Promotions are responsibilities, not gifts.
If you really want to own a black belt, you can buy one on Amazon for less than $15. But without it being earned, it is an accessory with no meaning.
It’s also not something you choose for yourself, aside from the effort you put into your own development. Promotions are chosen for you, by a mentor experienced enough to know your progress and put it into context better than you can. That’s the thing about progress – it’s never linear, and is incredibly difficult to see clearly from the inside. Almost no one feels they’re fully at the next level yet, so there’s an adjustment period where you “grow into” your new belt.
That being said, there are minimums and standards for being promoted. Here’s my take on what the expectations are at each belt level. Technical ability develops throughout, but it’s only one facet of BJJ learning.
White belt: The beginning. The focus is on learning, on developing a new instinct, and on physically learning the motions. This is where the humbling process begins, where we learn strength is not the greatest virtue.
Note: Children have an additional three belts – yellow, orange, and green – which mark their progression before they are at least 16 and eligible for their blue belt.
Blue belt: Students demonstrate proficiency across the basic positions, attacks, and escapes. Students should already be showing mentorship to their training partners and demonstrate a commitment to each other and to the sport.
IBJJF minimum: None
Purple belt: Purple belts demonstrate an understanding of advanced positions, attacks, and escapes, as well as the concepts and body mechanics behind them. Students should be adopting the philosophy of jiu-jitsu in their life, including through strong mentorship and teaching skills, and an eagerness to impart knowledge to others.
IBJJF minimum: 2 years from blue belt
Brown belt: Students are giving back to the BJJ community. At brown belt level, students are continuing to develop a wide array of techniques to a high level of proficiency and regularly engage in teaching/mentoring.
IBJJF minimum: 1.5 years from purple belt
Black belt: Beyond giving back to the BJJ community, black belts demonstrate strong leadership. They show an interest in continued learning and evolving their skills, as well as an eagerness to share with the community.
IBJJF minimum: 1 year from brown belt
Some students are eager to climb the ranks, and their belt is a huge source of pride. Others try to deliberately avoid promotions, skipping seminars and dodging responsibilities. Here’s the truth: you are where you are, stripes or not. It’s only a matter of whether your rank matches your abilities.