The Frustration on not being Ranked in BJJ

Today I had a few BJJ guys that were frustrated at not being promoted. Maybe this will help. 

What creates some of this frustration is that most schools do not have a clear set of requirements for advancement.   I understand why students can get frustrated.

You may wonder what your instructor is thinking.  When in doubt, trust your BJJ instructor.  You may ask them where they think you are at, and what you need to do to improve, but you don’t need to ask when you are getting your next belt.  Your instructor may be right in assuming that you are over focused on the belt instead of getting better!


I have to mention that not all rank promotions are fair.  We are dealing with human beings, and everybody makes mistakes.  Occasionally I have seen some students promoted too soon, but more common is that students get held back.  Every instructor has their own criteria, and I am not making a judgment about what I think is right and wrong.  This article will just give you an idea what some of the criteria are.

Rolling Ability

This is the most important consideration of most instructors for promoting students.   I heard one famous instructor say “My BJJ black belts don’t get tapped by brown belts, my brown belts don’t lose to my purples, my purples don’t lose to blue belts, and my blue belts don’t get tapped by the white belts.”  I don’t believe this is always true.  But it will be true most of the time.

At some point you have to try out new techniques and strategies, and whenever you work with something new, it probably won’t be done with perfect timing and technique.  I have heard a world champion say that he sometimes gets caught by his BJJ brown belts.  I have a lot of respect for him for that because that means that he keeps expanding his abilities.

But if your instructor wants to see your best, that is not the time to try out new techniques.

Most instructors will consider the age and size of the student they are considering for promotion compared to other students, but they want to see a blue belt consistently beating most of the blue belts and sometimes catching purples before they are promoted to purple, for example.

What sets BJJ apart from almost every martial art is that every match ends with one person tapping.  In the stand up arts, if you are not hitting each other with full power, you don’t always know what would have happened.  You may have landed a hook with the front arm to their jaw, they may have landed a kick to your kidneys, but you don’t really know what would have happened.

It is a good thing that each rank is able to control position and submit lower ranks.  It keeps the ranks tied to the reality of who can execute vs. a resisting and trained partner.  It makes this art difficult to be promoted in because you actually have to represent the rank.  If a person wears a brown belt and regularly gets tapped by blue belts, it devalues the rank and the art.

One exception to this is the students who are BJJ black belts in one area or one technique of Jiu-Jitsu.  I am thinking of Lloyd Irvin’s student, Ryan Hall.  He was a purple belt and was regularly tapping black belts with the triangle choke.  He was  black belt in the triangle, but not necessarily in all other areas of Jiu-Jitsu.  When you are a rank, almost all of your abilities should be that rank: a BJJ black belt has black mount escapes, black belt side escapes, black belt guard passing, etc…

Time Training (how many years)

Some students are less athletic, may be older, smaller, so their rolling may not be their strongest area.  If they are a little weaker in their rolling ability, they will need to make up for it in other areas, like amount of time training, knowledge and teaching ability.  However, Jiu-Jitsu is about leverage and technique.

Training Frequency (how often per week)

Someone that trains 6 days per week is going to grow much faster than a student who trains twice per week.  But I have heard several instructors say that it takes years to really understand Jiu-Jitsu and training 6 days per week does not give you the depth of understanding that years of training gives you.

Knowledge and Teaching Ability

Some instructors place little emphasis on this and some more, but like I mentioned under total time training, if a student is not able to compete with other students physically, they need to make up for it in other areas.

Competition Record

Some school require competition to get ranked.  They may tell their students to win the blue belt division at a major tournament, or several small tournaments, in order to get purple.  This can help maintain the integrity of the rank in that you can be somewhat sure that whoever wins a major tournament can represent the rank above them.

Attitude, Service to the School or Organization, & the Loyalty Factor

The Bottom Line

Earning rank in BJJ is no easy task.  Anything worth having is worth working for and a rank in BJJ is a perfect example.

Travis Lutter




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