What Do the BJJ Belt Colors Mean: Part 2
Welcome back. I felt it was necessary for that initial knowledge of what the BJJ belt colors mean to settle in. Because at this point in your jiu-jitsu journey, blue and purple are tangible, within reach.
Now let’s talk about the much more coveted brown, black and red belts.
Before I go on, I must note that just because someone has a higher belt than you do, does not give them any special power. They might be better at jiu-jitsu than you are, but that’s simply a matter of time on the mat. It does not make them a better person than you are. It does not give them the right to treat you poorly. Having a black belt on the mat does not mean that person is a black belt in life. Keep that in mind.
Brown belt is the last colored belt before black belt in the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu system. At this belt, you’re both excited about being so close to black belt, but also terrified to become one.
Having your brown belt is like being a lieutenant in your jiu-jitsu academy. You have enough experience that the other belts look up to you for guidance and inspiration. You may even teach classes and privates. On a personal level, you’ve found your “game”, and you will spend much of your time perfecting it, in addition to collecting more high-level techniques. You’re now able to string together more complex techniques and experiment with different ways of advancing through positions.
At this point, you’ve probably been training for five to eight years, and you’re looking at another one to four years at brown belt. Don’t rush it. Enjoy brown belt. You’re in that perfect position in the academy where you can tap most of your training partners, but you’re still getting your ass kicked by a few others – notably the black belts. This keeps you honest, and keeps you growing.
For many, black belt is the goal. Everybody wants to be a black belt. The thing is, once you get there, you realize just how much you still have to learn.
After anywhere from six to 15 years (or more… there’s no judgement), you become a black belt. Some receive their black belt in less time, but those are very few exceptions. Why such a range? Because every jiu-jitsu practitioner’s path to black belt is different and unique. Those who compete tend to arrive at black belt earlier. This is because there are more opportunities to gauge that individual’s progress relative to those from other academies. If that person is absolutely killing it on the competition scene, he or she needs to move up a belt level. Another reason for this is – in my opinion – is that every tournament is also worth about three months of training. The more you compete the easier it is to see where you need to grow.
But not all jiu-jitsu practitioners choose to compete. And that’s totally okay. Their journey to black belt will be a bit slower, and will be determined largely through their performance on their home mat and the contribution they make to the jiu-jitsu community and the journeys of others.
What must be emphasized is that just because you become black belt, doesn’t mean that you know everything. Or that you are expected to. And a black belt on the jiu-jitsu mat doesn’t mean that person is a black belt in life, at work, in relationships, etc. There will always be opportunities to learn and grow. That’s the beauty of jiu-jitsu.
Right up there with unicorns, dragons and mermaids is the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu red belt. Most jiu-jitsu practitioners will never receive their red belt in their lifetime.
Once you receive your black belt, stripes are awarded approximately every three years, regardless of how little or often you train (unless you completely quit jiu-jitsu altogether). A black belt can have up to six degrees. According to the IBJJF system, it takes approximately 31 years to transition from black belt to red and black belt, and you cannot become a red and black belt until you’re the age of 50. No telling if this may change… as more and more people are becoming black belts before the age of 20.
One spends approximately seven years at red and black belt, before receiving a red and white belt. He or she will then spend approximately 10 years there, until finally, ultimately – maybe – receiving the highest belt awarded in the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu system: red belt. This belt cannot be awarded to anyone younger than 67 years old.
How many Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu red belts have there been? According to the most recent list published by BJEE in 2019, only 55. And several of them are no longer living.
For most in the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu community, jiu-jitsu is more than a sport or a hobby. It becomes a life-long obsession, a lifestyle, a part of their identity. The BJJ belt level ranking system is just one thing that illustrates that.