“Wearing a black belt does not make you a superhero,
and wearing a white belt does not mean you have little to offer as a person.
It is what we do in the belts we wear, and not the belts themselves that matter.”
― Chris Matakas
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is practiced as Gi and No-Gi grappling styles. Traditional BJJ forms are based on Gi techniques, and the standard grappling arsenal is comprised of a uniform along with a colored belt. The word “Gi” is the Japanese interpretation for a training uniform. Different styles of Gi can be found throughout the martial arts disciplines, as all practitioners are required to demonstrate competence in uniform-based strategies on the mat. A Gi is also known as kimono, and it includes 2-piece clothing: a jacket, pants, and the BJJ Gi belt that represents your current ranking. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Gis are specially designed for durability and toughness during this ground-based grappling martial art. The main idea behind a BJJ Gi fighting style is that opponents are allowed to grab each other’s uniforms to leverage their moves and execute various BJJ positions.
BJJ Gi belt ranking system
A BJJ Gi belt is worn around the jacket and is used to symbolize your Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu expertise. It is technically the finishing line at each stage before you can qualify for a promotion. Different colors represent the ranking levels for kids and adults both. There are more colored divisions for kids, and these incentives act as rungs to support the young martial artists’ climb up the BJJ ladder. All Bjj Gi belts highlight various offensive and defensive calibers among students. They are the grappling souvenirs that acknowledge your achievement at the mat and make you eligible for rank advancements. Belt rules follow the original disciplines laid by the Gracie family – the pioneering force behind this martial art.
Junior BJJ Gi belt colors for under-16 age groups include white, grey, yellow, orange, and green in ascending order of skill level. The adult BJJ Gi belt colors are white, blue, purple, brown, and black, with black being the highest expert level in martial arts. According to the guidelines set by The International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF), practitioners are expected to meet minimum age requirements for each BJJ Gi belt. Students who are 19 years and above can aim for the black belt. There are post-black-belt opportunities as well, and these lifelong milestones are marked by red belt degrees. The red belt truly is the BJJ pinnacle in a practitioner’s lifetime, as it demands a 48-year-long commitment to the black belt status. At the end of this rocky climb, there is a grandmaster wearing the red belt, letting half of a century speak for itself. There are just a handful of official grandmasters around the world. Interestingly enough, the Gracie descendants make up most of this small red belt population.
BJJ Gi belts have stripes at one end to mark progress within the student’s current belt rank. A greater number of belt stripes indicates better proficiency with BJJ techniques. For instance, a 4-stripe blue BJJ Gi belt represents a higher rank than a 1-stripe blue BJJ Gi belt. The number of stripes and the rules to allocate them can vary between schools, as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu academies follow their own curricula and teaching practices. Schools often award a maximum of 4 stripes to determine potential promotions, particularly for the lower rank belts like the kids’ divisions. This makes a powerful motivation that gives students a sense of accomplishment to fuel their journey with renewed enthusiasm. After the fourth stripe, the next achievement is the next belt color itself. The stripe system can be quite informal and school-specific. It helps divide the belt rank into a series of achievable milestones, so the finish line does not seem too far away.
Similar to the junior system of stripes, the adult black and red BJJ Gi belts are classified into degrees. This form of belt progression among the two elite belts is a very rewarding and uplifting privilege for BJJ practitioners. This is because it takes into frontline consideration all the key aspects that determine well-deserved promotions. Age requirements, cumulative time spent at the previous belt, opportunities traversed so far, teaching experiences, and active commitment to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu are some important checklist elements. The implementation of stripes and degrees makes the BJJ Gi belt ranking system more structured and modularized compared to other martial arts.
The BJJ Gi belt system also draws the line for acceptable and banned submission techniques based on age levels. This ensures safety for young practitioners, especially the beginner white belts. Therefore, belt ranks define the competition scope between students, as opponents are usually picked from the same belt pool. Various fundamental locks and chokeholds are allowed for all belt levels, and complex stunts are restricted to just the higher ranks. In this way, lower belt holders get a chance to excel with skill compatibility in their comfort zones. White belts can only perform a certain range of grappling techniques, blue belts take these a step further, purple belts raise the bar even higher, and so on.
Adult belt breakdown
The white belt marks the starting point for beginners, and you become a white belt the moment you turn up for your first-ever BJJ class. This is the runway stage where the plane takes off. You will learn about different BJJ fundamentals, grappling forms, self-defense elements, positions, and executions. BJJ etiquettes and discipline foundations begin at the mat, and the white belt allows practitioners to reign in their temper and anxieties, as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is best learned with a calm and confident mindset. Students spend around 2-3 years before they graduate to the blue belt.
At the blue belt, your acquired techniques from the previous stage are in transit, and it is time to demonstrate and prove easy familiarity with all the basic BJJ positions. This rank confirms that you have had a considerable mat time to back up your skills. It is the first official colored belt that marks the end of beginner steps and acknowledges your passion as a serious BJJ practitioner. As a blue belt holder, you can make quick escapes, execute proficient techniques, demonstrate self-defense expertise, and build your own combative games at the mat. With vast exposure to different BJJ aspects over time, you learn how to improvise grappling strategies and bridge learning gaps to make your executions more refined, effortless, neat, and competitive.
Progressing to the BJJ intermediate belt rank – the purple belt – requires dedication and perseverance, as not everyone decides to make it past the blue belt. Wearing a purple belt around the Gi signifies a strong martial arts caliber. You have discovered your BJJ game and added resourceful techniques to your arsenal. At this point, you typically work towards advanced strategies, as you are better aware of your strengths and can experiment with newer possibilities. The grappling combinations become longer and more complex, and your executions appear more fluid.
The brown belt is the start of advanced BJJ pursuits, and by the time you reach this rank, there will be very few techniques that might appear foreign to you. As a brown belt holder, you can string different BJJ moves together to develop seamless transitions. With skilled attacks, offensive and defensive competence, and responses to almost any BJJ position, your time at the brown belt is where you prove that the dynamics turn in your favor. You have an established combat game that you know works best for you, and technique upgrades here and there enable self-improvements to your Gi fighting forms. Most importantly, the brown belt is where you bring everything together from the past belts.
The black belt is officially the topmost expert level, similar to other martial arts disciplines. Your years of training at the mat have paid off, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is now a second-nature instinct you can rely on. This does not mean that the BJJ learning curve ends here; there are still so many ways you need to keep in touch with this martial art. There is always room for improvement – and always more scope for adding to your knowledge. The popular BJJ quote says it all: a black belt is a white belt that never gave up.
At long last, the coveted Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu royalty – the red belt. It is really the road less traveled by in the BJJ journey and has a lifelong commitment to the ground-based martial art. After nearly 50 years of maintaining the black belt status, BJJ practitioners are awarded the red belt as the ninth or tenth degree of a black belt. From ground level to the BJJ summit, a red belt grandmaster has a whole spectrum of Gi belt colors planted as reference flags throughout their climb.
Different ways to tie a BJJ Gi belt
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a martial arts adaptation of the Japanese jujitsu, and it essentially is a gentle art as derived from its origins. BJJ etiquettes bear paramount significance just like all forms of martial arts, and there are various mat rules and clothing requirements to be met. The Gi belts, therefore, have a sacred value that reflects not just your ranking level but also the respect you show to yourself, to your opponent, and to the art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as a whole. Tying the Gi belt does not only hold the uniform together. It is a symbol of dress code ethics that speaks volumes about your character. Students are expected to tie their belts neatly and keep adjusting them as needed – even mid-stunts! Think of it as the world moving in slow motion when the bad guys fall to the ground, and the movie protagonist stops to adjust their sunglasses for dramatic effect. The gesture is more about self-esteem and nonchalance to remind you that you are in control of the fight.
BJJ practitioners tie their Gi belts in different ways by learning with their schools and watching online tutorials, and here are some examples.
The basic method
This is the simple, hassle-free method of tying a belt around your waist, especially as a beginner. It is a quick knot, but it has the frequent side effect of coming undone during the training sessions. Both ends of your belt should be at the same lengths when you wrap it around your Gi jacket once. The left end goes over the right end, and vice versa, so that the right strand encloses all the layers of the belt to keep it in place at the knot.
The tighter method
This form of tying the Gi belt ensures that it stays knotted for most parts of a BJJ roll. You wrap it around once and bring the ends to the front in equal length. The right end goes over the left and traps all the belt layers, leaving a loop for the other strand to go through. Once you pull both ends of the belt now, it forms a tighter knot that is difficult to come loose. Unlike the basic method, you avoid pulling the right strand too tight so that there is enough room to create a loop.
The Gracie method
Following the footsteps of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu’s original founders, the Gracie method gives you a more authentic BJJ vibe. You wear the belt as the Gracies do, and it is an unspoken tribute to their legacy. By wrapping the Gi belt around your jacket once, with the ends in front, you can tie a simple knot followed by another one right on top of it. It is basically a double knot that does not include the belt layers in its folds.
The diamond method
This is a complex and extremely practical way of tying secured belts to give a professional look. One end of the belt goes to your back, and you can wrap it around until the other end is left at the front. This strand moves underneath the belt layers before you can pull the back strand free to bring it to the front as well. Now, both ends of the belt are in an automatic knot, allowing you to loop-tie them into a final diamond knot to secure your Gi jacket.
The karate method
Derived from striking martial arts practices like karate, this method is quite neat and efficient in terms of execution. You start by leaving one end of the belt longer than the other before wrapping it around your waist. This puts one strand at the back and the other one ends up in front. Similar to the diamond method, you pull both strands to secure the Gi, as the back end of the belt can now be pulled to the front. The belt is tied into a simple knot over the layers.
The double water knot method
This is known to be an unbreakable Gi belt knot for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. The standard granny knot is followed by different loops and twists to make the Gi belt retain its shape. This double water knot begins with the granny knot on one end of the belt, with the other end looping into it to form a secured twist when you pull on both strands. The longer end of the belt then goes underneath all the belt layers, passes through the knot a couple more times, and tightens into an unbreakable BJJ knot.
BJJ Gi belt promotion ceremonies
Belt-tying ceremonies are full of surprises to make this incredible Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu milestone a memorable experience. BJJ academies around the world use creative ways to award their students. Belt promotions are designed as huge events to celebrate euphoric martial arts victories with peers and coaches. Tying the belt is also a kind of metaphor to represent the BJJ skills that are now officially locked in place. It is a tribute to the global BJJ family of practitioners, welcoming the student as a new member with open arms. Following are some popular belt promotion ceremonies that emerged as BJJ traditions over the years.
BJJ competitions and tournaments award gold medalists for their proven aptitude to move to the next belt. These gold medalist achievements are often immediately followed by the new belt given to the BJJ practitioner. Being promoted on the podium has an element of surprise when the instructor secretly ties the new Gi belt around the student.
These are creative outside-the-box ideas that take the students by surprise. They receive the new belt when they least expect it. When the BJJ instructors are confident that the student is ready to graduate to the next level, they often orchestrate the belt tying stage as part of a typical, ordinary lesson. In the middle of a roll with the instructor, when the student’s complete focus is to execute their BJJ technique on the ground, the instructor will remove the old belt and tie the new one in its place. The student gets up to a standing position – and a standing ovation – to realize what just happened, and the gravity of this defining moment sinks in.
Another example of such an informal and impromptu belt promotion is when a student is called to the front for a belt stripe. Instead, the instructor removes the old belt entirely and replaces it with the new one. This is a great idea to commemorate higher belt ranks, particularly the black belt promotions.
The seminar promotions conducted by BJJ coaches involve traveling to non-affiliated BJJ schools around the world. Gracie instructors, as well as other practitioners, roll with students who take part in these Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu seminars. It is a special opportunity for non-affiliated academies to find a platform for their students’ promotions. Each rolling session often lasts a few minutes during which the experts look for BJJ techniques and self-defense potential among students. The students fight under pressure, as the seminar is usually their first official combat ground to prove their caliber. Once the instructors have found what they are looking for, they award the belt that they feel the student deserves. Seminar promotions are known for their instant blue belt and even black belt graduations, opening a whole new world of opportunities for talented and dedicated BJJ martial artists.
“Jiu Jitsu at the end of the day, is the art of expressing yourself honestly.
Every time you put on a Gi, you can’t lie.”
– Saulo Ribeiro