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What Is Your Academy's BJJ Belt Philosophy?
White to blue. Blue to purple. Purple to brown. Brown to black. The belt progression. The long road.
When you are just starting out as a brand new white belt, blue and purple belts at your gym seem like they walk on water. I remember the first time I rolled with a purple belt. It was then I knew that jiu jitsu was probably the closest thing to having super powers that I was ever going to experience.
Flash forward nearly 10 full years and now as a four stripe brown belt, I think constantly about all the super powers I truly lack when I'm on the mats. As an average practitioner, starting at age 36 with a job and family, it has taken one and a half years to reach blue. From there it was another two and a half years to get to purple. Purple to brown was even longer at three and a half years. Now on my third year as a brown belt, part of me is trying to pump the brakes and enjoy the ride even more--although for much of that decade, I was in as big a rush as everyone else to get those super powers that never came.
Understanding what the belts mean to a particular academy, affiliation, or instructor has been interesting over the years. Having been a part of several different affiliations, I have seen what I think the belts represent in a more traditional "Gracie Style" school and what they mean in a more progressive, competition-oriented affiliation. In the former, based on my experience, there is a formality or mystique that surrounds each belt level. In the latter, the skill of the student seems to always proceed the belt rank. Again, this is my experience and observation of the two different philosophies. What is the philosophy of your academy?
Some academies do formal tests to achieve belt ranks and progress. Others are simply based on the opinions of the instructor and/or coaches. The common denominator for most schools seems to be that white and blue are the beginning belts. At the blue belt level, the student has progressed to a point where they are aware of positions and able to apply them fairly well. Most schools follow Helio Gracie's opinion that a blue belt should be able to defend themselves against a bigger, stronger NON-TRAINED individual out in the world.
Whereas at purple and brown, the more advanced belts, the knowledge of techniques must be broader and the ability to defeat the majority of their lower belted peers. The black belt is typically conferred only after a student has invested a solid number of years, usually ten is considered a rough estimate, and have displayed a bit of mastery of most elements of the art.
In the video below, John Danaher black belt and highly regarded MMA coach Firas Zahabi shares his thoughts on the various belts of BJJ and what they represent to him. Check it out below. Pay close attention to his thoughts on the purple belt.
Firas Zahabi has become well known as a sought after MMA coach for athletes like Georges St. Pierre and Rory MacDonald. He also holds a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu from the legendary grappling coach, John Danaher. To learn more about John Danaher's system of leg locks, check out "Leg Locks: Enter the System" available from BJJ Fanatics.