I feel it’s pretty normal for people to ask “what do I need to do to get to the next belt?” I’ve noted here before that I’m not really sure what it means to go from purple to brown yet myself. It’s easy to find descriptions, curricula, opinions that would point you to what you need to do to be the next rank. Those are all bullshit things to look at. I’ve trained at four different gyms with seven different instructors (just for BJJ – those numbers don’t count other grappling right now). Every instructor is looking for something different and often a single instructor is looking for different things for two different students. A curriculum is more like base expectations – you should be able to show these techniques.

When I think of white belts I think of people who either don’t have a lot of grappling knowledge yet, or just completely lack chill. You’ll see guys who know a lot and they can roll really well, but they can only roll hard. You’ll see guys who can control the pace and roll with some chill but then get to a point and go “what do I do from here?”. It’s the point where you show someone an escape and they’re amazed saying “That looks so easy. Why am I having so much trouble from this position?” and all you can really say is “Experience. You’ll need to rep this a lot to hit it in rolling.”

When I think of blue belts I think of people who understand “how the pieces move” so to speak. They know a few techniques from any of the major positions. They can roll pretty well. If an upper belt sets a trap, they’re still probably going to fall into it, but they’ll do so trying to do the “right” default thing. I pretty much characterize them as grapplers who have knowledge of the rules, but not the knowledge of when to break the rules.

When I think of other purple belts I think of masters of their individual domains. They have a technique, position, or area of techniques that they’re very good at and can tell you about in detail. They have a functional knowledge of all of the basic positions and feel comfortable enough in the uncommon positions. They can set traps a few steps ahead . That kimura, it’s a distraction. You need to fight off the submission and the sweep when you make a mistake.

When I think of brown belts I think of masters of all of the basic domains. Everything we expected a blue belt to know, it feels like a brown belt has mastered. I also think of guys who are drilling all the time. Every brown belt I know drills like crazy. (That’s probably a sign for the lower belts who just want to roll rather than drilling at open mats)

When I think of black belts I think of guys who have polished all those areas of mastery – the basics and their own special area. It’s hard to describe the difference between rolling with a brown belt and rolling with a black belt. Both are setting traps a few levels deep. Both have developed strong top pressures. Both are confident and smooth in their sweeps. Black belts are just a bit more quick to take advantage of a mistake? I guess I’d say a black belt is just a brown belt with a bit more experience and confidence from my vantage point.


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