How long does it take to get to a Black belt in BJJ (From Blue to Black explained)

How long does it take to get to a Black belt in BJJ (From Blue to Black explained)

Author: XMartial Editorial | Published Date: | Tags: bjj, Gear


I am going to give my unique input on how I view the belt system in BJJ and what I look for in my students when it comes time for promotions. Opinions in this manner vary widely amongst the Jiu Jitsu community, however have been becoming more standardized thanks to larger organizations having extremely large influences in the Jiu Jitsu world (such as IBJJF). Nevertheless, each gym, and coach, has the ultimate control over what they look for when it comes to promotions and constructing their belt system.

What is a White Belt?

I always tell my new students that all a White Belt is, is first gear. Your only purpose as a White Belt is to start moving forward.


White belt is the most important belt you will ever put on. It means you have made the decision to start an extremely difficult journey where being the new person means getting beat up more than you would like. However, this is also usually when you obtain the Jiu Jitsu bug and realize you are now an addict. Which usually entails an awkward conversation telling your significant other that you will now be spending multiple days a week at a strange place learning what they interpret as karate.

Also read about the IBJJF weight classes & what they mean


Drinking from the firehose is the common feeling at this belt, because the Jiu Jitsu world is so vast, and it literally overwhelms you in all aspects every practice. Yet, this is the BEST part of being a White Belt! No one is expecting you to be good at anything. Everyone understands your only job is to learn.

 

  • Learn how to get beat up.
  • Learn how to tie your belt.
  • Learn how to do all the weird warm-ups that people are bad at explaining.
  • Learn where to stand when the belts line up.
  • Learning what “osss” means.
  • Learning when to bow.
  • Learning to wear your damn shoes in the bathroom you gross human beings.

When you put on your GI (Check out XMartial Gi here) and strap your White Belt for the first time, you will have a million “Why” questions that develop. That is okay. By the end of your White Belt journey all these questions are usually made apparent, and become replaced with “How” questions.


“Why am I on my knees and in between this dude’s legs?”
becomes…
“How do I pass this dude’s legs?!”


The context of all these weird positions and transitions will become very apparent with time. The meaning behind all this Jiu Jitsu stuff unveils itself with rapid intensity the longer you decide to linger in the sport. The only way to get better is to continue to come. 

What do I look for in the White Belt Journey?

The biggest thing I look for is how you approach Jiu Jitsu.


I want to see that you are no longer in fight or flight mode in each roll. Realizing that not every training session is a fight for your life. Start rationalizing your approaches.


When we first start Jiu Jitsu we see that being in top position is the best and we do absolutely everything possible to get there. We see that being on bottom is bad, then fight like an animal to get out. Jiu Jitsu being optional in those processes. Pushing as hard as we can, griping as tight as we can, and gasing ourselves out as quick as we can.


The milestone of white belt is to overcome this largest obstacle. We start navigating our bodies through the sessions tactfully. We begin to think in terms of efficiency. We can finish the entire live roll session without wanting to vomit. We find where the most ideal grips are. We find our frames that hold steadfast without wearing us out. We begin to understand the advantages and disadvantages of each position. We are no longer fighting for our life but learning from the rolls and taking away something with each sparring session. Drinking from the firehose becomes drinking from the sprinkler. This is where we really begin to see the power, effectiveness, and potential within the techniques of Jiu Jitsu. It is no longer about winning and losing the roll, but learning. 

White Belt Timeline

Expect to be a white belt for 12 to 18 months. All these timelines can vary, but it takes a normal person around a year to a year and a half. Like I said, in my opinion, White Belt is just first gear. No one is expecting you to be perfect. It is a boot camp that gets you speaking the language of Jiu Jitsu and allows you to defend yourself to a much higher degree in terms of self defense. 

 

What is a Blue Belt?

A Blue Belt is someone who has a decent understanding of most of the major positions in Jiu Jitsu and their general purposes. They could explain to someone who is brand new the gist of what is going on with a sense of confidence. 


This is where you begin to sharpen each position in your Jiu Jitsu game. Now that you understand the building blocks, you can begin to work on body proprioception. Your body starts to naturally feel when it's in danger, or how to get out of a compromising position. You can begin to rationalize through the purpose of technique on your own because you now understand the concepts to a larger degree. Your body begins to move more fluidly through the transitions. Getting that body movement down is a big deal and a big milestone for Blue Belts. 


Another major aspect of a Blue Belt is understanding “timing” and body mechanics. Rather than fighting through your opponent’s entire body, you are finding your opponent's weaknesses. You begin to understand when the right time to move is, and when to relax and conserve energy. This is a major milestone of Blue Belt that is not so obvious to point out or realize you have obtained it. It begins to come naturally, then all of the sudden one day you realize how much better your rolls are going. You don’t know how or when it happened exactly, but you are excited it’s happened!


This means it is now your body that is finally feeling the Jiu Jitsu. Your body is beginning to adapt to all these new positions you are forcing it to go through. The techniques will make exponentially more sense because your body wants to move in that direction. This is a great feeling to have as a Blue Belt. 


However, Blue Belt is going to be the most difficult belt for you in terms of growing pains. Growing and learning was fun as a White Belt, but now growing and learning can be difficult and frustrating as a Blue Belt (and it never gets better). 


Many people quit at Blue Belt because Jiu Jitsu life drastically changes. People in the gym now have expectations of you. Higher belts are using you to test their fun new moves. White belts are gunning for you to prove something. The growing milestones start coming less frequently, while the plateaus seem to come more frequently.


(Bad news. It only gets harder from here.)


However, if the addiction you caught as a White Belt is still strong, these issues won't be a problem. For most people, Jiu Jitsu does more for them in terms of physical, mental, and spiritual satisfactions. They are not there to become a Black Belt. They are there for themselves, and their habitual Jiu Jitsu attendance is not affected by the belt around their waist. The belts become a byproduct result of their habits. 

What do I look for when promoting to Blue Belt?

A Blue Belt should be able to handle any new person off the streets. 


When we get a new, strong, spazzy White Belt in the gym I put them with my 4 stripe White Belts who I am considering for promotion. I pay attention to how they handle that new individual and whether or not they complain about the nature of how that new person rolls. 


We all know that the new White Belt is going to be a spaz. That's their job! They do not know any better. But guess what? That is EXACTLY how someone is going to react on the streets! The new guy is literally someone coming off the streets. If you cannot handle them and shut them down with your Jiu Jitsu technique, then you are NOT ready for your Blue Belt, period. Blue Belts are starting to get into the realms of being considered advanced. This is where I observe the level of advanced you are. 


This does NOT mean destroy and smash them. This means handling the entire situation with technique to maintain control. This way I know if something were to get physical out in the real world, you will have the confidence to handle it with as little injury as possible for all parties involved. Which is the entire purpose of practicing a Martial Art in the first place. It is my job to get you to that point as a Martial Arts instructor. 


Also, being a Blue Belt means you can roll well with ALL body types. If you are a big guy, you can roll with a small female without smashing and hurting her, but still getting in a great roll in for yourself. Plus, as I mentioned earlier, I look to see that you have a grasp on “timing” and leveraging body mechanics. Once this becomes your primary mode of navigating your rolls, as opposed to speed, strength, athleticism, and spazziniess, is when we are considering you for that next level.

Blue Belt Timeline

I think most of the Jiu Jitsu community agrees that the Blue Belt should be the belt you have the longest. It is not unusual to be a 4 year BJJ Blue Belt. However, you need at least 2 years as a Blue Belt. Blue Belt is like High School. When you are done, you are ready for the real world, but there is still more learning than you could ever imagine. Thus, just appreciate the journey at this point. Do not worry about any promotions. Just accept that you are going to be wearing that Blue Belt for years to come. Instead of promotions to judge your growth, begin to look at milestones you overcome in your game. How well your body begins to flow in the matches. If you make it through Blue Belt, the chances of you making it to Black Belt go way up! It is because it is here when you build that proper mindset of what Jiu Jitsu means in your life. 

 

What is a Purple Belt

Continuing with the same analogy of Blue Belt being high school, then it is natural to say that Purple Belt is definitely college. I would say that is a very fair comparison. 


Purple Belt is my favorite belt. It is where you really begin to find the expertise in Jiu Jitsu. It is also where you begin to find yourself as a Jiu Jitsu artist. You really begin to latch onto certain techniques and run with them. Just like in college, you begin to take your learning to the next level.


A Purple Belt is generally when a Professor starts to feel comfortable with you coaching some classes, and coaching is how you truly start to master technique. You may not realize it, but all the white and blue belts in the gym are looking up to you and studying how you roll. You now represent the gym, and the style of the gym, in a major way. 


This is because you are now turning into a wizard. Your body has a great feeling for most of the movements, making transitions seem effortless. You begin finding your own creative touch to the game, stepping out of the cookie cutter version of things. This is an important milestone to look for as a Purple Belt because you will notice the difference in live rolls. 

What I look for in a Purple Belt

As a Purple Belt you are controlling rolls to an entirely different degree. To the point where you are hitting moves you’ve never drilled before or even seen before.


This is because you are now starting to understand Jiu Jitsu conceptually. You can now view Jiu Jitsu from a holistic approach. During your rolls you can start experimenting because your fundamentals are so solid that you are dictating where your opponents go, when you want them to go there. 


This is also where your setups start coming into play. You begin to realize that this has been the missing link to your game. As a result, your approach to Jiu Jitsu becomes a mental strategy more than anything else. The idea that Jiu Jitsu is a chess game to be won with tactics becomes very apparent. 


Thus, you start to learn how to chain moves together that actually start working during rolls. Your counters become deadly rather than survival. You begin to hit moves on people without them even realizing it’s coming (which is why you are considered a wizard). 


I want to see that you are now a unique grappler with your own interpretation of the sport. I want to see that I can trust you with new grapplers in terms of helping with fundamental techniques, and keeping them safe during rolls. I also want to see that athleticism, speed, and strength only accent your game, rather than being a major staple that your game relies on. You should be relying on technique at this stage over anything else. In fact, if you are winning rolls without using any strength, speed, or athleticism then you know you are definitely on the right track.


This comes with being okay with losing (which is an entire article in itself). Regardless, most people turn to speed, strength, and athleticism when they start losing position because they are scared of losing. Whereas people who do not have that option are then forced to advance their technique. I want to see that you are okay with losing. If a technique didn’t work, that’s fine. Work your way back to it and try again. That’s the only way you will get better. Study what steps you may have missed or if the concept you were looking for was flawed in the first place. This is where your Jiu Jitsu grows the most! 


Bonus of being a Purple Belt is you get to skip warmups (kidding) and color coordinate all your outfits (not kidding)! 

Timeline for a Purple Belt

This one is a little tricky because it varies so drastically from person to person. If I had to give a minimum time, I say at the very least 2 years. There is so much growth at Purple, it’s best not to rush it. Rushing your Purple Belt will make Brown Belt a punch in the face. Purple Belt is much more about achieving those milestones, as opposed to time in rank. 


I say it is tricky because it seems like there is a pattern to Purple Belts. People who get through Blue Belt quickly tend to be stuck at Purple Belt for a long time. Which is also to say that people who are stuck at Blue Belt for a long time tend to get through Purple Belt quicker.


(Remember, this is just my observation)


I think this is because people who are athletic, or strong, can get through the milestones of Blue Belt with less resistance. However, when stacked against Purple Belts they hit a major barrier. At the level of Purple, being a great athlete won’t help you anymore. This is a hard concept for athletes to overcome before they are forced to turn to technique for their successes. Whereas nonathletes were forced to make this change at Blue Belt and carried this skill with them to Purple. This derivation forced them to rely on technique to accomplish their milestones, resulting in an easier path when navigating Purple Belt. Their technical skills can now shutdown athletes in their place, turning the tables in their favor. They have been studying how to change up the roll so it favors them, because they couldn’t depend on athleticism. Now all of the sudden they look like athletes because they are moving so efficiently at almost every level. Especially when they are shutting down athletes in their tracks. 


“It doesn’t matter how good someone’s game is if they never get to play it.”

 

Brown Belt

A Brown Belt is dangerous. Their goal in life is showing the world they are worthy of that Black Belt. Whether they like it or not, their professor is looking at them for Black Belt.


Continuing with the education theme, it is more than fair to say Brown Belt is graduate school. You are now creating, and presenting, Jiu Jitsu techniques to the world that are tried and true. Rolls for you are now a flow where things start to fall right in your lap. Though being a crazy and experimental Purple Belt was fun, you realize that it is mastery of the fundamentals that are the key to successful Jiu Jitsu. As a result your frames are impenetrable, your transitions are effortless, and it feels like people are handing you submissions.


Your body understands Jiu Jitsu better than you do. You realize that trusting in all the years of training that your body has found all the right tricks for you. Where to post, where to frame, where to grip that make the rolls seem infinitely smoother. Therefore, you are now a monster in all positions no matter where you’re at. You can see technique no matter where your body is, and apply it. This is because you can see how the technique translates to all areas. You have an answer for everything, making chaining an effortless process. Your opponents feel like they are an extension of you, as your brain has created a mental map that knows exactly where they are all the time. Though you can’t see their leg, you know exactly where it is and where it wants to go in order for them to accomplish the move they want. Thus, your body makes those proper adjustments as a natural reflex keeping you ahead of the game. Once you’ve hit this step you are now deep in the art that is Jiu Jitsu. 


At Brown Belt rolling with Black Belts can start to “make sense.” Not that you are winning necessarily, but you are understanding the rolls with them. It’s no longer black magic in your eyes when they win. Rolls between seasoned Brown Belts and new Black Belts are a sight to see as they battle it out. Make sure you stop to watch these rolls if you ever see them.

What I look for in Brown Belts

How are they hanging with the Black Belts?


This is essentially the Milestone for Brown Belts in my opinion. The final initiation before that Black Belt. Now that you're a Brown Belt, the idea of getting a Black Belt is finally a tangible reality. You never really thought the day would come, but now it is the actual next level, and this brings out the reality of it. Let us see that you deserve that Black Belt.

Timeline of a Brown Belt

I have seen people either burn straight through Brown Belt, or marinate at Brown Belt.


At our school, when you got your Brown Belt it is because we are now comparing you with Black Belts. However, at other schools they can be very… very… veeeeery stingy with who they want to represent them as a Black Belt. Meaning some people can sit at Brown Belt for, what seems like, forever. 
I see this normally amongst casual Jiu Jitsu practitioners who never compete, and they are okay with this. They aren’t as hungry for that Black Belt. They are people who have been training for their own benefits for years and years, and they could care less what belt holds their Gi closed. 


Then there are those who are now breathing Jiu Jitsu. Jiu Jitsu now defines who they are. They compete frequently and want to do Jiu Jitsu for the rest of their lives as more than a hobby. These animals normally cook through Brown Belt in a year or two. When they got that Brown Belt their motivation kicked in strong and as a result they kicked their training into high gear. Which fast tracked that Black Belt.


Remember, there are plenty of people who are outliers to these observations. I know plenty myself. These are just the two most common groups I tend to see Brown Belts in. 


Weeding out who should be a Black Belt should be a difficult process. Those considering you for Black Belt should be as particular as they want. Being a Black Belt is an exclusive, extremely hard earned, membership to achieve. Everyone who is wearing a Black Belt has put in the work, and they are going to make sure you are worthy of being a peer in that regard. As they should. 

 

Overall

Remember this is just my input, as everyone has a different set of criteria. I very much like my guideline, but this is something that is left up to every school. 


Also, in this article I stayed very close to a lot of the physical attributes we look for on the mats. There are quite a bit of other attributes we look for throughout the ranks. Such as understanding the culture, attitudes, ego, and so on. I know people who stayed at Blue Belt for years even though they were destroying Purple Belts. All because their Professor didn’t appreciate the attitude and ego of the grappler. Professors care very much how their school, and therefore themselves,  are represented in the community. Higher belts come with a degree of humbleness, humility, and respect for others across the board. If your professor believes these qualities are not present, then the promotions will not come. Period.


So please take this into consideration. Which is to say, there is a notably more than just mat performance to take into consideration when evaluating a belt rank. Jiu Jitsu is an entire culture and way of life, in addition to it being a respectable martial art. Try to never forget this when representing yourself as a Jiu Jitsu practitioner.


If you are a casual Jiu Jitsu hobbyist, you can expect your Black Belt journey to take around 10-15 years. Which is more than fine. Like I said, it doesn’t matter about the belt around your waist. You care more about what Jiu Jitsu does for you in your life, over how you are represented in the community. This is a great mindset to have, and because of this mindset I am willing to bet that more hobbyists hit Black Belt in the grand scheme of things than active competitors. Those who want instant gratification will never find it in this sport. Therefore, they get burnt out and never make it. 


Then those who live and breathe Jiu Jitsu have a different timeline. I think a healthy timeline to shoot for is 8-10 years to get your Black Belt. So much of being a Black Belt is time on the mat, which you simply just can’t force. Putting in those hours has no shortcut unfortunately. 

~ 1 year as a White Belt
~ 3 years as a Blue Belt
~ 3 years as a Purple Belt
~ 2 years as a Brown Belt

    When asking competitors the last couple months their time in rank, these were the averages I got. Take it with a grain of salt because of the small sample size, but I do like how these numbers came out.


    I can’t say it enough, but remember your experience will vary drastically. Everyone is unique and every school does these things differently.

     

     

     

    My Advice

    Enjoy the journey.
    Enjoy the milestones.
    Ignore the belts.
    Build yourself.
    The belts will come incidentally. 
    Love the sport.
    Love the Martial Art.
    Fall in love with what it does for you.
    Give back as much as it gives.
    Relax.
    Find your flow and no one else.
    Help clean the mats.
    Help clean the gym.
    Wear your damn shoes in the Bathroom!
    Always remember Jiu Jitsu is here to improve your life. 

     

    Writer: Chad Myers
    Chad “The Ground Demon” Myers is a BJJ Brown Belt under Ken Gabrielson, a gym owner, an active competitor, and a raised wrestler. 

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