Going From Brown to Black Belt: A How-To Guide

For the past ten years, I have been in the “BJJ laboratory” teaching kids and adults full-time. For the past eighteen years, I have been on my personal BJJ journey.

This article is designed to give brown belts perspective, insight, and the tools to become not just a black belt, but the absolute BEST black belt they can be!

All belts and individuals in jiu-jitsu have to be examined on a case-by-case basis. People enter BJJ at different times in their lives.

We will study the following types of brown belts.

  1. The Hobbyist
  2. The Competitor
  3. The Future Professor/Teacher

All three share common ground

The three types of brown belts all share some common ground. Eventually, the Hobbyist and Competitor will be forced to join the ranks with the Professor and teach jiu-jitsu. When this occurs, it is crucial they can teach everyone: men, women, children, weak, strong, old, young, introverted, extroverted, possessing issues from their past, lacking confidence, over-confident, etc.

It is easy to become self-centered in jiu-jitsu. Most of your training career has been spent competing with your training partners. I don’t care how noble you are, you have gone home more than once, proud that you submitted your friend or “beat them”. But remember how you got to where you were: you got there because of your mentors and teachers.

Jiu-jitsu is a service and eventually you will have the important, humanistic duty to share the knowledge you have in order to provide a positive future for the next generation of BJJ practitioners.

“Knowledge has no value unless you share it.” – Unknown

When this happens, do not teach them all you know and all you can do. Give them what THEY need to do. They are not you, but they NEED you. Whatever you give them will fascinate them or frustrate them.

Do not submit to the latter.

The Hobbyist

You have a family, you have a full-time job, you don’t compete, and you probably won’t open your own school.

You love jiu-jitsu as much as anybody else. Everybody’s progression and focus is different in his journey through the ranks. But with that brown belt around your waist, you are a representative of what the belt means to outsiders and training partners. So although it is your hobby, it is also a responsibility.

Become the belt!

“Sometimes, you don’t have to win. You cannot win. But that has nothing to do with losing.” – Rickson Gracie

Everyone has her role in the practice. The Hobbyist’s role is broken into three parts.

  1. Train safely and effectively. Avoid injury in order to sustain longevity in the art. (For most hobbyists, jiu-jitsu is their outlet and therapy.)
  2. Don’t just “wait” for your black belt. If life was always a factor in your training, invest the two or more years at brown belt more aggressively than ever. The finish line is near and you have always been behind due to life. Step it up, cram knowledge, cram training in, and cross that finish line with dogged persistence! (Then get ready to really learn once you reach black belt. It has just begun!)
  3. Know your roll. Don’t become competitive all of a sudden, and don’t freak out over taps because you are close to your black belt. Your role is to inspire. The competitor inspires with victory on the mat. You inspire through the understanding of balancing life and training after a late start! You use jiu-jitsu for personal release and will share your knowledge and experience with your family and teammates.

You made it this far after a late start in the race. Don’t stop or slow down now.

The Competitor

As a competitor, your instructor will have different expectations.

  1. You are in the sport, but you are slightly less focused on self-defense and more on becoming the best in your field.
  2. You are the “enforcer” of the gym and will handle the big egos and tough guys.
  3. Your win/loss expectation is increased greatly and you will probably get sandbagged before black belt to ensure tournament victories and competitive expectations.

The Competitor must pay attention to the innovations and evolution of the art in order to keep up with the progressive competition. Don’t conform to everything you see. Analyze and interpret the innovations to see if they are something you should add to your arsenal or just focus on defending.

The competitive brown belt has the highest personal injury rate in class and also injures the most people. The tenacity and pace that a competitor trains at is sometimes very difficult for people to handle.

This is especially true in jiu-jitsu, where a lot of training partners don’t compete and are older, younger, in shape, out of shape, and might not be in competition mode. When you train, compete in class with other competitors and don’t lose sight of the fact that one day your switch will be unplugged and it will be time to give back and teach. So don’t forget the self-defense, the basics, and who you were when you started.

You have gifts. Use them to win and use them to become a developer of the sport and art. American’s love sports and you will be one of the people who gets the most attention. The spotlight is on you and trust me, when you hit black belt, the competition scene will be a different world.

Time to focus more than ever!

The Future, Professor/Teacher/School Owner

As a future professor, you will want to:

  1. Focus on how people learn.
  2. Learn how to teach.
  3. Learn business and marketing and figure out your “mission statement”.
  4. Learn how to be a “social chameleon”.
  5. Focus on ways to captivate men, women, and children. (If you tell me you don’t like teaching kids, you tell me everything I need to know about you.)

You are probably teaching some classes at brown belt if your goal is to teach full-time or own a school; therefore, you will have an edge as a future instructor.

Think about the black belt professor as if he/she were a doctor: you are getting ready to graduate and when you get that doctorate (black belt), you will now be sent into the workforce (teaching/ownership).

You will be scrutinized, watched, and people will automatically trust you simply because of the doctorate degree you earned.

Think about it; when you walk into a doctor’s office, you assume she knows what the heck she is talking about, because . . . well . . .  she is a doctor! You then realize two things: this doctor is knowledgeable and a nice person, and you see why there are lots of patients (students).

Some doctors give you drugs, bare minimum treatment, and stop learning.

Some doctors give you attention, care, treat you on an individual basis and educate you and themselves on what is important or evolving in the world.

Some black belts stopped learning once they hit that mark. They teach their class as quickly as possible so they can get to rolling or head home.

Some black belts study, learn, and improve forever. They truly care about the student’s needs.

If you are a brown belt and you are or will be teaching, then become a teacher. Do not teach only what you know or what you can do. Read the students and read the room and give back what they need.

It’s funny: the more you teach, the more you learn, and the more you teach what you learn, the more you realize that most of your time spent teaching is also spent learning.

“If you are not learning, you are not earning.” – Unknown

As you are becoming a black belt, start learning how to create a curriculum, manage a business, and learn how to structure a class that is balanced for everyone. Learn how to handle personalities like a clinical social worker in order to sustain relationships that will help keep people in your class. In order to teach, you need to have people that want to learn. If you don’t have many people wanting to learn, it’s NOT marketing – it’s you! Plan and strategize to be a communicator of knowledge, passion, and inspiration.


If you are competing, then compete. Go from brown belt champ to black belt legend!

If it is a hobby, remember, a hobby is a passion. If your ego takes you too far away from it, jiu-jitsu will become a job – and most people quit their jobs!

If you are on your way to becoming a black belt professor, you should be finding answers to as many future questions as possible. Master basics and master self-defense. Those are going to be the main things you teach and will ALWAYS be what hooks the student to the magic of jiu-jitsu.

Know who you are at brown belt. You are almost there. Start cramming for the big day. The brown belt isn’t a belt in which you wait for black belt. It is the belt where you “prepare” for your black belt!

“The Brown Belt gave me anxiety and I am glad because it fueled my fire.” – Eddie Fyvie


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