What do BJJ Belts Mean? Each Belt’s Unique Meaning Explained

In this post I explain the meaning of each belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu, as well as the unique meaning that BJJ ascribes to belts compared to other martial arts.

Contents of this article

BJJ Belts and their meaning

BJJ belts and meaning

BJJ belts have no universally accepted meaning. And a line it’s not the case as it is in other martial arts that there is a well-defined set of techniques that you need to learn for each belt.

Instead you get a new belt when your instructor thinks you’re ready for it. Therefore, the meaning of BJJ belts is a little bit subjective. Here’s a quick characterization that rings true to me:

BeltMeaning
White beltBeginner
Blue beltKnows the fundamentals 
Purple beltDangerous
Brown beltSolid all-around
Black beltMaster
Philosophy and Expectations for White to Black Belt In BJJ

But although different instructors will put emphasis on different things, everybody agrees that there’s one core thing that the meaning of every BJJ belt is based on.

The true meaning of BJJ belts: can you fight?

BJJ belts mean many different things, but they all relate to one thing: how well you can fight.

If we break down the meaning of belts further, I think these are the most important factors:

  1. How well do you do in sparring and competition?
  2. How technical are you and how many techniques do you know?
  3. Do you use your fighting skills for good?

1. Can you fight?

The first factor in this list is the most important to Brazilian jiu-jitsu. We want to see that you can perform techniques against and resisting opponents in a fight.

Therefore a belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu primarily means that you can fight.

2. Caveat: technicality 

A small vs big BJJ black belt

The second Factor in this list is an important caveat to the first Factor.  

If we didn’t pay attention to how technical you are but only paid attention to how well you do in sparring, all the bigger people would get belts much quicker than the smaller people (because they have a size advantage in sparring).

Furthermore if we only paid attention to performance in sparring we wouldn’t really reward people for learning a lot of different techniques because winning in sparring is mostly about your A game. 

3. Caveat: using your power responsibly

The third factor is more or less important depending on your gym. 

But in my gym, if you are a terrible person, it doesn’t matter how good you are, you are not getting a belt.

Although the main meaning of a BJJ belt is how well you can fight,  it’s also about what you do with this.

With the power of being able to fight also comes the responsibility of not beating up lower ranks and not getting arrogant.

Quantifying what BJJ belts mean

The meaning of each BJJ belt is really just a relative ranking for ourselves.

We use the colour of our belts to say: that guy is a beginner, that guy is pretty good, that guy is way better.

To put some numbers on this I would say that:

  • If you’re 1 belt higher you win 80% of the time
  • If you’re 2 belts higher you win 95% of the time

In the table below you see how likely each belt is to win against each other belt in BJJ.

Win %UntrainedWhite beltBlue beltPurple beltBrown beltBlack belt
Untrained50 / 50xxxxx
White belt80 /2050 / 50xxxx
Blue belt95 / 580 / 2050 / 50xxx
Purple Belt99 / 195 / 580 / 2050 / 50xx
Brown belt99.9 / 099 / 195 / 580 / 2050 / 50x
Black belt99.99 / 099.9 / 099 / 195 / 580 / 2050 / 50
Table: the win percentages of each belt versus each other belt in BJJ

For example, a brown belt wins 80% of the time against purple belts, and 95% of the time against blue belts.

And a blue belt wins 80% of the time against white belts, and 95% of the time against unranked people who have never trained before.

Obviously I didn’t do a scientific study to prove these measures, but they hold up in my experience, as long as we control for weight a little bit. 

What does a BJJ white belt mean?

bjj white belt meaning

A BJJ white belt means that you beat untrained opponents 80% of the time.

Obviously this isn’t quite true directly when you start, but it starts becoming true pretty fast.

Other than that, a BJJ white belt means that you started training. You’re now making a concerted effort to start to learn how to fight and defend yourself.

Although the white belt is the first belt you get in BJJ, in some senses it’s the hardest BJJ belt to get, so be proud of it.

What does a BJJ blue belt mean?

bjj blue belt meaning

A BJJ blue belt means that you beat white belts 80% of the time, and untrained opponents >95% of the time.

A blue belt also means that you know what to do from all the major positions of BJJ: mount, side control, back mount, closed guard, half guard.

Basically, you know all the essential white belt techniques, and that’s why you got your blue belt.

Blue is also the belt that takes the longest to get for most people, so you can be very proud of it.

What does a BJJ purple belt mean?

bjj purple belt meaning

A BJJ purple belt means that you beat blue belts 80% of the time and white belts more than 95% of the time.

A purple belt also means that you have a good understanding of the major positions and it’s the belt at which you can teach BJJ to beginners effectively.

And at purple belt you also have some dangerous weapons. If you roll with brown and black belts you don’t usually win, but if they don’t pay attention and you catch them in your favorite technique, they’re screwed.

What does a BJJ brown belt mean?

bjj brown belt meaning

A BJJ brown belt means that you be the purple belt 80% of the time and basically always beat blue belts and below.

A brown belt means that you’re solid. It’s very hard to surprise you with a technique that you’ve never seen before.

In terms of attacking you’re a multifaceted weapon.

When you were a purple belt you had one technique that you were very dangerous with and now you have many of those.

What does a BJJ black belt mean?

BJJ black belt meaning

A BJJ black belt means that you are a master of Brazilian jiu jitsu. But, this doesn’t mean that you’re done, of course.

From now on, all the improvements you make will be minor details. Tiny ways to improve your strong base of techniques.

When you roll with purple belts and below, you understand exactly what they’re trying to do at all times, and you win more than 99% of the time.

Since a black belt takes much longer to get in BJJ than in any other martial art, it’s an incredible achievement that you can be very proud of.

What do stripes on a belt mean in BJJ?

bjj stripes on belt meaning

Stripes on a BJJ belt indicate progress within the belt.

Stripes have the most significant meaning at the white belt level, because a difference of 6 months training is the most relevant at white belt.

Usually it takes about 6 months to get an extra stripe on your belt (although not all gyms do a promotion ceremony every 6 months). There’s a maximum of 4 stripes to get at each belt. 

Final thought on what belts mean in Brazilian jiu jitsu

I know that the meaning of belts in BJJ can be confusing because we don’t have any universally accepted meaning of them.

 I hope that this article helps you understand a little bit better what your BJJ belt means.