09 November 2010

The Blue Belt Triangle Part 1

Martial arts are hard. I will never nock someone who does a martial art. In many martial arts though it does not take very long to advance through the belt system. For everyone in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu though, it is a little different.The average amount of time it takes to get from white to black belt is 10 years. For many, that is a huge commitment, but when they finally do get there, they are more than ready, and there is a HUGE sense of accomplishment. Making it to black belt for a guy is hard. For a female, it is even more rare. It’s so rare, that at the most prestigious tournaments, they are forced to have brown and black belt females compete together, just so they can fill divisions. I’m not saying that male BJJ black belts are a dime a dozen, because they aren’t. But when looking for a black belt female, it’s like a needle in a haystack.

So where does the decrease start? True there aren’t many females that do BJJ in the first place. But there has to be a point where the amount of females that are in BJJ start dropping off.  The points where both men and women start to disappear are relatively close in time. For women, this point is near the end of their white belt, beginning of their blue belt career. For men the point happens a little later, mid blue belt to almost purple belt. I like to call this the Blue Belt Triangle. It is just like the Bermuda Triangle in the ocean. Tons of BJJ’ers enter this area like a ship into the Bermuda triangle, and like many ships, some are never seen again. The ones that make it out of the Blue belt Triangle, tend to be a little battered, hardened but in the long run much better jiu jitsu players for the time put in. My coach Marcello says that other than your black belt, (which you will spend most of your jiu jitsu career at, if you make it there) you blue belt is the place where you will spend most of your time. Sherdog and other online forums are littered with with ‘Blue belt blues’  forums. This is of course different for everyone but blue belt is a huge step. It is also where the biggest difference in skill is at. Think about a brand new blue belt, a few days in, he’s definitely not a white belt, but compared to a guy who is about to get his purple belt. The difference can be staggering. So why does this happen? And how can we maybe get more people to stick with it so the field becomes deeper, and the competition, as well as the technique become better?


I’m going to hit on the women’s Blue Belt Triangle for now. Mainly because just about 2 months ago I escaped this triangle and became a purple belt. As excited as I am for being a purple belt, I know I was already having trouble finding competition as a blue. In my almost 4 years of Brazilain Jiu jitsu I have seen over 25 different females at my jiu jitsu school. Vanessa, who is a brown belt and just had a baby, is the only one that has been there longer than me. out of the ones that I have seen start, 12 no longer do jiu jitsu, or made it our of white belt. 3 are white belts that have been there less than a year. 2 have their blue belts and have moved to other parts of the country. 3 are newer blue belts at my school but do not come regularly now that they are blue belts, The last two are white belts that are advanced and will hopefully be promoted soon.

The biggest obstacle for females in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is getting started in it. There aren’t many females, and walking into a room full of guys who possibly train MMA or roll hard, is intimidating. 32204_538765532808_41701517_31807248_2707849_n Even if a female and a male are the same height and weight, a guy is going to have that physical advantage. Now  turn that into pairing a small female with a bigger muscular guy, even just to train techniques in those first few months, it gets down right scary. The first day I went into class there were three females there. So it wasn’t so bad. Vanessa immediately started talking to me and was very friendly. She was a blue belt at the time and made things much easier to get use to. The first time I had to train with only the guys I was terrified and it showed.

I will give the females at my school credit for one major thing though, half of them are mothers and juggle very hectic schedules while still trying to train when possible. I think the pressure of after college, getting careers, or starting a family life, play a huge roll on why women don’t get past blue belt. Many females like Vanessa, Lindsey, and Allison had been doing Brazilian 58839_544652096088_41701517_32040769_479936_nJiu JItsu, before getting pregnant. While Vanessa just had her baby and still has a little bit until she can probably train again, she was coming to practice even into her 6th and 7th month of pregnancy. Getting back into jiu jitsu after having a baby though is rough. So when they do come back to practice it’s an awesome thing. The major events in our lives can be difficult but there are always ways to work things out.

Probably the most noticeable place to see this Blue Blue belt Triangle is at tournaments. At major tournaments there are tons of white belt females in many divisions. The blue belt divisions are almost cut in half with participants. By the time purple belt comes around there are only three or four females in a division. Finally the brown and blacks, compete together. At the more localized tournaments, there are always female white belts with a few different weight divisions. Occasionally there will be one or two  blue belt weight classes, but more often than not, it’s more of an open weight class. By Purple belt, they IMG_0174struggle to find more than one or two if there are even any. I’m speaking mainly from my experience. I’ve not done smaller tournaments on the coasts so I’m not sure how the breakdown is out there. Every year I hope to see more females sticking around. But in the three years I was at blue belt, I never competed against the same girl more than one tournament. They were all blue, but they all disappear.

So what should be done to help keep females in the sport, to get them past that blue belt slump? First, invite friends to train, make friends with your guy teammates’ girlfriends, wives, fianc├ęs, sisters etc. and maybe get them to come in train as well. When there is a new female in class go out of your way to help them, make them feel comfortable, and get to know them. My female teammates are some of my best friends, and almost like sisters. Push the other females in whatever road they want to take in their jiu jitsu careers. If they want to do it just for fun, then push them to come in, learn more technique, and relax at practice. If they want to compete, push them to compete with you, push each other and always make sure to keep each other positive. One of my teammates would feel horrible if we text messaged her and she didn’t go to practice. So every chance we could we would send messages to see who would be at practice to train. It kept everyone coming more often. If you know of girls on other n41701517_30781044_7225 teams, try to visit their school or have them visit your school. Nothing is better than getting a whole new group of girls to visit, and trade experiences with. Try to establish a women’s only class/ team, if your school has a decent amount of females. When there is an option of going to women’s only class, more females tend to stay because they can get use to jiu jitsu before diving into a full class with a mix of men as well. Or at the very least organize a time at an open mat for everyone to get together. Try to hit up a women’s only seminar, or a women’s only competition, etc. Finally, with all of the social networking websites, try to make contact with other women out there that train. The more we encourage the other females we know to keep pushing the more of us will get past that blue belt hump and progress through the belts.


  1. Howdy,

    I'm a female white belt training in ontario, canada. Even in my first two months of training I understood what sort of commitment was required for BJJ -- so I started thinking about what would happen when I had a family. How can I have a job, have kids, and give BJJ the attention that I want to? As such, I particularly enjoy your posts that talk about women training - through pregnancy and with families. It's *really* great to see!

    Also, your thought-provoking entries (among other bjj bloggers') have encouraged me to finally start my own blog...we'll see how it goes!


  2. That was awesome to read Katie! Its nice to know you are such a thought full person. You hit the nail on the head about walking into a class full of guys, completely intimidating lol!

  3. Good post: I see you've been busy since I last read the old blog! I also liked your post on pregnancy, as that's a topic that doesn't get raised too often.

  4. Thanks for the post. You articulate so well what I only ponder and internalize.

  5. This really are some interesting insights. I train out of a small northern BJJ school in Sweden. While we're not that many to begin with, I've seen this type of actions too from the girls we had. They are very into it the first years, and when they hit blue they just lose their fire. There are declines in male too when they reach blue, but many just take a semester off and comes back later on. The girls do not..

    I tried to figure how we has "males" also can make the girls stay. I'm a small guy myself and goes thru the same grinding with always having to deal with bigger sparring partners, I know how intimidating things can be. I understand that being a girl it can be even worse.

    I am going to think about this out from your perspective because I think you're pretty spot on in this.

  6. Great post - I love the analogy of the blue belt triangle, currently living in the triangle. I train as often as I can but not nearly enough. I have two kids who are busy with their own activities ... work, life .... but I never miss a class if I can help it.

    I am going to try a small tournament in a few months, my first competition. Nervous but I think that could only help my game. Also, trying to train smarter not just harder as I read that many (girls and guys) get stuck in blue belts because it is easy to get off track and for your game to stop progressing. Is this something you have noticed?