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Recently, Rickson Gracie, Rener and Ryron Gracie and Pedro Sauer took part in a video to discuss their respective paths in the furtherance of jiu jitsu around the world. They also discuss a change to the Gracie University belt system, introducing a new ‘Gracie Combatives’ blue/white belt and the removal of the online promotion process for any other belt. (scroll to the bottom of this article for the video)

Now I’m sure many of you will know who Rickson Gracie is. However you may not know that he started the Jiu Jitsu Global Federation (JJGF) a few years ago, in an attempt to move away from some of the modern sport jiu jitsu practices (things like double guard pulls and 50/50 guard) that are becoming more prevalent. The JJGF is more or less in direct competition with the biggest jiu jitsu federation worldwide, the IBJJF. However in the first few years, for whatever reason, it didn’t really gain any traction. This is a pity because some prominent members of the jiu jitsu community where on the JJGF masters council and I was keen to see what they accomplished. What is important to note is during the first year of it’s inception the JJGF introduced a new belt between white and blue, the white belt with a blue stripe. As you can see from the link, all content related to that belt is no longer available on the JJGF website.

One of the reasons for this belt was to help keep students motivated to train jiu jitsu.

On average, in most BJJ schools, it takes about about two years to get your blue belt. It’s generally accepted that you need to have a good overall understanding of a range of techniques and a level of comfort in sparring. Some schools require you to pass a test of your techniques to get your blue belt, while others require you to compete and place 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in your division. (The next time you see James Smart, ask him how long he was a white belt and what the requirement for blue belt was, the answer may surprise you).

It is common knowledge that the highest drop out rate for jiu jitsu practitioners happens from white to blue belt. In my own experiences this typically happens within the first 6 months to a year. It also usually happens for one of two reasons. Either student gets discouraged at how long at takes to get their blue belt or, during the journey to blue, they are injured or otherwise negatively affected by being expected to roll too early. Some people are not ready to roll from day one and the negative effect of loosing all the time can cause the large majority to give up, feeling they will never be good at jiu jitsu.

So (I believe) the idea behind the white/blue belt was to give new students something to work towards in the shorter term while also not expecting them to concern themselves with rolling until they achieve the white/blue belt, in an attempt to prevent the high drop out rate of new students.

Now, on the other hand, Ryron and Rener’s plan by implementing the Gracie Combatives programme as the beginner programme at Gracie Academy and online through Gracie University took a slightly different approach. Instead of introducing a new belt, they implemented the requirement that a student need only know and pass an assessment of the Gracie Combatives programme to achieve blue belt. By taking the requirement of rolling out of the equation they effectively created a programme that can, given a focused training regime, be completed in a year. This change also gives the new student something to work towards in the shorter term, hopefully also preventing the high drop out of white belts.

The downside to this was the overall backlash from the greater jiu jitsu community. Gracie University was accused of commercialising jiu jitsu and selling belts online, including members of their own family. Even Rickson himself was opposed to the online blue belt, a fact was was reported on many popular BJJ websites. This caused Ryron and Rener to introduce the ‘technical blue belt’, to be given to those who pass the Gracie University online belt assessment for Gracie Combatives. A student would then be required to be tested for their official blue belt at a Gracie Academy Certified Training Center (CTC).

Some also argued that rolling is part of jiu jitsu and if you can’t take a beating on the mat and overcome your losses, you will never get better. By not expecting a new student to roll (for at least the first year) Gracie Academy and Gracie University were accused of watering down jiu jitsu. I’ve often posted my own thoughts on the topic online, but there is a small amount of truth to these arguments. However there are always those students who are just looking for a self defence programme and those students shouldn’t be required to roll to early on, unless they want to.

Effectively the Gracie Combatives belt is an amalgamation of the JJGF white/blue belt and the Gracie University technical blue belt. To achieve it requires the student to pass the usual Gracie Combatives assessment. Once that happens the student should then start learning the Master Cycle techniques from BBS1, as well as start gaining experience in sparring, for at least 6 to 12 months. Only then, by being tested at a CTC by an official Gracie Academy representative, can a student achieve the rank of blue belt.

In implementing this Gracie University is aligning itself with a more traditional approach to blue belt, while still giving the student a shorter term goal to work towards. It also ensures that the act of live sparring is part of the requirement to get a blue belt, but only when the student has gained a certain level of comfort in the Gracie Combatives techniques. It also (hopefully) provides the student a clear goal and therefore the motivation to keep on training. It also gives the new student a good fundamental base in self defense, before they tackle the rigors of rolling. Personally I think its a great idea and it brings balance to the Gracie University belt system.

What effect this will have on real Gracie Academy CTC’s is another thing. My guess is that the Gracie Combatives belt is exclusive to Gracie University. I am assuming that it will just mean that to pass your blue belt assessment at a CTC will require completing and passing the regular Gracie Combatives drills as well as a live sparring assessment, both gi, no gi and fight sim. If this is the case, I’m actually pretty excited about it. It will mean that Gracie Academy blue belts will be on a similar technical and rolling level as students from non Gracie Academy schools.

What is great about all this is what can be learned about both parties as well as what it means for jiu jitsu as a whole.

  1. Rener and Ryron are willing to listen to the wisdom of their uncle in understanding their grandfathers jiu jitsu better.
  2. Rickson is willing to work with Ryron and Rener in preserving the traditions of jiu jitsu while also focusing on the future.
  3. Having someone like Rickson help guide the path of Gracie University brings trust in the system from the greater jiu jitsu community. Rickson is well respected by most BJJ schools and his guidance and support of Gracie University will not be missed.
  4. Ryron and Rener are now part of something that could unify the larger jiu jitsu community.
  5. The positive effects of this change have already been felt.
  6. This may also have a positive effect on the rift between members of the Gracie Family. Seeing Rickson and Rener and Ryron together like this was amazing.

In short, I am very excited about this turn of events. I hope to see more members of the Gracie Family and the larger jiu jitsu community working together like this, keeping the legacy of Grandmaster Helio Gracie and his jiu jitsu alive, while looking to the future of the art and how it can be spread to become a positive force in the world.