THE JOURNEY FROM WHITE TO BLACK BELT AT PREMIER BJJ

The belt system in BJJ is highly regarded, and for good reason. Unlike many other martial arts, the Brazilian jiu jitsu belt system is quite strict and difficult to progress through.  You know that the holder of a belt is usually at the expected level of competency. 

It can take upwards of 10 years to achieve black belt, it requires not only technical knowledge, but also verifiable ability in sparring. Competition experience is also often expected. As there are only a few belts, you will spend a long time on each one. Also, your progress will not be linear. You might spend 1 year at one belt and 5 years at another. It’s both an extremely challenging and rewarding institution, and it’s no surprise that the community pounces on anyone who messes with it.
 

WHITE BELT: THE EMPTY CUP

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Frame of Reference

As a white belt at Premier, your goal is to create a frame of reference for your future learning. This is where you figure out what you need to know, and start to formulate a plan for how to acquire it. Think of BJJ as a jigsaw puzzle that you are putting together. At the white belt level is where you create the bordering or outer edges of the picture before you begin filling in the centre. Using things like flow diagrams and a basic curriculum that focuses on the fundamentals will help greatly.

Relax!

Learning to relax is an absolutely essential skill and white belt is the best time to acquire it. The only way you will be able to do this is by learning to control your ego. 

Remember: nothing is expected of you at this stage. Try to focus your energy on taking in all the different aspects of the training experience instead of trying to win every sparring encounter.

Less is More

A major enemy of the white belt is the tendency to try to acquire too much technical knowledge. It may seem counterintuitive, but at this stage learning twice as many techniques will not help you twice as much. It’s actually more likely to hinder your progress. It’s far better to get a deep understanding of a few basic movements and techniques than to get confused by an overwhelming number of possibilities.

Some Suggested Goals at White Belt:

  1. Learn the names of each of the main positions and acquire a basic familiarity with each of them. For example, be able to identify the guard position.
  2. Learn to control your ego by accepting that you will be beaten by the more advanced students. If you are big and naturally athletic this will be even more important for you.
  3. Get used to the ‘feeling’ of jiu-jitsu. Pay attention to how your body moves on the ground and the way a resisting opponent uses his strength and weight.
  4. Choose one from each position technique and try to master it. For example, one guard pass, one submission from side mount, one sweep etc.

 

BLUE BELT: ESCAPE ARTIST

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Focus on Defence

Premier BJJs head coach Chris Foran trains with Roger Gracie, the best jiu-jitsu fighter in history, Chris asked him once, what made him so good? After thinking about it for a while, he replied: “I built my game off a solid defence. I first made it almost impossible for anybody to tap me out.”

Get Good at Guard Passing

You will need to learn to pass the guard, passing the guard is the most difficult aspect of jiu-jitsu, every year it becomes harder, as new more complicated guards emerge. You will spend a great deal of time in your opponents’ guard, so it makes sense to become proficient at dealing with them.

Some Suggested Goals at Blue Belt:

  1. Have two solid escapes from Mount, Back Mount and Side Mount.
  2. Master three techniques for passing the guard, in particular one each from any closed, half and open guard variant.
  3. Fight in at least one competition.

 

PURPLE BELT:  BECOMING WELL-ROUNDED

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Learn to Use Momentum

This is the belt of movement and momentum. Through the acquisition of timing and sensitivity, at Premier you will learn how to use and generate momentum (as well as redirect the momentum of your opponent) to achieve many of your objectives. A lot of the ‘wasted movement’ that naturally occured in your game at the previous belts will be shaved away. 

Although sparring is always an integral part of jiu jitsu, at the purple belt you really need to put the hours in. There is no short-cut here, but ‘Flow’ rolling and grappling with your eyes closed will definitely help.

Double-Check Your Foundation

Purple belt is also where you will finish laying the foundation of your entire game. As mentioned earlier, the bulk of this foundation be a solid defence. Before you become a senior grade it’s wise to revisit this and make sure that you are a master of escapes and a nightmare to submit.

Focus on Your Weaknesses

About a year into your purple belt is a good time to do an honest assessment of your game. Figure out where you have the greatest weaknesses (or ask your coach) and through focused training make it a goal to turn those areas into your greatest strengths. This will make you a well-rounded fighter that is able to specialise into his style of choice.

Dangerous Guard

A good purple belt also has a great offence and is dangerous from any position. This is also where the player should start learning to attack using combinations of techniques – an initial set up and at least one counter to the standard defense.

As a purple belt your guard should be very effective. You should have a familiarity with all the different guards and be very dangerous from at least a couple of them.

Some Suggested Goals at Purple Belt:

  1. Know and be able to execute 3 combination attacks from guard position.
  2. Know and be able to execute 3 submissions from the Side-Mount, Mount and Back-Mount.
  3. Become familiar and adept with both using and passing the most commonly encountered variants of the guard position (de la Riva, deep-half, spider etc.).

 

BROWN BELT: FORGING YOUR OWN STYLE

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Shifting from Defense to Attack

The brown belt is the point at which your focus will shift primarily from defence to attack. The air-tight defense you laid during the earlier belts will allow you to be much more aggressive in your hunt for submissions, sweeps and passes, as you will have little concern about being attacked or being placed in a bad spot.

Dominant From the Top

A brown belt is always a threat from the top positions. In mount and side mount he knows how to use his body weight and makes sure the fighter underneath feels and carries every ounce of it. He will pass the guard at even the narrowest window of opportunity, and his excellent balance will make him very difficult to sweep while he does so.

Depth of Technical Knowledge

Even though you will probably develop your own style and preferences, there will be very, very few positions or situations that you will be unfamiliar with as a brown belt, you will have learned (or created) counters to almost all the most commonly experienced defensive and offensive techniques. This means that you will be one or two steps ahead of lower-level opponents.

You also will have several ‘signature’ techniques. These are moves which you know exceptionally well and have a relatively high percentage of success with on almost anyone.

Begin Teaching

A quality brown belt should be able to teach the art to others. This is actually when many BJJ players realize that they have a passion for teaching and decide to embark on coaching at one of the Premier BJJ academies or speak to your professor about a Premier affiliation. You will also understand that teaching is a good way to consolidate the knowledge you have gained up to this point and acquire deeper insight.

Holistic Approach

By now, as a long-term jiu jitsu player, you have probably started to take a holistic view of your training in the art. You realise that your jiu jitsu performance is intrinsically interlinked with your physical and mental health, so you will seek to improve both using any avenues available.

Some Suggested Goals at Brown Belt:

  1. Try to teach a few classes at a Premier BJJ academy
  2. Perfect your weight distribution and balance in the top positions.
  3. Have at least two 3-phase (Attack -> defense counter 1 -> defense counter 2)  attack sequences from each of the main positions

 

BLACK BELT – INSTINCT AND REFLECTION

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Transcending Technique

You now know that there are no absolutes in jiu jitsu and begin to transcend the techniques and guidelines you picked up along your journey. You can easily ‘riff’ during sparring – just going where your body and your opponent take you. Your deep, intuitive understanding of the art means that you can instinctively ‘feel’ your way through most matches, even when confronted by a move or situation you’ve never seen before.

Fresh Eyes

The black belt starts to look at everything with a fresh set of eyes. You are now able to take see new nuances in ‘basic’ movements that you’ve already practised thousands of times, and continue to improve and refine them.

You will also begin to see jiu jitsu in everything and draw inspiration from not only other martial disciplines, but diverse fields of art and study. 

Quality Human Being

Most importantly, the path to the black belt has created (or enhanced) a quality human being. 

By this stage you will know far more about your body, mind and spirit than you did at the start of the journey into jiu jitsu, and you will be acutely aware of your capabilities and limitations.

The black belt is humble, friendly and respectful of others. Although you are a highly efficient and dangerous martial artist, you never seek confrontation and only use your skills and abilities to defend and help those less capable.

Some Suggested Goals at Black Belt:

  1. Understand that the journey is not over. Remain humble and continue to learn and grow.
  2. If you haven’t yet already, consider training in a second, functional martial art (Wrestling, Muay Thai, Boxing, Judo, MMA)
  3. Become proficient at yoga in order to maintain your body and attributes into old age as much as possible and allow you keep practicing.

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