The Brazilian jiu-jitsu belt guide was written to provide information on the ranking system in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and is meant to be a general guide on how the ranking system works. Nothing in this article is absolute, but it should provide some insight so those new to BJJ know what they can expect as they start their journey through the ranks.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu uses a colored belt ranking system to indicate a student’s proficiency and experience in BJJ. The rank colors from lowest to highest are:
Stripes on Brazilian jiu-jitsu belts are used to indicate a student’s level within a given belt rank. More stripes indicate a higher proficiency level. For example, a 4 stripe blue belt is a higher level than a 2 stripe blue belt. How stripes are awarded and used varies from school to school. Some schools will only give stripes for lower belt level ranks and other schools award stripes at every level. Most schools will award up to 4 stripes for a given belt rank (Not including black/red). However, it is not uncommon for a higher colored belt to be awarded before obtaining the total number of stripes available at a given belt level. Some schools may not award any stripes at a given belt rank.
Experience at each Rank
This is the starting point in BJJ. On the day you take your first BJJ class, you are a white belt and your instructor will most likely provide you with one. Every black belt out there started out as a white belt their first day on the mats.
At white belt everything is new. It’s all about learning the basics, learning the positions, and recognizing them. You will be learning how to control your body, learning how to relax, and learning not to panic when you have a 200lb man on top of you trying to choke you out. You will be presented with a ton of information very rapidly and at times it may seem overwhelming. As a white belt you will need to focus on the basics. Learn the movements for escaping, holding position, and advancing position. These movements become your foundation for more advanced techniques later on. You will learn some basic submissions at white belt too, but in most cases you won’t really begin to refine your submissions until you advance to the higher levels.
White belts can sometimes be a little wild and even a little dangerous when they train. They often just don’t have the experience yet to know how much pressure to apply in situations or how to use technique over power. This is something that develops over time. As a white belt you should try to learn mat etiquette as well as the basic jiu-jitsu movements. Do not roll angry or get mad if someone taps you. Don’t be that guy. And don’t be that guy who cranks on submissions too hard that it causes injuries to your training partners. Take your time, calm down, and focus on the technique. If you are still getting absolutely exhausted after every roll, then chances are your still rolling too hard or too tense, and you need to focus on relaxing a little bit more.
Although the rules for live rolling vary from school to school, some schools do not permit white belts to participate in live training until they receive their first or second stripe. This ensures the student has some mat experience in the form of classes before live training begins. Other schools will allow students to participate in live training on the first day of class.
Unfortunately at this rank, there are also a high percentage of drop-outs. Many students who start taking BJJ never advance beyond this rank. Either they find jiu-jitsu is not for them, it’s too difficult, or for whatever the reason, they do not continue. White belt can be tough. At times it may feel like you are not progressing or progressing very slowly. You will spend a lot of time on bottom in very uncomfortable situations. You will spend a lot of time getting choked and a lot of time getting tapped. Try not to get frustrated. Stick with it. Every time you tap or get choked, you are getting better. You’re gaining experience and learning how to react to situations. Keep with it and by the time you start reaching the higher ranks of white belt you will find yourself spending a little less time on bottom, a little less time getting choked, and you’ll start to see your improvements. Others will too. Keep training, the rewards are well worth it.
By the time you reach the blue belt level, you have built a foundation of the basic BJJ movements. You have started putting in some decent mat time. You can escape bad situations and launch attacks. You have been exposed to a variety of different techniques, but there is still a lot out there you have not seen. You’ll experiment with a lot if it and really start to develop your own unique game. Blue belt is usually when combinations start developing along with setups and baiting to get positions that you want. Your game starts to get a little bit tighter and a little bit smoother. You start taking principles from one technique and applying them to other situations. At this level, you usually start getting your share of submissions too and you’re no longer just the one getting dominated. Most blue belts will be pretty comfortable on the mat and relaxed when rolling.
Purple belt is the intermediate rank in jiu-jitsu, right before you transition into the advanced levels. In order to reach this level, you’ll need to put in considerable mat time and really be dedicated to the art. At purple belt you’ve already found a good set of techniques that work nicely with your game. You spend a lot of time refining what you know and making everything tighter and more efficient. Rolling at this point is relaxed and combinations and setups are getting longer and more advanced. Attacking in transition becomes more fluid. You no longer force moves or techniques, but instead work with what is presented to you. You have many different tools and techniques you can work with and you have seen and experimented with a lot of what’s out there. You can analyze your game and identify your own flaws more quickly than before, then work to improve them. Depending on your school, at purple belt you may get tested often by lower belts looking to prove themselves or higher ranks proving a point. As with all levels, there is no place for getting mad if a lower rank submits you. It will happen at some point and you should learn from it, not get upset by it.
Welcome to the advanced ranks of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. It will take most people several years to reach this level. Brown belts have wealth of knowledge to pull from and to share with others. Chaining attacks are longer and you have become even more skilled at setups. You have spent enough time on the mat that very few positions are foreign to you. You’re skilled at attacking or defending from nearly any position and working in transition. More advanced submissions like heel hooks also come in to play. As with every other rank, there is still continuous improvement to be made. Changes in your technique, however, are usually more subtle than the lower belts. A slight adjustment to your pressure here or shift in weight there. Your game is established. You know what you like to do and the way you like to roll. You incorporate new techniques into your game easily that you know will fit with your style. Train, refine, repeat.
Your journey doesn’t end here, it’s really just beginning. At black belt, you have put in countless hours of training and mat time. For most people to reach black belt, it will take a significant number of years and consistent training. As a black belt, you are extremely proficient from nearly all positions and have seen most of the techniques that are out there. However, there is still so much to learn and much to improve and so the journey continues on.
Red belts are awarded very rarely to lifelong practioners of BJJ. It is awarded in lieu of a ninth or tenth degree black belt which can take over 45 years to achieve after receiving your black belt.
The awarding of a new belt rank or stripe in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is considered a promotion. Promotions represent a student’s progress and development in the martial art. There are many different factors that are considered when awarding promotions and requirements vary from school to school. Factors that are usually taken into consideration are mat time, number of classes attended, skill level, knowledge, and the character of the student. Additionally, some schools require belt testing before awarding higher rank belts. It is not uncommon for belt tests to also be associated with a testing fee. In some cases, promotions are awarded immediately following participation at various levels of competition. Depending on the school, other traditions may be part of a belt promotion such as the instructor throwing the student. Another common tradition is running the gauntlet where higher rank students slap their jiu-jitsu belts across the back of a newly promoted student while running by.
One of the most common questions you hear from white belts is – how long does it take to get to blue belt? And one of the most common answers is - don’t worry about how long, just focus on training and the belts will come. It’s not exactly what excited fresh white belts usually want to hear but it’s true. Your instructor will let you know when you are ready. If you’re looking for a specific time frame, there is no definitive answer. Some people learn quicker than others and some students are able to attend more classes. It’s not unheard of for blue belts to be awarded after several months of training whilte others may take several years to achieve the rank of blue belt. The bottom line is that if you train consistently and keep trying your best to improve, you will get there. Focus on getting better and not the belt color.
Time lengths at other ranks also vary and are dependent on multiple factors. There are always exceptional cases where students are promoted quickly while other take years to reach the next rank. But the earlier suggestion applies even as you progress to higher belt ranks. Focus on getting better and not the belt color.
The IBJFF has several requirements for the awarding promotions including age restrictions and time spent at each rank before progressing to the next. Some BJJ schools follow IBJFF requirements for promotions while others do not.
Tying Your Belt
There are many different ways to tie your Brazilian jiu-jitsu belt. If you’re a new white belt and looking for information on how to tie your own belt, then we suggest asking someone at your academy or doing a quick youtube search and watching one of the many tutorials out there. What you don’t want to do is wrap your belt around your waist one time and tie it like a shoelace. That’s no good.
Washing Your Belt
When it comes to washing your belt, you may hear some suggest that washing your belt washes away what you have learned. That sounds great, but the fact is, if you’re not washing your belt than it’s going to get pretty funky and definitely won’t be very hygienic. When it comes to germs and grappling, you need to take precautions to protect yourself and you training partners from catching something nasty. Just like your kimono, we think it's best to take the time to wash your belt regularly although everyone may not necessarily agree.