This is a question that is impossible to answer accurately. Expectations and requirements are going to vary widely from instructor to instructor. Some gyms require a certain number of classes before each belt; others require the student to win or medal at a tournament before progressing to the next level. However, there are some common sense rules and averages based on what most high level instructors expect from their students before they can expect to be promoted.
This article will cover my personal expectations as an instructor, along with some specific examples of promotions I’ve given out over the years.
White to blue belt:
The bottom line: you can expect about 2 years of consistent training (3 days a week or more) from white to blue belt.
Exceptions: I’ve given out one blue belt in under a year, to a student who won a 60-man white belt bracket (IBJJF Pan Ams) with five submissions, along with dozens of other local tournaments. Another student did well at competitions locally, winning a few events in our region, all the while training between six and nine times a week.
The other end of the spectrum is the student who is less athletically talented, who trains sporadically, or both. This person can take much longer than the average 2 years. Some students will take even as long as five years to reach the blue belt, but what’s important is that the standards are met for every individual, man or woman, old or young. There’s no such thing at our gym as a “girl belt” or a “pity belt.” Either you have earned the belt or you haven’t.
Blue to purple belt:
Blue belt in BJJ sees the highest discrepancy of skill in competitions. You will see the brand new blue belt who is promoted because of the number of classes he attended (not at our gym, mind you), and then you’ll see the guy with a frazzled blue belt that has turned gray due to age, with four withered tape fragments clinging on due to decomposition of the atoms, not from any kind of adhesive that remains.
The bottom line:
Expect to spend a minimum of two years at blue belt, even if you are athletically talented and very dedicated. Purple belt is considered at many gyms to be an advanced belt rank, one to be highly respected by new students, but revered by more experienced blue belts. Purple belt generally means that you are capable of teaching in some capacity, even if it’s only to help out other individuals in the classroom.
It is possible to go from blue to purple belt in less than two years, but I have only personally done this a small handful of times over the years. Our most accomplished student at blue belt tore everyone up at local competitions from the moment he was promoted to blue belt, but it still took him nearly 2 years to make it to purple. Why? The standards demanded of purple belts at our gym include a comprehension that transcends a mere blue belt’s conceptual understanding. The purple belt will figure out positions on his own without guidance, although he still needs correction and advice from time to time.
Even the exceptional athlete with an excellent understanding of BJJ is likely to spend at least 2 years at blue belt.
My own personal training anecdote:
I was a very competitive blue belt by the time I got my purple belt. I ended up getting silver at the Pan Ams in a pretty stacked blue belt lightweight division in 2003, losing to Mike Fowler in the finals. I won virtually every tournament at blue belt that I entered locally, with very few exceptions. And yet, whenever I rolled with a brown belt, I felt like a first day white belt. Why? Because there was an entire belt separating us, purple belt. That is why the journey from blue to purple is an arduous one, and should remain so. Preserving the standards that have been around since I was coming up, and, indeed, even demanding higher standards for each belt due to so many more people training and information spreading so much more quickly is a crucial key that separates BJJ from traditional martial arts, and should remain so. If I have anything to say about it, it will stay that way forever.