If you are just starting out in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu you know that improving your game is hard work. It takes good instruction, study, and many many hours on the mat to slowly train your body and mind in how to properly respond to the dynamic and fluid game of Jiu-Jitsu. It's natural to want to take a measure of progress during this long journey. We all want to know, am I getting better? Am I ready for the next level?
As a beginner, the first recognition that you receive will probably be a stripe on your white belt. After 4 stripes on your white belt, your next promotion is a blue belt. Every school or academy has it's own guidelines and criteria for awarding stripes and belts. Some have formal testing procedures that require you to perform certain moves, some have sparring requirements, and some require competition outside the academy. Some academies just promote when a few instructors get together and subjectively decide that a student is ready. There is no common requirement for promotion across all schools.
However, one thing that almost all Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu schools do have in common is that belt promotions come slowly compared to most other martial arts. A purple belt in BJJ is often comparable to a black belt in another martial art in terms of the skill, knowledge, and time invested in the art. Many black belts in BJJ have invested at least 10 years of serious study and improvement to obtain their elite rank.
Recognition makes us feel good, and it is certainly nice to have our hard work validated, but what exactly does a blue belt mean? Nothing magical happens when you strap on a new color. Your game doesn't change over night. Your friends who don't practice BJJ won't have any idea what the accomplishment means so they won't treat you any differently. You still have to go to work the next day.
A blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu really means that you are a serious student of the art. Nothing more, nothing less. When I see a blue belt I know that is someone who has put in a significant amount of time and effort towards improving their game. It doesn't really say anything about their ability to fight, or how many moves they know. It simply means that they are a serious student.
We all know people who have chased a belt for the wrong reasons. They want the belt because they want other people to respect them, or they need external validation for some reason. Whenever these people do achieve a belt promotion they find that the belt doesn't solve any of the problems they hoped it would.
So how do you know if you are ready for the next level? Dedicate yourself to improving your Jiu-Jitsu. Do everything you can to improve your fitness and nutrition, study the art, attend seminars, and invest your time on the mat. If you make the commitment to BJJ, soon enough you will be recognized. And when the time comes, you will have already known that you were ready - the belt just finally caught up to you.
- Bill Thomas