I came across this meme the other day.
What do you think — do you think it’s accurate? Or did you think black belts know everything about Brazilian Jiu Jitsu?
If you are new to BJJ, you might have that conception. If you have been around long enough, you probably discovered already that’s not the case. And I bet some of you black belts share this sentiment.
So, in case you didn’t realize, being a BJJ black belt doesn’t mean knowing everything there is to know about BJJ.
Of course, there are degrees and levels within black belts, and generally speaking, senior black belts are more likely to have an overall deeper understanding of BJJ than junior black belts. Some may even come close to being a walking encyclopedia of BJJ.
Realistically speaking, you can’t know everything about BJJ if we assume that BJJ is still evolving and there’s room for improvement. You can know more than others, though.
But I’m inclined to think that most people who are dedicated to BJJ and have achieved the rank of black belt are likely to continue to explore this art and deepen their knowledge. Some people don’t accept new techniques or developments and refuse to learn new things or update their knowledge, but I suppose that’s how we humans tend to operate in any area of expertise.
Now, on the flip side… what do BJJ black belts know then? I’ve never promoted anyone to a black belt (or any belt). So the following is what I speculate based on my experience rolling and interacting with black belts.
When someone achieves a black belt, I believe they have a general understanding and decent knowledge of major positions and techniques in BJJ. In addition to that, they should have some areas of specialization, of which they have a deeper understanding and knowledge.
Another essential element for a black belt is problem-solving skills. When you come across unfamiliar situations, you should be able to come up with decent solutions, drawing on your existing knowledge and experience. For most of us, I think this skill set is more important than just knowing a lot of techniques. Of course, in reality, it’s not mutually exclusive, but I’m saying that if I had to choose, I’d say having problem-solving skills is more important as a trait of a black belt.
You acquire the said knowledge, experience, and skills as you progress through the ranks of white, blue, purple, and brown.
For those of you wondering what to learn in each rank towards the next rank, my ideas about what to learn in each belt are as follows.
What to learn as a white belt
Your primary learning goal as a white belt is to be familiar with BJJ’s core positions and techniques so you can have a complete picture of what BJJ is like. The keyword here is “familiar.” Your knowledge of each position doesn’t need to be deep, but you need to be able to recognize which position you are in and have some ideas about what to do in a given position.
What to learn as a blue belt
As a blue belt, you will broaden your understanding of positions and submissions and start exploring your favorite moves. Ideally, you should find a move or two that works for you and turn them into the launch pad of your game, which you will develop later on. Another important area to work on is your defense. Learning to defend yourself and escape from common attacks is basically about knowing what not to do in typical defensive situations.
What to learn as a purple belt
When you are a purple belt, you want to start building your style based on your favorite moves. Naturally, I bet many people pick the bottom or top position and work extensively on their chosen position. I was like that as well. But now I believe it would be better to work both on the top and the bottom, mainly because it takes time and effort for most people to develop guard passing skills. So, perhaps learning one guard position with a few attacks from there and a few guard passing options would be ideal.
What to learn as a brown belt
This is where you fill in the gaps in your game plan that you started building as a blue belt and developed as a purple belt. Also, you could start adding related moves to your system and make it more robust. If you mainly worked on the guard until now, you should start working on your top game. And vice versa. By the time you become a brown belt, you will have realized what your weaknesses and general gaps are — I think it’s time to start working on these things after you worked on your strengths as a blue and purple belt.
If I were in a position to grade someone at my gym hypothetically (hypothetically because I don’t have my school), I would consider how well they do in a competition setting or at least in a sparring setting against people around their size and skill level.
These are simply based on my experience and observations and might be different from what your coach expects from you.
But I hope the above gives you rough ideas about what to learn at each level.