The Endless Journey
How to Progress Efficiently Through the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Belt System
By Kid Peligro and Rodrigo Gracie
(This is an excerpt from Kid Peligro’s and Rodrigo Gracie’s book: The Path to the Black Belt.)
White through purple belt is the most important period of time for a student, because this is when he is developing his own personal style.
In order to turbo-charge your progress during that phase, you need to get a partner, practice drills and repeat techniques often. Another great way to quickly improve is to find a top fighter with a body type similar to your own. Examine what he does, what moves he uses, how he applies them and how the application differs against different opponents. To do this, you need to attend competitions and watch DVDs of top tournaments, always closely examining the different styles.
Starting with White
What does the white belt need in order to achieve blue belt? The white belt usually quits after 6 months because he doesn’t understand Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and thinks the art is not for him. Thus, it’s important for the white belt to realize that jiu-jitsu is an art that’s vastly more complex than most other martial arts; he needs to embrace this and learn the techniques that are presented to him. The white belt should learn the techniques and drill them as much as possible without trying to focus on the entire game. He should focus on them, not the future.
The white belt should, as much as possible, watch the more advanced belts spar. He should try to learn from what they do without becoming enamored with the advanced techniques that they use. Sometimes, a white belt will watch a complex move and, because it looks fancy, immediately want to learn it. In reality, the move is inappropriate for him, because he hasn’t matured enough in the art to properly learn and execute it. The white belt needs to learn and practice the basics, over and over again, until he has them down.
The white belt classes should generally be 1 hour long and should be basic positions and repetition drills. He can’t be thrown into a full sparring situation; he’s not ready in any way, shape or form to do that. He doesn’t even know what the danger is or how to protect himself in training.
The white belt should be shown lots of basics and practical self-defense techniques, which are practical and might help him right away if he falls into a bad situation. It’s not good to teach him advanced techniques that involve multiple steps because it won’t help him; he’ll feel as though it’s useless, impossible to accomplish and he will eventually want to quit.
Blue to Purple
Having achieved a blue belt, the jiu-jitsu practitioner sets his sights on his next goal – purple belt. Getting there is not easy, and the process is extremely slow. It isn’t uncommon for someone to spend three or four years as a blue belt until he reaches purple, and after that, go from purple to black in less than four years. A purple belt is the hardest belt to achieve and many times the student quits at this level because of the lack of motivation.
When you reach this level, your game is already developed; you have a full understanding of the art, your can combine multiple techniques together and you have a pretty good sense of what techniques are best for which situation.
The blue belt needs to focus on understanding the game and linking techniques. At the purple belt level and above, attacks with a single technique will not yield the same results. As the practitioner’s awareness increases, it becomes harder and harder to succeed without combinations of attacks and defenses.
The blue belt can start to learn how to set up the techniques and link these techniques together. For instance, if you go for the armlock from the guard your opponent escapes, you would change to the triangle choke. This is the phase where you’ll start to understand movement and begin to link techniques together.
Injuries Derail Purple Belt
Once he has achieved purple belt, the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu practitioner has reached an elite status. At this point, he knows that he belongs in the art, loves it and thinks about it all the time. The purple belt is a great belt because a student learns all the moves that he needs to progress and can spar against almost anyone in the academy without feeling overmatched. The purple belt links more and more techniques together and increases the speed between each move.
This belt is also the time to develop your defensive skills. And, while sparring, it is advisable to allow your opponent to reach an advantage – or even a dangerous position – so you can practice fighting in a tough situation, maintaining your calm and your wits, and escaping the trouble while avoiding the submission.
The difference between a purple belt and a brown and black belt is tha the brown belt – and more so with the black belt – is capable of executing the same technique in a quicker and more accurate manner. Their mental decisions are sharper, faster and better than the purple belt. Many people realize at a higher level that they do the same things they did at purple belt, except that they do it better. Many times a purple belt, when sparring against an advanced belt, appears to be fighting on equal levels – the difference is in timing and the quality of the decisions.
One of the main reasons a person will quit after achieving purple belt is because of injury. Upon reaching the purple belt, the practitioner is so eager to progress further up the belt ladder that he may over-train and get injured. Thus, it’s important to practice at a sensible rate that allows your body the rest it needs.
The Brown Belt Stage
The brown belt is perhaps the most fun and best belt in the jiu-jitsu belt system. The brown belt has all the knowledge and most of the technical execution of a black belt, except he lacks the added responsibility that the black belt carries.
The brown belt walks around the academy with pride of being one step away from the ultimate goal without having to be perfect; he always has a cushion when performing before others because, after all, he’s not a black belt yet! Brown and black belts have the same game that they had as purple belts, but they are better and quicker at making decisions and are able to see and set up moves that are three, four or five moves ahead.
To reach the highest level, the brown belt needs to refine his technical skills, sharpen his timing and improve his ability to select moves. Time on the mat, training and asking his instructor how best to execute his techniques are the keys at this level.
The Ultimate Destination
The black belt is the person who knows everything in jiu-jitsu, which means self-defense techniques, the sport aspects of the jiu-jitsu and the street-fighting parts, as well.
The jiu-jitsu that was taught to grandmasters Carlos and Helio Gracie was not a competition/tournament style of jiu-jitsu; it was a martial art created for self-defense and survival against street aggression. Carlos and Helio perfected it by using the art against different fighters in real fight situations, allowing them to refine the techniques, keeping only the ones that really worked.
Carlos took an ad in a local newspaper with an open challenge to anyone who wanted to test themselves against him and his brothers. Helio had many well-documented battles against top fighters from around the world. Over the years, the Gracie family has fought many battles in various arenas, constantly developing the art and making sure that the efficiency of the techniques keep up with the changing times.
As the art progressed and expanded its reach in society by adding more practitioners, tournaments started to pop up everywhere and the sports aspect of the art became dominant. Nowadays, lots of athletes are very successful in the sport portion and know nothing about self-defense and street-fighting. If you don’t know self-defense, you can’t be a Gracie Jiu-Jitsu black belt! It won’t matter how many fancy sweeps you know if a street fighter gets you in a headlock and won’t let you escape. And the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu black belt should be able to defend himself from a common street attack.
To be a black belt, you need to know the basics of the art and the self-defense aspect, as well. That being said, you don’t need to be a champion competitor to achieve the top ranking. That’s not to say that competition doesn’t have its merits; it generally demonstrates a level of efficiency in using the techniques against opponents. Competition is the closes thing to an all-out fight, minus the strikes and the intent to hurt. It also helps you develop emotional control. But, as stated before, competition has its drawbacks.
· First, the rules and the specialty moves have at times skewed the fight toward a specific style that is far from the street style.
· Second, tournament matches begin under a controlled situation with a referee telling you that the fight is about to start; on the streets, an aggressor my surprise you!
The black belt should also know how to teach. Teaching is one of the best things that one can do to fully learn the intricacies and nuances of jiu-jitsu. For this reason, it is encouraged that, with your instructor’s permission and supervision, you assist teaching classes starting at the brown belt level (sometimes, depending on your instructor and his confidence in your skills, he may want you to begin this at purple belt).
What teaching does for you cannot be underestimated. You will have to create a process of resolving technical problems for a variety of people. When you teach, you have to put yourself in other people’s shoes and figure out their difficulty … why a technique doesn’t work for them and how you can make it work. That forces you to full analyze and understand the techniques and principles behind it. By doing this, you will further expand your own knowledge, and even your ability to solve your own problems without help from an instructor (although at times, you may need to consult with a more advanced instructor).
· Some people are able to change after they reach brown belt, but 85 percent of the practitioners have set their style by the time they’re purple belt.
· A black belt today is doing the same moves that he was doing as a purple belt, except that he executes them faster and more effectively.