Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu differs from most other martial arts in that belt rank is something that simply does not come rapidly in BJJ. In most schools, the average student will work for years just to get their next Brazilian jiu-jitsu belt rank. This has a lot to do with the fact that in BJJ the ability to apply the skills you know is more important than how much you know. I guess people who do jiu-jitsu are just pragmatic that way.
At any rate, one of the most common questions that we get from new students has to do with what a student should be focused on at each belt rank in jiu-jitsu. And, it’s an understandable question. BJJ is a very deep art, and there are a lot of different ways to express it in your game. Also, since it takes so long to progress from belt to belt, many students want to know how to maximize their training time and practice so they can make that learning curve a little less steep.
Now regardless of whether or not it’s a good idea to rush your progress through the ranks (it isn’t), it is always helpful to have training goals and guidelines, if only to keep students motivated and focused. Let’s face it, for a lot of students (especially those who have trained in other styles) two years is a long time to wait for your first belt rank promotion. And, despite the fact that your instructor is going to tell you that it’s not the belt that’s important, it’s the knowledge and skill that you gain getting there, chances are good that as you progress through the ranks you’re going to be wondering what the heck you’re supposed to be focused on as you travel that long road to black belt.
So, in this article we’re going to talk about the different BJJ belt ranks, and explain what you, the student, should be focusing on at each level. It should probably be said that this is highly subjective, and different academies will vary slightly on what they think a student should be able to do at each belt rank and what they should be focused on. However, if you merely treat this as a general guideline, not only to gauge your progress but also to guide your training, it will likely help you as you progress through the ranks by reminding you of where you should be based on your belt rank and your time in training.
White belt is probably the most frustrating stage of Brazilian jiu-jitsu training. For one thing, when you start off as a brand new white belt, everyone in the gym is better than you, and it shows every time you roll. For about the first six months, you’re going to be tapping – a lot. And, this can be extremely hard for some people, especially if you’re the type of person who is very competitive.
So what should you be focusing on at white belt? Well, for starters you should focus on developing the right mindset, and that starts with realizing that it’s okay to tap out. Sure, your ego is telling you that you shouldn’t tap, and that you can hold out against that choke a few more seconds without passing out, but in truth this isn’t helping your game at all. Chances are good that by fighting a submission you’re only going to hurt yourself, and that’s not going to help you at all. Remember that rolling in class is not the Pan Ams or Mundials, and understand that there aren’t any winners or losers in class, only people who learn and people who don’t.
Second, white belt is when you learn to survive. Again, a lot of this has to do with attitude. As a white belt, you’re probably going to get beat whenever you spar the higher-ranking belts, and the only thing that’s going to change that is time on the mats. So, white belt is really about persevering and gaining an overall understanding of what the different positions are and also learning one or two basic submissions or transitions from each position. Once you have a basic understanding of the jiu-jitsu game, then it’s probably time you were promoted to blue belt.
By the time you reach blue belt, you should have a firm grasp of the basics of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Yet, at this point you really haven’t developed a game; instead you’re still learning the fundamentals. And actually, blue belt is the stage where you transition from merely learning techniques to applying them in combinations. It’s also the stage where you’ll start developing your strategy, based on your own personal strengths, weaknesses, body type, physical capabilities, and personality. In other words, blue belt is when your game starts to emerge.
The thing about blue belt though is that most students spend a considerable amount of time at blue belt. And, it can be easy to become discouraged at this rank. Yet, if you had the discipline and determination to get your blue belt, you certainly have what it takes to stick around and keep grinding through to the next level. So, keep at it and remind yourself that at this stage in your training you’re developing skills that will set the foundation for the rest of your BJJ career. So, don’t get in a rush, take your time, and try to absorb all you can by learning from the purple belts and brown belts that you train with. Stay focused on your training, and before you know it, it’ll be time to take the next big step.
The interesting thing about purple belt is that it takes about the same about of time and effort to get a purple belt in jiu-jitsu as it does to get a black belt in most other martial arts. By the time you reach purple belt, chances are good that you’ll have learned almost all the techniques in your school’s curriculum up to black belt. So, at this point it’s all about developing the sort of smooth transitions, combinations, and set-ups that separate a new purple belt from the seasoned faixa roxa who can dominate every blue belt in the school.
The thing then that marks the skilled purple belt is that she is able to transition from technique to technique and from strategy to strategy based on the opponent’s efforts. Unlike the white or blue belt that becomes fixated on a sinking in a single lock or choke, a seasoned purple belt recognizes how their opponent’s defense against one attack can open up an opportunity for them to attack from another angle. It is in reaching this stage of recognition and awareness in sparring that leads to the development of a more advanced game at the purple belt stage.
At brown belt the student is almost a black belt. They are capable of using a wider variety of techniques in sparring than the lower ranks, purple belt included. And, they are expected to have a much deeper knowledge of the art at this stage as well. For the student who has reached brown belt, their goal in training is to learn all those subtleties that make the difference between merely adequate technique, and techniques that are optimally effective. It is a stage of refinement of skill, rather than the development of skill or the learning of new skills. And in reality, what the student is doing at brown belt is preparing to be a good black belt.
Black belt is really the rank where you’ve smoothed out all the rough edges in your technique. But not only that, a good black belt understands the why behind the technique, and they can teach those little nuances that make the difference between a merely good technique, and an expert technique. A good black belt can show you the subtleties that mean the difference between skill and mastery.
Also, a black belt in BJJ is not a rank to be taken lightly; he or she is someone who has truly mastered the art of grappling. When someone earns a black belt in jiu-jitsu, it’s really the culmination of years and years of time on the mats, and it shows. Their mastery of the overall jiu-jitsu game should be self-evident, especially when sparring with lower belts.
And yet, a good black belt also realizes there is so much more to learn. Rather than sit on their laurels, they continue to refine and improve their game, while also finding ways to help their students achieve greater levels of success as well. That’s the real mark of a truly great black belt – someone who is always improving, and always helping others improve as well.
The road to Black Belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a long and arduous one. Yet, it is highly rewarding as well. Just remember that you don’t really need to have a goal of reaching Black Belt in jiu-jitsu to benefit from the training! Even a few months of jiu-jitsu training will provide you with a stronger and leaner body and a greater ability to defend yourself should you be attacked.
So if you’re interested in starting jiu-jitsu, the best time to start is right now. Call us or fill out the trial registration form on our homepage today to get started on the journey to improved health, increased fitness, and learning the most effective self-defense art on the planet.