Belts are an important part of Brazilian jiu jitsu culture. They demonstrate one’s ability, competence and time on the mat.
In this article, we explore the history and significance of BJJ belts and the criteria for achieving the next belt rank.
The martial art belt ranking system has its origins from Kodokan Judo. The founder of Jigoro Kano developed a simple belt system consisting of white, brown and black.
Helio and Carlos Gracie developed the original Gracie jiu jitsu belt system in 1952. This system was apparently used only for those who wanted to become instructors. An instructor diploma would be given along with a light blue belt. Darker blue belts were given for those who became professors.
The Gracies introduced black belts in the 1960s. Bars on the belts were also utilized. Non-instructors would receive a black belt with a white bar. Instructors would black belts with red bars.
There is relatively little published history in English on the development of the belt color system in BJJ. However, in the modern area, the formal color belt system appears to have been adopted by the Jiu-Jitsu Federation of Guanabara in 1967. Helio Gracie, Carlos Gracie and other notable jiu jitsu practitioners like Oswaldo Fadda in an attempt to organize and legitimize the development of jiu jitsu in Brazil.
The rank order of belts for children in Brazilian jiu jitsu is as follows:
The most common belt colors from lowest to the highest rank in Brazilian jiu jitsu are as follows:
*There are a few lineages in Brazil that use a green belt as the next adult rank after white.
How long it takes to achieve each rank in jiu jitsu depends on your time on the mat, instructors’ requirements, and competency.
The following chart provides an overview of the common time in grade between belts based on the IBJJF requirements and the survey conducted by Aesopian.
|Belt||Average Total Years Training||IBJJF Time in Grade for Next Belt|
|Blue||2-3 years||2 years|
|Purple||4-5 years||1.5 years|
|Brown||7-8 years||1 year|
|Black||10-11 years||3 years|
Belts signify a person’s rank in Brazilian jiu jitsu. Very often, stripes are added to the end of the belt to significant progress towards the next rank. One must receive four stripes before becoming eligible for the next belt level.
You receive your rank in jiu jitsu based on merit. To achieve the next belt or stripe you must demonstrate your knowledge and ability to execute the appropriate techniques and skills for your skill level.
These requirements vary from school to school. Just exactly how you demonstrate this competency will also vary. Some instructors will give out rank when they are personally satisfied with your progress. Others follow a strict or loose curriculum and require a test to obtain the rank.
The most common factors evaluated for a bjj belt promotion include:
Belt testing is common, but not universal, in jiu jitsu. Whether you need to test is dependent on your instructor’s philosophy and/or his particular association. Some instructors only test for each belt and give out stripes intermittently. Some schools will require testing for stripes.
Unlike other martial arts, Brazilian jiu jitsu rank is usually given out relatively informally and in an ad adhoc manner. Each instructor or school awards rank based on different criteria and processes.
While there are no firmly established criteria for achieving rank, there are certainly enough commonalities among schools to draw conclusions about what the belt should mean.
Finally, another aspect of testing that should be discussed is fees. Testing fees are a controversial topic in jiu jitsu. Some believe they are an attempt to milk students for more money. Others see them as a necessary cost of running a martial arts school, which on average do not make much profit.
Belt stripes signify one’s progress and achievement at their particular belt level.
Commonly, white belts and lower ranks often obsess over achieving stripes because they confirm that the student is learning and getting better. Students often ask: “How long before the next stripe?” The answer is: when your instructor thinks you are ready. As one progresses, stripes become less important.
One of the main differences between traditional martial arts and the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is the formality of the belt progression. Traditional arts usually encompass a strict curriculum and testing requirements. Jiu Jitsu, in contrast, does not usually contain such rigid or developed systems of promotion.
Further, the first few belt promotions in any given traditional martial art will (usually) signify the beginning phases of one’s development. By comparison, the first promotion in BJJ, the blue belt, signifies a serious level of training and mastery over techniques.
BJJ belts are typically awarded slowly.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu instructors are well known to restrict the advancement of their students. This is sometimes referred to as sandbagging.
Jiu Jitsu practitioners are proud of the art’s history and its proven effectiveness. For this reason, the value of each belt not be diluted. Even today, it’s not uncommon for some schools to face street challengers at the dojo. An instructor wants to know that his mid-level students can defend any such attack.
Additionally, some instructors sandbag their students’ belt rank advancement in order to achieve better results in competition. This is generally frond upon in the jiu jitsu community.
There is no uniform and universally accepted system of belt requirements for Brazilian jiu jitsu. However, there are some generally accepted principles and basic techniques that most practitioners would agree upon. In this section, we dive into the requirements to achieve each belt rank in jiu jitsu.
The first rank in jiu jitsu is the white belt. The beginner will learn fundamental escapes and submission, as well as other movements, such as “shrimping.” Being a white belt can be frustrating because you are the low man on the totem pole who is almost always on the receiving end of the submission by higher belts.
The white belt should focus on survival. This does not just encompass escapes but means stopping your opponent’s attacks and progress. Ultimately, you must learn how to avoid unfavorable positions as the best form of defense.
A white belt must also learn how to tap early and often. Knowing when to quit is an essential skill in jiu jitsu. A tap does not mean defeat or failure. The tap means the end of the round, a lesson learned, and the beginning of the next phase of your progress.
The IBJJF does not require a minimum amount of time to be a white belt. Since there is no time in grade, a white belt can graduate at any time at the discretion of the professor. Both children and adults start at white belt.
The blue belt is the second belt within Brazilian jiu-jitsu. It is a milestone in jiu jitsu because it signifies a core competence and understanding of the art.
A blue belt should have a grasp of the following:
The blue belt is also the rank where many people drop out of jiu jitsu. This is commonly explained due to the long period it achieves to take the rank. Many blue belts lose interest in jiu jitsu after obtaining the belt, or feel that they stall out in their learning.
It takes roughly 2-3 years to become a BJJ blue belt depending on time on the mat, competition experience, and prior grappling experience. It is not uncommon for those with a wrestling or judo background to obtain a blue belt in much less time. Similarly, someone practicing on a consistent schedule can obtain a blue belt much faster.
Blue belts should get comfortable with continued their frustration with jiu jitsu. Many blue belts sometimes feel they do not deserve their promotion. They suffer from impostor syndrome. However, blue belts should feel confident in their instructor’s decision.
Blue belt is the time to start developing their game. Drill the techniques you like and form your favorite approaches.
A goal for a blue belt is to start getting caught less in submissions and to start having some success with submissions.
A blue belt should work on their weaker techniques with lower belts. Conversely, with the higher belts, a blue belt should focus on their A-game.
The IBJJF requires someone to stay at blue belt for two years before becoming eligible for a purple belt.
The Purple belt is typically considered an advanced rank in jiu jitsu. Someone who reaches purple has demonstrated a strong commitment to jiu jitsu.
Purple belts tend to be more methodical and slower in their approach to jiu jitsu because they understand their own gameplan. Their techniques string together in a coherent strategy as they face their opponent.
It takes approximately 4-6 years of training to become a purple belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu.
The Purple belt must have the concepts of jiu jitsu firmly set in the mental and muscle memory. Actions and reactions should be based on habit and instinct not thinking.
Purple belts should also understand how to teach themselves new techniques and refine repertoire. When a purple belt hits a roadblock, they should be able to learn how to correct a mistake or improve.
Purple belts should also consider learning how to convey and teach their jiu jitsu knowledge. Of course, they are not the instructor, but it is common to have purple belts assist during class and even demonstrate lower-level techniques.
Ultimately, purple belts should become absolutely confident in their technique and knowledge of jiu jitsu. Defense and offense, attack and counter-attack and tactics and strategy must unify and work coherently.
Lastly, purple belt is a great time to really hone in on your weaknesses. As you progress to brown and black, you will need to fill in all aspects of your game to become successful against the higher belts.
According to the IBJJF, a purple belt must remain their rank for 18 months before becoming eligible for brown belt.
The brown belt is the final belt before black. For many schools, brown belt is basically a black belt, but for a few needed polishes. A brown belt fully understands jiu jitsu and should be making fine-tune adjustments to his or her game while moving towards a black belt.
The BJJ brown belt will know how to be dominant from any position. Likewise, a brown belt should know how to be two to three steps ahead of their opponent. Your technical knowledge will be expansive and other students will look to you as a resource to improve their own game.
The IBJJF requires one year of brown belt before becoming eligible for black.
The black belt is the most coveted of the jiu jitsu belts. It is not easy to achieve and few will stick it out long enough to receive the rank. The black belt should be a true representative of the principles of jiu jitsu both on and off the mat. BJJ Black belts are experts in their craft.
The title of professor is usually bestowed upon the holder of a black belt. The title refers to their status as a teacher or instructor, much in the same way Japanese arts use the term sensei.
There are a total of six degrees of “regular” black belt.
Keep learning. The journey is not over. Just like many blue belts disappear, it is common for black belts to stop training. While a black belt is no longer a rank beginner, some consider the rank as a symbol of someone who has just now started to truly understand jiu jitsu.
The IBJJF requires 3 years as a black belt to go to the next black belt rank.
The seventh and eighth degree black belts are referred to as the coral belts. They are black and red in color (like the coral snake). These belts represent highest levels of achievement and personal contribution to jiu jitsu. They are given only to those who have displayed years of commitment to the sport.
The Red belt is the final belt in jiujitsu. The 9th degree red belt has been given to only a few dozen (less than 100) or so practitioners. The tenth-degree belts have been reserved to the original Gracie brothers.
Achieving a new belt is a cause for celebration. One of the more controversial traditions in jiu jitsu is the gauntlet celebration, (or “Corredor Polonês” (Polish Corridor) in Portuguese) or belt whipping line.
Those who have achieved new rank must walk through a gauntlet line which their fellow students lined up both sides of them. The students then whip their belts at those who walk through. Viewed positively, this is a form of initiation and admiration for those who have achieved the new rank. However, many see this form of hazing as not in line with the ideals of jiu jitsu.
The origin of this tradition does not appear to have originated from the Gracies or even Brazil.
In fact, the American Chris Haueter, claims to have created the gauntlet line in the early 1990s, a decision he now regrets. As a member of the Machado Jiu Jitsu Academy in the late 1980s/1990s he was coming out of the army and basically adapted some of the military hazing culture into the academy. The tradition apparently spread as jiu jitsu grew.
Outside of the gauntlet line, some academies adopt a recognition that judo academies use. In this ceremony, the person receiving rank is on the receiving end of a throw by his classmates.