Reader Question: “Should a lower belt student ever be able to tap out a higher belt in BJJ?”

We get questions every now and again here at Jiu Jitsu Times and some of them are really interesting.  Recently a reader sent in this question, and I’ll do my best at answering it.

“Should a lower belt student ever be able to tap out a higher belt in BJJ?”

For starters, I want to clarify my opinion on belts: they (plural) mean nothing.  An individual’s belt can mean the world to that individual, and can hold significance to those immediately around them, but a blue belt world champion is probably on the same technical level as an average, non competing hobbyist black belt.

So are we talking about a hobbyist black belt and a blue belt world champ???

Another point to be made on this specific subject: there are world class grapplers who are white belts in BJJ.  A Sambo master of sports is a white belt in BJJ if they have never been promoted by a BJJ instructor.  A catch wrestling expert or a Luta Livre black belt is technically a white belt in BJJ.  However, chances are a master of sport in Sambo or a Luta Livre black belt can tap out BJJ black belts.

Another thing to take into account is that not every black belt rolls the same way every time they roll.  I’ve rolled with black belts who were working on their armbar defense so they let me put them in an armbar, and sometimes I managed to get the tap, while other times they got out.

I’ve rolled with black belts who were much smaller/less athletic than I am and I was able to use my athleticism to get the better of them.  Like it or not, size and athleticism do play a roll during live rolling.

Yet another very important point to think about is that most people put their bodies through hell on the road to black belt.  Many people don’t make it to black belt without having messed SOMETHING up, and some black belts are not in great shape in comparison to a fresh white or blue belt.

I’ve seen white belts tap out brown and even black belts when there was a major size disparity or when it was submission only and the white belt was freakishly strong.  These sorts of things happen, and aren’t necessarily an indictment of the upper belts’ skills or an affirmation of the lower belts’ skills.

Anyone can catch anyone given the right circumstances, mistakes can be made either by accident or deliberately to test oneself.  Size, strength and physical condition can play important rolls in the performance of a black belt against lower belts, and very often ones’ belt rank is not a direct reflection of their available skill set.

If you are an upper belt, have you ever been submitted by a lower rank?  How about the humble white belts among us, have any of you ever subbed an upper belt?   Guess what, nobody cares, go train! 🙂


  1. White belt here aspiring to blue soon. Our instructor made it VERY clear. “A belt is just something that holds your pants up, poorly might i add.” Anyone can get caught at any time. Stay humble and Keep learning. Hopefully get better everyday.

  2. True story.

    Side note: “a blue belt world champion is probably on the same technical level as an average, non competing hobbyist black belt” contradicts “my opinion on belts: they (plural) mean nothing.”

  3. how does author speak on behalf of knowing what it is like on the road to a black belt, when he is only a blue belt?? Shut the FUCK UP!

    • Do you disagree with anything that’s been written here? Or are you simply attacking the merits of what has been written because you think that the person who wrote it is beneath the required threshold to know the information written?

    • Maybe s/he spoke to black belts? Maybe he knows them, because he trains with them at his/her gym? Maybe he has black belt friends? Jesus, you’re a cranky fuck for no reason.

  4. I totally agree with everything written! Now I am brown belt and it happend to submit upper belts during all my journey till here; but I was submitted twice by a lower belt. Of course I felt down, disapointed but I saw that there are flaws in my game and I am trying improve it. But I think this kind of thing happens once in a while when you are out of zone of comfort. We just have to see what happens once in a while in the major tournaments. Sometime the favourites, fell an lose, but most of the time we see them in the next tournament continuously improving. I think that is the spirit, that is our lifestyle!

  5. I’m 47 and a purple belt. I’ve been training for 8.5 years. I train in the NYC area. A lot of high level guys here. I mean a lot. I also visited other parts of the country and visited and trained.

    My conclusion:

    You are correct. Belts mean nothing. It won’t save your butt in a bar or stopping a mugger or in a street fight when it matters. Again, I agree.

    But… A black belt is a black belt. If you get tapped out by a blue belt, maybe that blue belt should be ranked higher or that black belt should be ranked lower. Once you are a purple, you should have solid technique.

    I constantly roll against 20 year old blues and whites. And guess what happens? I tap them out (for the most part). Guys who do old school JJ, guys who like the deep half, spider guard, big muscular guys (I like them the best especially since I went down from 180 to 158 (cut the carbs and stopped the weight lifting -not against weight lifting. It’s a good thing. Just no time) they think they’re gonna twist me into a pretzel – not). I’ve visited Renzo’s and Marcelo’s academies and went against really good guys and held my own. I’ve even gone against black belts and brown belts who can’t tap me out.

    Conversely, I’ve gone against black and brown belts who instantly tap me out. I’ve gone against browns I’ve come close to tapping.

    Conclusion: Your belt is your instructor’s conclusion of YOUR skills and abilities mixed with your limitations and dedication (if you have physical disabilities, if you’re a really small guy, if you’re a great big overweight guy, if you’re a girl, if you’re a skinny teenager, if you show up once a week, if you train everyday, if you’re kind and nurturing to the new guy, if you like to tap the new guy out 8 times in a round, and most importantly, who you’re tapping out and/or defending well against). That’s it. That’s what your instructor gauges your abilities on. Now the twist in all this are the fight metrics. There could be a higher ranked blue belt you constantly tap out, but there’s another lower ranked blue that gives you a hard time, and that lower ranked blue constantly taps outs the higher rank blue. Maybe because the higher rank guy is a wrestler and constantly charges in head first and the lower ranked guy has fallen in love with marcelos simple arm drag to back or even the marcelotine. This is all fight metrics. Spider man beats batman, super man beats Spider-Man. But batman beats superman. Chael 9 times out of 10 beats Anderson. Anderson 9 out of 10 beats Maia. But Maia 9 out of 10 beats Anderson.

    When you’re closely ranked that’s when things like physical abilities and limitations come into play.

    I’ve gone against blues that significantly outweighed me and their belts and stripes were badly worn, and these guys gave me a hard time. Then I’ve gone against browns that I was bigger than or equal in size and held my ground and gave them a really hard time.

    Fight metrics!

    But the gap between black and blue and/or brown and white is just too great and there’s no way a blue should tap a black belt. Either the black belt is not properly ranked, or the blue belt is a high level sambo guy or wrestler that just started JJ.

    Belts mean nothing but they do mean something at the same time.

    Ps. I see you are a purple. So you’re advance now. I respect you and appreciate your article but I’m surprised at your comments. Again I say this with utter respect. On another note, I always get a kick out of really opinionated articles with definite and precise formulas and answers to JJ and they’re a stinkin’ 3 stripe white or a blue. No offense, but JJ is a really long journey and all this social media has made experts out of newbies. Like when you see that 4 stripe white teaching his variation he prefers over what the instructor is teaching. Just shut up and do what your instructor is teaching. Try it when you roll and then try your variation and see what works for YOU best. Be humble and realize that dude earned his black because he can crush you like a bug with his abilities.

    I appreciate all these articles and but I have to take it with a grain of salt when it’s a dude who just started the JJ journey.

    Closing statements. If physicality matches up, there’s no way a blue (whatever competitions he’s doing) should be tapping out a black belt (even the accountant black belt with 3 kids and start up business) ever… Ever! Unless a baseball bat comes into play. Lol.

    • @JBlanco, I’ve been training BJJ off and on for about 18 years, been doing martial arts since the early 90s. I’m a purple belt now but I promise that I will stand behind everything written in this post pretty much forever. It’s based on my experiences.

      A competition oriented blue belt will beat many non-comp black belts. Shit just look at Roberto Jimenez. There are exceptions to every rule so at the end of the day never assume anything about anyone based on the belt they were, make your assumptions based on how they roll instead 😀

    • J Blanco – I like your response. I am just an observer of BJJ and MMA. I know about Renzo’s and Marcelo’s gyms in NY (I’m in Philly), the Danaher Death Squad guys, the killers that come out of those 2 gyms and some other BJJ places in NY. I’m a female and older so it’s nice to know that your experience is the greatest marker of how well one would normally perform when rolling. A black belt by MOST accounts should be able to defend and/or tap almost every lower belt opponent. Of course there are exceptions (always) but we’re talking the ‘norm’. You make a clear and valid point. Just my 2 cents.


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