A Beginners’ Guide to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Belts and Ranking System

There are two prominent competing federations creating the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu belts ranking rules, Sport Jiu-Jitsu International Federation (SJJIF) and International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF). SJJIF is non-profit organization established in 2011 with the goal of adding BJJ as an Olympic sport. In contrast, IBJJF is a for-profit organization established in 2002 with a large member base that competes in many prestigious IBJJF tournaments around the world.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) is one of the most complex and, when properly implemented, one of the most effective martial arts and self-defense systems. Because of its complexity, it can take many years to learn and progress through the belt ranks.  Jiu-Jitsu is a martial art that helps with self-control, ego, nervousness, confidence and self-esteem.  In addition, it gives a weaker person the advantage over a stronger individual by teaching how to use technique to overcome force.  Although traditional BJJ has its foundation in self-defense, it is also a sport with both local and international competition matches.  The BJJ belts ranking system represents your emotional and technical evolution.

Below you will find the belt colors, age requirements, and minimum time requirement applicable to the youth students as they progress through the ranks.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Belts and Color Ranking for Kids

Jiu-Jitsu is a great martial art for kids of all ages. It is a grappling and self-defense martial art system that will help with self-confidence, self-discipline, respect, mental toughness, gender equality, weight control and more.  As a self-defense martial art, BJJ teaches that technique can overcome physical attributes.

For a child that is timid or shy, BJJ can help overcome the fear of failure because the emphasis is on the long-term progression of skills.  Walking out on the mat may be an intimidating, strange experience at first.  However, confidence will develop over time along with the routine of training and discipline.  Overcoming the fear of competition is a skill that will become evident in the classroom, playground, and life.  Children learn that there can be dignity in failures and that their opponents must be respected.

Many popular sports, especially football and basketball, favor participants who are large and/or tall.  However, it is very possible to be successful at BJJ if you are short, or heavy, or small.  BJJ training also teaches children self-reliance since their performance is a direct result of the effort they put forth.

Below you will find the belt colors, age requirements, and minimum time requirement that the youth students will learn as they progress through the ranks.

Jiu-Jitsu Belts Ranking System for kids ibjjf vs sjjif

Jiu-Jitsu Belts Ranking System for kids – IBJJF vs SJJIF

The Kids BJJ White Belt

As seen on the chart above, the kids’ white belt is the first belt in the kids’ Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu martial art belts system. It has no prerequisites.  In both IBJJF and SJJIF, the white belt can start at any age. However, this will depend on the child and his or her ability to pay attention and follow instructions. Most schools recommend that the child be 3 years of age or older.

The kids’ white belt is considered a beginner; and it is not recommended to compete in local tournaments. Many kids that earn gray rank or above will tend to compete at lower ranked belts.  A true white belt would then have a disadvantage competing against a more experienced grappler.

The first year in kids BJJ will focus on building balance, agility, strength, self-confidence and cooperation. These are some objectives of a good kid’s jiu-jitsu white belt curriculum.

The Kids BJJ Grey Belts

In regard to skill level, the grey belt student is considered intermediate.  Each of the two main federation created belt age and time requirements. The biggest difference has to do with minimum time requirements. IBJJF does not have a minimum time requirement, and SJJIF has an 8-month minimum per belt. Please refer to the chart above.

The grey belt Jiu-Jitsu curriculum usually focuses on control and escapes. Basically, they start learning to defend positions and learn how to escape from them. Of course, this is the best case scenario and not all schools or curriculums are created equal. Some schools basically focus on self-defense and they never progress to the completion aspect of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

If the student is interested in competition, there are usually classes that focus specifically on learning the jiu-jitsu sport point system and other aspects of competition. There may also be more competitive rolling (sparring) to prepare the student for a real match.

The Kids BJJ Yellow Belts

For non-competing students, the yellow belts are introduced to more sport jiu-jitsu moves. The yellow belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is considered intermediate.  It is basically a continuation of the grey belts with emphasis on the sports aspect.  Of course, many students that join jiu-jitsu schools do compete in local competitions and may have been introduced to the sports aspect years before being awarded the yellow belt.

The Kids BJJ Orange Belts

The BJJ orange belt is considered advanced. The student is introduced to more complicated moves that require complex transitions. By the time the student reaches the orange belt, they have usually been studying BJJ for 4 or more years.

The Kids BJJ Green Belts

The green belts are an interesting group of students. Because of their age and skill level, where appropriate, they are often sent to adult intermediate and advanced classes. In IBJJF schools, it usually means that they have been a student for about 5 to 6 years.  With SJJIF schools, they would have been a minimum of 80 months (6.67 yrs.). Their skill level is considered advanced but because of their age, they may have a size disadvantage.  When they reach 16 years of age, they earn the rank of blue belt or purple belt depending on their  ability. The professor will decide. Many times, the decision is based on competition. The professor may rank them as a blue belt, so they can get the appropriate experience competing against adults.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Belts and Color Ranking for Adults

Both federations have belts colors starting with white and ending in red.  The main differentiation is the color of the 8th degree black belt. In the IBJJF belt system, there is a visual distinction between a 7th and 8th degree. IBJJF’s 7th degree black belt is a coral black/red whereas the 8th degree black belt is a coral red/white.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Belts and Ranking for Adults - IBJJF vs SJJIF

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Belts and Ranking for Adults – IBJJF vs SJJIF

The Adult BJJ White Belt

For adults, the white belt is the lowest ranked belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. You will need to achieve 4 degrees (stripes).  It usually takes between 8 months to 1.5 years to graduate from the white belt. The students’ ages will range between 16 and 70. Yes, you will see students starting BJJ in their late 60’s and early 70’s.

What to expect as a BJJ White Belt

In a traditional Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu school, the white belt student will primarily learn self-defense and relaxation during confrontation. Contrary to common beliefs, Jiu-Jitsu is a martial art that requires that you relax and use as little force as possible. You will need to flow in your movements and learn to control your breath. It is common for you to hold your breath and use force to beat your opponent. As you progress through the ranks, you will start to understand that in the Jiu-Jitsu Martial Art, there is nothing solved by force.

As a white belt, the moves you practice are more technical in nature to give you a proper foundation for what is to come during training for later belts. Relaxation and exercising patience are fundamental skills that must be learned during your white belt rank. In some schools, you may not even be allowed to roll (grapple or sparring) until your second or third stripe.

What NOT to do as a BJJ White Belt

It is common among beginners to try to learn advanced moves and to participate in advanced classes in an effort to accelerate learning. Do not fall for this theory.  Just imagine an engineering student skipping the first few years of math and starting in year three. You may understand some of the things being taught in class, but you will lack the fundamental skills to excel or to graduate. You will experience frustration and may be tempted to quit.

It is commonly said that when learning BJJ, the white belt students are the most dangerous students in the gym. This is not because of their lack of technical skills, but because they have not yet learned that their gym partner is not their enemy. Going full out and uncontrolled while applying an arm bar or an American arm lock can cause serious injury to your partner. Also, not tapping to show how tough you are can be a dangerous endeavor. Visit the Basic Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Positions article to learn what a white belt student should focus on.

Things to look for in a BJJ school

Many of the moves you learn as a white belt can be implemented in real life self-defense situations. Because of this, it is important to understand the school’s philosophy and curriculum system.  Often, Jiu-Jitsu schools are marketed as self-defense schools, but they teach the moves while grabbing the gi (kimono). When faced with a real street confrontation, a white belt student will be ill prepared for a real fight where the opponent is throwing punches and there is no gi to grab. When visiting a school, pay attention to see if there is a structured curriculum. Also, notice if the white belt lessons focus on self-defense.

By the end of the white belt rank, you will have started to do combination moves and transitions. You should have started putting together combinations, but you may feel awkward when putting combinations or transitions together.

The BJJ Blue Belt

The blue belt is the second rank in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. It has 1.5-year minimum requirements in SJJIF and a 2-year minimum requirement in IBJJF. The blue belt has 5 levels.  The first level is the blue belt, and the you must earn 4 stripes (degrees). The student must be 16 years of age or older. This means that a student in the youth program can skip the adult white belt and go directly into the adult blue belt rank.

The blue belt is one of the hardest to complete and this is where many students will give up. After finally reaching the blue belt rank, many students don’t want to lose to white belts and are motivated to beat purple belts to prove themselves. Many times, this has to do with the culture at their school.  The school may encourage competition and winning in order to promote students. This type of culture will benefit students who are young and in shape.

What to expect as a BJJ Blue belt

At the blue belt rank, you begin to make progress with the puzzle and start to understand what BJJ is all about. If you started building the edges of the BJJ puzzle during white belt training, then at the blue belt level, you will start to fill in the center. Many techniques and concepts will start to make more sense and the big picture will start to form.  A well designed BJJ curriculum will help the blue belt student focus on learning to escape and exercising proper control. Blue belt training emphasizes defense rather than offense. The stronger your defensive skills are, the more opportunities you will have for your opponent to make a mistake. The blue belt curriculum includes skills like standing guard pass, tripod pass, turtle control, turtle escape, and triangle choke counter escapes.

During blue belt training, you are exposed to new techniques and transitions. It is important not to simply rely on a small set of techniques that you may feel comfortable with. There will be time for that during purple belt.  During blue belt training, being exposed and practicing the moves is important. Understanding the concepts of the moves as opposed to just knowing how to perform them is critical. If you understand the techniques that your opponent will be using against you, it will be much easier to defend yourself and ultimately control your opponent.

What NOT to do as a BJJ Blue Belt

As an example, a blue belt student in Houston, BJJ school is particularly good at half guard and deep half guard. While rolling during practice, any time he gets in trouble, he goes to one of those moves. The problem with this is two-fold. First, with this mentality, you end up practicing a limited amount of positions and do not get exposed to other moves when rolling. This limit his growth in defense and control.  Second, by constantly going to moves that you are good at during the blue belt rank, you are not taming your ego.

Having said the above, it would be irresponsible for us not to mention old school vs new school Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. During the blue belt rank, many students focus on moves like Berimbolo (new school) and start to ignore many traditional moves. There is nothing against Berimbolo. This goes back to exposure and practicing solid fundamental moves in addition to new style moves. During blue belt, you should not be stuck with a small set of moves. Berimbolo will easily be countered by student with solid basics that understand Berimbolo and know how to counter it.

To Tap or not to Tap in Practice

Tapping is not bad word. Tapping during training is critical to understanding your deficiencies. Cognitive research shows us that mistakes actually help the brain to grow.  Knowing what went wrong while you were attempting a difficult move will help you learn and grow. Work with your professor and partner to understand what went wrong.

The BJJ Purple Belt

The purple belt is the third rank in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. It has 4 degrees (stripes). Purple belt takes a minimum of 1 year in SJJIF and 1.5 years in IBJJF. The student must be 16 years or older to qualify for the purple belt.  This means that a youth student can skip both the adult white and blue belt. This may be done at the discretion of the professor. It typically means that the youth student is at least a green belt from the kids belts ranking system. If a student is promoted at age 16, there will be a 2-year minimum before he or she can be promoted to a brown belt.

Less than 1 percent of students that begin Jiu Jitsu training actually reach the rank of black belt. If you make it to purple belt, your odds improve dramatically. Numbers are sketchy on exact percentages, but it is estimated that about 75% of students reaching purple belt will go on to become a brown belt.  From there, your odds of becoming a black belt are significantly higher.

By the time you reach purple belt you have been exposed to over 120 distinct and/or combination skills. Your escapes and control are becoming solid. You have learned to control your breathing and not panic when encountering new skills from a higher belt.  It is time to focus on attacks.

What to expect as a BJJ Purple Belt

During this period, you will form your identity as a Jiu-Jitsu practitioner and begin to form your personal style. This is usually referred to finding your game. You will understand your body and develop your preferred techniques that will carry over all the way through to black belt rank.

By purple belt rank, you may have figured out that not all moves are for you. Your body type plays a major role in that. A long, lean and flexible person could be very successful to play on the bottom. Attacking from guard with the triangle chokes, De La Riva sweep, spider guard are great tools for your arsenal.  A shorter person with less flexibility may not be as successful attacking from guard.

If you allowed yourself to practice many techniques during blue belt training, your understanding should be solid by the time you reach purple belt. Learning to counter the moves that are coming and attacking from your opponent’s mistakes is what make purple belt dangerous. Black belts commonly say that during purple belt training, you will find your game that will carry over to black belt. In other words, here your identity will be formed for the rest of your Jiu-Jitsu journey.

The BJJ Brown Belt

The brown belt is the fourth rank in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. You must be at least 18 years old.  It has 4 degrees (stripes) and it has a mandatory 1 year minimum to complete in both SJJIF and IBJJF.

During the brown belt, you begin to have more options for submission moves. In IBJJF completion, leg lock submissions are now legal. Even if leg locks are not part of your jiu-jitsu game or style of play, it is important not to ignore these positions. You will need to learn to defend yourself from these types of attacks. Leg lock submissions are particularly dangerous and can cause severe injuries. Learning to defend these types of attacks will consume much of the brown belt curriculum.

It is commonly said the brown belts are black belts with errors in their game.  In addition to learning leg lock submissions and defense during this year, it is time to fix those errors to prepare for the long awaited black belt. Brown belt training is usually about honing in on the finer details of the moves. Little changes in angle and body position will make the world of difference.

The BJJ Black Belt

If you are one of the few that make it to the black belt rank, you will have spent about 10 years of hard practice and dedication.  You will be a member of an elite, dedicated group of individuals. Less than 1 percent of students that start Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu will earn a black belt.  This is the belt where you will spend most of your BJJ life, at least 31 years.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is still a young sport. In the USA, seeing a black belt student in the gym is rare. When you get awarded the coveted black belt rank, you have reach the top of the food chain in your gym. When students reach the black belt rank, they will ask themselves: what do you learn as a black belt student? Because many black belt students also compete, they may experience failure if they have not learned to control their emotions.

What do you really learn as a BJJ Black Belt?

As a black belt, your goal is less about applying a move than about provoking your opponent’s ego causing him or her to make a hasty decision. It is about asserting emotional control that will cause the opponent to lose their fighting energy. When being attacked, controlling your facial expression or remaining calm will cause your opponent to feel frustrated and make technical errors. In high level black belt high competition, many times it is not about technical superiority, but mental superiority. The person that loses the mental fight is usually the person that makes a mistake that leads to his or her submission.

By the time you get to your first degree (stripe) in your black belt, you will have learned the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is not just a fighting style but a way of life.  The black belt is not about submitting, defending, attacking or simply making points in a tournament. It is about taming your ego, helping others, and simply becoming a better person.  You will find that to further improve on this great journey, you will need to improve your attitude and behavior. The black belt student will evolve from the inside out.

The BJJ Coral Belts and the Red Belt

To reach these belt ranks, you will have to have been involved in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as a black belt for 31 years. In regard to SJJIF and IBJJF, they will diverge in belt colors starting in the black belt 8th degree. For SJJIF, it is simply adding an additional stripe to the coral black/red belt.  IBJJIF, 8th degree will change from coral red/black to coral red/white. You will also notice that for IBJJF, the highest rank you can reach is the red belt 9th degree. The 10th degree red belt was retired and is now only given to the pioneers of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, the Gracie brothers: Carlos, Oswaldo, George, Gaston and Helio.

As a student that is just getting involved in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, you should not worry about these belts. To reach the red belt, you would need to have contributed to the growth and development of the art.