, the white belts were for students who didn’t take any instructor course. Light blue belts were for those who had taken diploma instructor courses. Upon qualifying to become a professor, the student would be given the dark blue belts. The black belts were introduced in 1967 in this system.
It was also in 1967 when the Jiu-Jitsu Federation of Guanabara came up with the official belt ranking for the sport. However, it is the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation and the Sports Jiu-Jitsu International Federation that refined the current criteria and the modern belt systems.
In this comprehensive guide, we will focus mainly on the belt system by the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation, IBJJF.
The Belt Promotion System
According to the IBJJF, the belts in Jiu-Jitsu are issued out based on the skill level and the duration a fighter has been training. In order of the lowest rank to the highest rank, the belt system is as follows:
- White Belt
- Blue Belt
- Purple Belt
- Brown Belt
- Black Belt
- Red & Black Belt
- Red & White Belt
- Red Belt
There are the set guidelines that govern the duration of time that you must remain at each belt level before they move on to the next level. For example, a holder of a blue belt must stay in that rank for at least two years before they can graduate to the purple belt.
Once you get a purple belt, you must have it for at least one and a half years before you move on to the next level.
Apart from the practitioner’s experience, the IBJJF has also placed age limits for each of the BJJ belts. The white belt, however, has no age limit. It also doesn’t have a specific duration that the holder must have before they move onto the next level.
For you to have the blue or the purple belts, you must be at least 16 years old. For the brown belt, you must be 18 years old. And black belt holders must be at least 19 years of age.
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The Kids Belt System
The IBJJF has a separate belt system for children under the age of 16 years. This system is to prepare them for adult ranking. It features more belts to give the kids a sense of quicker progression as they sharpen their BJJ skills. Here is a brief look at this belt system, starting from the lowest to the highest in rank:
The kids’ belt system is only for competitors under the age of 16 years. Once they are past this age, they migrate to the adult BJJ belt system. This normally depends on the child’s rank and the instructor’s opinions.
For example, a holder of a white belt in the children’s system may be given an adult white belt. Yellow, Orange or Gray belts may get a blue or a white belt depending on the opinion of the instructor.
In the same manner, a green belt under the children’s system may get a blue or a purple belt depending on the opinion of the instructor. Even under the kid’s belt system, age requirements still apply.
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Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Belt Ranking and Progression
1. White Belt
The White Belt is the first of the BJJ belt levels, and it is fondly known as the Empty Cup. This is where you learn all the basic fundamentals of the sport.
At this level, you have a beginner’s mindset, and the goal is to equip you with the right foundation for your future skills in Jiu-Jitsu.
You can think of it as a cognitive stage of learning where you spend most of the time and energy thinking about what you can do and how best you can learn.
At this level, you will need a coach to teach you what to do and show you how to do it properly.
For most of the newbies, this is usually a tough stage of the sport. This is because, in most of the duels, you will be like the underdog, always overpowered by the more experienced partners.
You will face several moments of frustration and doubt as you debate on whether what you are doing is making any sense.
But you will find comfort knowing that almost everyone goes through a similar thing at this stage, and that if you keep on moving forward, it will become easier and easier as you start to acquire some real BJJ skills.
Though you might encounter frustration at this stage since you are a beginner, this is also the stage where you will notice the greatest development. Every training you take will add to your development.
With time, the frustration will start to disappear and instead, it will be replaced with passion and enthusiasm.
2. Blue Belt—Escape and Defense Artist
Getting to this level is a sign that you are understanding what you are doing in the sport. It shows that you now understand the basic jiu-jitsu positions and you are becoming proficient in defending and attacking.
Among your toolbox at this level, you are conversant with at least one ending technique from every possible position.
You are also mastering the art of getting away from most of the normal threat positions. But this stage is not all about how well you are mastering the game.
This is also the level where you will encounter a horde of fundamental mistakes. With this belt, you are still consciously incompetent.
You are starting to get a realization of the mistakes you are making. Most importantly, you are starting to improve in your techniques, discovering your strengths and weaknesses, and also actively starting to perfect your errors.
At this stage, your game is still incoherent. You will encounter better and worse days on the mat. There still will be a little frustration at this stage, but since you can figure out what you are doing and know when to ask for help, the frustrations will be less compared to what you experienced at the previous level.
The goal at this stage is not to give up. Learn how to deal with the emotional ups and downs since they are at the very core of the BJJ learning process.
Once you attain a blue belt, you will be required to stay at this level for at least two years, though many students stay at this rank for between three and five years before they become purple belt.
3. Purple Belt—Becoming Well-Rounded
At this level, you are on your way to becoming highly proficient in Jiu-jitsu techniques. You already have a good mastery of the techniques, and you are continually building upon the foundations of your grappling style.
You will be surprised to know that the time it will take you to attain a purple belt in BJJ is more than the period you will need to attain a black belt in martial arts. Once you get this belt, you may get qualified to teach BJJ lower belts and to the youths.
Also, at this level, it is likely that you shall have gone through most of the techniques in your BJJ curriculum.
You begin to work towards becoming an all-around fighter and increase your appetite for becoming a technical technician.
You are no longer consciously incompetent, but consciously competent since you now know what to do and when to do it.
You now have the skills and the knowledge to identify conditions and know the appropriate techniques to apply.
Also, it is at this level when you will start to work more on your own. You already have a lot of knowledge, and you are not reliant on a coach or a trainer as you were in the previous belts.
Your relationship with your coach will be more about solving problems and exchanging ideas as opposed to receiving monologues from him all the time.
According to the IBJJF, you are to remain at the purple belt for at least one and half years, though it is common for practitioners to remain at this rank for between three and five years.
4. Brown Belt—Refining and Mastering the Game
At this level, you are already considered a master of BJJ. At this point, the bulk of your engagements will not be about learning the techniques, but refining and mastering them.
Your focus now becomes fine-tuning your movements and submissions.
With a brown belt, you will truly create your style, and perfect how to transit from defense to offense within a split of a second.
This is the level where you will achieve a deadly top game, and find it a breeze to pass, smash, and dominate all the lower belt levels.
With the vast technical knowledge at this level, you will have the freedom and versatility to develop your own twists to techniques and make them completely yours.
It is also at this level that you start to actively give back to your school. You can start by teaching or coaching the lower belt students.
They will respect you and will always consider you as their mentor. This might as well be the point when you will realize how passionate you are about BJJ.
If your progression from white to the purple belt was done in the right manner, then it may take you between one and two years in this rank before you move to the next level—Black Belt.
5. Black Belt—Professor of the Game
The Black Belt is the pinnacle of Jiu-jitsu belts. It is the ultimate rubber stamp that you have successfully completed the journey as a BJJ student.
You are not only knowledgeable on the academy’s curriculum, but also you have mastered all the techniques.
This is not to imply that you have now attained a guru level in the sport, and there is nothing else for you to learn. All it means in simple terms is that you have paid the price and worked hard all the way up to become a skilled and prolific BJJ player.
But your movements will be close to perfection, and you will command plenty of respect and inspiration from others. It may take you up to ten years before you get the promotions to this coveted rank.
Beyond the Black Belt
Just like martial arts, BJJ has varying degrees that you can qualify for after you attain the initial black belt status. These degrees or grades are usually indicated with white bars on the ends of the belt. They include the following:
1st and 2nd Grade Black Belt:
After you get the initial black belt, you must stay in that rank for at least three years and another three years before you move on to the 1st and the 2nd degrees, respectively. To earn degrees after the initial black belt, it is a standard that you get involved with teaching as opposed to focusing on competing alone.
3rd to 6th Grade Black Belt:
After you receive your 3rd-degree black belt, you may take between three and five years before you attain the 6th-grade black belt. Once here, you will have to wait for additional seven years before you can move on to the next rank.
7th and 8th Grade Black Belts:
These are also known as BJJ Coral Belts. When you get to the 7th grade black belt, you must hold it for another seven years before you attain the 8th grade black belt. For the 8th grade belt, you will get a red and white patterned coral belt that resembles that of judo.
9th and 10th Grade Red Belt:
The red belt is the highest honor you can get in BJJ. You must hold the 8th grade black belt for ten years before you become eligible for the red belt. In other words, for you to get close to this belt, you must have been practicing BJJ for at least 48 years. There is also the 10th degree belt. This, however, was given to the original pioneers of BJJ. None of them are alive today. With the red belt, you will have the honor of being a “grandmaster.”
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Who Issues Belt Promotions?
In most cases, jiu-jitsu instructors are usually brown belts. In such a case, the highest belt they can award to students is a purple belt.
For an instructor to award a brown belt, then they must be a black belt. And, for them to present a student with a black belt, they must hold a 2nd degree black belt or higher.
Different schools have different criteria for awarding belts. Some have tests that students must pass before they get a belt, while others evaluate skills and milestones in determining who to award a belt.
Many instructors, however, promote students based on whether they think the student is ready and deserving of the belt.
The BJJ belt system entails a lot. To the newcomers, it is common to find it a bit confusing. The belts are at the very core of BJJ, and attainment of any by a student is an indication of the commitment to progress through the system.
In BJJ, you will need a long time to progress through the ranks. It is a completely different process compared to other forms of martial arts. It will startle you to learn that nearly 90% of the students never make it to the blue belt.
However, if you make BJJ part of your life, the belts will come effortlessly. You will be amazed at how BJJ is an incredibly rewarding journey. We wish you all the best as you embark on your BJJ journey. Keep going and never give up!