What Do the BJJ Belt Colors Mean: Part 1
Even if you’re brand new to the sport of jiu-jitsu – or martial arts in general – you know that the BJJ belt color means something. Thanks to The Karate Kid, at the very least you know that a white belt is a beginner, and a black belt is a not-so-beginner.
But what do all those other colors mean? Is it like other martial arts? And how does one “level up” from white to black belt?
Never fear, my dear white belt (because if you’re asking yourself those questions, you ARE a white belt), all your questions will be answered here… or at least a few of them. No guarantees.
BJJ Belt Colors in General
Like other martial arts, BJJ belt colors signify where one is at in their progression from beginner to master level. However, not all martial arts use the same colors.
Specifically, in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, the standard progression is white, blue, purple, brown, black, red and black, then finally red. Oh yes, there are indeed belt levels past black. And that’s just the adult belts. Kid’s belt levels include gray, yellow, orange, and green – and variations between – but we won’t be getting into that.
The time between belts are also unique to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Unlike in karate, where you can blaze your way to black belt in as little as two years, BJJ takes much more time. But this also depends on your academy, whether you’re a competitor or a hobbiest, and how often you train. Some jiu-jitsu artists have received their black belt in as little as three or four years, but most practitioners earn it after eight to 15 years of training.
From the moment you step on the mat for the first time, you are a white belt. The absolute beginner. Lowest of the low. Just kidding, kind of. You are the lowest rank on the mat. But good news: everyone has been there.
Most people stay at white belt anywhere from six months to two years. The variation among white belt is always very interesting. A lot of white belts have no previous martial arts background – or even experience in sports of any kind – and thus spend a lot of their time developing body awareness and learning how to move properly. Then there are some white belts who come from wrestling or other martial arts background, and just plow their way through the rank.
But don’t worry, one of the beautiful things about jiu-jitsu is that the competitive edge between former “athletes” and non-athletes tends to level out later… especially for those who follow these tips.
Blue belt is the first big moment in your jiu-jitsu career. For many, this is the point at which they say to themselves, “Welp, that was fun,” and call it quits forever. For others, it’s the much needed “you don’t suck” boost they needed to keep at it.
This belt has probably the widest disparity in skill levels… which becomes most obvious at tournaments. Part of the reason is that blue belt is typically the first grown-up belt for youngsters, who could easily already have eight plus years of training. Essentially, you could have some decently-in-shape 30-something with a job and several kids with a year of jiu-jitsu experience face a 16-year-old beast who has been training longer than some black belts. Fun, huh?
Expect to spend anywhere from two to four years at blue belt. During this belt, your primary mission will be to accumulate an understanding and solidify your knowledge of all the major positions and primary submissions. You can think of it like building a house. White belt is where you poured the foundation, and blue belt is where you start framing it out. You can still see lots of open air, but you can start to see that, yes, this is the beginning of a house.
If you’ve made it to purple belt, the odds of you sticking it out to black belt are pretty high. Not 100 percent, mind you. There are plenty of BJJ purple belts out there still using the “Yeah, I’m a purple belt” line to impress girls at bars, despite not having stepped on the mat in ten years. But the odds are better than they were when you received your blue belt.
Purple belt is fun. Enjoy all that it has to offer. This belt is when you start experimenting with techniques, figuring out what you like and don’t like to do, and start shaping “your game”. Yes, it will likely still be a lumpy semi-humanoid shape that only a middle-school art teacher would love, but it’s a start.
Purple belt will also offer plenty of frustration, too. Up until this point, you’ve become used to learning and growing nearly every step of the way. Now, you’ll start to see some stagnation. It’s not that you’re getting worse. As your techniques settle into your game, or you ignore some tried-and-true techniques to focus on the fancy new stuff, those signs of improvement will be more subtle.
Expect to spend anywhere from a year and a half to even four or more years at this belt. I’ve known plenty of academy owners who really like to make their purple belts wait. Or they want to allow them every opportunity to hit the top of the podium – even if means being accused of sand-bagging. And sometimes it’s just that purple belts are bouncing around to different academies, trying to find one that fits their goals better. In doing so, this will add time onto their belt, until their new instructor gets a better sense of who they are and where they’re at in their journey.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of “What Do the BJJ Belt Colors Mean”…