What do the different belts mean?

Hello everyone,

Over the years, I’ve read a lot of articles, and had a lot of talks about what the different belts in Jiu Jitsu mean.  I have heard that you have to find your game, get tapped out a lot, ‘this is when the learning really starts’, and many very vague concepts about what each belt means.  I’ve heard people say that it should be informal and conservative.  I think it can be conservative, clear, and objective rather than subjective.  It think we can do better.  Each belt level can be tested, and the criteria can be both known and measurable.

One truth I have learned from the founders, who created the art of Gracie Jiu Jitsu and BJJ, is that Jiu Jitsu is an art of Self Defense.  Below I have outlined what I have discovered in terms of what I believe each belt should represent, and in turn what can be examined at each level.

Gracie Combatives Belt: The most common self defence situations.  Goal: To be street ready, and learn to apply Jiu Jitsu in the way that it works the most effectively, in a real altercation.

Blue Belt: Comfort in all positions on the mat-  The street switch.  Basic self defence with your health, body, energy use, and both offence and defence. After this a student can start learning about sparring with friends and finding counters to the first techniques learned.  Finding core competence and comfort on the mats with more advanced concepts and opening up to more advanced learning.  Counters to the first moves learned is key.  Healthy ego, healthy body, healthy journey; this is a blue belt.  The library opens up. Goal: Comfort in all positions.

Purple Belt- By the time you are getting close to Purple Belt, you are approaching an elite level.  Your sparring and your self defense should also be approaching an elite level.  Just because we are learning to fight, doesn’t mean we have to fight to learn.  Sparring in all positions w/ GI/ NoGi/ Strikes.  Goal: Knowledge and exposure to Helio Gracie’s curriculum of standing self defence situations and pleasant smoothness and technique both defensively and offensively in all situations while sparring.

Brown Belt- Advanced and Masterful on the mat defence while sparring with partners.  Masterful defence combinations, and defensive to offensive traps.  At this level you should not be uncomfortable with any defense.  A practitioner should be specifically knowledgeable about defending all submissions, positions, and have full fluidity with counters and escapes.  Comfort and exposure to all self defense and grappling sparring situations at this level is a must.

Black Belt- Full Spectrum Masterful self defence, on the mat sparring defence, lifestyle, philosophy, stewardship of the art. Additionally, reflexive responses from surprise situations is expected.

In summary the belt rankings of Jiu Jitsu, the art of self defence, well defined, will look like this:

GC: Fundamental self defense

Blue: The Street/Sport switch.  Basic Mat and sparring defense and comfort with training partners.

Purple: Advanced self defense (41 Helio Gracie curriculum techniques) + sparring smoothness, connections and combinations

Brown: Masterful on the mat defense (65 specific defensive techniques and tactics) + previous belt requirement skills + full sparring fluidity, connections, and combinations

The Black Belt requirements are summarized in the previous section in green.  It is a true expert level and each piece of the puzzle should be understood on a level that it can be taught from an instructional perspective.