“So you think you’re ready to become a brown belt? We’ll see about that.”
This is exactly what is going through your coach’s mind when they see you absolute mid-purple belts (I couldn’t wait to use this in an article) trying to prove your worth.
Without taking anything from you, remember that the question to answer is not does it takes to get a brown belt in BJJ, but rather what does a brown belt stand for, and are you there yet?
A Quick Breakdown of the BJJ Belt System
If you’re interested in how long it takes to get a brown belt in BJJ, you most likely have been training for at least a while.
So, I’ll keep the journey through Jiu-Jitsu belts short, to satisfy those eager white/blue belts who are looking way into the future, since I expect purple belts to know the belt system inside out.
Everyone’s BJJ journey begins with a snow-white belt around your waist, representing that you know absolutely nothing. White belts are blank slates and need to be filled with information from higher belts, preferably brown and black.
Once certain things start appearing in what seems like order on the white belt slate, you’re ready to jump to the first level – the blue belt. Congratulations, no longer a beginner you can now do what most people used to do for a while – quit. As if you have accomplished something grand.
For those blue belts that stick it out and figure out how to become annoying with their defense, and dangerous in bursts with their attacks, the reward comes in the form of the purple belt.
The mid-level of BJJ (I did it again) is where people should (and usually do) spend most of their time as a colored belt.
You see, there is a saying purple belts love, which says that they know everything a black belt does, but only lack the time on the mats and experience. That is true. That “feel” for things starts to develop at purple belt, but without recognizing it, and developing the appropriate attitude to go with it, there’s no way a purple belt gets promoted to brown…
At least not on my watch.
However, when purple belts get out of their “know-it-all” cocoon, they turn into beautiful brown belt butterflies, ready to experience Jiu-Jitsu in a completely new manner. To be honest, being a brown belt is like being a piece of steak the night before a barbecue – you’re just marinating for those last few moments to let all the knowledge sauce sink in before you go black.
Which brings us to the black belt, the ultimate achievement for most. The thing is, once you achieve it, you’ve understood a bit of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and now see things differently, so it is not such a big deal.
For most people, cruising into the grappling sunset as a black belt is the perfect ending. However, some will try to overachieve, looking to get the elusive coral belts (red and black belt, followed by a red and white belt) which require about 3 decades of being a black belt.
For the sake of sincerity, there is one more – the red belt, but I doubt anyone who started training after the age of 12 is ever going to deserve a legitimate one.
Why Do So Few People Reach Brown Belt in BJJ?
Brown belt in any martial art is something most people understand as someone that is very close to the end.
In BJJ, it does mark the end of an experience, an era if you will – the colored belt period.
However, the brown belt level is the hardest one to achieve, harder even than the black belt, and carries with it just as much, if not more in terms of responsibilities.
To get a brown belt, someone needs to practice BJJ at least a couple of times a week for about 8-9 years, on average, give or take a few months. That is a long time. Seriously, just think about what you could achieve in 9 years.
Many people who push through the rigors of purple belt, which is a phase of experimentation that really does take a physical and mental toll, end up on the wrong sides of injuries, burn out, an attitude that does not evolve, and a mindset that prevents them from understanding what a brown belt should represent.
While injuries do cut BJJ careers short, such catastrophic ones are no more frequent than in any other sport, like say basketball, or football.
The difference is that BJJ being a contact sport that puts very different-sized people together to spar on a regular basis, ends up with accumulated fatigue that presents as chronic injuries.
So, if someone has been training for 8-9 years, being panicked at white belt, aggressive at blue, and experimenting with everything weird and unusual at purple, it is understandable why most memes depict brown belts as being held together by finger tape.
Injuries do tend to catch up with people, so much so that they make training too uncomfortable pain-wise to the point of turning it into something repulsive rather than attractive.
The trick here is that things get much better at black belt, but you need to push through the marinating session that is the BJJ brown belt.
Other Life Commitments
This is a big one and it is very personal. Most people training BJJ start in their late teens or early twenties. That means that by the time they become a brown belt, in most cases, they’ll start a family and have children. This is a massive game-changer.
Very few people pick BJJ as a career, whether it is as a competitor or as a coach. Most have big responsibilities off the mats, which make their training possible. These responsibilities seem to grow as we get older, and in many cases pull people from the mats against their will.
I’ve seen it at my academy. Just a few days ago I promoted the newest brown belt and told him that I hope he’s not going to vanish as a couple of very promising brown belts did before him, not long after their promotion.
Given the huge variability in type and size of life commitments, my only advice is to keep an open door for a return to BJJ if they force you to take some time off. Don’t see it as quitting, but rather a much-deserved break.
Very important and not to be confused with hitting plateaus. By the time you knock on the door of brown belt, you’ll have surpassed many plateaus,
Burnout is different. It is both mental and physiological and has to do with overstressing your nervous system. Burnout is something often witnessed by late purple / early brown belts. Spending nearly a decade on the mats might be fun, but not every part of the journey is enjoyable.
As someone who went through it at brown, and again at black belt (very recently), the advice here is to weather the storm and just tough it out. This takes care of mental burnout.
For the physiological one, you’ll need rest. At least three weeks of the mats and a completely new approach to rolling and training usually do the trick, but it is going to be anything but easy if your physiological burnout appears along with your mental burnout.
All of the things above are outside of your control as a purple belt looking to become a BJJ brown belt. This stumbling block, however, is entirely up to you.
I call purple belt the “know–it–all” phase because purple belts experiment so much, that they think they’ve mastered everything. As a purple belt, you try to guard, submissions, takedowns, pins, reversals, escapes, flying things, spinning setups, and whatnot.
Technically, this is part of learning BJJ. However, mentally it makes people feel like they’re apex predators in every aspect of BJJ.
Well, you’re not. You’re a penguin. A bird that can’t fly, can’t quite swim, and can barely walk, but on paper, is able to do all three. That’s exactly what a purple belt in BJJ looks like to a black belt.
The moral of the story is that you ended up switching up your attitude and opening yourself to understanding. Learning might be over, but the understanding part of BJJ is jsut beginning and that is exactly why the brown belt promotion is the most difficult of them all.
Unless the penguin wants to evolve into an eagle, there’s no way anyone else can do it for him. Or her.
BJJ Brown Belt Requirements
As a fresh black belt, I struggled the most when I was trying to figure out what I expected from a purple belt in order to award them their brown belt.
First of all, there are the “administrative” requirements, set forth by the IBJJF. These state that a student must be 18 years of age in order to receive their brown belt. While this only applies to competition and for those registering with the IBJJF, it still is the standard.
For those already above the age limit of 18, the recommendations by the IBJJF are that a person spends at least a year and a half at purple belt, before being eligible to receive their brown belt.
The only expectation is that if a person wins a World title at purple belt before this minimum required time expires, then they no longer need to wait a year and a half – they can be promoted at the will of their coach.
I disagree with the time requirement wholeheartedly. The World Champion exception is okay, but let’s face it, we’re talking about a handful of people in a sea of purple belts worldwide.
The minimum time spent at purple belt should be nearer to the 3-year mark. Yeah, double the required time. Simply put, this is where you learn everything there is to learn about Jiu-Jitsu. Notice I say learn because that is the easy part.
When it comes to the realistic requirements, there is but one – the shift from learning to understanding. From copying and pasting to creating. And this is not something that happens in a year and a half.
When you speak to brown belts, or see their game you notice one common trait – simplicity. This is because all the experimenting with the latest YouTube technique is done, and it is time to be a beginner again, but this time understanding BJJ instead of trying to pick up moves, names, tactics, etc.
The shift of the focus toward figuring out why things work is what marks the maturity of a student as a candidate for a brown belt. The mental attitude I mentioned earlier is a desired byproduct of the deep curiosity that defines brown belts as opposed to the technical knowledge-thirsty purple belts.
The focus has shifted more towards enjoying Jiu-Jitsu, rather than trying to enforce your game on everyone present on the mats.
Chris Haueter, one of the “dirty dozen” of the first Americans to receive a black belt in BJJ has a set of 4 rules, which in my opinion, really outline what a brown belt should be trying to figure out at the fundamental level:
- How to be the person on top;
- How to stay on top, when you’re on top;
- How to have a guard none shall pass when you’re on the bottom;
- To remember rule #1, easily forgotten due to the seductive and rewarding nature of the BJJ guard.
Purple belts really struggle with this final one, and it is one of the biggest obstacles on their road to brown belt.
How Long Does it Take to Reach Brown Belt in BJJ?
While it will vary from person to person, it will take you the better part of a decade to get to brown belt. Consider it the toughest belt to conquer. Once you’re a brown belt, the black belt is well within your grasp.
It took me three years to mature enough as a purple belt so that I earned my brown belt. Best time of my life.
I really enjoyed my time at purple belt, but thought I’d get promoted about a year before I actually got the brown. I wasn’t learning for it, but I did desire it.
It got me thinking however why I was skipped. It is one of the best things that ever happened to me, as it made me question things and look for answers that helped me find that all-important shift toward understanding on my own.
There is an analogy I like to use to describe how long it will take people to reach the brown belt level in BJJ.
Pilots have a saying that the most dangerous time during their training is around the 10,000-hour mark. By this point, they have enough experience to be able to do everything but are still not quite the experts they start to feel they are. So, pilots make the most dangerous mistakes around the 10,000-hour mark.
It is the same with purple belts. Given time on the mats, they’re around this mark as well, and the same thing applies – they’re good enough, but not quite experts yet. And the mistakes that you make as a purple belt can be so grand that they hold you back from progressing to brown.
The sooner you rise above this mindset, the quicker that brown belt will lend up around your waist.
Can a Brown Belt Teach BJJ?
The short answer is – yes. Absolutely, In fact, they need to teach in order to start understanding better. After a certain point in time, the amount of things you learn from others’ demonstrations grows smaller and smaller by the day.
However, you start to learn immensely from trying to pass on your knowledge to others – and it is one of the best ways to keep understanding as you go forward in the BJJ belt system.
So, yeah, brown belts need to teach, so much so, that it should be considered a requirement for getting promoted to black belt one day.
Can a Brown Belt Promote Other Students in BJJ?
Yes, a brown belt can promote students up to a purple belt (one level below their own).
These days, there is an ample number of black belts all over the globe. However 13 years ago, when I started BJJ, black belts were as mythical creatures as dragons are.
Back then I started to learn from a blue belt. In fact, I started teaching as one too. Very often, you’ll see purple or brown belt heading academies of their own, simply because there’s no black belt in that area yet.
As such, they can promote their students up to purple belt, but will need their coach to promote a student beyond that, as well as to promote themselves to the black belt.
How long does it take to get a brown belt in BJJ?
As long as you need to understand that you need to completely shift your focus from learning to understanding, and from dominating to mentoring.
This is one of the hardest things to achieve in BJJ, so if you’ve recently gotten your purple belt get comfortable and enjoy the ride…
It won’t be over soon.