Jiu-Jitsu Belt promotion of MMA Fighters…

I’ve seen a lot of posts on various outlets over the past few days about certain people’s thoughts on BJJ black belt promotion of MMA fighters based on their credentials in MMA rather than their prowess and training in the gi.  It seems that a lot of big names feel that anyone, regardless of their grappling skills, should have to go through the paces in the gi before gaining rank in BJJ.  This may not be a trivial or simple issue…


I love using Josh Barnett as an example.  Barnett’s grappling is legit.  If you threw a gi on him, he’d probably still be able to walk through any of his potential opponents and most if not all of his techniques work both in the gi and without the gi.  And the guy was awarded his BJJ black belt by Erik Paulson and Rigan Machado…  Is his belt not legit?

Another great example is BJ Penn who trained BJJ only 3 short years before being promoted to black belt.  By the comments by many people on Facebook stating that you need to “put in the time”, Penn probably shouldn’t have gotten his black belt.  I can’t take such claims seriously, though, given what he accomplished in BJJ competition.

How about Caio Terra?  Black belt in 3 years, 9 time world champion, and generally good guy… I think there’s a trend here.

Purists will tell you that Jiu Jitsu is in the gi.  Purists will tell you that promoting someone based on knocking someone out in the Octagon isn’t acceptable.  Purists will also tell you that a belt needs to be earned with time, blood, sweat and tears.

At the end of the day it comes down to the decision of the instructor.  I guarantee that if you pitted some of these “MMA BJJ black belts” against the average black belt instructor, they’d be able to demonstrate their abilities with or without the gi.  I would venture as far as to say that Jon Jones, a “BJJ white belt” has more than demonstrated his grappling abilities, and if he were magically promoted to black belt tomorrow, his skills would justify that promotion.

If an instructor wants to promote someone, regardless of their reasons, that’s their decision.  Now, if that person puts a gi on and gets clowned by a really good blue or purple belt and it’s caught on video… Or if they end up in a BJJ competition and things don’t go their way, they may have to deal with a lot of wide eyes and finger pointing.

If an MMA fighter is able to submit BJJ black belts, and they have a technical understanding that satisfies their instructor’s requirement for promotion, should that promotion be withheld for “political” reasons?  Should the negative judgment of another black belt instructor influence one instructor’s decisions insofar as promotions?

Should there be minimum time requirements for promotion?  Should promotions be standardized?



  1. I think the Black Belt should represent more than just the skill level of the practitioner. A Black Belt also represents the “essence” of any martial art in which it is earned. A Black Belt should be an ambassador for the style and represent qualities such as honor, respect, etc. With so much emphasis put on sport and competition I feel like we have to make sure the belt means something more than a skill set.


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