What makes jiu-jitsu such a unique sport from all the other sports we commonly know of is the belt ranking system. No other sport (besides Judo) has such an emphasis on belt rank and where you stand amongst your teammates, instructors and peers. Also, the higher in rank you go, the more respect you tend to earn since you have clearly put in your time into the sport.

What is interesting in jiu-jitsu about belt promotions is that it is different for everyone who is a part of the sport. Each person who moves up in the rank is different based off of their professor and of what they look to do in the sport. In my weekly piece, I have always reflected on the competitive side of jiu-jitsu, but in actuality that is only a piece of what the sport is truly all about.

When the common practitioner first begins his or her jiu-jitsu journey, they most commonly look at it as an opportunity to try something new and interesting, in hopes of keeping themselves entertained with blood-pumping combat. Also, the new students of the sport tend to use it to help themselves get away from the daily stresses of work and family issues—for most, it is used as an escape. At white belt, jiu-jitsu is not much more than that for the majority of students involved in the sport, and most of those students tend to stay that way once they get to black belt.

The other type of students you see in the beginning are the ones who are driven and intrigued by competing. Obviously, these new white belts must understand the basic concepts and techniques of the sport, but soon after that, they are ready to test their abilities out on the mat. These competitive types of students are in the minority, as most students of the sport take it as more of a hobby than anything else. This is what makes the difference in how long it may take for an individual to eventually reach that coveted black belt.

The common student who is just interested in learning and understanding the “gentle art” may actually go through the ranks faster than those who do it for the competition. The reason for this is that most professors look to give their competitive students the best chance possible to win at the big tournaments before eventually promoting them. Even though, in fact, the competitive students may be better than most of the commoner students, a competitor’s dream is to be called a “World Champion” and everyone knows that it only gets harder the higher you go up in the ranks.

When it comes to this way of thinking, I can attest based on my two years as a purple belt competitor. In 2010, at purple belt, I had come in third place at the World Championships and many believed that was a more than deserving placing for me to be given my brown belt afterwards. But since my professors knew how serious I was about winning and achieving a World title at all the belt ranks, they didn’t rush me along and gave me one more chance in 2011. With that opportunity that I was given the next year, I went on to win every tournament I entered, including the Worlds in June to complete one of my lifelong dreams.

Someone else who may have the same abilities as me but is not as driven to compete will almost certainly be promoted, since there is nothing to risk by promoting him or her. If anything, promoting most of the non-competitive students can end up being a positive, since once they go higher in the ranks and attain more and more knowledge of the sport, the more opportunities they will get to teach and pass off their knowledge to the next set of new white belts.

When it comes to belt ranks and promotions in jiu-jitsu, patience is the key to surviving it all. Some students may go for years without getting any promotion or recognition from their professor, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t watching you. Many tend to become discouraged by not getting promoted when they expect to, but in the end, what does it really matter? Everyone has their own path to black belt, and the ultimate goal in mind should be to enjoy the journey getting there—no one should try to rush through it.

As mentioned before, the unique quality of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and its method of belt ranking is that the time it takes and the requirements needed to earn a promotion are different for everyone involved. Some may go through the ranks faster than others, but either way, with a steady persistence and drive to master the sport, everyone will get there, one way or another.

Photo: Jiu-Jitsu belts (Performance MMA)

About The Author

Gianni Grippo
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Contributor
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Gianni Grippo is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under Marcelo Garcia and trains at the Marcelo Garcia Academy in New York City. Besides being a big fan of the sport, Gianni is also an avid competitor and has ranked among the best in the World from blue to brown belt winning 6 IBJJF World titles and 7 Pan Championships. Still at 21, Gianni looks to continue to compete for many years to come as his main goals are to win the World championships at black belt and win the ADCC title.