The BJJ Belt System is a commonality amongst many martial arts. Aside from indicating a person’s ability in the sport, they also serve to acknowledge the progress and dedication by that individual. In Bjj, there are 5 belt colors (White through Black) for students older than 16 years. Although a 6th degree exists (Red Belt), it is often reserved for the highest levels of the sport. Although the International BJJ Federation (IBJJF) has determined a progression time for each belt, promotions depend on individual academies.
The BJJ Belt System
White belt is the starting point for all Bjj students. The goal of white belt is to achieve a solid understanding of the fundamentals of Bjj. These include basic positions like closed guard and as well as simple sweeps, takedowns and submissions. When ready to progress to the next level, an advanced white belt should easily hold their own against new students. There is no pre determined time limit required by the IBJJF before progression to Blue Belt.
At Blue belt, your learning goes beyond the pure fundamentals of the sport. Here you begin to learn about Open Guards and more advanced positions and transitions to those positions. Blue belt is a great time to develop your technique as you will be able to roll with white belts to try out new techniques but also against higher levels to solidify your core skills. The IBJJF requires at least two years training before progression to Purple Belt.
Purple Belts should aim to be a true defensive expert. Although their overall game should be wellrounded, the traditional goal for all Purple belts is to shore up their defensive game against Brown and Black Belts. In addition to their strong guard game, Purple belts also begin working on more advanced and inverted techniques such as the berimbolo. Purple belt is the general level that many MMA fighters seek to achieve. Compared to an untrained opponent, Purple Belts have an incredibly deep understanding of Bjj. 1.5 years is recommended by the IBJJF before progression to Brown Belt.
Brown Belts are students of the attack in Bjj. While your defense should be solid after a Purple Belt promotion, Brown Belt is where you seek to submit your opponents with greater frequency. Your guard passing should be fluid and effortless whilst your killer instinct should always be activated. Having rolled with many Brown Belts, especially as a beginner, it is hard to separate them from Black Belts. Brown Belts are so aggressive and faultless on the mat, they are often referred to as beginner black belts. As such, the IBJJF require only 1 year of training at Brown Belt before promotion.
Expert and instinctual are two apt ways of describing and Bjj Black Belt. Although many Black Belts will have a game that they are comfortable with, they will often react to what is in front of them if the timing is right. Black Belts will have an arsenal of positions, guard and submissions that they will work towards. Contrary to perception, Black Belts are often the best sparring partners. Even as a white belt, I would find that black belts were patient of my ability and always willing to pass on advise when I asked for it. Black Belts are often slow and measured trying to establish the most efficient way of achieving their goal. Red or Coral Belt is the next level but this is often reserved for the highest levels of the sport.
Promotions vary from academy to academy. Some coaches promote their students when they feel the student is ready to progress. This is often done in smaller gyms where the coach has a deep understanding of their students and what their true ability level is. Students are often given stripes on their belt to indicate their degree of ability within a belt color. Stripes are a much easier way of keeping track of students in a larger environment. Coaches can clearly see the ability of their students. It is also a good way for students to choose their sparring partners.
Other academies have a more formal promotion system. Some gyms have a curriculum from which students have to learn and preform the techniques. Another form of promotion is where the student will spar with one or several people in front of their coach. This allows the coach to see how you fair against partners of varying ability and skill. Although you may have an off-day, this means of belt promotion is representative of your skill level. In general, most coaches take their time when promoting a student. If you are promoted too early, you will be way out of your depth. This is part of the reason for the IBJJF progression time.
When promotion comes around, many gyms perform the gauntlet on newly upgraded students. This involves the students making a tunnel and whipping the new promotion with their own belts. Roberto ‘Cyborg’ Abreu describes this as essential. In his opinion, you must suffer in order to achieve the next level, otherwise the belt doesn’t carry the same respect.