On Being a Brown Belt
By: Daniel Frank
At the end of another long training session at Korea BJJ Academy, as a purple belt, I made my way to the front of the line as students got onto their knees to bow out at the end of class. From brand new white belts to experienced purple belts we straightened our gis, wiped the sweat from our brows, tied our belts, and made a line in front of our instructor. He said a few words about the technique that we had drilled in class and then announced that I was promoted to brown belt along with three of my friends. Just like that. I was no longer a purple belt. I had to take things seriously. I was just one step away from becoming a Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt.
Being a brown belt differs greatly from other belts in Brazilian jiu jitsu. You are no longer the absolute beginner with a white belt. You are no longer the technique sponge with a tattered blue belt. You are no longer developing a game at purple belt. Your game has been shaped and made. You now need to refine it.
Timing is everything at brown belt. You may have the deadliest arm bar, the tightest triangle choke, or the slickest open guard sweep but if your timing is off you will never have the opportunity to hit those techniques in a match. At the brown belt level the practitioner should be consistently working on the timing of their techniques. During rolling time at the academy you should be working on the timing of your signature moves so that you can consistently hit those moves on others from the lower levels up to the highest levels. Once you achieve your black belt, timing is what separates a winner from a loser. The margin of victory sometimes becomes so slim that the competitor with the more precise timing was able to achieve the only score in the match.
The ability to pivot and change plans on the fly becomes very important at the brown belt level. Despite all of the training that a brown belt has done, and the classes attended, sometimes things go sideways. Once a roll begins to go into unfamiliar territory, or worse, starts to head towards a loss, the ability to flip the script and find a way to victory becomes very important. Knowing the steps in an important sequence can lead to a match win, but the ability to think on the fly and move from one sequence into another makes a truly talented brown belt.
Another trait that any brown belt absolutely needs is leadership. The brown belt has been on the mats for a very long time. They have, more than likely, taken a leadership role in their academy. If they have not taken that role, then now is the time. The role of teaching, or assisting with the kids’ classes is a good start. All students need mentors to look up to, juveniles especially. Taking a leadership role in the kids’ classes is the logical first step in becoming an important leader. From that point on, working into teaching intro level classes is the next step. If your academy has an internship process, or a system for creating instructors, take advantage of it and become a leader.
Purple belt was a time of experimentation and care free rolling. Mistakes could have been made at the purple belt level and easily glossed over. Brown belt is a different beast. Those mistakes cannot be made. If they are, then they are to be analyzed so that they are not made again. The level of competition goes up at brown belt. There is a new rule set to adhere to. The matches are now longer. It will only get more difficult as the brown belt begins inching closer and closer towards that coveted black belt. At black belt it gets even tougher. By taking the brown belt level seriously and accelerating your learning you will make the time spent at brown belt productive and enjoyable.
My time spent at brown belt was extremely challenging, productive, and fun. I won great matches and took home medals from major competitions. I also lost quite a few times, but learned something from each loss. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel and worked hard to be prepared for my black belt, both mentally and physically. Every brown belt’s path will be slightly different, but the outline will stay the same, do not veer off of the path and your goal will be achieved.