Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Ranking System
Is there anything more iconic to the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu community than a Black Belt? The “Faixa Preta” as it’s called in Portuguese is pretty much the desire of all BJJ players. One can argue the most coveted goal of a juijeitero is an ADCC title or to earn the title World Champion, but usually the creme-de-la-creme are also black belts or soon to be.
The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belts is a mark of knowledge, discipline, courage and so many other aspects that grows within a grappler through his or her journey on the mats, but how do we get there? Is it luck, a gift, or perseverance?
Are we all capable of earning the coveted rank of black belt? Yes and it will be hard work...there will be days along the journey when you question your abilities, when it seems way to hard, or you hit a plateau. There’s no easy way around, at least a legit one, and for sure you’ll be exposed really fast if you decide to just wear a belt that wasn’t earned with hard work and years of training. In this article we’ll be reviewing the progression, belt and grade system of the most deadly martial art in the world (UFC proven).
The introduction of belts into martial arts began with the need of something to hold the Kimono/Gi taut to the body, so it wouldn’t fall off during training. The first “belts” were just leashes, but as the fighting systems evolved, the masters and professors decided that it would be best to wear a white colored belt, representing purity and simplicity.
As the training sessions passed, the white belts got pretty dirty and looked black, for this reason in the second part of the 19th century, Jigoro Kano, creator of Judo, introduced a two-color belt system; white for the little grasshoppers and black for the experienced practitioners.
How does this all relate to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu? Until 1967, Grand Masters Helio Gracie and Carlos Gracie Jr. used just two different belt colors, white for the students and dark blue for the Masters.
Eventually they decided to move into a multi- color belt system similar to the one introduced by Master Mikonosuke Kawaishi in 1935 for Judo, using slight variations on the colors and adding a rank bar at the tip of the belt to place grades/degrees that would help track progression, motivate students to continue training and differentiate the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu belts from other martial arts.
Nowadays, according to the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) there are seven adult belts available; white, blue, purple, brown, black, coral and red. A separate system was later created for youth; A belt system for the youth under sixteen years old was created: white, gray, yellow, orange and green belts are obtainable for youth training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
The average Joe commonly believes that a black belt is the final accomplishment, but the truth is that a black belt is just the beginning of the path, the Coral and the Red belt are the real final challenge for the most devoted jiujiteiros, on average this means a time invest of 30 years after earning your black belt or in other words a lifetime commitment to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Let’s take a closer look into the adult graduation belt system and progression; following the parameters of the IBJJF and Alliance Jiu-Jitsu Team as the standard. It’s worth to mention that Alliance is the most successful team in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu history, producing 11 World Champions, founded in 1993 by Romero "Jacare" Cavalcanti, Fabio Gurgel, Alexandre Paiva and Fernando Gurgel. You may have heard of some of Alliance’s well known team members such as Bruno Malfacine, Nicholas Meregali, Cobrinha and Lucas Lepri, names that reinforce the trajectory and solidness of Alliance. With that being said, let’s move on into the main subject:
The Grades/Stripes/Degrees: before mentioning the belts themselves, it’s necessary to review the grading ranks; they help to keep a closer track on the progression of each student. The grades are placed in the rank bar traditionally using finger tape; some black belts like Fabio Gurgel, like to have their stripes stitched so they don’t peel off with the extensive training. The rank bar on the BJJ belts are black, white, or brown. white for students and red for teachers as a black belt. There are four grades/degrees on each belt from white to brown belt, six grades/degrees for the black belts, two grades/degrees as faixa Coral and one grade/degree for the mythic Red Belt. Alliance Equipe established very specific parameters to earn grades/degrees on each belt, but for the majority of academies worldwide its up to the Mestre when to promote grades/degrees and how many of them are given.
White Belt: the first and the most important one, all humans are born with it. In most cases wearing it for years or months, is a matter of dedication (sometimes natural talent), several academies are very stiff about promoting a white belt, since it will set the bases of your whole career as a warrior for the noble cause. According to Alliance you should earn a stripe as a white belt every thirty classes attended. Overall, a period of 1-2 years should be enough to be ascended to blue belt (not mandatory). The white means innocence and purity, the elements that usually portrays a first timer.
Blue Belt: it represents the colors of the sky, the place where everything aims to grow, without being able to touch it. A faixa azul is already a dangerous weapon, that will handle advanced technique and for sure give a hard time for anybody that looks for trouble without having fighting skills. The IBJJF requires a minimum of two years carrying the blue sky before being promoted, Alliance suggest a stripe every sixty five classes attended, for a total of 325 lessons as blue to reach the purple one. This belt’s desire is learning defense, assurance and the promise that you are heading in the proper direction at training with comprehension and humbleness.
Purple Belt: Already a lethal warrior that you won’t want to mess with, the faixa roxa has a killer instinct mixed with responsibility, commitment into training and ethics of the jiu-jitsu philosophy. A purple belt denotes superior technique comprehension as a martial artist, and will have to attend 75 classes to earn each grade according to Alliance Team. The IBJJF states at least one and a half year before leaving this belt behind for good.
Brown Belt: it literally means “solid as soil”, hard and resilient as a rock and represents maturity. It’s common for a faixa marrom to already be teaching and occasionally may own a start up academy. The IBJJF requires a year wearing brown and Alliance recommends 85 classes per stripe. Firm knowledge and concepts that will remain in the long run it’s a must in this belt.
Black Belt: the unity of all colors, it represents spirit and passion for the art. His carrier is prepared to teach and dedicate his days to other ones. The Faixa Preta is the real beginning of wisdom in the Arte Suave, requiring 3 years per stripe until third degree, five years for every stripe before achieving the 6th degree and seven years to receive the Coral belt, for a total of 31 years as a black belt according to the IBJJF. It’s almost a lifetime, so that’s why there aren’t many Faixa Coral around; most of them are based in Brazil.
Coral Belt: an elite rank where just a few have been able to reach. There are two variations of this belt, both using two colors; red and black for the 7th degree, requiring seven years of training and teaching before ascending to the red and white belt 8th degree, for a final ten years of commitment to accomplish the legendary Red Belt. These belts will also hold the six stripes/degrees earned as a black belt, that’s why they go straight into the seventh degree.
Red Belt: the hottest color, blood, life and fire, the three elements required to get to this point. The IBJJF states a minimum of 48 years before reaching this position, so you will have to commit your life and soul to the gentle art. There are only fifty Red Belts 9th degree to date. The legendary 10th grade was only awarded to the creators of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu; Carlos Gracie, Gastao Gracie, Jorge Gracie, Helio Gracie and Oswaldo Gracie, so this out of reach for the rest of us.