The Brazilian jiu-jitsu ranking system is a means of signifying a practitioner’s increasing levels of technical knowledge and practical skill within the art of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Colored belts that are worn as part of the uniform are awarded to the practitioner. While the ranking system’s structure shares its origins with the Judo ranking system and that of all colored martial arts belts, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu ranking system grew to incorporate unique aspects and themes. The system has minor differences from Judo in areas such as a division between youths and adults and the issuance of stripes and degrees. Some distinct differences have become synonymous with the art, such as a marked informality in promotional criteria, a focus on a competitive demonstration of skill, and a conservative approach to promotion.
In 1907, Kanō Jigorō, the founder of Judo, introduced the use of belts (obi) and gi (judogi) in the martial arts, replacing the practice of training in formal kimonos. In 1914, Kanō’s pupil Mitsuyo Maeda arrived in Brazil, a journey which led to the development of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. At the time Kanō used only white and black belts, with white representing the beginner, as a color of purity and simplicity, and black being the opposite, representing one who is filled with knowledge.
Some believe that Mikonosuke Kawaishi was the first to introduce additional colors in 1935 when he began teaching Judo in Paris, 10 years after Carlos Gracie opened his academy in Brazil. Kawaishi thought that a more structured system of colored belts would provide the western student with visible rewards to show progress, increasing motivation and retention. Since then, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Judo and many other martial arts have adopted the use of colored belts to denote students’ progression in the arts.
The first official belt ranking system was created in 1967 by the Jiu-Jitsu Federation of Guanabara. Much of the current criteria and modern belt ranks were implemented by the Sport Jiu Jitsu International Federation (SJJIF) and International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation.
Adult belt ranks
White belt is the beginning rank for all Brazilian jiu-jitsu students.
White belt is the first belt within Brazilian jiu-jitsu. The rank is held by any practitioner new to the art and has no prerequisite. Some instructors and other high-level practitioners think that a white belt’s training should emphasize escapes and defensive positioning since a white belt will often fight from inferior positions, especially when training with more experienced practitioners.
Most academies will additionally require that a white belt level practitioner works to obtain a well-rounded skills set, with a knowledge of basic offensive moves, such as common submissions and guard passes.
Blue belt is most often the second adult rank in the Brazilian jiu-jitsu. At the blue belt level, students gain a wide breadth of technical knowledge and undertake hundreds of hours of mat-time to learn how to implement these moves efficiently. Blue belt is often the rank at which the student learns a large number of techniques.
Not all Brazilian jiu-jitsu schools or regulatory bodies award the blue belt as the second adult belt. Although many Brazilian jiu-jitsu organizations adhere to the IBJJF standard of awarding the yellow, orange, and green belt exclusively as part of a youth belt system (under 16 years of age), some supplement the time between white belt and blue belt with one or more belts of these colors.
The IBJJF requires that a practitioner be at least 16 years old to receive a blue belt, thereby officially entering into the adult belt system.
Purple belt is the intermediate adult ranking in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. The purple belt level practitioner has gained a large amount of knowledge, and purple belts are generally considered qualified to help instruct lower-ranked students.
The IBJJF requires students to be at least 16 years old and recommends they have spent a minimum of two years ranked as a blue belt to be eligible for a purple belt, with slightly different requirements for those graduating directly from the youth belts.
Aside from the exceptional belts awarded at the highest levels, brown belt is the highest ranking color belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Brown belt typically requires at least five years of dedicated training to achieve. It is often thought of as a time for refining techniques.
The IBJJF requires that students be at least 18 years old and recommends they have spent a minimum of 18 months as a purple belt to be eligible for a brown belt.
As with many other martial arts, the black belt is the highest common belt within Brazilian jiu-jitsu, denoting an expert level of technical and practical skill. Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belts are often addressed within the art as professor, although some schools and organizations reserve this honorific for more senior black belts.
The IBJJF requires that a student be at least 19 years old and recommends they have spent a minimum of 1 year ranked as a brown belt to be eligible for a black belt. The black belt itself has six different degrees of expertise.
Red / Black belt (Coral belt)
The IBJJF requires a practitioner remain a black & red belt for a minimum of 7 years.
When a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt reaches the seventh degree, he or she is awarded an alternating red-and-black belt similar to the one earned at the sixth degree in Judo. This belt is commonly known as the coral belt. Coral belts are very experienced practitioners, most of whom have made a large impact on Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and are often addressed within the art by the title master.
Red / White belt
The IBJJF requires a practitioner remain a white & red belt for a minimum of 10 years.
The International Brazilian jiu-jitsu Federation in 2013 amended the graduation guidelines with respect to the transition between seventh degree and eighth degree black belt. The transition is specifically noted on page 6 of the IBJJF General System of Graduation, Section 1.3.4. In short, a practitioner who has achieved the rank of 8th degree black belt will wear a red and white belt.
The 9th degree red belt is the highest rank awarded to any currently living practitioner of Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
According to Renzo and Royler Gracie, in Brazilian jiu-jitsu the red belt is reserved “for those whose influence and fame takes them to the pinnacle of the art”. It is awarded in lieu of a ninth and tenth degree black belt. If a practitioner receives his or her black belt at 19 years old, the earliest they could expect to receive a ninth degree red belt would be at the age of 67. Brazilian jiu-jitsu red belt holders are often addressed within the art by the title grandmaster. The 10th degree was given only to the pioneers of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, the Gracie brothers: Carlos, Oswaldo, George, Gaston and Helio.
Few published guidelines or standards determine when a practitioner is ready for promotion; the criterion is generally determined by individual instructors and/or academies. The IBJJF maintains an extensive graduation system that takes into account time-in-grade and membership standing, but makes no mention of specific performance or skill requirements. When instructors or academies comment on the criteria for promotion, the most widely accepted measures are the amount of technical and conceptual knowledge a practitioner can demonstrate, and performance in grappling (randori) within the academy and/or competition.