16 January 2011

The Blue Belt Triangle Part 2.

In Part 1 of the Blue Belt triangle I focused on the females. This section is all about the men that train BJJ and pass the white belt and get to Blue belt. I like to call it the Blue Belt Triangle because 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. In the first half I theorized that the point for women to start dropping in rank is white to blue. There is a fraction of females competing at blue belt then there are competing in White belt. For men though it is a little different, the big separation seems to come at the end of the blue belt.

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?

Go to almost any local BJJ tournament and the vast majority of the male competitors are white belts and blue belts. At any given NAGA event  the Adult Male White and blue belt divisions can have over 20 competitors. The purple belt division is much smaller with some combining of weight classes to make divisions, and by brown/ black if they aren’t a local coach willing to compete, there isn’t a match. At the national/ pan and international levels, there are so many white and blue sometimes the absolute divisions are restricted or removed of the tournament. Purple belts and above are less restricted, all of the way through the black belt divisions.

To combat the drop off that seems to happen in the blue belt level some schools have started using a green belt in between the white and blue belt level. Green belt by IBJJF standards is only for students under 16. So what division does an adult green belt compete in? I am actually at a loss for that question and would love to know if anyone out there does have that answer for me. Is it fair for these guys to compete against white belts, or should they be forced into the blue belt division. It seems almost like a no man’s land…

So how do we stop it from happening? It’s true that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is not for everyone. That because of us as Americans like that instant gratification it becomes hard to sit a belt for months and then years without seeing any form of reward. The last thing I would ever want to see is the is the belt system getting watered down. So we need to just push through it.It is a journey that doesn’t have an ending. It’s always growing and evolving. Remember your belt only covers an inch of your butt, you have to cover the rest..


  1. I think the high drop-out rate for blue belts is normal. Several internal and external variables impact blue belts that I think need to be considered.

    Internal factors include: First, they get to blue belt and realize that the next belt is a long, long way away. Second, they become discouraged because some white belts seem to do better than them while training. Third, they start to get injuries. This causes cognitive dissonance.

    The external factors, however, are more important. Most guys (though certainly not all) start BJJ in their early to mid twenties. This is also a time when they are graduating from college, building a career, and starting a family. Each one of these variables may become a higher priority or even completely replace BJJ in their priorities.

    Most people will only do jiu jitsu for a a few months or years. They enjoy it for that period, but will stop for a variety of reasons. It's essentially a hobby that gets replaced with something else.

    As an example: In my early twenties (almost twenty years ago), I was a long distance cyclist. I logged between 10,000 - 14,000 miles a year on my bike, and I loved almost every minute of it. What's more, cycling taught me endurance, patience, and perserverance that I still carry with me today. Somewhere in my mid-twenties, however, I had to prioritize my career over cycling. The hours on the bike decreased until I became nothing more than a leisure rider (I MAYBE ride 500 - 900 miles a year now).

    A few years later when I professionally reached the point that I could enjoy more leisure time, BJJ fit better into my career because I could safely do BJJ after work when it was dark out and it left more of my weekend time free.

    To return to the original point, though: To get more purple, brown, and black belts, we just need to recruit more white belts. The percentages of white belts who go on to become blue, purple, brown, and black belts won't change, but the absolute number will.

  2. The green belt answer is easy - they're white belts. They aren't blue belts yet, and if their instructors want to use interim belts from the kids' ranking system internally, that's fine, but that isn't recognized at any adult event. Adults in any color other than white, blue, purple, brown, or black = white belt.

    And, Dolph is right about making more upper belts. You have to start with more white belts. The more of those you have, the more you have to make it to the upper levels. There is a dropout rate at every level, which isn't news to anyone who's stuck around longer than a year or so. You see fresh faces every month, and then they disappear. Maybe some of them make it blue belt first, but most of them never even get there.

  3. really interesting post, i agree a lot of the guys at my gym start to disappear once they get their blue belt