10-Year Black Belt Journey
The black belt journey in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a unique experience for every student. Belt awards at Ralph Gracie BJJ in San Jose are 100% at the discretion of the instructors, but the factors leading to these decisions are under control of students. The journey to BJJ black belt can be the most difficult in all martial arts graduation systems both in time and required grit. Black belt “professors” can be further advanced to various coral colored belts as well.
The journey typically spans 10 years with the lion’s share within 8 to 12 years. In the past, there have been BJJ prodigies and elite athletes that have graduated through the belt system in as little as 4 years — in very rare occasions. Today, however, there is a minimum duration for each belt making the minimum journey 6.5 years. There are also other students with little interest in belt promotion that just enjoy rolling with friends while staying mentally confident and physically fit. Regardless of your own aspirations and capabilities, color belts are a way to track our progress in mastering the craft.
All students start as white belts, regardless of experience or age. Kids move from the kids belt graduation system to the adult belt graduation system starting at 16 years old. Black belts can be awarded to students 19 years old and up, and black belts go on to receive additional promotions under the black belt graduation system.
Kids Belt Graduation System
All students start as white belts without color, regardless of experience. We liberally award juvenile ranks to motivate your students. The belts consist of: white belt to grey belt to yellow belt to orange belt, and finally to green belt. Color belts each have 3 levels, white, solid and black. Stripes are incremental promotions between each belt and a student can be awarded up to 4 stripes on a color belt, the 5th promotion being a new belt. However, stripes awards are flexible and may be skipped, for example, a student with no or 2 stripes may be promoted to a new belt without the full 4 stripes.
Each kids belt has a minimum age, being at least 4 years old for grey belt, at least 7 years old for yellow belt, at least 10 for orange belt, and at least 13 for green belt. When kids turn 16 they are advanced to the adult belt graduation system, even if the student has not completed the system with a green/black belt.
Adult Belt Graduation System
The adult belt graduation system is more condensed, and so it follows that the promotions are less frequent than the kids belt graduation system. Assuming a 10-year journey, a student averages 2.5 years at each ranking which amounts to a stripe promotion every 6 months. The time at blue belt tends to be longer and that time could be balanced at purple or brown belt.
The minimum age requirements continue with adult belts, being at least 16 years old for blue or purple, at least 18 years old for brown belt, and at least 19 years old for a black belt.
Black Belt Graduation System
The black belt graduation system continues for professors of the martial art. There are 6 stripe awards at black belt. Only a few select professors will be advanced to black/red belt and Grand Master red belt rankings. Only founders go beyond the 9th stripe to the 10 stripe of coral belt — the absolute top of the food chain includes Carlos Gracie, Sr., his brother Helio, and three of his sons, Gastao Gracie, Jorge (George) Gracie and Oswaldo Gracie. See more red belt listings at https://bjj-world.com/bjj-red-belts/ ).
How Can I Get Promoted in BJJ?
We now reach the gist of this post identifying the top 3 factors under the student’s control for advancement. These are not universal specifications to guarantee promotion, as each student, professor, and school may vary, but they are critical factors that should be taken into consideration and are heavily considered at RGSJ. Moreover, the journey is much more than a set of check marks to accomplish as described in our blog post “So You Want to Be a Blue Belt: Top 5 Adjustments for to Make for White Belts“. Let’s Go!
#1 Mat Time
Mat time comes from training BJJ often and consistently. There is simply no substitute for the raw amount of time spent on the mat during the journey, regardless of athletic prowess or other martial arts or fighting experience. Take the case of a child in 1st grade that tests at an 8th reading level. At a certain point, the 1st grader cannot advance because there is not enough ‘life experience’ to understand what they are reading regardless of processing power.
We focus on “net” mat time because the “raw” duration of training time can include time off the mat from injuries and other reasons. At the other end of the spectrum, the “net” mat time can, in some cases, be more significant than the “raw” net time. For example, a serious competitor may advance more quickly over the same duration by training 3x per day, 5 days per week, in an intensive manner.
The ideal amount of training in a week is typically around 3x, or at least 2x. When training once per week or less, students may plateau as they are not able to build by integrating new lessons with past lessons now forgotten. Also, the student’s physical fitness will not be optimized. Long breaks and inconsistent mat time also erode progress. But do keep in mind training 6x weekly or more can be counterproductive due to improper rest, and lead to injuries from over training.
#2 Mat Skills
Mat time is an important aspect of developing mat skills. And ultimately, it is our mat skills that separate us from our former selves and others. Mat skills can include outcomes of head-to-head sparring matches against other peer students as well as how we perform against higher and lower rankings. Knowledge of positions and techniques are important. Fluidity and transitions during scrambles display instincts. Additionally, across the mat drills and partner drills isolate skill sets for evaluation.
On the other hand, student’s should not only be concerned with showing “dominance” in mat skills. For instance, a blue belt that submits purple belts will not necessarily be promoted before a blue belt being that is submitted by a white belt. There is little value in a purple belt submitting a new white belt student 10x over a single roll. But there is plenty of value in a purple belt testing their range and limits by attempting more difficult techniques on lower belts when on offense, and by placing themselves in dangerous near submissions to practice escapes when on defense.
#3 Mat Stewardship
Mat stewardship rewards all the intangible or indirect aspects of BJJ. How do you define yourself in the BJJ community or within your own BJJ dojo. Are you the mat rat — first student on the mat every class, and the last one training until the doors are locked? The RGSJ student author of “So You Want to Be a Blue Belt” blog posting discusses finding a role in the academy. One valuable role is as an ambassador in welcoming new students both socially and by teaching fundamentals for early survival. Another easy way to get involved is to religiously and whole-heartedly jump in and clean the mats after practice. This shows a respect for the dojo itself and services other students. Other roles can be organization of off-the-mat socials, off-the-mat physical work outs, and other unique aspects that you bring to the dojo and BJJ academy.
The mat jerk is one instance of mat stewardship slowing down progress — The egocentric purple belt preying on new white belts without any reciprocal learning — Causing injury to other students from reckless training — The B student with C effort — etc.