Everyone has seen the 6-year-old black belt breaking balsa wood boards and throwing flying, spinning kicks. It’s admirable when one of these karate practitioners shows more dedication than his peers and is intense enough for the black belt. The term itself “black-belt” has a stigma to it of being a master in martial arts. In general Jiu Jitsu probably has the most rigorous standards and the longest average time before practitioners get a black belt. We use the IBJJF belt system at our school. There are even age standards – no 6 year old black belts in Jiu Jitsu. Belt promotions are still subjective in how we apply the IBJJF system. More on this at www.ibjjf.org. Because of this, we’d like to explain exactly how we feel about doing belt promotions.

What belt promotions are not at Egley Train Boise are a competition. It is not something that is comparable between students. It is between the instructor and the individual student. A belt promotion means we feel like the student is ready for a level jump or needs to make one. It is an invitation to improve. There is not a specific standard that can be applied to everyone. The four main reasons for this are:

  • Those training jiu jitsu can have very different objectives or reasons for their training
  • We are all different when it comes to our ability, physical limitations, and age
  • There is no universal set of standards on belt promotions in the worldwide jiu jitsu community.
  • Jiu jitsu is an organic art that is always evolving.

Goals and Objectives Differences
One aspect of belt rank jiu jitsu promotion involves the goals of the student. For example, some students main reason for training is to compete in sport jiu jitsu. Another student may never want to compete in a sport competition but is interested in developing self defense skills. Another person may be training jiu jitsu primarily for the sport of MMA. Another person’s main objective may be as a personal challenge in the same way someone might want to run a marathon. Another person may do jiu jitsu primarily for health and fitness. What skills are most important? Probably the answer is different for each goal. For example, a person primarily interested in self-defense may not be especially interested in learning a sport series such as using the lapels or entering into berimbolo positions from the bottom. On the other hand in sport jiu jitsu, after a certain level some knowledge of the positions just mentioned are important. Both self-defense and sport are part of jiu jitsu. Another example is a person training primarily for fitness may not be especially interested in training without the gi (or maybe they only want to train no gi). Does it mean that they will never advance in their jiu jitsu journey? I think that they can advance according to their own goals. We try to recognize this advancement by belt promotions. As rank gets higher no matter what your initial goals where they tend to converge, as does the sport/self-defense distinction at high levels. What we mean is that at black belt knowledge both applied and intellectual necessarily broadens to include at least some aspect of each goal or field that jiu jitsu encompasses. At higher levels it takes more skill and personal knowledge of the student to truly evaluate them. At the beginning – white and blue belt – goals definitely make a difference.

Ability
This one is a bit tricky as an instructor because you never know what challenges someone deals with. I do think it is important to take into account physical abilities. On the other hand, jiu jitsu is a physical activity and an applied activity. The art of deciding how to value natural ability and technical knowledge of jiu jitsu in the promotion process is an art. Since everyone is different in these respects it is difficult to impose an objective standard. This is especially true when competitive training is involved. For example, if all blue belts were expected to beat all purple belts at our school in order to be promoted it would amount to an absolute tournament of blue versus white belts. In addition to the logistical difficulties, it also presents the problem of being somewhat one-dimensional. Is winning a sport competition, under a certain set of rules –  which rules? – the only measure of proficiency in jiu jitsu? We think it is not. Jiu jitsu is broader than any one set of rules can encompass. Competition is definitely part of the evaluation, but it is not the only factor. Size, strength, and athleticism affect competitive outcomes more than I think they should impact promotions. This said we do use competitive training to evaluate people. It is one of our main tools to evaluate student proficiency. Age is a category that is similar in some ways to ability. This reflects the idea that there is more to jiu jitsu than ability. Maturity and character are also important.

No Universal Standards
Jiu jitsu has grown and spread all over the world. There are some large Associations such as Gracie Barra, Gracie University, Alliance, for example. These do not have a single belt standard, not to mention that the many individual schools and smaller associations that have slightly different standards. Sport organizations such as IBJJF and ADCC have different competitive categories.  We do think it is important to uphold standards. We try to follow IBJJF guidelines because they are the largest sport body and the most senior member of the Gracie Family who initially started the Jiu Jitsu ranking system heads the organization. We also try to stay consistent with my instructors’ standards even if they are not spelled out specifically.

Always Evolving
Technique is always evolving in Jiu Jitsu. A purple belt now may have (maybe should have) more knowledge than a purple belt 15 years ago. It is evolving in all fields from health and fitness to technique. For this reason, it is difficult to have set standards. This is again, especially true at the higher belt ranks.

We’d like to talk about next are some guidelines we look for in promoting white to 3rd stripe white, white to blue, and blue to purple. As the rank gets higher so do my standards and expectations. I’ll start with the blue to purple promotion.

Blue to Purple
For me this is where the distinction made from a hobby student to serious jiu jitsu practitioner. Purple belts should have a level of control over their bodies that allows them to practice jiu jitsu for an extended period and safety with students of all body types and skill. They need to be in physical condition that is much better than average. They must have better than average flexibility, strength to control their movements, balance, and endurance. They should have some control over muscle tension and relaxation so that when grappling they do not tire in a couple of minutes. The student, when promoted should not be obese. Technically the student should understand and apply several submissions. They should have an effective understanding of the guard. They should be comfortable doing takedowns and generally transitioning from feet to floor. They should understand basic concepts about how jiu jitsu can be applied to self defense. Students should generally be able to defeat white belts in competitive training. Another criteria we use is that they make brown and black belts work during live training. Brown and black belts have to use strategy and effort to win in competitive situations. Purple belts should start to teach or at least help other newer students. Many people will stay at the blue belt level for 2-4 years. Stripes come very slowly and reflect either a major progress breakthrough. For example, one of these breakthroughs could be developing a strong passing series that can chain 3-4 techniques together. Another example may be developing the generally ability to move the hips effectively in open guard situations. It could also be a more personal milestone such as just being comfortable training with a larger stronger person. There are certainly mental and emotional control abilities that are important to transition to the rank of purple belt.

White to Blue
This is the level that I think is most dependent on subjective factors. I expect blue belts to have a minimum of 50 classes. I expect blue belt to be familiar with our fundamental’s curriculum techniques. These include closed guard control and basic attacks, escape and maintain all the major positions (side control, mount, back control, half guard). It is also required to be able to train “live” with control and safety. Students should also have participated in open mat training. Students should be able to execute a couple of submission attacks and one or two more chains of techniques. Students should be familiar with basic arm locks, chokes from the back, and the basic triangle choke. Students should be able to control and escape the basic positions that Jiu Jitsu emphasizes (mount, back control, side control,) Students must have some experience transitioning from feet to floor. We also usually expect a minimum of 6 months training. There are sometime exceptions to these guidelines for those with extensive grappling experience such as former Division I wrestlers or black belt Judo players. We usually hold those wanting to compete at white belt longer than those not interested in competition.

I’d like to say some general things about belt promotions. One important point is that they are as much of a challenge as they are an award. If you set a goal of getting a certain belt then you are setting a goal that is subjective. It is also not entirely in your hands. It is also up to your instructor. Be sure and keep this in mind if a belt promotion is a goal of yours. I encourage you to set other short-term and concrete goals in addition to your goal of earning a certain belt rank. For example, a short-term goal may be to be able to execute a sweep from an omaplata position from the guard. Maybe a goal is to get out of side control on a certain training partner. Maybe a goal can be to loose 10lbs or 20lbs. These specific goals will not only help you get to your belt rank goal but will provide personal satisfaction that is really one of the best things about jiu jitsu. That is, it is up to you! It is not subjective or under someone else’s judgment. It is objective and you made it happen. Your instructor will give you input through belt promotion. We take this duty seriously. We hope that this sheds some light on a complex topic. Remember, belts do not give you skills or super powers! Setting personal goals and achieving them does. Good luck on your jiu jitsu training journey.