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BJJ Promotions

Posted: May 18, 2017 by Donna in Uncategorized
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.

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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.


donna2My husband and I have been training partners since I began doing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, which means we’ve been sparring for longer than we’ve been dating. We’ve found some perks to having a BJJ training partner who is also a life partner:

Shared Commitment is Strong Commitment

Since before we were a couple, Mike and I have been going to the same BJJ classes, training at the same gym, and making the same group of training friends. It has helped to stay committed by sharing the commitment with a loved one. Some days, when one of us is worn out, the other is an encouraging voice to give the push we need to keep with our training regimen. We keep each other active, engaged, and in shape!

Cooperation and Friendly Competition

We spar to strengthen ourselves, but also to make each other better. This applies to all teammates.

My husband is larger, stronger, and more experienced than I am. Thus, as you’d expect, when we are fully sparring from a fair start, he tends to win. However, the skill gap in BJJ closes as we reach the higher ranks. Since Mike has cut back from his training to focus on school, and I have increased my training regimen to include teaching, the gap has started to close even more and our matches are more even.

We are not just motivated by our own success, but also that of each other. It is exciting to see him do well against others and me as well. When he executes a sweep or submission fluidly and with technical proficiency, that’s exciting and I feel proud. He feels likewise for me. So in spirit of good-natured competition, we agreed that the first time I submitted him, he would treat me to a nice dinner at a local restaurant. When that moment finally came, his reaction was one of excitement and pride, “Great job baby, that arm control was sleek and set up the armbar perfectly, I’m so proud of you!”

An Inside and Outside Perspective on You

Training with your life partner means training with someone who knows you very well personally and physically. As such, they can comment on your development, how you are changing, where you are improving, and where you could use growth. We all carry an internal bias, and someone who sees your performance from the exterior can give you a helpful perspective on where you stand and what you can work on.

Having Someone to Test New Moves and Troubleshoot Techniques

When BJJ embeds itself into your life, you find yourself thinking through techniques at any odd hour of the day. It’s invaluable to have someone you can turn to and say, “I tried this kimura setup and it didn’t maintain the control I needed. Can we recreate that position and work through the mechanics?”

To get a non-BJJ partner to accommodate this… good luck.

However, if your partner doesn’t train, it may be worth convincing them to give it a shot. BJJ is such a martial art that it is not a violent one. Technique and leverage matters more than force. Sparring can also take many forms – aggressive, dynamic, flowing, acrobatic, playful. Obviously, during an argument or rough patch is not the best time to break out in an aggressive sparring session. But to find a partner who loves your sport as much as you do? It’s priceless.

What perks would you add to the list? Leave a comment or tell us on Facebook!


Why I Fight: Signal in the Noise

Posted: March 7, 2016 by Donna in Krav Maga Philosophy
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One of my supervisors said to me the other day, “You seem like such a nice, calm person.  Why do you want to fight people?”

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is an art.  It is fighting, but it is not violent.  To fight a true master (black belt) is to experience complete submission despite all flailing attempts otherwise, but not to feel pain, not to be injured, not to feel out-muscled or forced.  One of Jiu-Jitsu’s foundational principles is that technique overcomes strength and size; for me this was the first true “hook” that established Jiu-Jitsu as a key part of my life.

Jiu-Jitsu is empowering.  Learning to rediscover my body as a product of my own choices reshaped the negative aspects of my self-image.  Like many women, the constant inundation of negative messages about myself and my body created a learned helplessness that shaped my behavior.  While I likely could not have articulated it so clearly at the time, I automatically viewed myself as a victim, someone with no capacity to defend myself – physically, emotionally, or cognitively.  Sadly this played out in a number of my social interactions, which only reinforced this mindset.

Learning to effectively fight has unraveled this, first physically, but soonafter in other ways.  It’s perhaps not surprising that our physical, emotional, and mental selves are tightly intertwined.

My dojo is a community.  We support each other, encourage each other, and share in each others’ growth.  We recognize that students of all levels bring value to the gym, keep us humble, and ensure we are always learning.

Jiu-Jitsu requires continuous physical contact.  I thrive on human touch, but am isolated in many aspects of my life through needing to keep a professional distance. In a gym where sparring is competitive but safe, grappling fulfills this need.

Sparring helps me achieve a healthy work/life balance.  In the past, I’ve struggled with allowing work and work-thoughts to ebb into after-work hours.  One effective strategy I’ve discovered for establishing cognitive boundaries is to create moments of strong focus that root me firmly into the present.  This breaks me free from the worries that chase me, and helps me find signal in the noise that is my day-to-day life.  Sparring does this with ease – there’s no way NOT to be present-minded when you are actively defending an armbar.

Some of these are predicated upon finding a safe and supportive gym, but others are inherent in the martial art itself. It’s no surprise to anyone who’s trained that Jiu-Jitsu has exploded in popularity over the past decade.

//reposted from my personal blog