I’ve been doing Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) for about 18 months, and during that time I often wondered how long it generally takes to go from one belt to the next. I recently took another look at it and thought I’d summarize how long it takes to get a purple belt in BJJ.
On average it takes 5 years to get a purple belt in BJJ. But, each individual student and school is different and some can take longer or get awarded a purple belt sooner. It takes on average 1 to 2 years to go from white to blue, and 2 to 3 years from blue to purple.
There are 2 main grading systems, the Gracie Barra ranking system run by the IBJJF, and the Helio Gracie lineage ranking system.
Below, I will describe the ins and outs of each, a bit of history of how the BJJ ranking system has changed over time. As well as, how good a purple belt in BJJ is.
What Is Required To Get a Purple Belt in BJJ
There are two general requirements for getting a purple belt in BJJ, one is proficiency with the curriculum, and the other is you need to have been a blue belt for a certain amount of time.
However, it’s also common for instructors to award belts based on performance in competition.
Everything I’m about to explain varies from school to school, and instructor to instructor, however, there are some commonalities that make it fairly accurate to say it takes about 5 years to get a purple belt in BJJ.
To understand the differences it’s important to take a quick look at the history of BJJ, to understand where the belt ranking system comes from, and why it is the way it is. Brazilian jiu-jitsu was taught to Carlos Gracie Snr. from a Japanese no holds barred fighter named Mitsuyo Maeda.
Carlos Gracie Sr. had a brother named Helio Gracie who also learned the art, and is well known along with Carlos for being the founders of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. This was in the 1920s. During that time they only designated 3 belts:
- White belt – student
- Light blue belt – instructor in training
- Navy blue belt – instructor
In 1967 Carlos and Helio changed the belt system to what it is today. Which has the following belts:
|Belt color||Time at this belt on average||Cumulative time|
|White||1 to 2 years||1 to 2 years|
|Blue||2 to 4 years||3 to 6 years|
|Purple||3 to 5 years||9 to 11 years|
|Brown||2 to 3 years||11 to 14 years|
|Black (1 to 6 stripes)||12 years||23 to 26 years|
|Coral belt (7 stripes)||10 years||31 to 34 years|
|Coral belt (8th stripe)||10 years||41 to 44 years|
|Red belt (9 degrees)||Final belt||Final belt|
At black belt, there are additional requirements. For example, to be awarded a stripe on your black belt you need to have been actively teaching at a school, or your own academy.
It’s perfectly fine for a black belt to not desire to be an instructor.
But, according to the Brazilian jiu-jitsu ranking system they would not be awarded stripes. As you may know, a coral belt is a black and red belt. It’s named as such because it looks like a coral snake.
Requirement of time and proficiency to get your purple belt
For a white belt to get a blue belt they are exposed to the major techniques in jiu-jitsu.
This includes the core curriculum of escapes, submissions, and throws.
A blue belt continues to get better at these core techniques but in addition, they also learn the counters to the core techniques.
This is generally only applicable when a jiu-jitsu practitioner is sparring against another jiu-jitsu practitioner.
Or, jiu-jitsu against other grappling arts such as judo, wrestling, and sambo, where very similar techniques are used, as they are only needed when a person attempts to move in a technically correct way.
Therefore, a purple belt in jiu-jitsu knows not only the core techniques of jiu-jitsu but also the counters to the core techniques in jiu-jitsu.
But, they also have gained much more experience in sparring and using the techniques. With that comes a much higher skill level. The difference is similar to a professional tennis player, playing against a recreational player.
Experienced practitioners explain it as ‘timing’.
Here’s a video from a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu under Rickson Gracie, Henry Aikens where he explains the importance of timing in executing jiu-jitsu techniques:
An untrained fighter moves very differently from a person who knows jiu-jitsu.
Many people wonder how good a blue belt in BJJ is. I recently explored this topic and discussed what would happen in a confrontation or friendly sparring match between an untrained fighter and a BJJ blue belt.
There is also the requirement of time in the IBJJF grading system.
IBJJF stands for the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation, the head representative is seen as Carlos Gracie Jnr who is the son of Carlos Gracie Snr who together with Helio founded Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
They provide a guideline that says that a blue belt can not be promoted to a purple belt unless they have been blue belt for 2 years, as stated on their official website. I personally started Brazilian Jiu-jitsu in the IBJJF system of grading.
With non-IBJJF affiliated schools, the time requirement isn’t always there but is also observed to be about how long it takes at a minimum to go from blue belt to purple belt.
So, in my opinion, it’s likely not a hard and fast rule, but rather a guide for how long it takes most people to progress to being a purple belt.
It’s common for belts to be awarded for performance in competition
I’ve heard many anecdotal stories of people who have been awarded a belt after a particularly good performance in sports competition. Sports competitions are divided into different belt ranks.
For example, there is a white belt division and a blue belt division.
So, if a blue belt wins the blue belt division or otherwise shows exceptional performance against other competitors they can be awarded a purple belt.
The same is true of the other belts.
Sports competition skill can be different to fighting skill
In a sports jiu-jitsu competition, various moves are illegal.
And this has led to some moves being implemented by competitors that are dangerous in a fight. One is that you’re not allowed to slam an opponent to the mat.
If you’re familiar with basic BJJ, you’ll be aware of a position known as ‘the guard’. This is where one person is on their back, and they are holding the other person in with their legs.
In a real fight, a person can lift them up and slam them onto the ground, easily rendering them unconscious. However, in sport competition, this is not allowed.
Certain schools specialize in sports competition, and don’t have much of a focus on self defence.
Therefore, they can be unaware of various positions that are legal and can be good in competition but would be very dangerous in a real fight where a person can throw strikes, and do various other moves that aren’t allowed in a BJJ sport competition.
When I began jiu-jitsu I was too much concerned with getting promoted but rather was interested in learning the techniques, and how to defend myself.
Which is the case for most people based on the many anecdotal stories I’ve heard.
Which is a good time to discuss how good a purple belt in jiu-jitsu is.
How Good Is a BJJ Purple Belt?
A blue belt in BJJ can defeat an untrained fighter fairly easily. But, this does depend on the grading requirements of the school. And a purple belt has far more experience than a blue belt so it’s also the case that they can easily defeat an untrained person.
As a general rule, a BJJ purple belt can easily defeat an untrained opponent and a BJJ white belt. As well as, white belts in other martial arts. However, they can struggle and not always be able to defeat a blue belt or similar rank in other martial arts.
However, there is an ongoing concern raised by some of the most well-known figures in BJJ, such as Rickson Gracie about the prevalence of competition jiu-jitsu also called sport jiu-jitsu.
Certain moves that are effective in sports competition are very dangerous in a real fight, according to them.
Jiu-jitsu or Brazilian jiu-jitsu is very similar to other grappling arts, interestingly it also resembles folk wrestling. The reason is the best and most efficient way to fight someone is not style-dependent.
As head coach at Straight Blast Gym, Matt Thornton has said to describe this concept ‘there is no such thing as Canadian geometry’.
By this is meant, geometry is a set of relationships between angles, straight lines, and circles that doesn’t change regardless of where it’s learned or what it’s called.
A BJJ purple belt is treated very seriously by instructors
According to very experienced instructors such as Ryan Young at Kama Jiu-jitsu this is also the time when an instructor takes a student very seriously.
It’s common that students can quit jiu-jitsu and this occurs more often at the white belt and blue belt levels. However, once a student is at the purple belt level they will pretty much continue doing jiu-jitsu for the rest of their life.
Therefore, at the purple belt level, an instructor will dedicate a lot more time to a student because they understand that they are serious, and are committed to jiu-jitsu.
Professor Ryan Young has also said that if a purple belt in BJJ is given an opening against a black belt, they can submit them even though the black belt will try to stop it from this position.
However, he describes the difference between a purple belt and a blue belt in this way. If a blue belt is given a very advantageous position they won’t be able to submit a black belt when the black belt tries to escape.
How Hard Is It To Get Your Purple Belt in BJJ?
There are various time and proficiency requirements to get a purple belt in BJJ. So, I thought I’d answer how hard it is to get a purple belt in BJJ.
Generally, it is quite hard to get a purple belt in BJJ. It requires a significant investment of time, about 5 years of consistent training. It also involves sparring with others and requires a good level of physical fitness and mental toughness.
It is, however, possible to get the self-defense aspects of BJJ without sparring and being awarded a blue belt or higher.
This can be gained through various online instructional programs such as the Self Defense Unit made available by the JJGF. As well as, the Gracie University program that is created and managed by Rener and Ryron Gracie.
They are the grandsons of one of the founders of BJJ Helio Gracie. And Rorion Gracie is their father who is credited with starting the first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
What Does It Take To Be a BJJ Purple Belt?
Martial arts in general have a reputation for being tough and involving a lot of physical pain. So, you may be wondering how tough you need to be and what it takes to be a BJJ purple belt. Here’s what I found.
Overall, you need to be quite tough, resilient, dedicated to be a BJJ purple belt. To get awarded a blue belt, and above, which includes a purple belt, a person needs to prove themself in sparring against other people. This requires a lot of toughness and physical fitness.
It’s possible to learn the self-defense curriculum in BJJ which anyone can do, and you don’t need to be tough.
However, to move up the belts beyond white belt a person needs to demonstrate an ability to use the techniques against opponents who are not letting you do moves on them or taking it easy.
At some schools, the higher belts will take it easy on you, and let you get into positions so they can work on escaping and surviving. Otherwise, it would be a bit one-sided. This is the case, especially once you have been training for a while with them and are good friends.