Thoughts on belt ranking

Recently there has been some debate online regarding belt ranking, specifically the coral belt that is awarded to 7th degree black belts in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

It started with a BJJ black belt who was awarded his coral belt by his students.

It escalated into the leaders of two pretty big associations publicly squabbling over the requirements to achieve coral belt.

Last night I discovered that a legend in the BJJ community was awarded his coral belt by his son, from the sounds of it due to relations with his senior family members, and the recent passing of his father, meaning no one else would have been able to award him that belt. I’ll be honest in that I’m not too sure of this myself.

What I do know is that after all of this, I feel like burning my belt.

I’ve worked hard to achieve the rank I wear today. In the grand scheme of things, the belt means nothing more than time and experience on the mat. But I’ve put that time in and, I believe, earned the rank I wear. It’s taken me 10 years what some would do in 6 or 8, but its my journey and I’ll walk it as slow as I want to.

That being said, my lineage is one of many, there are many groups and associations within BJJ, each with its own rules and guidelines. One such group is the IBJJF, which has certain guidelines regarding belt promotion. There are others, like Gracie Academy/Gracie University, from which my rank originates, that have their own guidelines. Some choose to follow the IBJJF, some don’t. Each one has it’s own specific requirement for achieving and awarding rank.

What has bothered me about all of this is that when this kind of mud slinging starts happening online, all it does is break down the BJJ community, not build it up. If there are no strict guidelines on how to award rank that everyone who does BJJ must follow, then how can anyone comment on anyone else being awarded a rank? If we don’t all have to follow one set of guidelines, how can we comment on what constitutes a black belt, or any other belt, from another school or association?

Some time ago I made a pact with myself that unless a situation effects me specifically I will not comment on it online. This week I broke that pact because all of it annoyed me. I won’t be doing that again.

Some days I wish everyone (and I mean f***ing EVERYONE) in the BJJ community would just stop commenting on everyone else’s rank, way of doing things, whether someone deserves a rank or not and just focus on the thing I try to focus on every time I get onto the mats, working hard to be a small degree better than I was the last time.


Gracie Jiu Jitsu Cape Town Tag Team Tournament and new promotions

Congratulations to Dino Calitz, Tian Visser and Jonathan Bossenger on their promotions today at the Gracie Jiu Jitsu Cape Town belt ceremony.

Dino and Tian were awarded 2nd and 1st stripe on their blue belts respectively and Jonathan was awarded his brown belt.

Special thanks also to everyone at Gracie Jiu Jitsu Cape Town and our head instructor, James Smart.

The recent changes to Gracie University’s belt system.

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.


Good Hope FM Bullyproof demonstration.

Recently I was contacted to discuss the Gracie Bullyproof programme on the Good Hope FM Breakfast Show.

The interview itself had one or two hiccups, mainly because I woke up half an hour late and didn’t make it to the station by 7:30am.

Afterwards however, I was able to demonstrate some Bullyproof techniques as well as the mindset we teach the kids.

Watch the video below.

Infinitus Jiu Jitsu Instructor Programme

One of the biggest factors in the success of a jiu jitsu school/club lies heavily on the quality of its instructors. The availablity of classes is directly related to the availability of the instructor and if the instructor (like me) also has a family and work life that availability is limited.

The only real way to combat this is to have assistant instructors who can run the classes when I am not available.

I am therefore please to announce that I am in the process of putting a small group of dedicated individuals through the training process of becoming Infinitus Jiu Jitsu instructors.

Over the next few months they will be learning all the key aspects of teaching group classes as well as private classes. If they complete the course successfully and pass their final evalutation they will take their place as assistant instructors at Infinitus Jiu Jitsu.

I wish them all of the best and I cannot wait to see them become a greater part of the Infinitus Jiu Jitsu team.

Pictured above are trainee instructors Kean Johannes, Buks Saayman and Ryan Baatjes.

Excerpts from my self defence talk at the last Girl Geek Dinners in Cape Town

I recently had the opportunity to do a short self defence talk at the March Cape Town Girl Geek Dinner

Below is an abridged version of that talk.

“Hi my name is Jonathan, I am a developer, gamer, geek, husband and dad. And from the age of about 5 to about 13, because of my nature and circumstances, I was bullied at school. This led me in my adult life to find something that would give me the tools to defend myself and the confidance to be to do so. I found these answers in Gracie Jiu Jitsu.

Before I start I want to ask two questions

1) How many of you have a plan for backing up your data/work files

2) How many of you have a plan for if you are attacked in the street/driving home/in a mall

Isn’t it sad that most of the room have a plan for question 1, but only a handful of people in this room have a plan for the question 2.

Because I am talking specifically to ladies tonight I want to talk about the reasons that women typically dont do self defence. I refer to the following article, where Eve Torres, WWE performer and Gracie Jiu Jitsu student talks about why she didn’t want to ever take a self defence class :

1) I didn’t think it would happen to me. I thought I was pretty vigilant and aware of my surroundings.

2) Even if it did happen to me, I wouldn’t really be able to defend myself. All the kicking and striking in the world couldn’t incapacitate a larger attacker, especially since I couldn’t even hold my own against my younger brother at the time!

3) I didn’t want to look stupid, or get hurt training. I was already putting my body at risk with the work I was doing in the ring with WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment), and I couldn’t afford an injury.

4) It didn’t appear that fun or feminine. I would much rather take a dance class or hit the gym on my own.

The truth of it is that Gracie Jiu Jitsu is the only self defence program that I have found that requires no previous experience, that deals specifically with being attacked by a larger, stronger assailant, that will not result in injury during training and that is loads of fun.

Before I end off, I’d like to list the reasons why I, as a geek, think Gracie Jiu Jitsu is the ultimate form of self defence for other geeks:

  1. We like elegant solutions to problems
  2. We don’t like to reinvent the wheel
  3. Mostly (pause for sarcastic smile) we are not the biggest fans of exercise regimes
  4. We are methodical and apply a methodical approach to our work and lives
  5. We like structure and a structured approach to problem solving

Gracie Jiu Jitsu fits into all of these criteria

Thank you and good night”

What I learned from the Metamoris Pro Invitational

1) Take out the points and give a longer time limit and you will see some great submission finishes.

2) Keeping it too playful can go too far and put you in a really bad position.

3) Even the boogeyman can be defeated by good technique

3) Arm bars can be escaped from but only when you are in a competition/rolling environment. Faster hip pressure and that arm snaps.

4) Sometimes even World Champions can be sore losers.

5) If Rener Gracie was so badly injured that he could no longer practice jiu jitsu, he definitely has a career in sports/jiu jitsu/MMA commentary.

6) Next time, I’ll wake up early and watch the replays, not the live stream (the time delay between the US and SA is just too much).

All in all a great jiu-jitsu tournament, I am starting to look forward to the next one.

Ryron Gracie to visit South Africa.

I just heard that the guys at Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Cape Town are arranging to have Ryron Gracie visit the Academy later this year. What awesome news. To actually have a third generation Gracie and Helio Gracie’s oldest grandson visiting our academy is such an exciting event.

If you have ever watched any of Ryron or Rener’s video clips, you will have seen how natural Gracie Jiu-Jitsu is to them, they are born into it, and for them its like eating or breathing.

I am very excited to learn from (and maybe even roll with, oh please oh please oh please) Ryron Gracie. 2009 is shaping up to be an amazing year for Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Cape Town.

The passing of a legend

Grand Master Helio Gracie :  October 1, 1913 – January 29, 2009

It is with great sadness that I learned about the passing of the legend himself. Helio Gracie changed the world of modern Martial Arts and I’m sure his passing will be felt by thousands (if not millions) around the world.

Rest in peace grand master, your legacy will be imprinted on this world forever.