In order to acquire a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), one must put in a lot of effort, work hard, and make a commitment to lifelong learning. For a student to earn their black belt in BJJ, it typically takes a minimum of seven to ten years, though the precise time frame can vary depending on a number of variables, including the student’s natural ability, how frequently they train, and the particular requirements of the school or instructor. This article will examine the numerous elements that can affect how quickly a BJJ practitioner can achieve a black belt while also offering advice and techniques for quickening the process.
What is the Average Time to Get a Black Belt?
In my experience, the typical BJJ fighter will get a black belt within 7 to 10 years assuming they have been consistently training during that time. There are a few issues however when trying to accurately say how long it will take because so many things can influence your progress as a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioner. Some people can get a black be
lt in as soon as 5 years while it’s no uncommon for some people to take over 15 years. Remember, that a black belt signifies a mastery of the martial art. Mastery of any craft can take many years. Some individuals can achieve mastery very fast while for others it can be a slow process.
What Influences Getting Your Black Belt in BJJ?
There are a handful of key factors that will determine how fast you may be able to get your black belt. Those include:
- Commitment to training
- Staying healthy and reducing injuries
- Natural athletic ability
- Where you train/your professor
This one should be most obvious. It is recommended to train BJJ at least 3 times a week to have momentum in your learning. The sport has too many techniques and subtleties to be able to only do it once a week and noticeably improve. Training consistently 3 days a week for 10 years will most likely eventually get you a black belt. There are of course, ways to speed that up. For example, taking time to learning outside the gym through videos, youtube, note taking and journaling are all ways to speed up your learning. You could also take private lessons with professors or instructors to speed up your learning.
BJJ and Hobbyists
Most people who practice BJJ are doing so as a hobby and not to become professional. As a result, training 3-4 days a week can be really difficult – especially for those with demanding jobs and/or families. It is for this reason that it is often encouraged to not focus too much on your belt and just enjoy the sport. You may be a person who cannot commit that much time to training but still enjoy going when you can. You may have to accept it can take an above average amount of time to get your black belt, or you may never even get it – which is ok! BJJ is about having fun and staying health and going whenever you can to train.
Staying Healthy and Reducing Injuries
This is a big one that is unfortunately out of our control in some ways but also in our control in others. For example, the COVID pandemic hit right as I was about to be promoted to a blue belt. It took an extra year for me to get my blue belt as a result of the pandemic. That is an example of something out of my control. Other things out of your control can be accidentally tearing something like a tendon or ligament during training, or getting an illness that keeps you away from the mat. The more time you spend away from the mat, the longer and harder the road is to your black belt. There are things in your control however to stay healthy.
The best way to stay health in BJJ is to not overtrain. Overtraining is something many white belts do as they become hooked on the sport. They want to get skilled as fast as possible so will train 5-6 times a week. For some, this will be ok. But for most, our bodies aren’t equipped to handle that much strain without adequate rest and recovery. The longer you go without giving your body adequate rest, the more likely you will be to pick up an injury. Some white belts will burn out in their first few years training, and not even have the stamina to get their black belt. Remember, learning BJJ is a lifelong practice. It is a marathon and not a sprint.
Training with an Injury
Another thing BJJ fighters tend to do is to train while nursing an injury. Depending on the nature of the injury this can be ok. But sometimes it is wiser to not train for a few weeks to let an injury heal so it does not become a chronic issue.
Natural Athletic Ability
This one stings the most. Some of us are born incredible athletes who can pick up skills super fast. Others are born with poor coordination and learning abilities. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle. The key here is to not compare yourself to others too much. Comparing yourself to your peers can be a good way of measuring your own progress but you should not let it discourage you. Some people are just going to be more gifted athletically than you, and that’s ok. For the most part, training more than someone who is more naturally athletic is enough to bridge the gap. But there will be people who train 4-6 times a week and are also incredible athletes who may end up getting a black belt within 4-5 years. For example, Damian Maia, one of the most renown UFC fighters of all time, reportedly got his black belt in 4 years. 99.9% of us who train BJJ are not going to be Demian Maia. Remember they are the exception to the norm.
Where You Train and Your Professor
Most imagine the belt progression to be linear and easy. After 2 years you get a blue belt, after 4 years a purple belt, etc etc. In some schools that may be the case. The belt promotion system however is very arbitrary and up to the discretion of your school’s professor. Professors have different philosophies when it comes to promotions – some may not promote until you compete in a tournament, some may not promote until you are already past the proficiency of the next belt, some may go by an arbitrary amount of time. So you may have a friend who has been training the same amount of time as you but who goes to another school, getting their next belt faster because their professor may be more lenient.
Another complication is if you have to move schools or change professors for whatever reason – that may prolong your journey to getting your black belt. Your current professor knows how much you’ve progressed since obtaining your last belt and have a relative time line of your next promotion. If you move schools however a new professor won’t have that history and may set back your progress toward your next belt. For example, one gym member of mine has been training BJJ for over 6 years and is very skilled but is still a 4 stripe white belt despite being able to tap out purple belts. A reason for this is he has changed schools 3 times since he started BJJ.
Where you choose to focus your energy is also a big factor. Remember, belts are only part of Gi BJJ and not no-Gi BJJ. If you decide to focus exclusively on no-Gi, you’re not going to have a belt rank. You will still develop skills and become more proficient, but for some professors, until you throw on a Gi, you won’t have a belt rank. I would recommend attending at least one Gi class if you want to advance in the belt system.
On the other hand, if you focus on MMA instead of just BJJ – the belt promotions will also be slower. The extra training session or two that would go to BJJ instead has to go to Muay Thai for example, making it that much longer to have the proficiency to be a black belt. When you look at the UFC, some of the best fighters aren’t even black belts. Jon Jones, arguably one of the best MMA fighters of all time, is a purple belt for example. UFC fighters with black belts tend to have focused exclusively on BJJ before jumping into MMA. Good examples of that include BJ Penn, Demian Maia and Mackenzie Dern.
Is Getting a Black Belt Important?
Striving for a black belt is certainly an admirable goal. It can be the thing that keeps you coming back day after day. In my opinion and in the opinion of many other practitioners – it is not the be all end all of doing BJJ. Jiu Jitsu is a long journey full of challenges and learning. “Enjoy the journey, not the destination” is the phrase that is most often brought up. Thinking too much about getting your black belt can ruin the journey and also make you feel like its taking too long. It’s best to instead relish in the things you’re learning, the friends your making and the healthy lifestyle you are living.
What Happens After Your Black Belt?
Should you ever attain a black belt after years of training the journey just…continues. Some black belts have said that the real journey doesn’t even begin until after black belt. Just as you earn stripes at color belts, black belts earn stripes called ‘degrees’. Black belts can go all the way up to a 7th degree black belt (before the belts turn red or coral). Each degree takes at least 3 years however, so the journey after black is a long one just like the journey to get your black belt.