So, what exactly is a blue belt? From the frequency that this question is asked (and answered in disparate manners) it is clear that the answer is not simple. Ultimately the answer depends on why people are doing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. If they are doing it to win competitions then a blue belt should probably have some connection to the individual’s capacity to perform on the mat. If they are doing it for self-defense then it should relate to their ability to successfully use jiu-jitsu to defend themselves in a real confrontation.
These two perspectives can be combined into a composite picture where sparring and self-defense are weighed together, but is this the correct approach?
Enter Rener and Ryron:
Ok, so let’s suppose for a second that you don’t have time to watch a 45 minute long video.
The summary of this video looks something like this:
- BJJ is about helping those who don’t have the physical attributes to help themselves.
- Blue belt means you can defend yourself in a street fight.
- Traditional sparring (rolling) at a white belt level does not elevate those with technique, but instead elevates the tough.
- Elevating the tough runs counter to the BJJ philosophy, those who aren’t tough enough to stick through the first year of getting smashed on the mat probably were in greater need of BJJ in the first place!
- Traditional rolling puts partners in opposition to one another, where each person seeks to come out victorious, because failure to do so is embarrassing, shameful, or scary.
- At Gracie Academy the only sparring before blue is ‘fight simulation’ where you work on those techniques that will work in a real fight.
- This process involves one person playing the role of the ‘untrained attacker’ and the other as the ‘trained jiu-jitsu defender’
- Instead of fostering an attitude of competition between white belts this encourages a teacher/student attitude where the person playing the role of the attacker views themselves as trying to help their partner improve.
- At Gracie Academy blue belt promotion is based on capacity to defend yourself and demonstrate the 36 moves/70 variations of moves that work in a street fight.
- Blue takes 1 – 1.5 years vs the more typical 2-3 years elsewhere
- They say “students don’t do what you expect, they do what you inspect” therefore the blue belt test evaluates only the self-defense components of BJJ.
Rener and Ryron acknowledge that every system for promotion has its flaws. They argue that the flaw with promoting the best white belts to blue is that if a college wrestler walks in the door they probably should be awarded a blue belt immediately. Yet they don’t know any jiu-jitsu so is that a fair representation of their skill? Of course not.
Their system suffers from the problem that their blue belts are probably rolling at a much lower level than blue belts or even white belts who came up in the more typical style of school. Yet, if the goal of their students is self defense, and 99% of attackers don’t know BJJ, then their blue belts are actually having their goals well served.
And this is the crux of the issue. Not everyone has the same goal. If your goal is to be the most effective competitor then you have a different set of requirements for your training than someone who hopes to be able to defend themselves in a real life conflict. Further, someone who is looking for a fun hobby and a sense of community has their own requirements that may pull from both the self-defense and sport mentalities.
Ultimately a blue belt is a belt that keeps your kimono shut. And its blue.