• Belts in BJJ

    The following is taken from The Global Training Report, a website come travel diary of a guy who has travelled to Brazil for training since the late 90’s. Makes for great reading, particularly if your interested in the history of BJJ and what it might be like to train in Brazil.

    “Judging by some of the more popular internet forums, belts are an obsession with North Americans, and from my experience in Japan, jiu-jitsu belts (but not belts in karate or judo, where dan ratings rather than belt colors are more meaningful) are highly prized. But Brazilians, at least in Rio, do not care much about belts. There are two reasons. One is that belts are relatively easy to obtain. If you train alot and with the required intensity, in due course you will receive new belts. Jiu-jitsu is not quantum physics (although it might seem that way to most white belts, myself included 12 years ago). Everyone knows that if you train long enough, listen to what the professor says, and do what he tells you to do, you will acquire the skills and then the belts to go with the skills. The requirements for belt promotions in Bolão’s academy are based on (1) frequencia of training, (2) assidudade of training, and (3) competitions. Frequency means training regularly, which of course is subject to interpretation but might equal three days per week. Assiduity means training with focus, intensity, and balls, i.e., doing what everyone else is doing (they train hard here), ducking no one in sparring, not being too tired to roll, not making excuses, and basically performing at a level equal to others with the same belt color, and maybe a little better. Competitions are a way to test your courage, but Bolão acknowledges that some guys don’t have jobs and can’t afford the entrance fees, and other guys just don’t care about winning medals. Or at least the value of the medal is not worth the stress and hassle of waiting for the matches to start (fighting is easy, waiting is hard). The second reason is that having a belt, even the coveted black belt, doesn’t provide much prestige or economic advantage, because so many people already have them in Rio. You are not going to take your new black belt and open an academy in Rio, even if you win the gold medal in the Mundial. There are simply too many well-established academies in Rio with professors who have accomplished more than you probably ever will. Now if you are ready to set up shop in a foreign country that would be a different story, but most Brazilians do not plan to do that. And even in this case, making an economic success of it requires much more than a belt and some medals. So, in short, Brazilians focus more on the day to day training and less on the belts. Belts will happen when it is time for them to happen, like most other things. Bolão makes this even more clear by scheduling a “new belt” day once a year, after than Mundial of Masters and Seniors in August. The rest of the year no one wastes time obsessing about belts. At the same time, everyone knows that with consistent effort and diligence, their time will come and they can pretty much predict when it will happen too. The key is consistent and assiduous effort–otherwise known as “training hard”. Other academies have different, but similar, policies. I asked Alan Moraes, professor at the Carlson Gracie Academy, located a few blocks down the road on the corner of Rua Figueiredo de Magalhaes and Rua Silva Castro. A group of juvenil white belts were training, one rolling with an adult blue belt, and seemed to be about equal in skill. I asked Alan how long the white belt had been training. “Six months,” he said. What does he need for have blue belt? I asked. Alan explained, when a white belt shows an interest in jiu-jitsu by asking questions and training everyday, and entering competitions, then he is ready for a blue belt. Do you award belts on a particular day of the year, like Bolão (who formerly taught at the Carlson academy and who Alan knew well) does, he replied “sometimes but not always.” I asked other professors the same question. No one mentioned particular skills, techniques, or demonstrating dominance over lower belts. Belts are awarded based on commitment to the art. It is simply taken for granted that with the right sort of training, and enough of it, the skills will be acquired. Some professors have special days for awarding new belts–Oswaldo Alves did for example–while others just award belts when the student is “ready.” When he student is ready is a more or less intuitive judgment. No one as far as I could tell had anything like a checklist of techniques that a student needed to know in order to be promoted to any particular belt.”