BJJ Belt System: What It Means and Why It Matters

BJJ Belt
Shutterstock / Miljan Zivkovic
Brazilian jiu-jitsu, like many other martial arts, adheres to a belt system that all practitioners must abide by. For adults, the order is white belt, blue belt, purple belt, brown belt and black belt. While this system is like the one used in many traditional martial arts, there are some distinct differences. The following is an examination of the BJJ belt system and some of its nuances.

In other martial arts, belt ranking is often based on the time you’ve spent practicing the art. While time spent training in jiu-jitsu is a factor in promotions, advancement focuses more on skill level. Jiu-jitsu enthusiasts come from all walks of life, and many of them have time to practice only once or twice a week. In these cases, it can take two to four years to get your next belt.

Full-time competitive athletes often get their belts more quickly, especially if they’re winning big tournaments consistently.

Ultimately, belt promotions in jiu-jitsu are at the instructor’s discretion. Belts often take longer to earn than in other martial arts because of the nature of the style and the fact that it’s always evolving.

Two jiu-jitsu practitioners with the same belt might have very different skillsets. However, there are certain BJJ techniques and positions that most practitioners at a certain belt level will know. For example, a blue belt will know all the basic positions and how to transition between them. These positions include the closed guard, half guard, side control, mount and back.

More-experienced blue belts also will know the spider guard, the De La Riva guard, the reverse De La Riva guard and the butterfly guard.

In addition to these positions, a blue belt should know basic self-defense and be able to implement techniques successfully on an untrained person.

Most Brazilian jiu-jitsu schools do both gi and no-gi training, but some focus exclusively on no-gi. This can change the types of techniques the average blue or purple belt knows, but many no-gi schools still employ the traditional belt-rank system.

Some schools focus on no-gi to compete in submission-grappling competitions, while others concentrate on no-gi because it’s more like MMA. A solid no-gi curriculum will include basic techniques and positions very similar to those you would learn in a gi-focused academy.

As you can see, the BJJ belt system is significant for a variety of reasons. A person with a colored belt in jiu-jitsu almost always will have been training for more than a year and will be well-versed in basic positioning and self-defense. Although there may be differences depending on whether a practitioner focuses on gi or no-gi, many of the positions that a gi practitioner knows are also known to a no-gi practitioner. Promotions depend mainly on skill level, which keeps the standards high and forces the art to continually evolve.

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