If you have just started training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) or are thinking of getting started, you are probably wondering what techniques a white belt needs to master to progress to the next level. Here you can find a great deal of information to help answer that very question.
But before you delve in a word of caution, there isn’t a single way of promoting and many professors and academies have different opinions on what is required to move up the ranks.
White belt stripes
Its pretty common knowledge that being promoted from white belt to blue belt in BJJ is a difficult and lengthy process. In lots of martial arts promotion from white belt will happen much sooner. The relatively fewer coloured belt ranks in BJJ mean that students are forced to work hard for their first belt promotion. It is for this reason that a blue belt in BJJ is so well respected and sort after.
However, in between belt promotions students will be given the opportunity to earn stripes or tags as they are sometimes known. The system of awarding stripes means that students essentially have four rungs of the white belt ladder they must negotiate before they will be promoted to blue belt.
Each stripe is earned when the professor believes a student has made enough progress to warrant being awarded a stripe. Although stripes are not formal promotions like moving between belts, they represent important milestones in a student’s BJJ journey.
There is no single curriculum
Another factor that separates BJJ from most other martial arts is there is not a single curriculum that every academy strictly adheres too. This means there can be a lot of variety in the expectation’s professors have of their students before they are promoted belt rank.
It is not uncommon across martial arts for grading systems to differ in their criteria for promotion as professors chose to place emphasis on mastering different techniques. It’s not dissimilar to boxing trainers who teach their fighters based on their own ideas which results in different boxing styles. In grappling the pool of techniques is deeper so the number of styles can be even wider.
In BJJ there is a split between Gi and No-Gi. As you would expect the requirements for promotion in each of these disciplines are different. For example, in the Gi version of Jiu-Jitsu practitioners will be expected to have at least a basic understanding of Gi chokes to progress to blue belt.
Understanding how the Gi can be used as a tool to aid submissions and control an opponent will be picked up almost naturally through regular training. But this is a fundamental aspect of BJJ in the Gi that needs to be grasped for a student to continue progressing.
If your looking for more specific information on what is required at your academy to progress you should speak with your professor as they will be able to provide you with all the information you need. Whilst reading a thousand different suggested techniques online finding out what skills your professor is expecting you to master is the simplest way to move forward.
Just because a technique doesn’t appear on a curriculum doesn’t mean you don’t need to drill it or attempt to use it when rolling. Ridgely sticking to a set curriculum of techniques will certainly hamper your long-term development. The are plenty of academies that have an informal approach to promotion, so you won’t have to master a set agenda of techniques and will be rewarded with stripes or promotions as and when the professor believes you have made sufficient progress.
Whilst this approach can feel a little frustrating to those who really enjoy working in a structured environment it does allow students a great freedom to make BJJ there own from the outset. As mentioned above the variety of techniques available mean that without a formal structure you are much freer to develop your own style.
In some academies to be promoted a student will be expected to have competed on at least a few occasions. Lots of professors like to know their students have reached an acceptable standard among there peers outside of the academy before promoting. Having their students engage in competition is a good barometer of their abilities.
Some of the main reasons they insist on getting their students to compete are to bring success for the academy, pressure test the student in a live environment where their opponent is trying 100% to defeat them and because they want to be sure the student is good enough to be promoted. After all it’s the professors reputation that will be questioned if a student is prematurely promoted.
It’s not uncommon for students of all levels and grades to receive stripes or belt promotions following success in competition. There are plenty of videos on Youtube of people being promoted at the same time they are receiving awards for winning competitions.
It’s generally accepted the higher rank the you obtain the greater the expectation will be that you compete to get promoted again. As mentioned above not all academies operate in the same way and your professor might place a low value on competing as a consideration before promotion but this is certainly worth checking.
This is one resource that is widely praised across the BJJ community. Its likely someone has already mentioned picking up a copy of Saul Ribeiro’s Jiu-Jitsu University. Ribeiro is a fantastic grappler with a pedigree of consistently winning grappling tournaments at the highest level. Amongst his highest accolades are the multiple Abu Dhabi Combat Club submission wrestling world championships.
The book is a great road map for the journey from white to black belt and even beyond. The book focuses on the mental side of Jiu-Jitsu as well as discussing techniques with are illustrated with great photos.
Ribeiro provides guidance on what you should expect to be achieving at each belt level when competitively rolling with other students. One of the main messages a lot of new students take away from the book is the need to learn to survive as a white belt, i.e learning how to avoid being tapped so often in a roll.
This book is a great resource and can work as a supplementary curriculum or a road map if your feeling lost. You can pick up a copy of Jiu-Jitsu University on Amazon here.
How long does it take to get a blue belt?
The average length of time it takes for a person to transition from being a white belt to a blue belt will vary from person to person. The are a ton of factors that can impact how quickly this process takes. Factors such as prior grappling experience, length of time spent on the mat, physical fitness and even age can all play a part along with others.
Whilst gaining a blue belt seems to be the primary goal of most new starters its important to remember it only represents a small step towards becoming a proficient grappler. Most people will be able to make the step up to blue belt in between 2 and 5 years depending on the factors the factors above and a whole lot more!
That’s a lot of time and dedication by anyone’s standards. When you consider the average degree takes between 3 to 4 years to obtain and you get to have letters after you name if your so inclined, BJJ is a big commitment of your time.
To continue the degree analogy, you might read the prospectus before you embark on a programme, but you don’t try and learn the whole course in the first month. Moving towards a blue belt is essentially the same process you incrementally learn new things which over time become a broad knowledge and understanding.
Try not to develop tunnel vision and embrace the opportunities to learn along the way whilst keeping your end goal in sight.
The whole process of belt promotion can seem complicated and confusing so if you want to know more about belt promotion in BJJ it worth while checking out this handy guide on the topic.
Accept you’re going to be a white belt for a long time
The average person will spend quite a long time as a white belt and this is an unavoidable fact of training BJJ. The only shortcuts to success can be found by relentlessly training every week and putting the hours in on the mat.
Whilst working towards a curriculum can add structure to this long process you should not neglect the opportunities to learn techniques that are not considered part of the white belt curriculum.
Frustration is a natural feeling at this time, if your looking for some tips to over come frustration check out this article here.
What should a white belt learn
So, to wrap this up what exactly is the white belt curriculum? Well as we have looked at there may or may not be a set curriculum that your expected to master before advancing. The first thing you need to do if your concerned about this is not be. If you professor expects all their white belts to master a set of techniques, then you can be pretty sure they are going to be teaching them to you.
You can always ask if they work to a set list of expectations or prefer to take a more relaxed attitude to promotion. But if your getting smashed every session by other white belts but have mastered all the techniques in drilling your unlikely to get promoted.
If there’s one message to take away, it’s to relax and enjoy training and learning because just by turning up and putting some effort in your going to get better by osmosis.