Fix Yo’ Belt! My Attempt at Standardizing the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Belt Ranking System

Posted: March 21, 2012 in Gracie Jiu Jitsu, Off the mats..
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Let’s face it, there are multiple belt systems being used today in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.  We’ve got people running around with light blue, dark blue, blue belts with no bands, blue belts with red bands, white belts with blue stripes, and that’s just the blue belts!.  We look crazy!  And yes, I mean WE.  WE are a brotherhood.  It doesn’t matter if you practice the self-defense aspect of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu or the sportsman game of competition style Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.  WE are not Eddie Bravo or Rorion Gracie so WE need to unite under a system that is simple, easy to understand and still maintains our traditions.

The International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) tried to standardize the belt ranking system some time ago.  A lot of schools use it but most kept what they already had in place.  Why?  I personally believe that it’s tied to money.  The IBJJF want’s you to pay them a yearly due.  To get promoted your school has to pay a yearly due to the IBJJF in order to be recognized by their promotion body.  So, if you don’t have the money to pay and your school does not desire to pay, then the IBJJF belt system of validation becomes irrelevant.  And why should you have to pay?  Isn’t your school already paying affiliation fees to be recognized by their promoting body?  I’m a personal believer in keeping the integrity at home.  Let my instructor and professor judge me and my skill level and promote me accordingly.  I’m not knocking the IBJJF, I’m just not sure we should have to pay them to be recognized or use their system.

I’m not asking anyone to pay to adopt this system.  If your affiliation says that you’re a purple belt, that’s good enough for me.  It’s not my place, or the IBJJF’s for that matter, to issue you rank.  What I’m asking is that we unite under a belt system that we can all understand and use.  If your Professor says that you’re a purple or brown belt, that’s fine by mean.  Just don’t be the fool that wears a purple belt with a red band that’s 10 inches long.  I did not spend any time working on the kids belt system.  I think that Jiu-Jitsu is a valid sport for children, and the children’s belt system needs to be addressed, I just haven’t devoted the time to doing it… yet.

In developing this system, I relied heavily on the Gracie family and history; I think you have too.  Even if you don’t agree with the origins of Jiu-Jitsu, you have to admit that the Gracie family did play a major influence in what is today’s concept and application of Jiu-Jitsu.  You can read about Helio Gracie’s belt system as recounted by Relson Gracie and the difference in the Gracie blue belts from the Valente family to learn more about the history involved.

My Vision for what the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Belt Ranking System Should Look Like. Click the Image to Open a PDF Version with More Details.

There are five tier levels to the belt system.  The Practitioner, the Instructor, the Professor, the Master and the Grand Master.

The Practitioner:  The Practitioner is your everyday, run of the mill, Jiu-Jitsu student.  He comes to class, he participates and learns, and progresses accordingly based on his skill level.  As he furthers along, he helps his fellow student’s learn.  There are five different belts that the Practitioner can earn:  white, light blue, purple, brown and black.  The white belt does not have the 10 cm black band.  Blue, purple and brown will have 10 cm black bands.  The black belt does not wear the 10 cm red band until after two years.  The highest rank attainable by the Practitioner is 6th degree black belt.  An example of the black belt Practitioner could be the driven competitor who does not own an academy, or a professional MMA fighter.

White Belt with Proper Spacing in Between Degrees

The White Belt:  The white belt is the first belt worn by all students who begin their journey in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.  The white belt does not have the 10 cm black band.  The white belt student will earn four degrees prior to promotion to the light blue belt.  Each degree will be a .5 inch black stripe, with .5 inch spacing in between each degree, with the first degree starting one inch from the tip of the white belt.  The minimum requirement for promotion to blue belt is one year as a white belt and be at least 16 years old.

The Blue Belt:  The light blue belt is the second lowest rank in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.  It indicates a strong understanding of the fundamentals and a basic understanding of some more advanced techniques.  A blue belt should have the ability to properly defend oneself.  The light blue belt has a 10 cm black band which starts one inch from the tip of the belt.  The blue belt student will earn four degrees prior to promotion to purple belt.  Each degree will be a .5 inch white stripe with .5 inch spacing between each degree.  The first degree will be placed .5 inches from the tip of the black band with each stripe being placed subsequently inboard.  The minimum requirement for promotion to purple belt is two years as a blue belt and be at least 16 years old.

The Purple Belt:  The purple belt is an intermediate belt.  It indicates a mastery of the fundamentals, a solid advanced technical understanding and a developed idea of strategy and tactics (i.e. two moves ahead).  The purple belt has a 10 cm black band which starts one inch from the tip of the belt.  The purple belt student will earn four degrees prior to promotion to brown belt.  Each degree will be a .5 inch white stripe with .5 inch spacing between each degree.  The first degree will be placed .5 inches from the tip of the black band with each stripe being placed subsequently inboard.  The minimum requirement for promotion to brown belt is two years as a purple belt and at least 18 years old.

The Brown Belt:  The brown belt is an advanced intermediate belt.  It indicates a mastery of the fundamentals and advanced techniques.  A personally developed strategy and tactical base have been formed.  The brown belt has a 10 cm black band which starts one inch from the tip of the belt.  The brown belt student will earn four degrees prior to promotion to black belt.  Each degree will be a .5 inch white stripe with .5 inch spacing between each degree.  The first degree will be placed .5 inches from the tip of the black band with each stripe being placed subsequently inboard.  The minimum requirement for promotion to black belt is one year as a brown belt and at least 18 years old.

The Black Belt:  The black belt is an advanced belt.  It indicates a mastery of the fundamental and advanced techniques.  Technical savvy and strategy are the norm.  The black belt does not initially have the 10 cm red band.  The black belt student will earn three intermediate degrees prior to promotion to the black belt with red bar.  Each degree will be a .5 inch white stripe with a .5 inch spacing in between each intermediate degree, with the first intermediate degree starting one inch from the tip of the black belt.  After one year the red bar will be added and the black belt student may earn up to six degrees.  Each degree will be .5 inch white stripe with .25 inch spacing between each degree.  The first degree will be placed .25 inch from the tip of the outside edge of the red band with each degree placed subsequently inboard.  The minimum requirement for promotion to 1st degree is two years as a black belt.  Requirements for subsequent degrees is 3 years up to 3rd degree black belt.  Requirements for subsequent degrees is 5 years up to 6th degree black belt.  The 6th degree black belt is the highest attainable rank for the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner.

Gracie Academy Blue Belt Instructor with 1st Degree

The Instructor:  The Instructor is a student who does more than show up for training.  These are the practitioners who have a true passion for the sport, are engaging, outspoken, and have a really strong understanding of the fundamental techniques and can clearly, concisely explain and demonstrate them to fellow students.  The minimum requirements for an Instructor are:  1.)  Be at least a blue belt;  2.)  Be at least 18 years of age;  3.)  Successful completion of an Instructors course in the students respective affiliation;  4.)  Current certification in first aid and CPR;  and finally, 5.)  Direct supervision and tutelage under a Professor or higher.  Note:  The Professor need not physically be on site.  For example, an Instructor could have his own affiliate academy under his Professor’s academy in a different city.  What’s important is that the Professor and Instructor have open dialogue to assist the Instructor in conducting training in accordance with their affiliations guidelines.

The Instructor will follow a slightly different belt system.  If beginning their instruction at the blue belt level the Instructor will be awarded a navy blue belt, darker in color than the standard light blue belt to be worn by Practitioners.  After blue, the colors will match those of the Practitioners until the black belt.  If promoted to black belt as an Instructor they will be award the black belt with the red bar.  The Instructor will wear two additional .5 inch white stripes on the outer edges of the 10 cm band to distinguish themselves from Practitioners.  Time in rank and age requirements remain the same for promotion.  If at anytime an Instructor fails to meet any of the listed requirements the Instructor status shall be removed and the Instructor will revert back to Practitioner status.  As with the Practitioner, the highest rank that may be achieved by an Instructor is the 6th degree black belt.

The Professor:  The Professor is an experienced Instructor and Practitioner.  The minimum requirements are:  1.)  Be at least a black belt for two years;  2.)  Be at least 21 years of age;  3.)  Successful completion of an Instructors course in their respective affiliation;  4.)  Successful completion of a Professors course in their respective affiliation;  5.)  Current certification in first aid and CPR;  and finally, 6.)  Direct supervision and tutelage under a Master or higher.  If at any time a Professor fails to meet any of the listed requirements the Professor status shall be removed and the Professor will revert back to Practitioner status.  The highest rank that may be achieved by a Professor is the 9th degree Grand Master.

The Master:  The Master is a Professor who has met the time in rank requirements for promotion.  A 6th degree black belt Professor is eligible for promotion to 7th degree red and black belt after 7 years as a 6th degree black belt.  A 7th degree red and black belt Master is eligible for promotion to 8th degree red and black belt after 7 years as a 7th degree red and black belt.

The Grand Master:  The Grand Master is a Master who has met the time in rank requirements for promotion.  An 8th degree red and black belt Master is eligible for promotion to 9th degree red belt after 10 years as a 8th degree red and black belt Master.  The 10th degree red belt Grand Master is reserved for the originators of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and will not be awarded as a form or respect, honor and appreciation for their contribution the gentle art.

In conclusion, I realize I might be rocking the boat here.  Who am I to tell any one to fix their belt system?  I’m no one, really.  However we have to be honest with ourselves.  People are calling for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to become an Olympic sport, but we can’t come to terms with how we want to identify players in the sport.  This is a simple fix that, if WE as a brotherhood can set aside the personal and political feelings between affiliations, can make happen.  Leave your responses and let me know what you guys think!

Comments
  1. Sean says:

    Good idea and great presentation, but if you want the BJJ community to come together as a whole then you should petition the ‘BJJ Greats’ such as Relson Gracie, Pedro Sauer and the Black Belt Counsel from USAJJ. I know that USAJJ has their own belt system that they are trying to make the standard. USAJJ is also working on getting BJJ in the 2016 olympics.

  2. Anonymous Practicioner says:

    Redonkulous, if anything we should go back to the original system of grandmaster Helio.

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