What is a Black Belt in BJJ Really Worth?

What is a Black Belt in BJJ Really Worth?
 By Guillaume (Gile) Huni, BJJ black belt and head instructor of Kimura Academy in Belgrade, Serbia.

Jiu-Jitsu is effective because you can’t be a fake and train in this sport. The long hours spent live rolling means that you can openly test the effectiveness of your skills against a resisting opponent.
Going through the ranks is a long and tough process which weeds out the people who are not 100% commited to to Jiu-Jitsu. Ryron Gracie  said that “Only 1% of people that train Jiu-Jitsu will get their black belt”. That has got me thinking:  Is a black belt  in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu the hardest black belt to achieve in all martial arts? And also, what is a the value of a BJJ black belt?

Think about the time when you started training Jiu-Jitsu. Out of all the people who started training at the same time as you, how many are still here and training regularly? Chances are that you have a lot of people coming in training a few months, maybe even get promoted to blue belt and then suddenly disappear. Of course Jiu-Jitsu is not for everybody. My case is different as when I first started training many years ago, I fell in love instantly and I knew deep inside that no matter how long it would take me, that I would train Jiu-Jitsu for the rest in my life and that getting a black belt (and even more) would be a certainty.

If we look at other martial arts like Karate, Taekwondo, or Judo, it seems that the average time to achieve the black belt for a regular practitioner is around 4-5 years. The problem is that many traditional martial arts have adopted a MCDojo model and promote kids to black belt really easily. My 12 year old niece is now a black belt in Taekwondo at just 12 years old after 3 years of training 2x a week…Compare that with a regular practitioner in BJJ and you’re looking at 8 to 14 years in some cases. Of course prodigies get theirs in much less time but that’s a different story. Some martial arts do not have a belt system and are also quite tough (getting certified by Dan Inosanto in Jeet Kun Do I hear is really tough). So it is safe to say that a black belt in BJJ is a big achievement in itself. We can’t say for sure if it the hardest belt to achieve in all martial arts (there are so many styles) but it for sure ranks ranks among the hardest belts to achieve.

This bring us to our next point about the value of a black belt in BJJ. I work at a University as a director for enrollment. In my opinion the BJJ world and the higher educational world have many similarities. A BJJ academy is as a place of education and life long learning, Some BJJ schools follow a set curriculum, Universities give degrees while BJJ schools give belts. I remember watching a interview of Rickson Gracie black belt Henry Akins saying that the years he spent learning from Rickson where invaluable. He compared a black belt from Rickson Gracie to graduating from Harvard or from Yale. If you follow this reasoning it would mean that lineage is very important in BJJ (for example Mitsoyoshi Maeda- Helio Gracie – Rickson Gracie- Henry Akins). I agree with this to a certain degree but at the end of the day a black belt Jiu-Jitsu player from Rickson or a Harvard graduate are worth only as much as the real skill they possess. The fact that they came from these famed schools or University is usually a guarantee for quality. So where does this put all of us other regular BJJ practitioners that learn from regular instructors?



You can compare it to the scene in the movie Kingdom of Heaven: “What is Jerusalem worth? Saladin: Nothing. [walks away] Saladin: Everything!”

I also saw a interview with Kron Gracie where he mentioned some controversial points that people that didn’t learn from the source, basically straight from Rickson or himself, were learning wrong and that their progression in Jiu-Jitsu would take longer. In my opinion there is some truth to what he is saying as some instructors really lack attention for detail and teach a watered downed Jiu-Jitsu, however you don’t need to train directly with a Gracie to practice good level of Jiu-Jitsu. I think some people are just more talented in “feeling” Jiu-Jitsu and grasping the concepts or the philosophy and that makes them good black belts.

So in summary, enjoy the ride and work on developing your skill as much as possible. A belt is like a diploma, it helps to value somebody but at the end of the day, if you have no skill, your belt or diploma won’t mean anything.

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