Aug 30, 2022
Back in April, I got my black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
I’ve been training Jiu-Jitsu for a little more than 7 years. Not that anyone’s keeping score, but if I’m being exact, I got my black belt after about 7 years and 3 weeks of training.
I spent 13 months as a white belt. I spent 2 years as a blue belt. I spent 2 years and 3 months as a purple belt. I spent 2 years and 1 year and 8 months as a brown belt.
As I’ve progressed through the belts, I’ve learned a thing or 2 about improving your skills, impressing your instructors, and earning your way to the next belt. As an experienced practioner, competitor, and instructor, I’ve identifed some key advice that can help you progress through the ranks and improve your skills faster.
This article contains my best advice for someone at each belt rank in BJJ.
White Belt - Training Wheels
Life is hard when you’re a white belt.
Even when you’re in the safest and cushiest training environment, it’s easy to feel like you’re drowning in new techniques, a new form of exercise, and an entirely new subsect of our society.
Your first day of Jiu-Jitsu is challenging in every single way.
That’s why as a white belt, I want you to make sure you’re learning to have fun.
There’s no move that you can learn at white belt that will magically transform you into a good blue or purple belt.
White belt is not about moves, white belt is about habits.
Learn to get in the habit of coming to training regularly. Learn to get in the habit of dropping your ego, tapping out to submissions, and developing a growth mindset. Learn how to build habits that will help the longevity of your Jiu-Jitsu experience.
You’re getting ready for a marathon. Start easy. Start slow. Start safe.
Blue Belt - Hit the Ground Running
Getting your blue belt feels like graduating college, but it’s nothing like graduating college.
Getting your blue belt is kind of like graduating 8th grade. It’s cute, but in the grand scheme of it all, it’s such a small part of your Jiu-Jitsu journey.
The blue belt is still a beginner belt, it’s just an “advanced beginner” belt.
At blue belt, you still have a lot to learn, but you’ve established yourself as someone who has the commitment to stick with something long enough to get promoted.
At blue belt, you aren’t married to Jiu-Jitsu, but things are definitely getting serious.
When I was a blue belt, I decided I wanted to go down the “Jiu-Jitsu competitor career” rabbit hole, so I competed in as many tournaments as possible at blue belt. I trained all the time. I won a lot, lost a lot, and learned tons.
Blue belt is the belt where you can finally start to branch out and dive into the deeper waters of Jiu-Jitsu.
If you can get past the blue belt blues and drop your ego, blue belt can be a really fun experience.
Purple Belt - Now It’s Real
Purple belt is a bit more serious, but it can also be a bit of confusing time for you as a grappler.
Purple belt is the belt where you can kind of figure out who you are in Jiu-Jitsu.
What purple belt really means is that you’re halfway to realizing that none of these belts realize that much anyway, but more on that in a second ;)
Purple belt is when you finally have the tools to start pushing yourself technically and physically. By purple belt, you should have a very strong grasp of the fundamentals, the drive to keep learning, and the humility to know that you don’t know everything.
Purple belt was my favorite belt because it was the first belt where I felt that my technical ability was at the same level of my technical curiosity.
Purple belt was my favorite belt because it felt like my first grown-up belt. I started to feel competent at least in some areas of Jiu-Jitsu.
This made Jiu-Jitsu a lot more fun.
In some ways made the most growth in Jiu-Jitsu as a purple belt.
Brown Belt - It’s Time to Focus
Brown belt was the most intense phase of my Jiu-Jitsu experience.
At brown belt, I started teaching and training full-time (I finished college around the same time that I got my brown belt). I started getting the chances to compete in pro divisions on a regular basis, and I started to compete against black belts.
If I’m being honest, the difference between brown belt and black belt is usually very small. That being said, this small gap can be very difficult to close.
Here are a few key differences I’ve noticed between brown and black belts.
Black belts are masters of fundamental concepts of Jiu-Jitsu, while brown belts are sometimes masters of the fundamentals.
Think about it:
You don’t want to be a brown belt who doesn’t understand the fundamentals. If you’re a black belt who doesn’t have an extremely high level of understanding of the fundamentals, are you really a black belt?
Do you understand the fundamentals?
Can you explain these fundamentals to a beginner?
Another aspect that is important when going from brown to black is the ability to teach.
Black belts are not only masters of fundamental concepts, but they are able to explain these fundamental concepts to complete beginners.
Brown belt is the time to focus on mastering your technique.
Brown belt is important. You should take it seriously.
Black Belt - What Now?
Getting my black belt was humbling. It made me feel like I didn’t know any Jiu-Jitsu.
I knew I was decent (I was ranked #12 in the world in no-gi when I got my black belt), but I didn’t feel like a black belt.
I honestly just felt like a really good brown belt. I liked always having something - a next belt - to strive for.
I liked being a good brown belt. It was a comfortable place to be in.
Black belt felt uncomfortable at first. This was the first belt where I really felt like “an imposter”.
But really, when I got my black belt, a funny thing happened.
I took myself to Chipotle and got myself a burrito to celebrate, and then the next day, I woke up, went to the gym, and trained like normal.
Getting my black belt was cool, but it didn’t change my routine. It didn’t change my daily habits - I’d already built those from 7 years of Jiu-Jitsu training.
Black belt is important - it’s your last belt promotion - but it’s not everything.
As a black belt, I’ll say this: your black belt doesn’t matter as much as you think it does.
It’s like the postcards say: “It’s about the journey, not the destination.”
I can’t think of a better example of this than getting your black belt and realizing that you still have to keep improving your skills the next day.
Black belt is cool, but it’s no reason to stop training or to stop learning.
As I said above, I got my black belt in 7 years of training.
If I keep training for 7 more years (which is very likely), I will have been a black belt for as long as it took me to get my black belt.
In about 2 years from now, I’ll have spent more time as a black belt than I have at any other belt in Jiu-Jitsu.
This is important to think about because, in the early days of your BJJ journey, it’s easy to get caught up in chasing belts.
The more you train, the more you’ll realize it’s not about the belts, it’s about the lessons.
If you take anything from this article, I hope it’s that. There’s a lot more to Jiu-Jitsu than just chasing belts and medals.
I hope that by the time you reach black belt, you get to experience everything that this special martial art has to offer.