How BJJ belts work can be confusing to people who are new to Brazilian jiu jitsu. In this guide I explain what belts there are in BJJ, the order of the BJJ belts, what it takes to get a belt in BJJ and how long it takes.
What is a belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu?
Like in other martial arts, how BJJ belts work involves both a practical and a symbolic purpose.
The practical purpose is to tie it around your gi (or kimono) so that your jacket stays closed.
The symbolic purpose of BJJ belts is to signify a practitioner’s seniority. The color of the belt indicates a certain rank that is known to every BJJ practitioner.
What belts are there in BJJ (in order)
The five belts of BJJ in order from beginner to master are:
- White belt
- Blue belt
- Purple belt
- Brown belt
- Black belt
Additionally, there are 4 stripes that you can get within each belt level, but this is optional.
After getting your black belt you can get up to 6 striped on your black belt which indicates degrees. After the final black belt degree there are extra honorary belts in BJJ, but these aren’t available to the normal practitioner.
And there are also some extra belts between white belt and blue belt for youth practitioners.
How long does it take to get each belt in BJJ?
There’s huge variance in how long it takes to get each belt in BJJ, but on average it’s about 2 years per belt, assuming you train 3-5 times per week, and you don’t take time off.
But most people can’t train consistently every week for 8 years (because of injuries or life), so on average it takes 10+ years to get a BJJ black belt.
How good do you have to be to get a belt in BJJ?
Really good. Because of how BJJ belts work, they take the longest to get and are the most impressive out of any martial art.
Just to get a blue belt, most people have to train 2-4 years. And in BJJ you cannot get a belt by demonstrating techniques on an unresisting opponent like in other martial arts. You must be able to perform the techniques during sparring and ideally even in competition.
So even BJJ blue belts are really good; they would beat untrained opponents >95% of the time in a fight. Purple belts, brown belts and black belts are even more dangerous.
How do you get a belt in BJJ?
There are no set rules for how BJJ belts work, but the bottom line is that if you don’t quit and keep training hard for a number of years, you’ll be awarded your next belt.
Does BJJ have belt exams?
Unlike in many other martial arts, there doesn’t exist a curriculum or exam that defines how BJJ belts work and what you need to do to get each belt.
Instead, your instructor makes a value judgment and gives you your next belt when he thinks you’re ready for it.
This uncertainty about the requirements makes it hard to know what each BJJ belt means exactly.
And especially white belts find it hard to know what to know to get your blue belt.
How do belt promotions work in BJJ?
How belt promotions work in BJJ can be slightly different in every gym, but there are many commonalities.
In most gyms, belt promotions happen 2 or 3 times per year.
On promotion day, there’s either a normal class or an open mat, followed by the promotions.
At the promotions, everybody stands in a line, and everyone that gets a new belt is called out one by one by the instructor.
After awarding somebody a new belt, there’s often a physical rite of passage. This can be getting thrown by your instructor, or running through a gauntlet and getting whipped on your back by everybody with their belt.
After this, the person that got their new belt can often give a short speech. If they get their black belt, they can give a longer speech.
It’s also possible that people that don’t get a new belt get awarded extra stripes on their belt as an acknowledgement of their hard work and improvement.
Sometimes individuals get promoted individually rather than in a full ceremony.
What are BJJ belt promotions based on?
Every instructor can choose for themselves how BJJ belts work in their gym and what they want to base their promotions on.
Some instructors think competition experience is required for belt promotions, while others focus on technical knowledge or budo spirit.
However, all of them will take into account how well you perform in sparring against your peers, how technical you are, and whether you are a good person on the mats.
Who can award belts in BJJ?
There are set rules about which belts can award belt promotions in BJJ. Generally speaking, everybody can award belts up to one level lower than the belt level they are themselves.
For example, a purple belt can award a blue belt, a brown belt can award a purple belt, and only second degree black belts can promote people to first degree black belt.
BJJ belts compared to belts in other martial arts
How BJJ belts work is slightly different from how belts work in other martial arts. Each martial art has their own system, with their own colors that they use for the belts and the meanings that they assign to them.
For example, if we compare BJJ and Judo, Judo has 6 belts and BJJ only has 5. And Judo uses exams as their promotion requirements, whereas BJJ promotes based on performance in training.
One cool trivia is that BJJ is the only martial art that uses the purple belt. It’s therefore often thought of as the quintessential BJJ belt and it’s one of the hardest BJJ belts to get.
Furthermore, because of how BJJ belts work, the BJJ black belt takes longer to get than any other martial art.
Final thought on how BJJ belts work
Although there’s no universally agreed way of how belts work in BJJ, I hope this guide answered some of your questions.
I have a lot more articles explaining how BJJ belts work on this website, so if you still have questions, feel free to browse around!