Earning Your Doctorate: Belt Progression and the Passage of Time
by: Daniel Frank
Jiu jitsu has many similarities with traditional martial arts. Jiu jitsu practitioners wear uniforms a majority of the time while on the mat or in competition. They have a belt system used for promotion and to recognize expertise. However, jiu jitsu differs from a lot of those traditional martial arts in how long the practitioner spends at each belt level. It takes a very long time to progress through the belts in jiu jitsu and, in order to make it to the highest levels, the practitioner must be extremely patient.
Where else do you start, but at white belt. Over the years, the time spent learning jiu jitsu at the white belt level has increased. Gone are the days when practitioners could spend a few months at white belt and get fast tracked to blue belt. This still happens though, but typically with practitioners who have an extensive background in other grappling arts. For all others, expect to spend between 1 to 3 years as a white belt. This is valuable time and the longer the better. It might be tough to hear, but it is true. I understand the impatience of white belts who are striving to achieve their blue belt. I can understand the frustration that comes during the long wait, but in the end it is well worth it. The patience pays off as the switch from being a decent white belt to a skilled blue belt is easy and helps to propel you ahead.
The time that I spent at blue belt was the longest that I have spent at any belt(not including black). I believe that there is a lot of good in being kept at the blue belt level for an extended amount of time. I thought that I knew everything at blue belt and I wanted to show off my skills to everyone. It did not matter if I had to power through moves. It did not matter if I spent too much time or energy on a pass, a sweep, or a submission. I did not matter if I was doing the moves correctly or not. I thought that I knew everything. It took quite a bit of time to realize that I did not know everything, that I needed to rein myself in, and that I needed to start to learn jiu jitsu correctly. Expect to spend anywhere from 3-5 years at blue belt.
At the purple belt level things begin to proceed at a quicker pace. The tough times of learning have passed. The jiu jitsu practitioner now has a solid understanding of the martial art, is working on refining the art, and making it a personal reflection of themselves. The purple belt finds learning jiu jitsu a lot easier than at white and blue belt and thus spends less time at this belt. I was at purple belt for a shorter time than any of my other belts. You will typically spend 2-3 years at purple belt.
Once the jiu jitsu practitioner achieves the brown belt level things have gotten very serious. I have seen people quit jiu jitsu at this level, but it is rare. 99% of all brown belts achieve the black belt. It still takes patience to get to that promised land. Spend the time at brown belt learning how to instruct. Become a better competitor. Learn how to run a business. Teach the kids’ classes. If you view brown belt as a time to learn and improve, then expect to be there 1-3 years.
You will spend a long, long time at black belt. Sorry, but your journey is not yet complete. It is not that you cannot learn anymore at the black belt level, you learn more each and every day. However, you have almost run out of belts. Your next promotion will not happen for a long, long time. The coral belts and the red belt will come when you are elderly. Since you are going to spend all of this time at black belt, get comfortable with it. Try to make every day at black belt a day where you can improve yourself.
Achieving belts is not what jiu jitsu is about. It is a way to distinguish one practitioner from another and let everyone(including themselves) know where they are in their journey. The journey is a long one and it will be filled with trials and tribulations. Be patient and enjoy each belt because each is special and, once a new belt is achieved, you cannot put the old one on again.