By William F. Murphy, Ph.D., 3rd Degree Black Belt in BJJ
Promotions in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu are tricky.
It usually takes between 8 to 12 years of regular training to get a black belt in BJJ.
The best way to get promoted more quickly than the average in BJJ is by winning your belt division in the highest level tournaments.
For non-competitors, the average is more like 8 to 15 years.
What makes the difference between 8 and 15 years for non-competitors?
Usually it’s one of two things.
First, a prodigious teaching repertoire that you can also apply while rolling against belts higher than you will generally shave some time off.
Second, I will generally promote a purple belt more quickly if I see them making brown belts and/or black belts tap frequently in hard (real) rolls.
Likewise I will generally promote a brown belt more quickly if I see them making black belts tap frequently in hard (real) rolls.
As mentioned earlier, the usual way to get promoted more quickly than the average in BJJ is by winning your division in the highest level BJJ competition tournaments.
The largest competition circuit in Gi BJJ is still the IBJJF, with the Mundials, and the Pan Am tournaments being two of the largest Gi tournaments.
The largest competition tournaments in “No Gi” are the Abu Dhabi, the IBJFF World No Gi, and the various cash prize submission only tournaments.
MMA fighting is another valid competition outlet that in many ways represents the truest test of Jiu-Jitsu.
Winning in MMA competition, particularly professional and licensed MMA bouts would also get very high “credit” for getting promoted more quickly than the average.
However, winning small local grappling tournaments does not mean much because often times the real competitors just use the small local tournaments as their lab to try new things before they go to the larger tournaments.
Real competitors don’t care about losing small tournaments because they usually have their eye on winning either the cash prize tournaments, or the tournaments where there is lifetime marketing value for taking home the gold medal (ie, the IBJJF World Tournament).
As a senior black belt in BJJ, I usually only involve myself with the continued promotions of black belts to their next degree, or with the promotions of brown belts to black belts, or more rarely with the promotion of a senior purple belt who ended up in my personal care to brown belt.
I usually leave the promotions of the lower belts to the instructors that I mentor.
But, BJJ upper belts are not given out lightly.
For non-competitors, it is quite common to stay in a blue belt, a purple belt, or even a brown belt for 5 years at a time.
So, if you want to move along more quickly, you have better either be tearing it up on the major competition circuit,
Or developing the most amazing teaching repertoire ever – backed up by an ability to apply that repertoire in hard (real) rolls against higher belts than yourself.
I don’t promote based on the time as measured by the Calendar, but I do promote based on one’s ability, and that almost always ends up being a function of mat hours spent training with tough opponents. Even for those of us who do not believe that promotions should be slavish to a calendar, it is very, very rare that the IBJJF *minimum* time in grade for each belt would not be met for a given promotion, even though most black belts will make exceptions for highly unusual cases.
As a general rule of thumb, if you want to get promoted more quickly, spend more time rolling and training with belts higher than you, than you do with belts lower than you.
Teaching lower belts will increase your conceptual knowledge, but rolling with higher belts than yourself than you will build your own resiliency and ability to execute technique.