What does a belt in BJJ mean
What does a belt in Jiu-Jitsu mean? I’ve been asked some form of this question a lot lately. Like one person told me they did not feel they deserved the belt they were given, another person asked me what is the difference between a blue and purple belt and had someone else say they are a blue belt but should be a purple… I’m sure many of you have heard something similar.
The truth is: THERE IS NO UNIVERSAL STANDARD IN JIU-JITSU FOR WHAT ANY BELT IS! It is completely based on your instructor and even with the same instructor, instructors hold different students to different standards.
Sometimes these standards are based on performance like placing well in tournaments or if someone is able to submit a certain level of their training partners in training. Sometimes the standards are based on having a certain level of knowledge so a test might be given. Sometimes the standard is based on the amount of classes attended assuming that after a person has attended a certain amount of classes then they should have a certain level of knowledge.
One of the experiences I had that really made me start to think about what a belt means and who deserves one was after a brown belt test done by Rickson for 8 guys probably around 2008-2009. Rickson rewarded all 8 guys with their brown belts even though I was there and helping to grade and I felt about half the guys failed the test. Afterward I asked him why he gave the belts to one of the guys that I thought had failed and he told me this. This guy was 50 years old had been training consistently for years once a week, every Saturday. He would never achieve the level of world champion in any belt but it doesn’t mean he does not deserve to get promoted for his persistence and dedication. This was the first time it really dawned on me that the belt is not even based on performance and level or knowledge. This was a guy that was really strong, and tough, was excellent at making tiny adjustments to defend so he was tough to tap out but had almost no offense at all. He didn’t have a huge arsenal of techniques and wasn’t necessarily smooth at all either, what I thought would kind of be the standards for a brown belt, those were the standards I felt I was held to. Rickson however made me realize not everyone has the potential to reach the same level but everyone has the potential to become a black belt with hard work, persistence and dedication.
If you think about it, even within a certain school where everyone was promoted by the same instructor, even among guys with the same belt and stripes no one is ever of equal skill level and training level. Some guys are faster, some guys are stronger, some guys are heavier, some guys have great guards some have great defense, some guys have great mounts or cross-sides, but even with twins their skill level and performance will be different.
So my message to you all is do not worry about the color of your belt, focus on learning and growing. The most important thing is you are improving as a person and a martial artist, let go of your ego and focus on becoming more efficient with the techniques of Jiu-Jitsu, if you put the time in the belts will all eventually come.
-Henry Akins, Rickson Gracie Black Belt
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