Upper Belt Promotions in BJJ

By William F. Murphy, Ph.D.,IBJJF Black Belt 3rd Degree, USJA San Dan Judo

Promotions in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu are tricky.

It usually takes between 8 to 12 years of regular training to get a black belt in BJJ.

The best way to get promoted more quickly than the average in BJJ is by winning your belt division in the highest level tournaments.

For non-competitors, the average is more like 8 to 15 years.

What makes the difference between 8 and 15 years for non-competitors?

Usually it’s one of two things.

First, a prodigious teaching repertoire that you can also apply while rolling against belts higher than you will generally shave some time off.

Second, I will generally promote a purple belt more quickly if I see them making brown belts and/or black belts tap frequently in hard (real) rolls.

Likewise I will generally promote a brown belt more quickly if I see them making black belts tap frequently in hard (real) rolls.

As mentioned earlier, the usual way to get promoted more quickly than the average in BJJ is by winning your division in the highest level BJJ competition tournaments.

The largest competition circuit in Gi BJJ is still the IBJJF, with the Mundials, and the Pan Am tournaments being two of the largest Gi tournaments.

The largest competition tournaments in “No Gi” are the Abu Dhabi, the IBJFF World No Gi, and the various cash prize submission only tournaments.

MMA fighting is another valid competition outlet that in many ways represents the truest test of Jiu-Jitsu.
Winning in MMA competition, particularly professional and licensed MMA bouts would also get very high “credit” for getting promoted more quickly than the average.

However, winning small local grappling tournaments does not mean much because often times the real competitors just use the small local tournaments as their lab to try new things before they go to the larger tournaments.

Real competitors don’t care about losing small tournaments because they usually have their eye on winning either the cash prize tournaments, or the tournaments where there is lifetime marketing value for taking home the gold medal (ie, the IBJJF World Tournament).

As a senior black belt in BJJ, I usually only involve myself with the continued promotions of black belts to their next degree, or with the promotions of brown belts to black belts, or more rarely with the promotion of a senior purple belt who ended up in my personal care to brown belt.

I usually leave the promotions of the lower belts to the instructors that I mentor.

But, BJJ upper belts are not given out lightly.

For non-competitors, it is quite common to stay in a blue belt, a purple belt, or even a brown belt for 5 years at a time.

So, if you want to move along more quickly, you have better either be tearing it up on the major competition circuit,
Or developing the most amazing teaching repertoire ever – backed up by an ability to apply that repertoire in hard (real) rolls against higher belts than yourself.

I don’t promote based on the time as measured by the Calendar, but I do promote based on one’s ability, and that almost always ends up being a function of mat hours spent training with tough opponents. Even for those of us who do not believe that promotions should be slavish to a calendar, it is very, very rare that the IBJJF *minimum* time in grade for each belt would not be met for a given promotion, even though most black belts will make exceptions for highly unusual cases.

As a general rule of thumb, if you want to get promoted more quickly, spend more time rolling and training with belts higher than you, than you do with belts lower than you.

Teaching lower belts will increase your conceptual knowledge, but rolling with higher belts than yourself than you will build your own resiliency and ability to execute technique.


    • Mr. Michaels, may I ask what makes you think that I do not?
      And what school in the Sarasota area do you train at?

  1. theirs plenty of irony in this. ive herd of purple belts getting there brown belts after just 1 year wihtout winnin a single match or tournemnt or placing in tournemnts at your school is this true?

  2. For the poster posing as Alberto/Mark/Matt Michaels,
    just come down to Sarasota Florida.
    Facebook message me at William Murphy before you come.
    And, I’ll try to be there, or schedule a time to be there when you come.
    I don’t always win, but I generally grapple all visitors unless I can’t move due to illness or injury.
    You will find all my black belt and brown belt students game to give anybody that walks through the door a go as well.
    I love Brazil, my BJJ teachers were Brazilian, and I will always show respect to *them*.
    None of my former teachers have academies in Sarasota.
    So, neither I nor my students will kiss *your* particular ass just because you are Brazilian.
    I will respect EVERYONE, but accept second class citizenship from NO ONE where my students are concerned.
    If you lost students because one of my students of over 17 years decided he wanted to open his own academy,
    and I helped him fulfill that dream,
    then work it out with your ex-students who chose to join his academy,
    and quit blaming me (or anybody else) for your troubles.
    I would note that all three of my local Brazilian colleagues who opened their own academies were originally welcomed as my guests in my Sarasota academy,
    which pre-dated every other BJJ academy in the Sarasota/Bradenton area by a number of years.
    I will likely continue to help any of my current or former students who are now black belts open academies for themselves if they ask for my help by either helping them get seed money, or providing free teaching services at their academies, or helping them market their academies.
    None of the Brazilians with academies in Sarasota were my teacher nor gave me any of my belts.
    I am glad to give support to any who ask for my help,
    but none of you own me,
    and I was teaching BJJ in Sarasota for years before any of you came here.

  3. William Murphy:

    I really must ask why you tag your name with PhD? It isn’t clear to me what your PhD has to do with bjj. I am always very weary of those that use there doctorate to gain credence in a field where it is unimportant.

    Anyway, what field is your PhD in? If it is sports physiology or something like that then I suppose I get the point, but otherwise I must ask what is you intention and what is the point?

    • That is how academic researchers usually sign their name when they publish anything.
      When you work for a university, you are expected to sign all of your publications that way,
      even for trade publications.
      My PhD is in information systems, my first masters was in Econometrics, and my second masters degree was in Risk Management.
      I teach data analysis, discrete math, statistics, and related methods courses.
      My speciality training was in doing research under conditions of complexity using case research, where traditional statistical methods using linear models might not be appropriate, and designing informing systems that enable transdiscipline research.
      ie, provide research informing systems to enable the doctors to work with the technologists to work with the emergency response professionals etc.


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