By Emil Fischer
There’s a lot of discussion in the jiu jitsu community about the meaning and significance of “the belt.” Does the belt matter? Does it MEAN anything? Or is it simply a marketing tool to encourage people who need ongoing encouragement to stick with the art, and to help potential new students pick an instructor?
According to many sources, the original Gracie Jiu Jitsu Academy didn’t have a belt system to demonstrate the abilities of their students, they simply had white belts for students, light blue belts for instructors and navy blue belts for head instructors. In Judo, the original belt system was white for student black for instructor.
What does the belt mean? The belt means that your instructor has chosen to bestow upon you a demonstrated trust and belief, specifically in regards to your understanding of technique, and in some cases (not all) ability to apply it. The reality is that there are plenty of black belts who would not fare well against a large, strong white belt, but they know far more than that white belt would.
I had an experience a couple of years ago. I visited a very well regarded and respected academy, and during the open rolling session I found that the blue and purple belts were amazingly tough, but that I didn’t have much difficulty with their black belts. The black belts that I rolled with were all in their 40s or older, while the blue and purple belts were active competitors in their 20s. This does not degrade the quality of these black belts, nor does it somehow magically elevate the blue and purple belts to black belt level. Belt level is an individual measure, not a grand demonstration of any construct of the art.
Belts are important because they give us something to strive for. Most of us are guaranteed to never be “the best”. Very few of us will ever be a black belt world champion, but being a black belt is still an attainable goal for those who want to put in the time. However, the athleticism needed to be a superior grappler is not possessed by all who reach that black belt level. Being a grappling phenom and being a jiu jitsu black belt are two very different things, the two don’t always go together…
At the end of the day, your belt will mean whatever it means to you, but it does not and cannot represent anything higher than that because of how individual your journey is. There are blue belts who are world class grapplers, and there are black belts who have trained less than 4 years. There are grappling phenoms and there are toilers who put hours, days and weeks in on the mat to get that thin strip of cloth that covers 2 inches about your butt. So the best advice anyone can give you is this: just train and don’t worry about the belt. It means far less than the experience of the work you put in to get it.
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