Like most traditional martial arts, Brazilian Jiu-jitsu uses a system of colored belts to show students’ experience level.
The BJJ belt system is a little different to other martial arts, such as karate or taekwondo. Generally, belts are a lot less formal in BJJ. Additionally, with the rise of No-Gi BJJ and further variations (such as the 10th Planet system), many people have a wide knowledge of BJJ but don’t have a traditional belt rank.
This article will tell you everything you need to know about how belts work in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.
How Are BJJ Belts Ranked?
As is the case with martial arts like karate, taekwondo and judo, the lowest rank in BJJ is white belt, and the highest is black (with a few exceptions).
The order of the BJJ belt system is:
- White belt
- Blue belt
- Purple belt
- Brown belt
- Black belt
Most adult practitioners will fall into one of these levels. There are some extra, extremely rare levels above black belt, though.
The red and black belt, or coral belt is awarded to a seventh-degree black belt. The belt is alternating red and black colors, reminiscent of a coral snake, which it is named after.
Judo has a similar level, which is given to sixth degree black belts in their discipline.
To be awarded a red and black belt, the practitioner also has to have had a minimum of 5 years’ training and teaching at black belt level. Wikipedia lists only 18 people currently at this level, though there may be more.
The red and white belt, also known as a coral belt, is the next step up from red and black. This is given to eighth degree black belts, and requires an additional 7 years’ training and teaching at red and black belt.
The only level above this is red belt. Red belts are only awarded to major figures in the birth of BJJ. Currently the only people to have held their BJJ red belt are Gracie brothers Carlos, Gastão, George, Helio and Oswaldo, and Luiz França Filho.
Youth Belt Levels
Per the IBJJF, students must be 16 years old to advance to blue belt and above.
Students under 16 have a few more belts. The order for youths is:
- White (any age)
- Grey (from 4 years old)
- Yellow (from 7 years old)
- Orange (from 10 years old)
- Green (from 13 years old)
In most cases, a green belt is considered very advanced. Once he or she turns 16 years old, they will often be promoted to blue or purple belt.
BJJ Belt FAQs
How do you rank up in BJJ?
As mentioned before, the belt system in BJJ is generally more fluid, and there’s no universal way for someone to achieve the next rank.
Most schools don’t have traditional gradings, where the student performs to earn their belt promotion. Instead, most of the time it’s up to the professor’s discretion whether to give someone a belt promotion.
The decision to promote someone often depends on their performance in class, in both live rolling and understanding of techniques taught in drills. Sometimes, a school may have a designated “grading” class, where the professor judges which students are ready for a step up.
It’s also common for students to receive a belt promotion after a good performance in a competition. The competitor might even get their next belt right after the end of their match, or on the podium when they receive their medal.
How long does it take to get each belt?
The length of time you spend at each belt will differ greatly depending on a lot of factors. But generally speaking, it takes around 2-3 years for each promotion.
The IBJJF requires certain minimum times at each belt before one can progress to the next level. However, not every school or teacher will follow this.
The only rule that is almost unanimously accepted is that a practitioner has to be 16 years old before they get advance to blue belt or higher.
There have been examples of exceptional athletes who have advanced quicker than the IBJJF recommended time frame. Most famously, UFC fighter BJ Penn earned his BJJ black belt in just three years of training, under highly respected trainer Andre Pederneiras. Penn is considered the fastest legitimate BJJ black belt.
Are there requirements for each belt?
Apart from the IBJJF requirements for time spent at each belt, there are no set requirements for each belt level.
Different teachers may have their own requirements for a student to learn at each level, before they can progress to their next belt. As an example, at white belt you’ll learn all the basic techniques, while at blue belt you’ll be expected to know a range of more advanced techniques.
What about stripes?
Most schools will also use stripes to designate progress from one belt to the next. A student can earn four stripes, with the next step being the next color belt.
Stripes don’t make any difference when it comes to competition, but they’re a good way to show how far someone has progressed, when it can take a number of years to move from one belt to another.
For example, a one-stripe white belt is often much different in skill and experience to a four-stripe white belt.
As with anything, stripes are quite informal. Some schools don’t use them at all, and a lot of the time students might skip multiple stripes altogether if their professor deems them worthy of the next colored belt.
Belt Promotion Traditions
A few traditions for belts and belt promotions have been born over the years. Here are a few common or notable ones.
The podium promotion
At any mid to large-sized BJJ competition, there’s likely to be at least a few belt promotions. A gold medal in competition is often a signal to a coach that their student is ready for the next level. Thus, when medals are awarded, it’s also often accompanied by a new belt.
General etiquette is that podium promotions should only be given to people who win first place, but this is more of a suggestion than a rule.
Some teachers like to get a little creative with belt promotions. A cool way to do this is when the instructor gives their student the new belt during a roll.
Like in the video below, the instructor rolls with the student. During the roll, the student’s belt will be untied, and replaced with their new belt.
In the earlier days of BJJ, “hazing” rituals would be common on belt promotions. These rituals were designed to show off (or test) the newly promoted student’s toughness.
Hazing is a lot less common these days, as perception around people needing to prove their toughness in a way like this has changed.
Two notable exceptions that are still commonly used and accepted are the faixada and the shark tank.
Faixada, or the “gauntlet”, is a ritual where the newly promoted student walks back and forth as other students line up and whip him/her with their belts.
A less extreme ritual is the shark tank. For a shark tank, a student will have a series of rolls, one after the other, with every other student in the class.
BJJ Belts – In Summary
So, that’s all you need to know about BJJ belts, and how the system works.
It’s important not to put too much value on the color of your belt. Belts are not the goal, they’re just an indicator of your level and experience.
Don’t get discouraged over people getting promoted ahead of you. Don’t look down on lower belts, or be afraid of higher belts.
Like the classic quote from Bruce Lee says; belts are only good for holding up your pants.