The recent changes to Gracie University’s belt system.

Rickson Gracie

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.

 

8 thoughts on “The recent changes to Gracie University’s belt system.”

  1. Well written and explained Jonathan. I agree it is very exciting and something that has been in the works a long time with now being the right time for all to launch it. I think it’s important for everyone in the Jiu Jitsu community to remember, especially as instructors, what are we here for. We are here fundamentally to introduce people to a self defence system that could save their life, a sport that is chellegning like no other, and a lifestyle that is rewarding and has longevity. The only way we can do that is by introducung them to something they enjoy, can do and want to keep doing. So all BJJ sports guys who have run GU and Gracie Academy down for all these years, put your politics to one side, focus one why we started and help others do the same.

  2. Thanks James. It really is exciting and invigorating to think about how this will affect jiu jitsu positively going forward. The more we can make it easier for people to start up (and keep doing) jiu jitsu, learning something useful, not only for self defense but for fitness, a healthy lifestyle and just the ability to connect with others, the better for everyone.

  3. I agree with the new belt system in many ways but I also have a problem with it. It will be easier if I just explain my current situation. I’m a white belt that has been training for 1 year. When I arrived at my CTC, the new Blue/White belt hadn’t been spoken of. I watched a guy who had been there “maybe” a year and a month receive his Blue Belt. Everything is great at this point. I’m enjoying training and I have a very specific goal ahead of me. Now it’s time for me to take my Blue Belt test. Mind you, the guy that earned his Blue Belt before me has never submitted me while rolling, it’s always gone the other way around. I bring this up because I want you to think about the difference in skill, not because submitting someone should earn you rank. I understand that anyone can get caught in a submission and sometimes you may want to work on something specific and you let yourself get too far behind to recover and get submitted. I just simply want to point out the skill difference. Now, back to the point. I will be taking my blue belt test at a year in and I was told that I will be getting a Blue/White belt. When I ask why, I’m told, “It’s for students that can pass the blue bet test but haven’t put in enough time on the mat rolling.” Now, I have rolled every night I’ve been in class since I started BJJ. I’ve spent hours watching Gracie University and other Jiu Jitsu instructors go over moves that I want to understand. I have spent hours and hours rolling and in my small school, known to be very good for my belt ranking. I’ve also been asked by my instructor to teach children’s classes a night or two a week. I’ve been doing this for a couple of months. Maybe after explaining the situation, people can see how this may seem like a slap in the face for practitioners that spent their time on the mat in a CTC and watched others get a Blue Belt only to be promised a Blue/White belt after you take the very same test.

    I think time does need to be a factor but I also know that everyone learns at a different pace and can’t be graded the same way. It might be better if this Blue/White belt has a date of induction and a very practical set of rules around when and why someone gets this belt. I don’t think anyone that started before the introduction of the belt should have to wear it…

    1. Dear Anon, thank you for your comments, it’s always interesting to speak to other practitioners from around the world.

      I do understand your situation and I appreciate that it’s not fun to have a belt ranking requirement change during the course of your journey. However I do feel that those people who received their blue belts after roughly a year before the new blue/white belts should not have received blue belts. I include myself in this category. However how can you go back and take a rank away from them?

      Look at it from this perspective. The person you mentioned will probably spend a lot more time as a blue belt until he reaches purple, vs you who will earn blue at the correct time and then spend less time from blue to purple. Ask me, I know, I spent almost 7 years as a blue belt.

      Also remember that jiu jitsu is a journey, not a destination. I know it sounds cliche, but forget about the belt and just work on being a better than you were the last time you trained.

      If ever you are in Cape Town I hope you will pop in for a roll 😉

  4. I just want to say that I recently looked around for the way to go “martial arts wise” and I came across Gracie jiu-jitsu. Let me add that I’m a Nigerian and there’s no Gracie jiu-jitsu (or even Brazilian jiu-jitsu) instruction center in my country. Like I said, after looking around for a while, I discovered Gracie University. Then I continued to do my research and found out that for me, it was the only way to go. It was all that I wanted and even so much more. I’m yet to get started – with the Gracie combatives and all – but believe me, it’s just a matter of time before I do. For my Live Verification Tests, I’d have to pop in at Gracie jiu-jitsu Cape Town as it’s the only Certified Training Center on our continent (I have no option). I’d do well to remember to ask James Smart how long he was at the white belt rank and hopefully roll with you. Kick my ass if you can :). Much love from Nigeria.

    1. I’m sure James would be more than willing to accept you for your LVT’s when you are ready and I’d be happy to roll with you. Please do keep in touch and let me know when you plan to come down.

  5. You sound like you’d go easy on me. Thank you very much. Hopefully, we’d keep in touch as I’d absolutely love that.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.