How many people do you personally know that are Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belts?
And how many do you know that are Karate or Aikido black belts?
There’s a reason why a black belt in BJJ is a rank that is not as common as a black belt in other martial arts. That reason is patience, which always comes hand-in-hand with time, something most people nowadays seem to have a big shortage of.
Well, that’s unfortunate, since that just happens to be the only true answer to the one question I get asked most often: how long does it take to get a black belt in BJJ?
BJJ Belt Overview
When you start training BJJ, you most likely dream about becoming a black belt one day, but that day is so far, far away it may as well be in a Star Wars galaxy. So, it is normal that people like to shift their dreams and aspirations towards something more tangible, which happens to be the blue belt for most, and the BJJ purple belt for a select brave group.
It is not that people do not want to become BJJ black belts, – it just looks unattainable, and therein lies a big mistake which I will address shortly.
First things first, let’s make something crystal clear – you can’t buy yourself a belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, regardless of how much you offer. Actually, let me rephrase that, you can’t buy yourself a BJJ rank, as belts are readily available on Amazon.
The exception, of course, exists in the form of McDojos, but you’ll quickly know if you’re training at a legitimate BJJ gym or a place run by the Steven Seagal of Jiu-Jitsu. If you’re in the latter, my advice is easy – run.
Belts in BJJ come in a specific order, which has to do with visually distinguishing progress. The system starts with a white belt, which you have the moment you take your first class. Just like that, no exams, bells, or whistles attached to getting the belt.
Actually, the no-exams part remains the same all the way to black belt, but the bells and whistles aspect changes, as all other belts are given at promotion ceremonies and celebrated by everyone, as getting one is no easy feat for any grappler.
The second adult belt is the blue belt, and you get that one when you’re coach thinks you’re ready, and not a moment too soon. How? Well, at a promotion ceremony, a coach will ask you to step forward, talk a bit, take off your white belt, and give you a new, blue one. That’s it. NO exams, shark pits, or any other conditions that might “fail” you.
The same is true for your subsequent adult BJJ belts. The purple belt is the intermediate rank, coming after the blue belt, and the brown belt follows suit, as a predecessor to the world-renowned visual representation of martial arts mastery – the black belt.
As far as most people go, this is how the BJJ belt journey starts and finishes, and the same promotion principles apply to every one of the four belts (blue, purple, brown, and black).
How Long Does It Usually Take to Get a Black Belt in BJJ?
How long does it take to become a BJJ black belt?
The answer you’ll easily find by conducting a simple Google search is going to state that it takes an average of 10 years of active training to achieve the coveted BJJ black belt rank.
That is both true and false at the same time. Quite the conundrum, eh?
Allow me to spark some controversy.
Why does it take so long to become a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?
This entire article more or less dissects this question, but this is as good a place to start as any – because the realistic nature of grappling is different from the demonstrational nature of other, more traditional martial arts.
Simply put, you need to spend a lot more time gathering experience on the mats, in terms of movement, timing, positioning, etc. rather than just collect random techniques and know all their names. BJJ is as realistic as it gets, and everyone training is going to have an easy time defending themselves in realistic scenarios (one-on-one, unarmed altercations).
The ability to do so comes from experience, which only happens with time on the mats. That brings me to another question.
Should it take so long?
I’m going to go ahead and piss a few Brazilians off here by saying, no. What’s the point of making people go through a decade of training, if we can achieve the same results faster?
My take is that we shouldn’t take a decade just because it took the pioneers of the sport as long to achieve black belts. Don’t get me wrong it is still going to take the better part of a decade, but coaches of the sport should aim to shorten that period, not be proud of how long it takes to achieve the rank.
Seriously coaches, do you have any idea how people feel when you proudly tell them they’ll need to devote a huge chunk of their life to becoming a BJJ black belt? I’ll tell you – it drives them away rather than pulls them to train more.
Before I make my case further on the subject, let’s look at why it takes so long to get a BJJ black belt, and how you can shorten the time by being smart.
How Can I Get My Black Belt as Fast as Possible?
BJJ promotions are as individual as people’s Jiu-Jitsu games are. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to how long does it takes to get a black belt in BJJ.
However, certain aspects of training are big milestones along the way to a black belt, and the sooner you achieve these hallmarks, the more you’ll understand Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, I.e. the faster you’ll earn your black belt, given that your coach recognizes your efforts.
Time on the mats
The one thing all BJJ black belts around the world have in common is the time they put on the mats. I’ll repeat that again – time spent on the mats, training, and exploring BJJ.
I intentionally say time on the mats, as that is a lot more important than how many times per week you train.
This is why you read stories of people who get their black belts in three or four years. Talent plays a role in those situations, that’s beyond any doubt, but the one thing these “prodigies” have in common is that they put nearly the same amount of time on the mats that regular Joe does, they just do it a lot more frequently than BJJ hobbyists.
For example, they might train more in a week in terms of hours on the mats, than others do in a month. Of course, such a person is going to go through the ranks faster, even if they only visit the gym three times a week, but spend double the time on the mats than other students do.
Quality of the time on the mats is key though, as you can’t progress in BJJ by just mindlessly doing reps and reps of certain moves.
This is where your mindset comes into play. To become a real BJJ black belt you’ll need to think like one rather than just try to move like one.
The mindset is another highly individual aspect of Jiu-Jitsu, but at the end of the day, a black belt needs to have what is known in martial arts as a beginner mindset – ready to learn from everyone without even a drop of an ego getting in the way.
You are a black belt who has a white belt that is a champion wrestler in the gym and you’ve never done a day of wrestling in your life. You listen to that white belt if they are Helio Gracie himself when it comes to standing, without pretending that your belt means you can give them a run for your money standing. We all know how that will end (insert your favorite butt-scooting joke/mem here).
Unless you’re open to constantly improving, and you understand that you can’t learn BJJ, but you can only study it for as long as you live, you won’t be black belt material.
Thinking like a black belt is important for you getting promoted to a BJJ black belt, but acting like one is even more crucial.
A black belt is not just another random person on the mats. What sets them apart is the experience that comes from the huge chunk of their lives spent on the mats. That comes with lots of experience, though.
As a BJJ black belt, you’ll be an example to everyone and need to be patient and approachable, setting time aside to inspire people who undoubtedly look up to you on the mats. Whether you like it or not, this responsibility not only comes with a BJJ black belt but understanding it is one of the key prerequisites to getting promoted to one.
This one is pretty straightforward. It has nothing to do with you picturing yourself as a spartan warrior and quoting Myyamotto Musashi every chance you get but with something a lot more difficult – sticking with it.
In the close to ten years of training (or hopefully, less) it is going to take you to become a black belt, you’ll hit plateaus, lose motivation, get injured, life will get in the way, etc, etc. You might even stop training for a while here and there.
It is all fine. Just stick with it, get back on the mats, recover, and reset, and everything is going to work out. Just showing up despite everything is what will get you to your BJJ black belt.
This is where you need to consider how fast you want to get a BJJ black belt. You might be one of those “mat rats” training every day for hours upon hours, 7 days a week, and competing every chance you get.
If you are a competitor, your journey through the belts will be slower rather than faster as a simple result of tactics – the more experienced you are at a blet level the more accolades you can win. There is a fine line here between keeping it all fair and sandbagging but that is up to your coach.
Just remember that if you’re not getting that black belt just yet, it might not have anything to do with your performances on the mat, but rather your long-term goals that your coach recognizes and supports.
My Advice on Attaining a Black Belt in BJJ
As a black belt myself, who took the long, 10-year route to black belt, I have certain pieces of advice that I can share. I usually love sharing belt advice with people who go through colored belts, but am wary of what I say to those wondering how long it takes to get a black belt in BJJ, and how they can speed things up.
It is a very individual thing, as you grow into your black belt, and not conquer it per se, but there are some general tips and tricks I feel will make everyone’s journey a little smoother:
There is no point in trying to get the black belt as fast as possible. It is like trying to hold water – it will keep getting away until you decide to immerse yourself in it to achieve your goal but from a slightly different perspective.
It is the same with BJJ – just enjoy the journey. An example I often use is that white belts when they start training dream of lining up for class at the top of the line where the advanced students are. Advanced students dream of standing across everyone, where the black belts/coaches are.
Do you know what black belts dream about when standing across? Being a white belt again. And they are the only ones whose dreams won’t come true, so don’t rush. Savor the experience
Compete – or Don’t
The best part about BJJ is that you can become a black belt without ever competing in it. If you’re told that you have to compete, switch gyms. There is more to the sport than just winning tournaments, and competing is not a realistic option for everyone, whereas training Jiu-Jitsu is.
That said, one competition is worth a year of training on the mats in terms of experience, so I’ll let you be the judge of that.
Start Teaching Early
Teaching will help you understand BJJ better than competing will, and it will greatly accelerate your timeline. You’ll most likely get asked to teach a kids’ class or help out with fundamentals as a purple belt, and my advice is to grab that opportunity. The things you learn by teaching are a staple of setting up a system for progress even after you achieve your BJJ black belt.
Forget About Legal & Illegal Moves
There is no point in dwelling on the legality of moves when you’re training and learning about BJJ. Would you start doing an armbar as a purple belt, just because competition rules dictate that you can’t use it until then? Of course not, you want to learn as many different things as soon as possible but only use what is legal when you compete.
Stay curious and explore different streams of BJJ like traditional Gi Jiu-Jitsu, No Gi Jiu-Jitsu, self-defense, 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu, catch-wrestling, etc. Try everything to figure out what works for you, and you’ll get to a BJJ black belt in no time at all.
Does it Even Matter How Long It Takes?
This is probably the best question about getting a black belt in BJJ. The answer is universally true, which is very rarely the case in BJJ – a resounding no.
However, feeling as if it does matter while you’re on your way to a black belt, especially as a white and blue belt, is all right.
You’ll grow out of it later on, and you’ll progress a lot faster when you do not tire yourself out with timelines (holding water), but rather immerse yourself in the experience.
What Comes After Black Belt?
This is where BJJ is different than most other martial arts. After getting a BJJ black belt, you’re from from knowing everything there is about BJJ, or getting promoted to a different belt color.
Three belts come after the BJJ black belt:
- A red-and-black coral belt is a rank that a black belt can get after spending 31 years as a black belt. It is the 7th degree in the black belt ranking system of Jiu-Jitsu.
- A red-and-white coral belt, or 8th degree, is available to those who spend more than 38 years as a black belt.
- The red belt is the final belt, reserved for those who dedicate a lifetime to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. It is considered to be the final belt and comes with the condition of spending an incredible 48 years as a black belt.
Can A Black Belt Promote Students in BJJ?
Yes, a black belt can promote students to all belts, with specific exceptions when it comes to promoting others to black belt.
The IBJJF which is the governing body in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, requires a black belt to have at least two stripes to be eligible to promote others to the rank of black belt.
Given that each of these stripes takes three years to achieve, that means someone needs to be a black belt for at least 6 years and get their stripes from a higher-ranked black (or coral belt) before they can promote others to black belt.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a sport that we practice as a traditional martial art (Karate or Judo) but then need to put to practice in competition in a setting that is like a combat sport (similar to boxing or wrestling).
That means we need to learn things as in traditional martial arts but use them like combat sports. No wonder people are feeling confused and trying to figure out how long it takes to become a BJJ black belt.
It takes as long as it does. Enjoy it, as you will never be able to go through the process again!