The Value and Meaning of Stripes

Many academies have a system in place by which they promote between promotions.  This is done by putting a little tape “stripe” on the bar of the belt of the person being promoted.  Like belts, stripes can be relatively arbitrary, however stripes have an even deeper level arbitrariness (yes, that’s a word) as they do not have any bearing on competition.  Let’s take a look at why stripes exist, what their potential value is, and what their potential drawbacks are.

Stripes are an indication of a person’s progression through their belt rank.  One stripe is much further from the next belt than four stripes.  They give instructors a way to provide their students with tangible sort of feedback.  They also can serve as an indicator of how to roll with a person (a one stripe or no stripe guy may not be as good as someone with 3 or 4 stripes.)  Some schools require a certain number of stripes on a white belt in order to even roll.

Just to be clear: I think the stripe can be a very valuable coaching tool, and it definitely has its place in our world.  I won’t criticize the striping or belting process, but I am very interested in the broad terms with which we are often judged.  The way I see it is that the stripe doesn’t matter.  My stripe, your stripe, any individual’s specific stripe can mean a whole lot.  Like the belt.

What is the qualification for a stripe on a purple belt?  Is it the working understanding of 5 more moves than prior to the stripe?  6?  Is it 2 tournament wins?  There are no universal qualifications for it therefore it is arbitrary.

I’ve seen some of the very best competitors not get stripes added to their belts for a long time, and I’ve seen guys who practice casually get striped up quickly.  I’ve also trained at schools that don’t offer stripes at all, because they view it as a cheapening of the belt itself.

At the end of the day, stripes keep people interested.  Belts take a long time to earn in jiu jitsu and stripes are small victories that can keep practitioners who may not feel very confident in the game.  It can be frustrating to roll with higher level competitors who have more time to train than you.  The stripe is a reassurance that you are heading in the right direction.

I value stripes for that reason alone.  Personally I view stripes and belts as meaningful on the individual level but because of their arbitrary nature, how can we really attest to their significance?

How many stripes do you have on your belt?  Does every stripe feel like an achievement?  Or do you value the work put in to get that stripe over the stripe itself?



  1. I agree belts and stripes mean nothing and everything at the same time. They mean nothing because anyone can wear anything without having any affect on actual skill level. However, being promoted is a rite of passage where you can officially claim to have a certain rank. At the very least, the stripes can help encourage a practitioner who might be on the fence about continuing to train, and if stripes encourage them to persevere, then it was worth the small piece of tape. On the other end of the spectrum, if you have practitioners who are more concerned with counting stripes and comparing belt colors, rather than improving their technique, then this would detrimental to the art and their jiu jitsu journeys. Great topic!

  2. Stripes or a psychological gift to the student. Yes it represents progress but its more for the student than anything else. Imagine being a Blue belt for 4 years with no stripes, not knowing when you will get your purple belt. Now imagine being a Blue belt for 4 years and having 4 stripes on you bar. Which one would make you feel better? I trained when stripes where only on Black belts. No 4th degree White Belts existed ? the stripes have become a tool or motivation and a business strategy, which is a win win situation for all. But that doesnt mean that a 2 stripe blue belt can’t kick a 4 stripe blue belts butt in the mat. Cause in actuality they are both still blue belts.

  3. I don’t see stripes as anything other than a way to measure your own progress.
    I may have 3 stripes on my blue belt but there are white belts at my gym who run rings around me…but unlike those white belts I’m a 43 year old woman who has 4 kids and started training 2 yrs ago. If my progress was measured and awarded against them, I’d have quit a long time ago. My stripes show me my coach can see improvement in my game.
    My BJJ journey is mine to make. I should be judged on that, not how well I do against an 18yr old male.

  4. My son is ten he is a yellow belt in class but a white belt in competition class when he gets strips it makes feel like he is doing good and that his instructor has noticed his progress, which in turn makes him wanna work harder and love bjj even more. That being said Keizer Oregon bjj is a reall good school.

  5. My instructor gives stripes for just ‘time served’ on the white belt, and a way to just give people who have been training a while a pat on the back. For later belts he doesn’t really bother all that much. Some people have gone straight from zero stripes up a belt.

    Personally, I’m not bothered. I trained a year without getting any stripes at all because he just forgot to give them out. In other martial arts I enjoyed the belt treadmill because there was a curriculum to learn and gradings to go to. In BJJ you get far more of a measure of how you’re progressing just by how you do in class every day, so who cares about stripes?

  6. At 46 and a purple belt I enjoy getting a piece of tape every now and then. But I am smart enough to know that in the grand scheme of things it really doesn’t mean that much. You have to be a purple belt to wear the purple belt. You won’t get promoted until you are ready no matter how many stripes you got.

  7. First it is great to hear from an older woman. Gen I applaud you. I am 73 started jujitsu 3 yrs agodoing woman self defence. I love the practice of awording stripes. I have 4 stripes on my white belt and am so proud of every one. I worked very hard for each stripe.

  8. I don’t train BJJ that long but as a 2 stripe white I am frequently tapping out some of the blue belts. Only yesterday our instructor was giving out stripes and awarded third one to a guy 120kg (white belt) I on the same day tapped with rear naked. Still, he is now technically better than me. In the bigger scheme of things I don’t really mind. Guys come down on the mat and train so they should be rewarded for it. Stripes or no stripes I’ll just do my thing and feel happy for whoever gets promoted. I just try to improve my game and make those who roll with me feel like they deserve what they earned. In the end of the day everyone gets caught at some point and one choke from someone with less stripes on his/her belt shouldn’t reflect overal skill or commitment for this sport.

  9. It’s funny that I just found this because I am currently in a situation where my instructor just gave me 3 stripes on Sunday. But I felt a little weird about it because in my heart I know I haven’t reached that level. I have only been training for about 3 months.
    I read an article on this website a few weeks back that explains how to deal with your instructor leveling you up when you don’t feel you’re ready. But the awkwardness about it, is when other white belts come in and have no stripes and start staring because they feel a bit slighted and then getting treated different as though I did something wrong.

    • Sometimes if you get 3 stripes on a white belt quick it’s normally because they are feelie rated at Judo/Wrestling or something similar. Not always the case just what I’ve seen ocassionally

  10. Been a purple belt 8 years, was a blue belt for 8 years before that, everyone I started before have passed me by and are are brown or black or gone. Been doing martial arts for 40 plus years, 15 black belts in other styles, stripe no stripe,you get what you put into it. I might be a purple belt ten more years or forever,doesn’t matter, If you love it , your path might be longer or quite short but it is yours to take.

    • Hate to break it to you, Phil, but if you were a blue belt for 8 years, you sucked or didn’t train. Claiming you have 15 black belts in “other styles”, gee I can’t even think of 12 other legit martial arts that would award black belts, and you probably hold the world record. You should post your last name so we can all check you out and see how amazing you are.

      40 Plus years doing martial arts, but you’re stuck at Blue Belt in Jiu Jitsu for 8 years with 12 other black belts. Sorry Phil, you’re lying.

      Or you can post your real name and we can all search you and see what the real deal is.

      • I agree…I have trained in 5 disciplines (Boxing, Kickboxing, Muay Thai, Wrestling, and BJJ), and the only one that even has a belt system is BJJ. Also, I’m a Purple Belt (& I actually have 4 stripes), and it didn’t take me near that long to reach. 8 year Blue Belt! I went through my Blue Belt so quickly, and brutally, it’s the most worn out looking belt I have. But it was because Blue Belts are probably tested more than any other. Many people quit or become much better at this stage. There usually isn’t a middle ground…unless you don’t have that competitiveness that self motivates you to go 110%. Like Jaston P. said, you must not have trained…or cared…or you’re just lying. Because again, I have honestly trained in combat sports for over 25 years, moreso, I’ve trained in boxing for over 25 years; kickboxing for over 15 years; Muay Thai and Wrestling for only a couple of years. The average person spends 3.6 years as a Blue Belt in BJJ. This is not counting the vast majority of those who quit at the Blue Belt Level, as it is the Belt that most people stop. It’s the Belt that usually shows if you are going to keep on or give up…not hang out. I earned my Purple Belt in 4 years of BJJ Training. But again, I trained 110%. If I had 40 years of training, I would hope to have a Red Belt or at least a few degrees in Black Belt. There is a funny poster that says:
        White Belt – Don’t even know their name
        Blue Belt – Punching bags for Purple Belts
        Purple Belt – Begins to learn how to defend
        Brown Belt – Begins to learn how to attack
        Black Belt – Begins to learn what BJJ is

    • Please let me know what 15 disciplines you have studied. I have 5 and I thought that was a lot. But 15! You are using actual legit martial art disciplines, right? Thumb Wars and Slap Fights aren’t disciplines. If you have studied 15 disciplines over 40 years and you are only a Blue Belt in BJJ, then you ain’t showing up for class, or your instructor doesn’t think too much of you (because he is the one who decides on promotion). If you can successfully escape a full mount, and top it off with a RNC, and you have 8 years under your belt to boot, I would consider it a slap in the face to still have a Blue Belt. Seriously. If you’re any good at all, I would have a discussion with your instructor. That’s like working for a company for almost a decade and never being promoted or even given a raise. 8 years! I’d be pissed!

  11. I received my first stripe and man this is the greatest feeling for me. I have been training with my instructor for private lessons for the past two years and some group classes in the summer. That white stripe motivated me to stay and learn more and more. I am 64 years old and I need rewards like this to keep me going. It was an honor to be in front of my fellow BJJ students getting this white stripe by instructor. I know that white stripe means the time I spent in class, the lessons I learned, and the rolling I did with fellow BJJ friends.

  12. Stripes mean nothing, just saw a blue belt bein promoted to purple even tho I’ve got one stripe on my blue belt and tap him every time we roll…it’s not only about your bjj skills, but about your progression, your carachter, time on the mat, presence in the classes, collegiality and much more…

  13. I kind of like the stripes. It’s a way to keep up with progress between belts. For example, a blue belt with one stripe probably does not know as much as one with 4. Also, as a blue belt is working toward his purple belt, it is a way to show his/her progress toward reaching the next belt. In all honesty, I have trained in Boxing, Kickboxing, Muay Thai, Wrestling and BJJ; and the only discipline that I have a belt in is BJJ. I’ve boxed for over 25 years, I’ve kickboxed for over 15 years, and I only trained in Muay Thai and Wrestling for a little less than a couple years. But I have fought in all of these disciplines. So if I were to compete in a wrestling match, I would not perform as well as I would if I were to compete in a boxing match. But unless I was a big star, how would anyone else know this? Of the 5 disciplines I’ve trained in, only one of them out-right shows my exact level of knowledge in that discipline…to a “T”. Not only can you see that I’m a Purple Belt, but you can see that I’m not just earning it, but rather, I’m closer to earning a Brown Belt because of the 4 stripes on my belt. Or, maybe I just grabbed some tape and put them on there to make people think I’m more advanced than I really am… 🙂 Again, it’s like having more belts. But instead of changing the color of your belt as you advance and learn, you put stripes on it until you get enough to move up to the next color. I guess I’m just saying that it’s a better way to show progress without having to use more belts.


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