Is Belt Testing Outdated?

In the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu community, there is a traditional practice for deciding belt promotions that has lingered despite being severely outdated. The practice creates a number of issues that can cause rifts between students and even cause an instructor to lose the respect of his academy. That practice is belt testing.

Bruce Lee, considered by many to be the father of mixed martial arts, stated, “Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.” One of the things that Bruce Lee discarded early on was the use of the kata. If you are unfamiliar with what a kata is, it is the memorization of a specific set of techniques, demonstrated in a specific order, usually for a rank promotion.

Sound familiar? It ought to if you attend a school that requires its students to test for their belts. I believe this system of katas for belts in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is damaging to its practitioners and the community as a whole. Allow me to explain.


This system has often led to the promotion of the unskilled. While a certain online school has taken a fair amount of heat for the way  they promote their students, the fact of the matter is, they really aren’t that far off from any other school that requires belt testing in the fact that they are promoting those who are not truly skilled enough to receive their new rank.

An effect that this has within a school is that it creates an inconsistency of skill among the ranks. I have attended a number of schools that use this method of promotion and never can tell what sort of grappler I will be rolling with based off of the color of their belt. I’ve rolled with purple belts who would put black belts to shame, and I have rolled with purple belts who ought to be embarrassed to enter a competition division higher than a white belt. A rank test gives the unskilled a chance to surpass (in rank) the more skilled.

Often, this form of promotion is coupled with the amount of time a person has spent coming to practice. I believe this to only further the problem. To give stripes to, or to invite a person out for a belt test who has not made much improvement over someone who stomps all over them in live rolling is a huge mistake. It fosters feelings of resentment and bitterness among those skilled individuals who are being overlooked based simply on the amount of free time they are able to put into grappling. Besides, I can’t imagine a world in which Caio Terra was told he needed to wait on his belt test because he hadn’t been in Jiu-Jitsu for long enough.

So what is the best way to promote an individual? The most effective method I have ever come across is based off of four indicators: competition, skill rolling with peers, technical knowledge, and in a distant fourth, time spent in class. Competition comes first in my mind, no matter what. It is by far the most important aspect of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu today. I will take a moment to discuss the competition criteria; the others, I feel, are self-explanatory.


Competition helps every practitioner reach their ultimate goal in Jiu-Jitsu no matter what it happens to be. What if a person took up BJJ to get into shape? Competition is an amazing motivator. What if they want to learn self-defense? A competition allows a person feel what it is like to have someone come at them full force to try to hurt them, and forces them to defend themselves. What if a person took up Jiu-Jitsu just to get out of the house and socialize? Some of my most fun experiences with my teammates have come from attending competitions together.

A competition allows an instructor to see where their student truly lies in applying their knowledge. I understand that there are exceptions to this idea of having all students compete. Some may be physically, mentally, or financially unable to do so. I get that. Really, I do. I would never hold someone back from a promotion if they were simply unable to compete for one of those reasons. However, if they avoided competition for nearly any other reason, I would withhold promotion from them. There are too many positive benefits to be gained from competition that a grappler can gain no other way. A grappler who has never competed is still an incomplete grappler, regardless of their rank.

What say you, grappling community? Is there a better way to promote students? Or am I wrong about belt testing? I want to hear what you think.


  1. im right there with you I didn't have no belt testing at my school but I worked my ass off to get my blue then I moved and checked out another school they were wanting to give me my purple lol needless to say I didn't go back to that school I mean hell I just got my blue and this school is wanting to give me a purple belt sorry but I earn my belts

  2. The color of the belt. I do believe that testing is an important way to see if someone understands the techniques of that certain rank and what should be expected. Even though an online school promotes by testing alone, it is in the best interest of any endevior to have a set syllabus across the board. In other grappling arts that are olympic sports, a teacher can only promote so far then it’s ranking tournaments, and katas in front a board that determines if you make the grade to be promoted. In judo there is a set syllabus, you are expected to know these things but if you constantly get smashed you do not get promoted. It’s like trying to be a doctor. You can have the best grades, but when you are put in front of your peers for evaluation and fail you do not get promoted

  3. This posts over generalizes belt testing. One example of why this post is wrong is the Roy Dean Academy where people are tested for their belts. I have trained there and I can vouch that every single one of their ranks are merited.

    However, who in the world only uses kata in bjj to test? This actually exists? If so, they should be pointed out to the community.

  4. I understand the point being made here. But it is never black and white. Kata in BJJ? Never heard of that! A test depends entirely on the school and the school's requirements. Some schools are on a mission to make black belts or money. These schools may promote easier – they may not. But – it is all about the journey and the commitment. A test actually can work the same as a competition. You have to prepare for both. In the preparation you are testing yourself and hopefully improving. We don't have BJJ tests because our master never had them. Then there is the comparison problem…is it fair to compare a 20 year old in shape athlete with a 50 year old who just wants to stay healthy – no. Martial arts are a very individualistic practice. When we promote we ask is Dave improving his game or is he the same? Yes – mat time is extremely important but if someone just fools around and does not progress then they do not move up.

  5. I mostly agree,but i don’t understand if you mean that someone should compete, regardless of the wins-loses, or has to get some sort of position/medal in order to be promoted.

  6. Good article…. However, belt tests are essential for promoting. I am not saying that if you pass a test you deserve a belt- I am saying that students should only take the test if their head professor feels they are ready. Competing, natural ability, character, and dedication are the factors that every professor should take into consideration when deciding if their student is ready to take a test. Preparing for the test is also a great way for practitioners to review the fundamentals, and sharpen their game. When my professor asked me to take my brown belt test I didn’t feel I was ready to be a brown belt, but after several weeks of preparing and reviewing the fundamentals my game became incredibly well rounded, and I was ready to get my brown belt.

  7. What about the sand baggers who are purposely left longer at a belt and are competing at that lower belt, when in fact they should be higher? An example would be a blue belt who places first or second in every tournament they enter, yet are held back for some apparent reason?

  8. I just don't think competition is the end all be all. I have asthma and nearly passed out while rolling while I had a bow and arrow on my opponent in a competition. The only reason I competed in the first place was to try it out. Competition isn't for everyone. I can appreciate it as a good barometer for promotion but I don't think it's everything or should be heavily weighed upon for criteria. Just my two cents.

  9. Unless it's 2 people on the mat, winner is decided when one taps. All that rules in the bjj comp has little to showcase one's jiujitsu skills. And yes I've competed and won before and was turned off because of the rules. No more competing for me. I don't mind being brown belt for life.

  10. I compete as well along side my bro Jerardo Linares
    And have seen the sandbagging going on but hey they're only hurting
    Themselves .But Tournaments should be a big factor for promotions
    Means your showing what you really know. Get ready to bang!
    Leon jujitsu !See you on the mat 🙂

  11. i think kata is pointless for promoting. however a test displaying a set number of techniques from given positions i find to be adequate. i have been at a gym that does not test and one that does and they both work fine and everyone at their belt level is legitimately at that level.

  12. You can always register in the higher division. NAGA if you win your division, you have to compete at the higher division no matter if you get promoted or not. Or rather you're supposed to.

  13. Your professor is only going to put you up for grading if you're worthy and then you should be able to demonstrate the required techniques. Not as "Kata" but for example show me five ways to pass guard, show me five sweeps etc maintain standards in ability and technical knowledge.

  14. I think promotion should be based on a combination of all (testing, competition, teaching ability, and application of techniques demonstrated during training). If you take testing out of the picture, you end up watering down the art, as you then end up with black belts opening their own schools and not knowing all that a black belt should know. When traveling out of town, I often visit other schools and it is embarrassing to see some of the instructors that are out there teaching.

  15. I think competition is fantastic and I DO NOT believe in testing.

    I will say that WINNING a competition is not an indicator of readiness for promotion. MANY times certain aspects of a students game are not tested AT ALL in a competition.

    For instance…. This past weekend one of my students won the Blue belt Masters 3 Med-Heavy World Championship. He had 4 matches and the 4th match was the only match where he was put on his back in the guard or otherwise. It was a dominate performance and, as a Coach, it's exactly what I want to see. As his Teacher, I would have liked to see him work from his guard for more than the 30-40 seconds that I did, I would have liked to see him escape from bad positions like mount, side control, or back control. What he displayed was great takedown, guard passing, and positional control skills. Half the game. So, between sparring in class and his next tournament he will be working to improve and demonstrate the other half of the game.

  16. I think the argument is that a lot of blame is places on sandbag ginger in tourneys. What passes for a blue or pupae at your school might not be what passes at the next. We've all done it. We tap a black belt in the gym and get a rush, we get mauled at a competing and and all of a sudden every one else's is sand bagging.

  17. I agree with almost everything said but to say competitive rolling is only done in tournament not exactly a matter of fact training only for tournaments has taken away alot of the original intent of bjj

  18. I disagree with your #1 choice of competition being the best way to test skill and fighting ability in order to promote. Just an example would be the great Chuck Norris and legendary Dan Inosanto. They are ferocious fighters in their particular arts but have not competed in BJJ tourneys. Both are Black Belts under Jean Jacque & Rigan Machado. They have trained hard & are extremely good grapplers in their own right. As my BJJ Instructor Henry Akins always told me……I'm a white belt that never gave up or quit!

  19. what about the student who fights thats a better indication than a tourney. lets not forget why we train. what about a student who has used it on the streets? tournaments are not the best indicator. your coach should know what level you are, without anyone 'slipping' through. I think a bigger problem is the promotions are out of control by lots of so called instructors. I'm sick of seeing these 'mma' coaches with 3 years of training opening schools and promoting.

  20. Your coach can decide you're ready to test based upon his/her impression of your level. Qualifying for the test is part of the test.

    Then, during the test itself, you can demonstrate breadth and depth of technical skills.

    This way, both are covered and the Jiu Jitsu Darwinism is preserved.

  21. Competition is an excellent way to test a martial artist. In competition the athlete will be tested in his focus, spirit, and technical skill. When I ran a judo club and my younger brother was coming up in rank I put him through a round robin ironman fight. We beat the crap out of him for ten minutes and then after ten minutes he stopped getting tapped, thrown, and he stopped using excessive energy to fight. The essence of judo (and Bjj) is to create the ideal mindset to do everything with maximum efficiency combined with minimal effort. This needs to be broken into the martial artist and competition is one of several ways to do this.

  22. Definitely disagree about competing. I like to compete but not everyone does. I have met very good technical people that don't always do well in competition. Also competition has set rules that make you play BJJ a specific way.

  23. Yeah, complex question. Example: Great amateur Wrestler with cond. and lots Wrestling exp. comes in to BJJ school (he has no BJJ exp) Puts on a gi and wrecks shop. Is he now a BJJ black belt? No. He’s still a (never have belts assigned) great amateur Wrestler. I see this happen. White belts w/ cauliflower ears! Guys are Wrestlers IMO. Putting on a gi and using a couple subs doesn’t change that. Proficiency is still based on cond. and technique, but should they get BJJ-belted-up for using Wrestling with a gi on? You tell me.

    I DO like training with those guys. They’re awesome. But again, if Tyson knocks out your Karate teacher is he now a black belt? P.S. I actually PREFER no-gi, wrestling, submission, and dislike gi grappling. But, it’s all that’s avail. locally.

  24. At my academy we do not use stripes on adult belts except white belts. All belts are earned by time, technical skill, and competitiveness. Only after these things are shown will a person get “Tested”. Testing is an excellent way to showcase skill sets. Over time our tests have become very long and involved, this demonstrates to lower belts the sheer number of techniques possible. Some schools may test with 30 or 50 skills, we prepare in the hundreds. It is an excellent way to renew your knowledge base as well as you go along.

  25. Testing establishes a baseline for knowledge and control. In competing only you never know if your student has learned humility and not all competitors will make good teachers. I think as with any sports there are all kinds…teachers, coaches, competitors, mat sweepers whatever each should be graded based on what they know and now on whether they compete.

  26. yes and no, my old school didnt test and you had to fight to get your belt but people were also held back because the instructor felt like it, even though they were beating higher levels. On the flip side, those same people couldn’t do some basic moves that they should have been tested for. they were given their promotions due to strength, athletic ability, competition wins and overall wins. perfect example, i had to coach a blue belt on how to drill a basic 5 point arm bar from guard and in a seminar, the warm up was spinning arm bar from mount and i saw tons of puzzled faces.

    I do miss the surprise promotions but at the same time i think that many basics can be overshadowed by the students natural ability so there is a place and need for testing.


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