Early Belt Promotions Cause the BJJ Community to Shrink

By June 25, 2016 January 17th, 2019 BJJ, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Training Tips

early belt promotions will case bjj community to decline

We can expect the BJJ community to decrease over time if students are promoted too early

It’s that time of year again, right after the IBJJF World Championships, where Jiu-Jitsu academies around the world are promoting their students to a higher belt rank.

Some belt promotions are without a doubt justified. If a student won a medal at the World Championships, it is hard to argue against moving him to the next rank.  On the other hand, some belt promotions just don’t make any sense. When you see the typical “New BJJ Belt” post on social media, everyone says “well-deserved” but many are also thinking, “Really? What was that coaching thinking?! Why is that person getting promoted now?!”  Don’t instructors know that promoting too soon will only speed up the process of the student quitting prematurely?

The fact is that early belt promotions actually cause the BJJ community to shrink – despite the good intentions of these early promoting instructors.

The most common reason for early belt promotions is that a student has been training for too long and the instructor wants to keep his paying customer happy. We call this a ‘time-in’ promotion, meaning that if you train for so many years than you’ll get promoted eventually because you’ve paid your dues and put in the time. One day you’ll be a black belt regardless of whether you learned the necessary skills. This is almost as bad as buying your belt online. In fact, it’s arguably worse. The most damning criticism launched against online belt promotion is that you can’t tell how good a person actually is based on a video; in a time-in promotion, the instructor knows that the student doesn’t have the skills but promotes them anyway.

The fundamental inequality is this : Everyone starts training at a different level and learns at a different rate. Some people are zombies on the mats. They come in, go through motions, and walk out a little sweaty at the end of the day. They don’t put in the mental energy required to build a sufficient skill set that the next belt requires.  As much as the instructor would love for the zombie student to join the ranks of the living, the zombie student has to play his or her part.  Compare that to the all-star student – who not only has the athletic background – but takes her training very seriously.  She not only puts 100% into her class time but is doing the extras outside of class.

There is an expectation that at each belt level, that a student knows the proper actions and reactions for both top and bottom positions.  The best Jiu Jitsu players have a good foundation from all positions as well as a unique game they specialize in. But notice the key point: Higher belts must have the appropriate skill level of Jiu Jitsu for the belt that they wear – regardless of how long it took for them to achieve it.

What happens when students are promoted too early?

Short-term, everyone is happy.  The student is excited and (temporarily) re-motivated to train.  The promotion validates the coach’s teaching ability if they have a room full of higher belts.  There are lots of social media congratulations and thank-you’s to be had.

But what about long-term?

They student wasn’t up to the challenge of the lower (easier) belt level, in the training room and in competition.  And now the demands at the higher belt are even greater, oftentimes too much for the individual to overcome.  This is why we see a big fuss on social media over an early belt promotions only to never see from the person ever again. These students stop competing, their training drops off, and they disappear from the Jiu Jitsu community entirely.

In the end, as these zombie students accumulate, and the skill level of these students become out-of-sync with the rest of the Jiu-jitsu community, the gym’s credibility tanks.

The uncomfortable reality is that every student isn’t willing (or doesn’t know how) to forge through the difficult learning process that is Jiu-Jitsu.  (Read our previous blog post on the infamous Blue Belt Curse).  That is why a good portion of the classroom time at Crazy 88 is dedicated to how to learn rather than simply Jiu-Jitsu technique.

What can we do to prevent the decrease of our beloved Jiu Jitsu community? If you’re a coach, talk openly with the students and let them know what they need to do to make it to the next belt level. Give specific examples and be honest. If you’re a student and stagnating at one belt for many years, ask your coach what positions you need to improve. Ask how the instructor defines proficiency in that position and how to go about reaching that goal. One conversation a year doesn’t cut it. The hard conversations need to happen on a regular and consistent basis. Otherwise, more students will be promoted too soon and eventually drop out of training.

The Jiu Jitsu community needs to continue to grow in order to thrive long term. Keeping good students on the mats can be achieved by guiding them through the belt promotion system at a reasonable pace. So please instructors—slow down your promotions. And students—suck it up and ask what you need to do to make a jump up to the next level.

Crazy 88

About Crazy 88

Crazy 88 runs Mixed Martial Arts training centers throughout the Baltimore area. They focus on Combat Sports such as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, MMA, Muay Thai Kickboxing, Boxing, and Wrestling for both Adults and Children, Beginners to Pros.


  • Lynn Ertell says:

    Excellent article. I really agree with this. It does the student no good to be promoted prematurely. In fact, it is more likely to undermine or even doom the student’s future training. Seen this happen a lot. BJJ needs to maintain the highest and most demanding, rigorous standards for ANY promotion, even at the lowest levels.

  • SundarBJJ says:

    My organization, SundarBJJ, implicitly rejects the poorly thought out and financially binding IBJJF stipulations around promotion and membership. We follow an egalitarian (i.e., hierarchy ONLY applies on the mat; a darker belt does not make you a better person, nor does it grant you authority to “rule over” lighter colored belts), community-based mandatory minimum 15 year track to black belt, because we consider the black belt to be an educational pedigree. Thus, the mandatory minimum number of years spent at each belt are as follows:

    White = 1 year
    Blue = 4 years (and must be at least 16 years old to receive)
    Purple = 5 years
    Brown = 5 years

    1+4+5+5 = MANDATORY MINIMUM 15 years to black belt.

    As in every case, there are rare exceptions made to this rule with respect to persons of varying ages (e.g., is it realistic to keep an individual who begins training at 60 from receiving the black belt until 75, particularly if they are committed and steady in their attendance and service; such decisions however are exceedingly rare and are ALWAYS placed before the community and decided upon by majority consensus).

    As such, TOTAL life experience in training time is accounted for including the manner in which persons receive degrees on their black belt. After a black belt is awarded, degree promotions on the black belt are simply representative of time that the individual remains actively engaged as a servant to their BJJ community. If the individual is NOT actively engaged as a servant of their respective BJJ community, they do not receive degree promotions on their black belt. Any and all promotions through degrees on the black belt must also be by a majority consensus of the individual’s respective BJJ community.

    SundarBJJ does NOT believe that the awarding of a black belt “resets the clock” in the promotion schema. Rather, it is a continuation of the individual’s achievements and commitments to training and serving the BJJ community.

    Black belt degrees are awarded as follows (the number of years = the minimum number of years the individual must have held the black belt prior to the degree being granted):
    Professor title 1 year
    1st degree 2 years
    2nd degree 4 years
    3rd degree 7 years
    4th degree 10 years (the “10th Anniversary With The Black Belt” degree)
    5th degree 15 years
    6th degree 20 years
    7th degree (Red & Black Belt) 25 years (the “25th Anniversary With The Black Belt” degree)
    8th degree (Red & Black Belt) 30 years
    9th (Red Belt) 40 years

    Keep in mind that, in order to gain an accurate picture of total time training, you should ADD the “minimum number of years at black belt” to the number 15 (e.g., when a person receives the 7th degree on their black belt, they have already been training for, and demonstrated steady service and commitment to the BJJ community for 40 years). We have found this system to be fair and reasonable and, most importantly, one which brings the appropriate balance of challenge and encouragement to our training.

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