The belt system in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ)

Belts are present in different colors in almost every martial art. They signal how long and how well a martial artist has mastered his techniques. But, the exciting question is: Why does a belt system exist? Why is it different in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu from other martial arts?

In the early history of martial arts, the belt performed only one task: it ensured that the kimono stayed on the body and did not fall off. Thanks to the belt, the kimono remained on the upper body. In the beginning, all belts were white. A color system that reflected the knowledge and skill of martial artists did not exist. Later, finally, there was an introduction, which acted as a ranking.

Where does the general belt system come from?

To understand the belt system of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, it is important to know the origin of the general belt system. Before martial artists introduced the colored belt system, they used a colored kimono system.

Predecessor martial arts of Gracie Jiu Jitsu used colored kimonos to distinguish fighters from each other in competitions – in terms of skill. Beginners wore a blue kimono. Those who were advanced, on the other hand, wore a white kimono that was blue on the lapel. Furthermore, the white kimono served as the mark of a master. This kimono system dominated in the martial arts practiced by the founding father of Judo, Jigoro Kano.

Besides judo, Jigoro Kano also created the belt system. When he introduced it, he decided to keep the white kimonos. Not only in Japan, but all over the world, the color white stands for good deeds and intentions, as well as purity. In addition to the belt system, he introduced differentiation into Kyu and Dan grades.

Where does the Dan system come from?

The dan system originated from a Japanese and a Chinese board game that Jigoro Kano liked to play. He introduced the Dan levels in addition to the Kyu levels. All martial arts and combat sports have adopted this belt system from Jigoro Kano. The belt system in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu originated with Jigoro Kano, although some modifications followed over time.

In Europe, however, an expansion of the belt system followed. In this process, the new belt colors served to motivate martial artists – especially children. The focus was on extrinsic motivation. This means that an external factor acts as a motivator – as in this case, the next belt level. Whereby there is an important difference between European and Asian motivation. For the motivation in Asia was more intrinsic, whereas the European motivation of martial artists was related to external factors.

At one time, there were no criteria for a particular belt. In the ring, it was enough to defeat a fighter who had a black belt. After that, the reward was given: the winner received the black belt, if he did not have it before.

When do BJJ students get the black belt?

In Gracie Jiu Jitsu, students do not receive a black belt unless they have reached the age of 21. Why does age play a crucial role in the BJJ belt system? Because it is not only about presenting techniques, but the combination of different factors plays a central role.

  • Behavior on and off the mat
  • Character
  • Knowledge

Furthermore, the masters of Gracie Jiu Jitsu evaluate to what extent the student is able to apply the techniques in different situations. Finally, Gracie Jiu Jitsu teaches students to use self-defense techniques.

Thus, the minimum age is 21 years. However, being 21 and practicing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for a few years is not enough. Instead, the prospective black belt must master the techniques of self-defense so that he or she can use them in an emergency. In addition, the newly minted black belt exhibits a certain level of mental maturity. He is aware that he should also apply the virtues of BJJ outside the training hall.

Who introduced the current belt system in BJJ?

The introduction lesson of the belt system in BJJ began at the moment when the Gracie brothers appointed themselves black belts. At the same time there was an introduction of the color belt system in Judo, which was introduced in Brazil. However, the Gracie brothers were dissatisfied with the criteria required for each color belt in Judo. They even received an invitation to join the Judo Federation at that time. But they decided to join Jiu Jitsu.

Hรฉlio Gracie did not like the fact that Judo specialized in throwing techniques and less in ground fighting. Also, the victory that is valid in Judo in a fight did not correspond to the ideas of the Gracie brothers.

However, Jigoro Kano had a reason for focusing on throwing techniques. His goal was to advertise judo. He wanted people who knew little about martial arts to have some idea about judo. Accordingly, he tried to establish a connection with already known martial arts. Wrestling was suitable for this purpose. On the one hand, a large majority knew it, on the other hand, throwing techniques dominate there as well.

However, the Gracie brothers had a different opinion. They were of the opinion that no throwing technique decides whether a person wins or loses a fight. According to the Gracie brothers, a fight was only fair if a person gave up in the fight or could not continue fighting due to a knockout.

When Hรฉlio Gracie opened his BJJ school in 1952, he introduced an independent belt system. In doing so, he wanted to differentiate himself from the judo system. BJJ students therefore had to wear a white belt. BJJ teachers, on the other hand, were wearers of the blue belt. However, a color difference dominated in terms of blue belts. Those who taught as instructors wore a light blue belt. Only when a teacher had internalized the techniques and the system of BJJ, he received the dark blue belt together with a certificate. This resembles a diploma.

It was not until the 1960s that Fransisco Mansur introduced the belt system in BJJ. He was a student of Hรฉlio Gracie and also practiced Judo. Together with Alfredo Binda, he founded the BJJ Federation.

They pursued the goal of standing out from the belt system of Judo without fighting it. Therefore, they created two belt systems. Why two? Different belt colors serve for children and adults.

Until the age of 16, BJJ fighters fall into the child category. The colors for children are white, yellow, orange and green. They originate from the judo system. For adults, on the other hand, the colors are: white, blue, purple, brown and black.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, despite the color belts introduced, is not about celebrating them. Instead, BJJ exists to celebrate personal development, acquired knowledge, and the commitment of the instructor. The belt system in BJJ is not based on a single element.

What criteria are important to reach a higher belt level?

  • Time
  • Technique
  • Mat etiquette
  • Performance
  • Character

Comparing other people to each other is never fair. BJJ instructors act as educators and psychologists at the same time. The goal is to look at a person as an individual and determine what that individual can accomplish.