The Jiu Jitsu Blue Belt "Blues"

Published on by Erin Herle

It’s a fact that many jiu jitsu students drop outs are blue belts. Why this belt instead of white, purple, brown or even black belt— the end of the road for promotions? Many will tell you it’s the most frustrating belt and it’s the belt of discovery and that it’s the mark of a serious commitment. 

Under the International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation standards, the minimum time spent as a blue belt in order to be promoted to purple belt, is two years. That’s the longest time out of any belt. It means that the most growth will be experienced at this rank.

Jiu Jitsu is unlike any other martial art because of its length of time between belt rank promotions. The average time it takes to reach Karate black belt is 3-5 years. It’s about the same for Tae Kwon Do, and about 5-6 years for most Judo programs... but for BJJ, it could be longer, much longer.

In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, measuring years is inefficient. How often someone is more relevant than how long they’ve spent in possession of a certain belt color. Therefore, the best way is to measure in hours. Why? Because whether you take two classes a week or nine, your progress will be determined by pure mat time, and therefore it will be more relative to your growth.

That’s good! Now you can focus on how often you’re training and rid yourself of any expectations, or pressure.

A promotion, especially one that advances you from entry-level, is a way to reflect growth. But it also means that there are those less experienced than you. As a white belt, regardless of stripes on your belt, you’re still a white belt and it’s fun to say you “know nothing”, right? The day you have your blue belt tied around your waist it somehow causes you to change that story. Like you no longer have a disclaimer. 

It also means that the term “lower belt” is now of concern to you. There is perceived pressure that because you have a higher belt rank, you must be “better” than a white belt. As if the day you wore a white belt, to the day you became a blue belt, was so drastic that you now have great responsibility. Not quite. 

As a white belt, regardless of stripes on your belt, you’re still a white belt and it’s fun to say you “know nothing”, right?

If a white belt gives you a tough time in sparring, you don’t have any excuses or safety net for your ego. Rather than needing to say you were tired, or you had a bad day, use the moment to recognize areas of weakness for which you can improve. Regardless of who it was that passed your guard, it doesn’t disgrace your promotion, it doesn’t cause that person to level up or gain street cred. It is training. It is where you learn—from anyone.

Remember that ranks are not for anyone else. They are purely for you and your instructor to be on the same page as to where you sit in the grand scheme of your jiu-jitsu journey. There are loose benchmarks to each rank and how you progress and reach those marks is an indication of where your strengths and weaknesses are—all matters important to learning as a student.

Along with this increased pressure to perform, there is the burn out. This happens when you put forth a ton of effort and consistency to earn this monumental new belt rank, only to start over in what will be the longest time spent before the beloved purple belt promotion. That’s a harsh feeling.

However, you must remember that jiu-jitsu doesn’t end, ever. There will never be a time that you feel you’ve learned “enough” or that you’ve reached mastery. It’s the beauty of jiu-jitsu.

Focus on what there is to learn and how many areas you have the opportunity to improve, rather than the length of time it will take to receive recognition for your efforts. Training should be fun. It should relieve stress, not increase it. It should inspire you, not intimidate you. Just like being a white belt is a way to pretend you’re immune from criticism, blue belt is a blessing to have the time to discover how your body will adapt to specific styles or games. It is an open door to preference and selection.

Don’t let the belt get to your head. You are to be admired by brand new white belts, not for how many subs you get in one training session, or how technical you are. You’ve been put to the test and you accomplished the first year or two and believe it or not, you have advice for days. You can share information regarding structure of training at your academy, how to care for a gi, the details to a favorite submission, etc. Cherish what you know and how far you’ve come.

"Focus on what there is to learn and how many areas you have the opportunity to improve, rather than the length of time it will take to receive recognition..." 

There are many reasons someone will stop training. That’s a different topic. Life events, location changes, personal relationships, can all play a role in our jiu-jitsu training. But within the time spent as a blue belt, there are other reasons specific to a plateau in learning or departure from the sport altogether. They belong to feeling as though our expectations are not met. Take care of the mindset regarding training, and you will take the journey of jiu-jitsu in stride. Be patient, be humble. That’s the lesson meant for blue belts and it will carry you through any obstacle in your life. Including purple belt ;).