Is There A Problem With The Current Belt System In Jiu Jitsu?

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Over the summer, I got the chance to attend a local MMA event in California. Before the fights started, there was a Jiu Jitsu tournament. There were a few black belts, some brown belts, and two purple belts competing in this tournament. One of the purple belt ended up submitting a brown belt, and nearly beating one of the black belts in the finals. This made me question the whole belt system. If a purple belt can run through a tournament and nearly beat a black belt, then what is the point of a belt system?

I don’t mean any disrespect when I say this. Obviously people put in a lot of hard work to earn whatever belt they currently have. The problem lies with not having any sort of standardized testing. Whoever you train under can choose to promote you or not. This leads to uneven skill levels. Some people earn their belts much quicker than others, and this is not only because their instructors are frauds. I have personally rolled with, and done very well against, higher belts who have been rolling longer than me. Some people just learn faster than others, so forcing someone to stay at a belt level for a certain number of years does not make any sense. Right now, instructors value mat time over skill level, which is not necessarily a bad thing. We all know that Jiu Jitsu is much more than just a sport, so putting in time and effort is valuable.

The deficit has become more obvious because of the rise of Jiu Jitsu as a sport. Some competitors may have the same belt levels, but you can clearly see a difference in their skill. The old way of thinking is that it takes a certain amount of time to earn a belt level. This only causes mismatches when it comes to competition. A clearer standard is needed if you truly want to see what someone’s skill set is.

13 COMMENTS

  1. Hy guys you should know Rocian Gracie Jr. Jiu Jitsu method.He has a serious method to evaluate the student by level. You learn to fight and teaching bjj and self-defense. I´m his purple belt student. Leandro Buscapé UFC fighter, Cicero Costa and other greats black belts are his former students.

  2. I think you see a problem where there isn’t one… Competition BJJ is so different than training BJJ. A BJJ Competitor can rely on few techniques that he master and crash everyone with, should he get a black belt for that? On the other hand people who randomly compete can have a huge arsenal of technique but have difficulties to apply well there, should he be a white belt?
    Black belt beaten by purple belt can be beaten by athleticism over skills, does it make them less of a black belt?
    The current way of giving belt is for me a good one as it give merits for an overall set of skills (Practise, techniques, behaviour…). It takes time to understand the BJJ Lifestyle and competition is part of it, only a part, it shouldn’t be it.

  3. I think skill level should take priority over mat time. I don’t mean skill as defined in competition but in being able to demonstrate the movements and apply them reasonably well in sparring, making allowances, of course, for differences in age and weight (see Rener and Ryron Gracie’s excellent video on “Boyd belts”). I don’t want to be one of those guys rewarded for tenure on the mats if I can’t live up to that rank in my rolls…

  4. I think it should come down to skill over mat time. That being said someone with a wrestling background will likely do better and pick up the moves faster and even if they aren’t technically proficient across the spectrum beat people of a much higher belt. I took up BJJ at 38 in 2005. I first trained at a no gi school for 6 months. I entered the nAGA battle at the beach and because I wrestled in college 20 years before was required by the rules to enter advanced. I drew for my first match Rhadi Ferguson. He was the current national champion for judo and a brown belt in BJJ. I lost 4-2 in double overtime. Did I have the same skill level?Absolutely not . I turned it into a wrestling match because I was most comfortable on my feet even though I hadn’t practiced a take down since starting BJJ. I relied on instinct. I have gone on to beat many higher belts in tournaments but I relied on the most basic moves. I only use moves that can be done both Gi and NoGi. That way they are completely ingrained in me to make it second nature.

  5. A black belt is more than just skill level or mat time. Most importantly, it’s a mind set. A black belt should reflect your character as a senior student and leader on the mat and in life, not just if you can win a gold medal. The patience, dedication and HUMILITY it takes to achieve a black belt should be the focus along with the knowledge of BJJ. There are some athletic freaks than can beat black belts within a couple of years of training, doesn’t mean they have the aptitude to lead others on the mat.

  6. a martial art belt ranking is not defined by competitive dominance- or at least it shouldn’t be. There are certainly skilled wrestlers with no belt ranking who can defeat high level jujitsukas. Sport BJJ has tried hard to swallow up the martial art that is jujitsu. Belt rankings in martial arts represent so much more than a bench mark used to define a bracket at a grappling competition. Belts also represent experience, tenure, wisdom, technical skills, and the ability to teach. Maybe competitions should adjust how they define their brackets.

  7. You earn your belt and you might be on top of the world. Then you injure your knee and for 6 months you can’t play close guard at all. Or you just get old, or life gets in the way of your 3 training sessions per day, or…

    Even if belts were given strictly for fighting skills, their relevance would only hold for a few months. Should you be stripped of your belt if you suffer an injury? Or if you have a kid and end up staying away from the mats for a few months?

    And that’s even without factoring experience in other related disciplines such as Judo and Wrestling,

    Belts are not – and can not be – an indication of fighting/competition performance.

  8. I think it would be extremely silly for the art of jiu jitsu to only gauge belts on who can beat who. People come to the art with different genetic potential. I am a purple belt. I have beaten many browns and have gotten beat by blues. Some guys are just going to be more athletic or have the ability to train more often. The competitions are to determine who can beat who. The belts are to provide progression and goals for the education process of jiu jitsu, not a statement of who can beat who in a roll.

  9. Complete BJJ Newbie here, 42 years old with 7 months of training. This is my take for what’s it’s worth.
    I think You can compare the belt system to the education system.

    White belt-high school degree
    Blue belt- two year degree
    Purple belt- bachelor degree
    Brown belt – Masters degree
    Black belt – Doctorate

    The belt system is a great way to score knowledge, time, dedication, experience but that doesn’t always directly translate into real world performance. You could have a bachelor degree in Business Administration for example, but maybe you’ve never actually had to run a business. Meanwhile, someone with no college education starts their own business and due to their personality, tenacity and passion is able to run a successful business with no formal education.
    A 23 year old D1 wrestler with a week of submission techniques could probably give some higher level belts a run for their money in No-go roll. But does that mean they should be awarded a purple belt after one week of training….Hell no.

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