The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) belt system means different things to different people. While some practitioners are unconcerned about belt rank, others place a high degree of importance on it. However, one thing that most people can agree on is the significance of the black belt. In fact, most people believe that a black belt in any martial art is the highest rank one can achieve. And while a black belt is an achievement that few people can claim, there are actually even higher ranks that can be achieved in BJJ. As explained below, the absolute pinnacle of BJJ is the red belt—an honor reserved for those who have dedicated their lives to practicing and spreading this highly effective martial art. But before we go into detail about the red belt and its history, it is first necessary to review the BJJ belt system.
The White Belt
The white belt is the beginning rank for all BJJ students. This rank is given to all new practitioners of the art, and it has no prerequisites. At this level, instructors often emphasize defense, fundamental movements, and basic submissions. White belt is the level at which students begin to develop a basic understanding of the art.
The Blue Belt
The second rank in BJJ, the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) requires practitioners to remain at blue belt for at least two years before moving up in rank. At the blue belt level, students begin to expand the number of techniques in their repertoires, drilling and practicing things such as submissions, escapes, guard passes, and sweeps.
The Purple Belt
The third rank in BJJ, the IBJJF requires that each student remain a purple belt for at least 18 months before moving up in rank. At the purple belt level, students should be proficient in chaining submissions together and have well-rounded games. The IBJJF recommends that students remain at purple belt for at least two years before moving up in rank.
The Brown Belt
The fourth rank in BJJ, the IBJJF recommends that students spend at least 18 months at purple belt before attaining the brown belt. It usually takes a student at least five years of heavy training to achieve this rank. The brown belt is often described as the rank at which students prepare for their black belts by refining their current skill sets.
The Black Belt
As mentioned above, many people believe that the black belt is the highest rank one can attain in BJJ. And with the exception of the red belt, this is true. A BJJ black belt is a special accomplishment, as it takes several years of dedicated training to earn. The BJJ black belt denotes an expert level of technical and practical grappling skills. In addition, those who earn BJJ black belts typically become instructors. The IBJJF requires that a student be at least 19 years of age and recommends at least one year at brown belt to be eligible for a black belt. The black belt has six degrees of expertise that one may attain.
The Red Belt
As mentioned above, the black belt has six degrees of expertise. And while they could technically be included under the black belt category, the two coral belts are discussed here, as they represent transition points between black and red.
Red and Black Belt (Coral Belt)
Also known as a coral belt, the red and black belt is technically a seventh-degree black belt. The IBJJF requires that students remain at this rank for a minimum of seven years before moving up in rank. Coral belts are reserved for extremely knowledgeable and experienced practitioners of the art, most of whom have made a large impact on the art of BJJ.
Red and white belt (Coral belt)
Also known as a coral belt, the red and white belt is technically an eighth-degree black belt. The IBJJF requires that students remain at this rank for a minimum of 10 years before moving up in rank. Much like the red and black belt, the red and white belt is extremely rare and signifies a true master of the art of BJJ.
The red belt, technically a ninth-degree black belt, is the highest possible rank that a living practitioner of BJJ may attain. Those who achieve the red belt not only have a deep understanding of the art, but they live and breathe it. To give you an idea of how difficult the red belt is to obtain, the earliest that a 19-year-old black belt (an achievement in its own right) could expect to earn his or her red belt would be at the age of 67 years old. Those who earn BJJ red belts are often addressed as “grandmaster.” And while no living BJJ practitioner can progress any further than the ninth degree, the 10th degree does, in fact, exist. However, it is reserved solely for the pioneers of BJJ—Carlos, Oswaldo, George, Gaston, and Helio Gracie.
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