BJJ Belt System Explained: The Ultimate Guide to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Rankings
Welcome to the ultimate guide to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu belt rankings!
This article will answer many common questions about the BJJ belt system, from how many belts there are, to how long it takes for a practitioner to progress through the various belts.
The journey from white belt to black belt is a long one, but it’s a worthwhile one! And did you know that black belt is technically not the end of the road? Keep reading to learn what comes after black belt for a select few practitioners.
But before getting into that, let’s first cover the basics of the BJJ belt system.
BJJ Belt System: The Basics
In BJJ, the belt of a practitioner not only holds their kimono top closed, it also represents the practitioner’s skill level, depth of knowledge, and commitment to the art over time.
For most adults who practice BJJ, there exist 5 belt ranks, which include:
- White belt
- Blue belt
- Purple belt
- Brown belt
- Black belt
Did you know there’s also a BJJ belt system for kids?
This modified belt system was created for practitioners between the ages of 4 and 16. There are more belts in this system (13 in total) so that children experience a faster progression compared to adults. The 5 main groups of belts include:
- White belt
- Grey belt
- Yellow belt
- Orange belt
- Green belt
WHAT IS THE HISTORY OF THE BJJ Belt System
The BJJ belt rank system has its roots in Japan, with Jigoro Kano’s Kodokan Judo. Unlike today, Kano used only the white, brown, and black belts with his students. Similarly, in the early days with the Gracie family in Brazil, Carlos and Hélio used only white and blue belts to distinguish students from instructors.
It appears to be the Jiu-Jitsu Federation of Guanabara in 1967 that first adopted the coloured belt system that we know today. This 5 belt system is now commonplace in Brazilian jiu-jitsu throughout the world.
WHO CAN GIVE BELT PROMOTIONS?
In most academies, black belts are the ones responsible for most of the belt promotions.
However, in some smaller schools, it is not uncommon to see a brown belt as a head instructor. In this case, a brown belt can promote a student all the way up to purple belt, but not brown belt.
Similarly, one must be a second-degree black belt in order to promote a student to black belt.
WHAT IS THE BJJ BELT PROGRESSION TIMELINE?
The International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) created a BJJ belt progression timeline that is followed by many, if not most, BJJ academies.
The IBJJF requires a student to be at least 16 years of age before being promoted from white belt to blue belt (or from the kid’s BJJ belt system to adult blue belt). It typically takes an adult student anywhere from 1-2 years to progress from white to blue belt.
From there, one must remain at blue belt for at least 2 years before being promoted to purple belt.
The IBJJF then requires students to be at least 18 years old and have spent at least 18 months at purple belt before being promoted to brown belt.
Finally, the IBJJF requires students have spent at least 1 year at brown belt before being promoted to black belt.
WHAT DO STRIPES ON A BELT MEAN IN BJJ?
Stripes, also referred to as degrees, signify progress within a given belt. The stripes are applied to the black bar on the practitioner’s belt (usually with white tape).
There are 4 degrees for each belt from white to brown. After the fourth degree of each belt, the next step is to receive the next belt.
However, things get a bit trickier when we get to black belt. Once a practitioner gets to the 7th degree of their black belt, they receive a black-and-red belt, also referred to as a coral belt. Then, 9th and 10th degree black belts receive a red belt – however, these are reserved for the Grandmasters of the art and are therefore extremely rare.
HOW DOES A BJJ BELT PROMOTION CEREMONY WORK?
BJJ belt promotion ceremonies work differently at every academy.
At some schools, students will be told about their upcoming promotion weeks before the promotion ceremony. In other cases, students are surprised with a belt promotion, receiving a new belt at the end of training, during training, or even immediately after podiuming at a major competition.
At other academies, a more formal testing is required to be promoted, involving specific technique and sparring against fresh, rested partners while the student being promoted becomes more and more tired.
Whatever the case may be, the important thing is that you show up and train consistently, and let your professors/instructors worry about your next promotion.
DOES YOUR BJJ RANK REALLY MATTER?
You can easily get caught up in the BJJ belt ranking system if you’re not careful. The prospect of one day having a black belt – or ever higher than a black belt – can be incredibly appealing.
But do belt ranks really matter? If you keep training consistently, you’re going to get promoted sooner or later. So why worry too much about when you’re going to be getting your next stripe, or your next belt?
Besides, whether you’re a white belt or a red belt, what’s most important is that you’re on the mats learning, training, and having a good time!
BJJ BELT SYSTEM (KIDS): THE BREAKDOWN
The BJJ kids belt system is reserved for practitioners between the ages of 4 and 15. This belt system was created in 2015 by the IBJJF to better group children together for competitions.
In total, there are 13 belts for children.
The grey belts are for children between the ages of 4 and 15. The yellow belts are for children between the ages of 7 and 15. The orange belts are for youth between the ages of 10 and 15. And the green belts are for competitors between the ages of 13 and 15.
BJJ BELT SYSTEM (ADULTS): THE BREAKDOWN
BJJ WHITE BELT
The white belt marks the beginning of one’s Brazilian jiu-jitsu journey.
While many practitioners will begin training jiu-jitsu, few will persist long enough to earn a blue belt. Even fewer will progress past blue belt to purple, brown, and eventually black belt.
The majority of your time at white belt will be spent getting submitted and learning how to escape from bad positions and submissions. The higher belts will be the hammer, and you’ll spend a lot of time as the nail, so to speak. This can be incredibly frustrating. For some, this is too much to handle, and they stop training. But over time, white belts become competent enough to defend themselves, stay safe, and start to learn how to attack.
Besides getting beat up by higher belts, some practitioners consider white belt to be the most fun belt because you get to discover all the various submissions and positions (i.e., guards, passes, transitions, takedowns) for the first time.
Regardless, white belt is the most important belt in the BJJ belt system, because it means you’ve started training!
BJJ BLUE BELT
Of all the jiu-jitsu belts, blue belt might be the most significant in terms of achievement. This is because the blue belt indicates that a practitioner has demonstrated a fundamental understanding of all the main BJJ positions and submissions.
A Brazilian jiu-jitsu blue belt has proven that they can defend themselves, escape from bad positions, and attack an opponent with sweeps, guard passes, and submissions. Time spent at blue belt is an opportunity to refine one’s understanding of all the major positions and submissions, and to begin to experiment with more complex positions and strategies.
However, as important as the blue belt is, it also comes with what is jokingly called the blue belt curse.
The blue belt curse refers to a trend in the BJJ community where an oddly high percentage of practitioners stop training shortly after graduating from white to blue belt. If you’re about to get a blue belt, or you just got promoted to blue belt, make sure to break the trend and keep training!
BJJ PURPLE BELT
Purple belt is considered the first advanced belt in the BJJ belt system. It’s said that once a practitioner achieves a purple belt, there is a very good chance they will continue on to get their black belt.
At purple belt, practitioners begin to refine their BJJ games. This is where many practitioners begin to develop their own style, and become known for a sweep, a guard pass, or a submission in particular.
Also, a strange trend that has developed over the years is that purple belts have become notorious for skipping warm-ups.
Maybe its because many of them just want to drill and experiment with fancy guards and complex sweeps, and basic warm-ups just appear plain boring to them. Either way, if you’re a purple belt – just show up for warm-ups, ok?! They’re good for you and you’ll be setting a positive example for the white belts and blue belts.
BJJ BROWN BELT
Brown belt is the final rank before achieving one’s black belt, and so many brown belt practitioners consider this a final opportunity to address any major holes in their game. Maybe this means spending more time passing guard if you’re a guard player, or spending more time with takedowns, for example. However, there should be few positions or submissions that are entirely unfamiliar to brown belts.
Also, many brown belts begin teaching classes in preparation for their black belt. This is not always a requirement, but is a fairly common practice.
A brown belt does not only have to be technically and strategically proficient on the mats, but they must also set a positive example for newer practitioners. Leadership is an important quality for brown belts as they work to show that they are ready to achieve the highest rank in Brazilian jiu-jitsu: the black belt.
BJJ BLACK BELT
The black belt is the highest rank that most Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioners will receive.
Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belts are experts in the art, having demonstrated an expert-level of skill/execution, knowledge, and dedication to the art over time.
Black belts are often referred to as professors, whereas coloured belt teachers are referred to as instructor or coach. It is very common for black belts to teach classes.
It’s also important to note that, while the black belt is the highest rank one can achieve, technically, it isn’t the end of the journey. That’s because of stripes, or degrees, which work slightly differently for black belts: a black belt can have up to 10 stripes/degrees, compared to a coloured belt’s 4 stripes/degrees.
The IBJJF requires a black belt practitioner to train/teach for at least 3 years before progressing to the next degree on their black belt. This is the case for degrees 1, 2, and 3. Then, degrees 4, 5, and 6 require the practitioner to train/teach for at least 5 years before progressing to the next degree on their black belt.
If a practitioner trains and teaches long enough at black belt, there’s another belt waiting for them: the coral belt.
BJJ CORAL BELT
The 7th degree black belt is rewarded with a new belt – a red and black belt also referred to as the coral belt. The IBJJF requires these practitioners to train/teach for at least 7 tears before moving to the 8th degree of black belt – the red-white belt.
Coral belts are masters of the art/sport. These belts are reserved for a handful of practitioners who have dedicated most of their lives (30+ years) to the art.
BJJ RED BELT
After the red-white belt comes the red belt, which includes both the 9th and the 10th degrees. A practitioner must have trained/taught for at least 48 years before receiving a red belt. 9th degree black belts (red belts) are referred to as Grandmasters.
There are currently no living 10th degree red belts. The only practitioners to ever receive a 10th degree red belt are the pioneers of the art: Carlos Gracie, Hélio Gracie, Gastão Gracie Jr., Jorge Gracie, Oswaldo Gracie, Luiz França, and Oswaldo Fadda.
OTHER FAQS ABOUT THE BJJ BELT SYSTEM
The biggest difference between BJJ and many other martial arts when it comes to the belt system is the formality of promotion requirements.
In more traditional martial arts, the expectations of a belt rank are much more clear than in BJJ. Testing for belts in other martial arts is much more formal compared to BJJ, in which, while there are guidelines, there continues to be a lot of variability from one BJJ academy to another.
DO YOU HAVE TO PAY FOR BJJ BELT PROMOTIONS?
Most schools do not charge for BJJ belt promotions. However, it is not unheard of. Check to see why a BJJ academy would want to charge their student extra for promotions, considering the students are already paying membership fees. In some cases, paying for belt promotions might be a red flag.
WHAT IS A SANDBAGGER IN BJJ?
A sandbagger in BJJ typically refers to a student who intentionally delays their belt promotions. Oftentimes, this is done in an attempt to better their chances of winning competitions. However, it is largely frowned upon, and thus being known as a sandbagger is not a good thing at all.
What belt is Conor McGregor in BJJ?
At the time of this writing, Conor McGregor is a brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Besides his famed UFC career, he has also competed in several grappling tournaments. He was promoted to brown belt by his coach, John Kavanagh (Ireland’s first Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt).
How to Accelerate Your BJJ Progression
How can you move through the ranks and get better, faster? Spending time on the mats is by far the most important thing you can do. But is that all?
As you’ve likely heard at some point, BJJ is commonly referred to as human chess. The execution of various techniques is only made possible through extensive knowledge, which must be applied in high-pressure scenarios. So, getting good at BJJ is not only about executing the different techniques, but also knowledge about the techniques and how they fit together.
That’s why we’ve developed this online BJJ flowchart tool, which can be used to help you learn new techniques, organize systems (e.g., kimura trap system, back taking system), and map your overall game in a clear, concise fashion!
Spending more time on the mats is one thing that can help you progress through the BJJ ranks faster, but sometimes training more isn’t necessarily an option. In these instances, working on the mental side of your BJJ when you’re off the mats can have a huge effect on your progression on the mats.
Check out the online BJJ flowchart tool and watch as you accelerate your BJJ progression! You’ll be saying checkmate to your training partners in no time… and they’ll be saying tap! back to you!