I was having lunch with my instructor after watching some 7 odd hours of Mundials action when the subject of promotions came up. You see, at our academy, we hold promotions twice a year. We hold one following the worlds and then another in December. We started talking about who was going to be promoted and the like when he implied that I was going to get promoted to a BJJ purple belt as well.
Befuddled, I anxiously asked, “Wait, you mean I am getting promoted too?” He matter of factly said, “Yes.” As if it was a forgone conclusion.
My mind raced, and every roll I had ever partaken in flashed before my eyes (I’m kidding); I began to tune out of the conversation. I came back. “Do I have to be promoted?” I asked, still befuddled but now much more anxious than anything else. “It’s time. You’ve put in a lot of work. You’re ready. I can’t hold you back.” Each of those statements said in a cold fuck-your-couch calculating manner. (I could have picked a timelier phrase there and, perhaps, saved you all that confusion. But … no. I miss Dave Chapelle.)
I know of a lot of people who train with the goal in mind of acquiring belt ranks.
I know these people in person; I also read about them online very often. I can no longer relate with that sentiment (not that there is anything wrong with that necessarily). I was comfortable wearing a blue belt. After coming back from a 4 year break and feeling like I should have been demoted back to white belt, I finally felt like I grew back into my blue belt. I knew that I could go anywhere in the world and hang with the blues without embarrassing myself and my skill-set. I liked that feeling. It was… comfortable.
I knew I was on the cusp of winning a lot of gold medals and only needed some minor fine tunings before I was going to do some serious damage in the competition scene.
I liked that because it gave me comfort.
In addition, I just don’t care about belts anymore nearly as much as I did when I was a white belt. When I was a white belt, I couldn’t wait to get my blue belt because, at the time, to me it seemed that I would be finally worth a damn once I got my blue belt.
It was an ephemeral ideal.
Well, I finally got my blue belt after a year or so, and I still wasn’t worth a damn. When I came back to jits, I was older and had experienced more of life’s challenges. Those experiences changed me. So, for whatever reason, I lost the attachment to the need for extraneous validation. I just didn’t care what my belt was or if I would ever receive the next belt ranking.
Instead, my focus was something else. The object of my focus was something less superficial, less attainable, and less tangible. I was focused on conceptualizing, constructing, and implementing perfect expression of technique. I was focused on using the absolute least amount of energy as possible. I was focused on using the absolute least amount of strength as possible. I was focused on purity. Whatever that means. There is a quote from Royce Gracie that accurately sums up the overarching theme of my focus:
A belt only covers two inches of your ass. You need to cover the rest. – Royce Gracie
I like that mentality because it implies deviating from the superficial chasing of belts, having accountability for your skill-set, and just enough baddassery to appeal to the caveman in me. When I found out that my time at blue was up, I felt a huge wave of nostalgia wash over me. I was a bit sad and having not met my own personal goals in competition, I had the biggest urge to just blurt, “LET ME BANG BRO!”
I resisted the urge and conceded.
My instructor is, after all, a very well accomplished jiu-jitsu competitor himself as well as a very accomplished jiu-jitsu instructor. I reckoned, perhaps, he knew what he was talking about. Maybe. But, keeping it real, I wanted to Brendan Schaub the purple belt a little while longer (couldn’t help myself lol).
On Saturday June 8th, 2013 I tied my blue belt for the last time. Let’s all have a moment of silence, shall we? I encourage any of you reading this to pour out a little liquor, too.
How long did it take me to get my jiu-jitsu purple belt?
Now, for a little time line. I started training in 2007. I trained twice a week, as that was as much teaching that there was at the martial arts school at the time, for a year or so. I received my blue belt in about a year’s time. Shortly thereafter, I was forced to make the decision to stop training due to a full time job, going to school full time, and an hour commute in between those two. I decided, that I may want to get better grades in case I want to pursue a master’s degree one day.
I came back to jiu-jitsu January, 2012. I sucked bad, and everyone whooped me. That is not hyperbole. EVERYONE (including white belts) whooped me quite proper. However, this time I dedicated myself to training a minimum of 5 times a week. I was even able to do 3 training sessions a day during periods leading up to a tournament at times. I never took one round off (we ONLY roll 10 minute rounds). I was diligent in rehabilitating injuries that I suffered. I allowed my instructor to craft my game with his insight. Ultimately, this lead to me closing the skill disparity gap between me and my teammates considerably, and was able to be competitive during our training sessions.
So, when does a blue belt become a purple belt?
I competed, and won matches. I competed and lost matches. I learned a lot about myself, but more importantly I created myself.
I have 128 check ins at the academy since I started checking in on foursquare. But, I don’t know how long it was before I started using foursquare. I am definitely going to make it a goal to keep checking in so that I can see exactly how many times it took for the next belt level progression. I’m curious like that.
Don’t worry yourself about the how long the average training time to become purple belt is. We are all different.
What was your purple belt test or exam?
Our academy doesn’t do testing in the traditional sense the way other martial arts do, or the way some jiu-jitsu academies choose to do. My instructor believes the following:
I know. I see all the work one puts in and the technical development. I know when the individual is ready for the next challenge and the next level. It’s important to constantly challenge oneself. It’s important to provide new benchmarks and not getting comfortable with current thresholds. The belt is just a recognition of what has already been put in. A test almost undermines that growth. A test is not necessarily a good measure of retention.
– Marcos “Yemaso” Torregrosa
I understand his message. And, I’d like to add that in a way the test or exam is one in the same with the journey. The test is being consistent. The test is learning new techniques, drilling them, expressing them, and having them become an extension of your being. The test is the injuries. The test is suffering a severe ankle sprain two weeks out of a tournament and competing with the expectation to win anyway. The test is not being lazy about staying on your toes to have good base and mobility despite the turf toe that radiates pain through your foot.
And nearly torn hamstrings. And sore elbows. And winning. And losing. And coming back from injuries.
That’s the test.
Although we have no formalized testing, a teammate and I put together a quick demonstration of bjj techniques for the people in attendance. Check it out if you are so inclined.
What are the IBJJF requirements to promote to purple belt?
The IBJJF does not require a certain amount of time spent at white belt, but it does require a minimum of 2 years spent at blue belt. Therefore, according to the IBJJF, a bjj athlete must have at least two years of jiu-jitsu training to become a purple belt.
What is a bjj purple belt?
A somewhat resilient human being…
Is a jiu-jitsu purple belt good?
Definitely, yes, when compared to an untrained person. Absolutely not, when compared to a world class black belt. So, I’m going to say… maybe? I guess it largely depends on your perspective. Consider this though, the amount of effort and skill required to reach the purple belt level in Jiu-Jitsu is more than enough to reach the black belt level at number of other martial arts. But, still not quite as much effort to reach the brown belt.
What does it mean to be a purple belt? (Moving forward)
This is a tough concept to ponder, for me at least. As a purple belt, I am going to be having people ask me questions and depend on me to have the right answer. How frightening. There is going to be a huge proverbial target on my back as all the new blues and seasoned whites will be doing EVERYTHING they can to “tap themselves a purple.” *rolls my eyes*
It is said that reaching the purple belt level is significantly different than other jiu-jitsu milestones because it is a great indicator that bjj has permeated its way into your lifestyle; it separates the people who end up reaching the black belt and those who simply wash out.
I have several goals at purple belt. Here are a few:
- Improve my wrestling (channeling Jordan Borroughs)
- Improve my judo (or lack thereof)
- Improve my economy of movement (less is more)
- Master the purple belt curriculum & syllabus at our academy (a daunting task)
CreateCurate my repertoire in a VERY personalized manner (start to set myself apart from my teammates)
- Discover the nuances of teaching jiu-jitsu to a newbie (which may or may not have something to do with my patience)
My first roll in the purgatory that is purple belt.
I think, ultimately, what being a brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt means to me is perseverance and willingness to face discomfort.
A big shout out to my friends at: Chicali Bros & Datsusara
Follow me: @rubeneavila
I enjoy reading your perspective of BJJ and your relationship with it. Your ability to transpose information in your head and feelings in your spirit to an audience that of bjj affiliation or not, just keeps getting better and better. Congratulations on your belt man.
I was surprised to see that you had finally been promoted, but knew personally the type of energy that you had put into your blue belt, and felt happiness in my heart for your accomplishment.
Oh yes: I once read a shirt at a tournament that read, ” you win some, you learn some…”. It sticks with me because every experience- every roll- leads to a better understanding of your skills and abilities. I know you are WELL aware of that. Keep up the good work.
Well done primo. Well done.
Osu. Thank you for the kind words; I am glad sharing my experience can be of some value.
Very insightful article. As a current blue belt I can relate to much of what you say. I would like to be a really good blue belt before getting the purple, but what and who determines “good?” I think we all place higher standards to meet on ourselves.
You hit the nail right on the head. What and who determines what is, “good?” It is definitely an arbitrary process that I don’t feel ready to have to judge. Some of us, the type A personalities will definitely be too hard on ourselves. Others will need a gentle push here and there. I see that jiu-jitsu is a very personal experience and no two people experience things the same way. I am glad that you can relate to some of the content. Sometimes we don’t have people around us that we can relate to when it comes to this type of stuff. For me it’s always refreshing to read something that I can relate with very well.
Thanks for sharing, Matt.
Jen Hartley says
I am “being considered for my purple belt” whatever that means. I feel everything that you described in this article. I am afraid, don’t feel ready, don’t feel worthy, etc. However, you very rightly state that we are not the ones making the decisions as we (yes, I am a type A, and a 43 yr old woman, btw,) would hold ourselves back much longer necessary. I do not feel ready. I feel like I need to perfect my sweeps, have a greater ability to “tap” all white belts and other blue belts, and generally be able to “go out and bang” before earning my purple. However, again, as a woman, who am I to judge, and how am I to possibly think that I will be able to easily tap out any white or blue belt, especially men who can muscle out of most submissions I attempt? It is your coaches job and their eye that sees your progression, work ethic and dedication and can objectively tell if you are ready. Thank you for reminding me of that. I am starting a woman’s class in my gym tomorrow. I think teaching will be a huge progression for me in earning my purple. If and when I get it, I will embrace it and not question it. Thanks again for the article.
Ruben Avila says
Jen, thank you for replying and taking time to share your thoughts with me. Congratulations on your consistent efforts! Please keep me updated. 🙂
Lee J. says
Let me bang bro! I love it. I got my purple belt a year ago and I still can’t believe it.
Man that guy was a trip, huh? I’m starting to think UFC finds people who are very volatile to get ratings… kind of like what MTV did with real world when they figured out that drama sells. Congratulations man, but you better believe it soon or else you’ll be wearing a brown belt and be even more surprised lol.
Thanks for posting this! I had a similar experience were I really felt awful as a blue belt. I was being destroyed by larger and stronger white belts most of the beginning of last year and I almost gave up in my mind. Something changed around October last year and suddenly I was catching people and higher level blues. When I got my purple in November I was scared as I felt that target appear, but also I felt I needed to do my instructor proud. I’m now far more comfortable with the purple but like you, have similar goals in mind.
I really like how you’ve explained your journey and like others who have posted before, I can relate to this and glad that someone else can put into words what I’ve been thinking!
Good luck on your journey!
Thank you for taking time out of your day to respond. It’s definitely pretty damn cool to be able to relate to someone in a different part of the world through a shared experience. I’m very happy to hear that my words reverberated in you. Thanks for the comment and support!
Jiu Jiu says
Hey there! Congrats! I really enjoyed your thoughtfulness on your journey to purple. John Frankl said, when he promoted someone to purple: “This is it, man. Either you’ll quit tomorrow or you’re in it for life.” Woot!
(Side note: May I suggest using either italics or bold rather than underlined text – in general that’s used to denote a link, and none of them are links, despite me clicking on them trying to MAKE them links!)
Ruben Avila says
Aw, thanks for taking some time to check out one of my posts. I LIKE that quote! I think it’s very true. Don’t you? (Thanks for the feedback regarding design. I’m still trying to figure this all out as it’s not a strong suit of mine. That feedback is pretty valuable as I just changed themes, and who knows how many other people could have been having the same issue! Oops.)
Darec McDaniel says
I had a very similar experience when receiving my purple belt, something like 4 years ago now. You’ve certainly done a great job putting into words the thoughts and panics one faces when moving through the ranks in Jiu-Jitsu.
I can say that now, looking down the barrel of a Black Belt, I am consumed with self doubt and fight running mental comparisons of others I’ve seen with that lofty belt around their waists.
“Am I worthy of this?”
“Will I live up to it?”
“Will everyone else think I’m a good Black Belt?”
In the end none of that matters; not to our development, nor to the expression of our abilities as practitioners. It’s up to our instructor to put the proper color on us, but it will always be up to us to find our voice and learn to express ourselves with it.
Great post again, thanks!
Ruben Avila says
Darec, thanks for taking some time to drop a comment. I appreciate the sentiment. I can’t even imagine myself wearing a black belt. So crazy.
Jason Bishop says
Just stumbled upon this. Amazing article, and one that COMPLETELY resonated with me. I’ve had my blue belt for a few years now and like you, am feeling really ‘comfortable’ in it. I feel like there isn’t a blue belt my size who I can’t give a run for the money or even beat. I have been winning a few tournaments and every tournament I enter, I have the mindset of “there is no one in my division who can beat me”. It is ‘comfortable’, and actually enjoyable having that confidence.
Just a few days ago, I competed in the PAN AMS and entered it thinking I would win. I ended up loosing in the quarter finals to the person who won the thing. My teammates (and my coach) are hinting at me getting my purple belt, but it is daunting and somewhat scary. I feel I didn’t accomplish all that I wanted as a blue belt – namely, winning either the PAN AMS or the Worlds. That being said, I don’t know if I want to be a blue belt just for the sake of competing at these tournaments as I will have to wait another year.
I think your coach hit the nail on the head when he said, “…the individual is ready for the next challenge or the next level. It is important to constantly challenge oneself, it is important to provide new benchmarks and not get comfortable with new thresholds”.
I feel very comfortable in my blue belt… and that probably isn’t the best thing. The idea of being promoted is scary as I feel, I’ll be sort of ‘starting over again’. But that is mainly for competition reasons. Then again, I look at competitors like Keenan, the Miyao brothers, or Gianni Grippo, who competed this weekend as new black belts. All ended up making to the finals, and all I’m sure felt the same sort of insecurities, and uncomfortable feelings I have.
Then again, all were dominating at brown belt levels and were probably ready for the new challenge.
Anyways, great article, and I’m glad I stumbled across this. I’ll definitely be checking back here often.
Ruben Avila says
Hey Jason, thanks for your comment. It really makes my day to know that someone connects with my experiences. You know, the funny thing is that having acquired the purple belt has propelled my work ethic exponentially. I thought I was working HARD at blue belt. When I first got my purple belt though, I was reinvigorated and found even more inspiration to work harder and work smarter. I completely relate to you in regards to wanting to win a major title in order to validate my skills and move to the next level, but tournaments are only one aspect of expressing your technique. There are other aspects that do not necessarily show up at tournaments.
Man, it sucks losing in the quarters. It’s happened to me a couple of times now and most notably at 2012 nogi worlds. Such a heartbreaker lol.
Thanks for stopping by and feel free to sign up for the newsletter!
Jason Bishop says
Well it happened! Got my purple belt last night. It took a while for me to grow into my blue belt – I imagine it will be the same for the purple belt as well. I’m competing at the end of this month in a local tournament.. I had singed up to compete as blue belt – Looks like I’m gonna compete as a purple belt instead!
Ruben Avila says
Oh it will be! I am still trying to feel like an adequate purple belt. LOL. Let me know how your tournament goes!
I really enjoyed reading your journey so far. Im a 43 year old blue belt and have been training side by side with my 20 year old son for 4 1/2 years now. We’re getting close to getting our purple belts. I have to admit though my personal goal is to achieve a black belt inBJJ BUT not just A black belt but I want to truly earn it. I spent the first few years training at Nova Uniao HQ in Tempe AZ under Gustavo Dantes and the honor of receiveing my blue belt from him. I now live in MD and am blessed to be training with another great instructor Vicetnte Junoir. I guess for me it is, in a way a race because I’m afraid of my body holding up. I compete pretty often ibjjf , naga, and whatever local events are going on. Purple is around the corner and for my I can’t wait to test myself at that level and keep moving forward.
Ruben Avila says
Thank you for commenting. I appreciate what your words add to the conversation of the journey from the beginning stage of bjj to the intermediate stage. I can only imagine how good it must feel to be able to share this with your son. I am sure your body will hold up. Just project positivity and learn to listen to your body. Sometimes, it may be in your best interest to only drill and not roll. Train smart and you’ll get there.
Thank you for the interesting post. As an absolute beginner, I’m gonna follow this guide for sure. Its not about the belt but there comes to a point,, I’d be challeging myself no matter how far I go.
Ruben Avila says
Hey Su! Thanks for coming by and dropping me a note. BJJ can always provide very worthwhile challenges depending on how you want to express yourself!
I think it was awesome. ….u
Ruben Avila says
As an older practitioner (I started BJJ at 42) I appreciate your article, very insightful. I am a competing blue belt and very rarely find myself fighting against someone close to my age. Since starting my BJJ journey I have also started a mixed art format that includes a lot of grappling. I am “ranked” higher than a blue in that format, somewhere between a purple and brown in BJJ comparison… philosophically where does your mindset think one should compete in a situation like this? I somewhat feel a bit like a sandbagger at blue but I am always competing against people half my age and I don’t actually have a purple belt in BJJ.
Thanks for the article.
Ruben Avila says
Hey Pete, thanks for dropping by and leaving me a note. There are a lot of factors that can go into your circumstance that can have an affect on my position. But, my initial inclination is to tell you to go by your belt rank. If someone is a Judo black belt or has a great wrestling pedigree, they are asked to compete at blue belt. So, I think you are fine.
Are you beating people really badly at blue belt? Is it competitive? What art are you talking about that you trained in?
Great article!! I completely understand where you are coming from. I recently got my 4th stripe on my purple and could not be anymore scared. Not of rolling, but the responsibility of lower belts looking for you to answer questions regarding technique. But the awesome thing is that this makes you refine and examine every in and out of every technique and THAT is what makes jiujitsu a lifestyle. OSS!!
Ruben Avila says
We don’t typically do stripes other than on white belts, so I don’t really know how close I am to brown belt. Since I was out for a year with an injury, this is kinda my first year of development as a purple belt. So, who knows. But, I am not thinking about the brown belt at all. Truthfully, it isn’t a goal of mine to become a brown belt. However, in the back of my head, I do know that it is an inevitability. Me? A brown belt? Yikes!
Osu! That’s so cool I believe and I myself have trained Kenpo, Silat jiu jitsu all my life. Buy never cared for rank. I have been involved in thousands of conflicts I have been in law enforcement. For 30 yrs. I also trained in combat judo since I was eight. My father was a Recon Marine served tours in Cuba Viet nam. I have seen my friends kill and be killed. But belt was never the question only application. Osu! Keep living the Jiu Jitsu way soft and gently yet dangerous. God Bless Randal.
Hey man great read thanks, I just got my purple the other day when I was just starting to feel like a blue after 2 years… I have all this stuff to think about now, I still struggle with blue belts at my club so I am feeling a bit like I don’t deserve the purple but I trust my instructor!
I do feel like I now have a target on my back, in fact I got a text almost immediately from another competitive blue saying “So when do I get to roll with the new purple”!
The next few months I am sure I will be working a lot on defence of my scalp!
Hey, bud, thanks for dropping by and sharing. Interesting to see how many people related to my experiences in getting promoted to purple. I was just promoted to brown belt and have been working on my post for that. Stay tuned!
Sergio Scornaienchi says
Sounds like you have the right attitude. I’ve always thought it is better to be under belted than over belted. Likely nothing worse than rolling and feeling your belt is “too big”. Good luck!
Thanks, Sergio. It’s been a while since I got that purple belt. I was recently promoted to brown belt last winter.
Michael E Jimenez says
Great stuff! I reached my purple in just over 2 yrs. Got injured shortly thereafter, recovered, then life (work, kids, excuses) took me away from BJJ for 4 YEARS! I finally got back into it about a month ago. The guys I battled with as blue belts are all brown n’ black belts now. Finally starting to realize what being a purple is about and have a new perspective on the art. Glad to be back on the path. Thanks for the great blog. OSS!
You got a purple belt in two years!? Dang that’s awesome! Coming back is rough huh? Thanks dropping me a comment bro.
A good read and a great story Ruben. I like your perspective on things and although I’m mid blue and a few stripes. I get what your saying above. Kind Regards and thanks for the insight. Rgds Steve
Steve, thanks for stopping by!