Everything you need to know about the journey from white belt to black belt and beyond
Belts are a popular feature of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and one of the key ways you can measure your progress in the art.
There are eight belt levels for adults in BJJ:
- White belt
- Blue belt
- Purple belt
- Brown belt
- Black belt
- Red and black belt (7th degree black belt)
- Red and white belt (8th degree black belt)
- Red belt (9th and 10th degree black belt)
For children there are 13 belts explained further below.
The journey towards a black belt is a common goal among many BJJ practitioners, and for most requires a lot of time, hard work and discipline. Read on to see how belt progression works in BJJ, and what you need to do and know at each stage to progress to the next belt.
Table of contents
- How many belts are there and what do you need to know to get them?
- How do you progress to the next belt?
- Does your belt colour really matter?
How many belts are there in BJJ and what do you need to know to get them?
The below information is based on the IBJJF adult belt system and information gathered from experts. It’s important to note there are other belt systems too such as the Rickson Gracie-led Jiu Jitsu Global Federation (JJGF).
There are five primary belts in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu: white, blue, purple, brown and black. There are also usually four “degrees” or stripes for each belt below black belt, and six degrees at black belt. There are three additional belts after black belt to represent 7th degree and above, with the 10th degree red belt reserved for the pioneers of BJJ.
Progression for each BJJ practitioner isn’t overseen by one regulatory body. Instead like many other martial arts, a student’s rank progression is left up to a qualified instructor to evaluate based on factors such as skill, time and age.
Some organisations like the International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) have official requirements about the minimum time spent at each belt, and instructor requirements to be allowed to grade others.
For example, a blue belt practitioner must hold their belt for two years before they can be promoted to purple belt according to the IBJJF graduation system.
Also, according to IBJJF rules, a black belt promotion can only be made by someone who is at least an IBJJF-accredited 2nd degree black belt. There are also minimum ages for some adult belts. Read on to see everything you should know about each belt.
- Minimum age: Any
- Minimum time required at this belt: No minimum
White belt is the first belt everyone receives in jiu jitsu. In Jiu-Jitsu University by Saulo Ribeiro, he writes that students should spend 6 – 18 months at white belt before moving onto blue belt. My own journey took about two years.
What should you focus on at white belt?
According to Ribeiro in Jiu-Jitsu University, white belts should focus on learning how to survive.
More specifically, IBJJF World Champion competitor and black belt Bernardo Faria says white belts should focus on fundamentals like posturing in closed guard, how to open and close the guard, three sweeps from the bottom, three basic submissions from closed guard, and escapes.
According to world-class jiu jitsu instructor John Danaher, the three most important techniques a white belt should know are escapes, particularly:
- Escape from low mount
- Escape from side control
- Escape from back control
World renowned MMA coach Firas Zahabi mentions you should drill a lot at the white belt level and focus on finding quality training.
- Minimum age: 16 years
- Minimum time required at this belt for athletes aged 18 years and over: 2 years
The blue belt is the first belt earned in BJJ based on merit. According to Saulo Ribeiro in Jiu-Jitsu University it’s the belt you’ll spend the longest at on the way to black.
Others like Nick Albin AKA “Chewy” from the Chewjitsu YouTube channel mention that blue belt is characterised by experimentation and trying out various techniques to see what works for you.
According to Ryan Young from Kama Jiu Jitsu the blue belt is usually kept for 2 – 5 years.
What should a blue belt know?
Helio Gracie described a blue belt as being someone who can defend themselves against a larger, stronger opponent by using jiu jitsu techniques.
In this great YouTube video about the most important skills a blue belt should know, John Danaher mentions blue belts should:
- Be equally as effective on top and bottom
- Be able to escape from someone of roughly the same training experience at will
- Be able to finish opponents
- Have a working knowledge of the elbow escape, hook sweep, knee slice guard pass and back strangles
- Minimum age: 16 years
- Minimum time required at this belt for athletes aged 18 years and over: 1.5 years
The purple belt is the next belt after blue. According to world-class MMA coach Firas Zahabi, it should be a difficult belt to attain and should take about 5 years to earn.
What should a purple belt know?
In Jiu-Jitsu University, Saulo Ribeiro mentions that purple belt is not only where you refine your technique, but it’s also where you mentor and have contact with blue belts.
Another key aspect of being a purple belt according to Ribeiro is that a purple belt should believe in his or her skill level, and not let white or blue belts interfere with their confidence.
Ryan Young from Kama Jiu Jitsu thinks that the purple belt is where you take the time to clean up the rough edges in your skillset.
According to Firas Zahabi, being a purple belt means you:
- Control and submit blue belts on a regular basis
- Won’t struggle against other blue belts (unless they’re also experienced blue belts)
- Are a challenge against brown belts
- Should know your details including combinations and complicated positions
Chewy from Chewjitsu believes the purple belt is a “prototype belt” where you start to specialise in particular areas of your game, and it’s where you start building the “tip” of the iceberg you’ll eventually have when arriving at brown and black belt.
- Minimum age: 18 years
- Minimum time required at this belt for athletes aged 18 years and over: 1 year
Brown belt is the final belt before black. In Saulo Ribeiro’s book Jiu-Jitsu University, he describes the brown belt being mostly about polishing the rough edges of your game to reach black belt. According to Firas Zahabi, brown belts should be able to dominate, control and submit purple belts.
How long do you spend at brown belt?
Ryan Young from Kama Jiu Jitsu thinks that practitioners will usually spend 1 – 2 years at brown belt.
- Minimum age: 19 years
- Minimum time required at this belt: 31 years
- Official requirements to become an IBJJF certified black belt:
- Must provide a first aid and CPR course certificate
- Must be IBJJF affiliated
- Must attend an IBJJF referee course and score over 60%
- Must either be the head or assistant instructor of an IBJJF affiliated gym or practice in a gym with IBJJF affiliation.
- Must be promoted by an IBJJF-affiliated 2nd degree black belt instructor
Earning a black belt is one of the most common and most difficult goals for BJJ practitioners. Some like John Danaher see attaining a black belt as simply marking your “passage into training adulthood”:
“It is a symbol that you can now enter into a more serious phase of learning where you know enough to formulate your own developing approach to the game and begin to teach others. You still have a lifetime of learning and development ahead of you.”
There are numerous requirements to receive an IBJJF-certified black belt, including spending the minimum time at each of the other coloured belts, plus having various qualifications in first aid and competition refereeing. Some organisations like Gracie Barra also require black belts to receive instructor certifications.
How long does it take to earn a black belt in BJJ?
The length of time it takes to earn a black belt varies depending on a number of factors. A regularly quoted average amount of time to receive a black belt is approximately 8-12 years, but there are many well known black belts who received their black belts earlier. Some particularly fast examples include:
- Demian Maia – 4 years 7 months
- Kit Dale – Under 5 years
- Nicolas Gregoriades – 4 years
- Richie ‘Boogeyman’ Martinez – 3 years 11 months
What should a black belt know?
It goes without saying that a black belt should have expert knowledge of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Here are some of the ingredients required to be a black belt according to various experts:
- According to Dave Kama, a Rickson Gracie black belt, being a black belt means you’re proficient in self-defence and know your core techniques to a high level of proficiency.
- Legendary BJJ and MMA pioneer Rickson Gracie believes a professional black belt who teaches should also know “the full program of self defence”.
- John Danaher believes black belts should have effective attacks across the whole body.
- World-renowned MMA coach Firas Zahabi, says a black belt should dominate and control brown belts when sparring.
Red and black belt
- Minimum age: 50 years
- Minimum time required at this belt: 7 years
After spending at least 31 years at black belt, and being at least 50 years of age, the red and black master’s belt can be obtained. This represents a 7th degree black belt.
Red and white belt
- Minimum age: 57 years
- Minimum time required at this belt: 10 years
After spending at least 7 years as a 7th degree red and black belt, eligible practitioners can receive their 8th degree red and white master’s belt.
- Minimum age: 67 years
- Minimum time required at this belt: Undefined
The 9th and 10th degree grandmaster’s belts are represented by a red belt with gold and white bars. Receiving a 9th degree grandmaster belt is only possible after at least 10 years from your previous graduation.
The 10th degree red belt was only given to the founders of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu: Carlos, Oswaldo, George, Gaston and Helio Gracie.
BJJ Eastern Europe maintains an up-to-date list of 9th degree grandmasters.
Kids BJJ belts: 4 – 15 years of age
|Belt||Minimum age requirement|
|Grey and White||4 to 15 years|
|Grey||4 to 15 years|
|Grey and Black||4 to 15 years|
|Yellow and White||7 to 15 years|
|Yellow||7 to 15 years|
|Yellow and Black||7 to 15 years|
|Orange and White||10 to 15 years|
|Orange||10 to 15 years|
|Orange and Black||10 to 15 years|
|Green and White||13 to 15 years|
|Green||13 to 15 years|
|Green and Black||13 to 15 years|
There’s no minimum time you’re required to stay at each belt in the kids system outside of the minimum age requirement listed above.
Once you reach 16 years old, your instructor will promote you to one of the adult belts mentioned above. According to IBJJF graduation rules these will depend on your current belt:
|Belt before turning 16||Promotion belt|
|White belt||White belt|
|Grey belt, yellow belt, orange belt||Blue belt|
|Green belt||Blue or purple belt (depending on your instructor’s decision)|
How do you progress to the next belt in BJJ?
Belt and stripe (degree) progression is generally decided by your head instructor and can vary significantly between gyms.
The IBJJF graduation system includes four “degrees” or stripes on all belts up to black. This isn’t the only system, and some gyms will not give any stripes below black belt level. Other gyms might give stripes on some belts and not others. For example Kama Jiu Jitsu only gives stripes at blue belt.
Some gyms will hold official gradings for stripes but not for belts, other gyms will grade for belts and not for stripes, and others will do both or neither. It depends on your gym.
There are various ways instructors will recognise students who are ready to receive their next stripe or belt. Generally a student will be evaluated based on a few factors including their:
- Technical proficiency,
- Performance in sparring and/or competition
- How well rounded they are
- Time spent training and training frequency
There are other innovative systems such as that which Rob Biernacki from BJJ Concepts uses, where stripes represent proficiency in various modules. In his system for reaching blue belt for example one stripe represents guard retention movements and one stripe represents sweeping movements. Stripes can be earned in any order by displaying proficiency in these specific skill sets.
Does your belt colour really matter?
According to some like the respected John Danaher, the colour of your belt below black belt doesn’t matter. Instead he values your performance on the mat:
“At the end of the day – don’t give a damn about what color your belt is – worry about what you can do on the mat. The people we all admire the most are those whose performance level exceeds the expectations of their belt, age and time of training. Make that your goal rather than the superficial concern over whether it took you twenty four months rather than twenty eight months to get a new belt color.”