The BJJ Belt Ranking System – Everything You Need to Know

Like most traditional martial arts, Jiu-jitsu athletes wear what is called a Gi. Jiu-Jitsu Kimono, BJJ GI, or whatever you like to call it, is basically a “uniform for training.” There are many different types of GI’s out there – the one you choose will depend on the type of martial art you’re interested in. In this case, you’ll want to get a Gi that is designed for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. This is because BJJ GIs are made from a more rigid material and are designed to be durable, making it hard for your opponent to grab you. A Jiu-Jitsu GI comes with pants and a jacket. 

Along with the Gi, there’s a system of colored belts – these belts show the experience level of the student. 

Mind you, the BJJ belt system is a tad bit different than the other martial arts, such as taekwondo or karate. In BJJ, the belts are usually less formal. With the rise of No-GI BJJ and further variations (like the 10th Planet system), many have knowledge of BJJ, but they don’t have the traditional belt rank.

How do belts work in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu? Continue reading this article to find out everything you need to know about the BJJ Belt System …

How Are Bjj Belts Ranked?

In martial arts like taekwondo, karate, and judo, the lowest rank in BJJ would be the white belt, with the highest rank being the black belt (with a couple of exceptions). 

The order of the BJJ belt system is as follows:

  • White Belt
  • Blue Belt
  • Purple Belt
  • Brown Belt
  • Black Belt

Most adult practitioners will fall into one of those levels. There are some extremely rare levels that go above the black belt, though, and this would be the coral belt or the red belt. These colors are given to the seventh-degree black belt. The belt is altering black and red colors, kind of like a coral snake, which is what it’s named after. In judo, there’s a similar level, which is given to the sixth degree black belts.

In order to receive a red and black belt, the individual will have to have a minimum of 5 years’ training and teaching at the black belt level. Research has indicated that there are currently eighteen people at this level, but there may be more that hasn’t been recorded. 

The red and white belt, also referred to as a coral belt, is the next step up from red and black. This belt is given eighth-degree black belts and will require an additional seven years of training and teaching at red and black belt. 

The only level that is above this would be the red belt. Now, red belts are only given to major figures. Only six people have the red belt, and they are Gracie brothers Carlos, Gastao, George, Helio, and Oswaldo, and Luiz Franca Filho.

Youth Belt Levels

In order to advance to blue belt and above, students will need to be 16 years or older. Students that are under 16 will have a few more belts. The order for them is:

  • White (any age)
  • Grey (4 years)
  • Yellow (7 years)
  • Orange (10 years)
  • Green (13 years)

There are cases where a green belt is very advanced. Once the individual has turned 16 years of age, they will often be promoted to purple or blue belts.

Belt Promotion Traditions

Over the years, numerous traditions for belt promotions have popped up. Here are some of the popular traditions: 

The Podium Promotion

At any mid to large-sized competition, you may witness some belt promotions. Receiving a gold medal in the competition signals that their student is ready to move up to the next level. When medals are awards, often, they’re accompanied by a new belt.

Most podium promotions are only given to those students who have won first place. 

Surprise Promotions

Some teachers out there get a little on the creative side when it comes to their belt promotions. We’ve witnessed the instructor hanging their student a new colored belt during a roll and thought that was pretty cool. There was this one video where the instructor rolls with his student. During the roll together, the instructor unties the student’s belt and replaces it with the new belt. 

Hazing

Back in the earlier days of BJJ, “hazing” rituals were a bit more common with belt promotions. These rituals were designed to test the toughness of the newly promoted student.

In this day and age, hazing isn’t all that popular as perception around people needing to prove their toughness in a way like this isn’t the same as it used to be. The shark tanks and Faixada are two notable exceptions that are still commonly used for belt promotions.

Faixada

Faixada is a ritual where the student who has just been promoted will walk back and forth as the other students line up and whip him or her with their belts.  

Shark Tank

With the shark tank, the student is given a series of rolls, one after the other, with every student in their class.

BJJ Belts FAQs

How do you rank up in BJJ?

The belt system in BJJ is generally more fluid. There’s no universal way for an individual to achieve the next rank. Most of the schools out there don’t have traditional gradings, where a student performs in order to move up a belt. Instead, most of the time, this is a decision that is left up to the professor.

The decision to promote someone will more than likely depend on how they’re doing in class in both live rolling and understanding the techniques they’ve been taught. Sometimes, a school may have a grading class when a professor judges which students are ready to move up.

After an excellent performance in competition, it’s common for a student to receive a belt promotion. In fact, the competitor may even get their next belt right after the end of the match or on the podium when they’re getting their medal.

How long does it take to get each belt?

The length of time it takes to get each belt is going to depend on many factors. Generally speaking, though, it will take between 2-3 years per promotion. The IBJJF requires certain minimum times at each belt before the student can move to the next belt. However, not every school follows this rule. The only rule out there that is almost unanimously accepted is when the student has to be 16 years old before advancing to the blue belt or higher.

There are some examples of outstanding athletes who have managed to advance quicker than the IBJJF recommended. The famous one would be UFC fighter BJ Penn – it took him three years of training to earn his black belt – this was done under a well-respected trainer, Andre Pederneiras. 

Are there are requirements for each belt?

Apart from the IBJJF requirements for time spent at each belt, there aren’t any set requirements for each belt level.

Different schools may have their own requirements for an individual to learn at each level before they move them to their next belt. For example, at white belt, the student will learn all of the basic techniques. However, at the blue belt, you will be expected to know a range of more advanced techniques. 

What about stripes?

Most schools also use stripes on their belts. A student can earn four stripes, with the next step being the next color belt.

The stripes on the belt don’t make a difference when it comes to competition, but they are an excellent way to show people how far you have progressed.

For example, let’s say there’s a one-stripe white belt – this is often different in experience compared to a four-stripe white belt.

Stripes are relatively informal. In fact, some schools don’t even use them, and students might skip multiple strips if their professor feels they are worthy of the next belt.

BJJ Belts – Summary

Really, that’s all you need to know about how the BJJ belt system works – it’s not complicated at all. Don’t put too much value on your belt color; this isn’t something that should keep you up at night. Here, belts aren’t the goal, at least, they shouldn’t be – all they are is an indicator of your experience and level.

When you’re in a class, and students are getting promoted ahead of you, don’t let this discourage you – celebrate their promotion with them. Don’t be afraid of higher belts, and by all means, don’t look down on lower belts.

There’s a famous quote from Bruce Lee that says: “Belts are only good for holding up your pants.” This couldn’t be any further from the truth. Instead, it would be best if you put focus on being better than yesterday.

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