Student Question: I’m not sure if you’ve written it already, but one topic is how do promotions work? Or how should they work? Is it based on knowing a set of given moves per belt or is it based on tapping people out at various belt levels?
Jiu-Jitsu Times: Good question. I’ve witnessed promotions mostly in academies that did not test for belts. If your academy is an affiliate of a senior instructor from another city, then it is possible there will be a test. Most commonly, I’ve seen an instructor call a student to the front of the class at an arbitrary (look it up mat rat!) time and award a new stripe or belt. After observing a student training over months and years, the instructor decides that student is ready.
Now, why does an instructor decide a student is ready for promotion? I think that it comes down to a combination of four different factors:
1) Technical Skill
Are you able to perform the techniques that the instructor has been teaching in class with a reasonable level of precision and skill? Do you have a solid knowledge of the core techniques for your respective rank?
It doesn’t matter if you are relying on superior athleticism and strength to tap out your training partners if there is an absence of technique. Meanwhile, the slightly built student might be demonstrating superior technical knowledge even though they can’t tap out the much more athletic training partner.
2) Rolling At Your Belt Level
This is a tricky one because it is different to compare the 24-year-old competitor with the 40-plus-year-old blue belt who trains recreationally two to three times per week. They are both blue belts but don’t truly roll at the same level.
Yet the masters BJJ student is not rolling like a beginner student. They may get their guard passed and eventually tapped, but they were not making white belt mistakes and the other blue belts need to bring a blue belt level of game to overcome their defense.
It is difficult to avoid comparing students of similar belt ranks in rolling.
Natural ability does count in this area. Talented athletes who bring home medals often graduate faster. It is difficult to deny a student who is submitting all opponents at their belt category.
3) Time Served
There are no set guidelines for this one. The IBJJF has recommended minimum times to be served at each belt (2 years) but this is by no means followed by all instructors. The reality is that life interrupts most students training at times and belts may take longer. I know guys who were blue belts for more than five years.
BJJ addicts often cite the three years that it took the “Prodigy” BJ Penn to get his black belt. But this is an outlier. It is rare to achieve the coveted black belt in less than 8-10 years.
The more training you do, usually the skills and resulting promotions come faster.
4) Your Loyalty To Your School
This is an intangible factor. Most instructors will not promote you unless they are confident that you are their student. This is for a couple of reasons :
A) The belt represents the jiu-jitsu that the instructor is teaching, not merely a measure of your existing skill.
B) It is disrespectful for an instructor to award a graduation to another instructor’s student. Your instructor wants to be sure that the student is loyal to his academy and not a “belt hunter.”
Not sure if this clears anything up for you, but it should give you an idea that awarding a belt rank is a subjective, personal decision by the instructor.