This is one of the most common questions I hear at URSA Academy. Honestly, I’ve been hearing this question years before I opened our school. The canned answer here is 7-10 years. But if it were that simple, I wouldn’t have wasted my time writing a blog post about it. And I have enough experience answering it that I’m actually changing the question. It’s not “How long does it take to get a black belt?” It’s “How long does it take YOU to get a black belt?” That question is much more relevant, more accurate, and it will give you a ton of insight about yourself & what to expect throughout your journey in jiu jitsu.
First, let’s talk about the factors that can swing that 7 - 10 year estimate one way or another. Your skill level, natural talent, outside influences, family, etc. can ALL change how long it takes you to get a black belt. If you are a young phenom & an athletic specimen with a Division 1 wrestling background, a judo black belt, & an understanding of how to best leverage that background in jiu jitsu, AND you enter the sport humble, willing to learn, & willing to work hard, then you’re going to get your black belt faster than most.
If you are a father of 3 who trains 2-3 times per week as a way to stay healthy, have fun, be part of a team, & do something good for himself, you can also earn a black belt, it will just take a little longer.
All of those variables impact the amount of time it will take you to earn a black belt in jiu jitsu. BUT, the ONE factor that is consistent amongst all of my students, and in my opinion, the Most important factor that influences this promotion is consistency in your training.
Please don’t misunderstand me here, I’m not recommending that all my students train 6 times per week. (Unless you’re trying to be a high level competitor.) For 95% of my students, who are hobbyists or hobby competitors, I’m looking for a long term sustainable training schedule. Two - three times per week is enough.
I have a buddy that I trained with as a white belt who never trained more than 2-3 times per week. But the key to his success, is that he never trained less than that either. Today, he is a black belt professor of a successful academy down in Toledo.
For me, I had much bigger swings in my training. I can look back and see exactly how the frequency of my training and the consistency of my schedule directly impacted my promotions. I was a FOUR YEAR blue belt. At the time, I was working a ton of different jobs, sometimes making money, sometimes I was too broke to pay my training bill, I went to school, sometimes part time, others full time. Ultimately training was not my main focus, so I earned roughly a stripe per year.
Then came purple belt and a switch flipped for me. I started training hard. I was having a tough time finding real work, so I focused my energy on the only thing I could control. I poured all of my frustration into my training. I trained 6 days a week, sometimes 2x per day. In my first promotion as a purple belt, I earned 2 stripes. I was promoted to brown belt in a year and a half and jumped over an entire class of purple belts who had gotten their purple belts ahead of me.
I didn’t all of the sudden get more talented, I just outworked them.
As a brown belt, I started competing in IBJJF tournaments. My instructor, Saulo Ribeiro also asked me to open my own academy under him. My skills were there, but I had to get my head straight about what I was going to try to do with jiu jitsu. The biggest area of growth as a brown belt wasn’t in the guard or the mount position, it was in the 6 inches between my ears. I had to mature into a black belt.
Now that I’ve trained and promoted hundreds of students, I believe that you have to mature in every belt. This has nothing to do with age either. We work with people of all ages at URSA Academy, but if you’ve ever been promoted in the sport before, you understand that the feeling is different on the first day in your new belt, from the feeling wearing it 6 months, 1 year, 2 years later.
The elimination of the “belt chaser” mentality is one of the first signs of ‘maturation’ in jiu jitsu. Nobody asks me about promotions more than new white belts.. Followed closely by blue belts. By purple and brown, people rarely ask about promotions. At URSA Academy, we have monthly test & promotion weeks. My purple and brown belts train consistently during those weeks. It’s no different than any other week of training. White belts and blue belts always show up more that week than any other week.
Now don’t misunderstand me. I don’t care what it is that brings you into class, as long as you come on the mats & train. If test & promotion week bumps up your attendance, good. Hopefully watching everyone working hard, seeing other people get promoted, & supporting your teammates will help motivate you train more. But showing up on test & promotion week only won’t increase the frequency of your promotion. Promotions may be awarded on test week, but they are earned on the weeks in between.
I love working with white and blue belts. As a coach, it’s the part of your journey where I can help my students the most. White and blue is tough road. You’re still learning the mental side as well as the physical game of jiu jitsu. The temptation to quit still creeps up every once in awhile when you hit a rough patch.
They often have to fight that feeling of ‘not getting better’ or actually ‘getting worse.’ White & blue belts can go through long stretches where they don’t SEE their progress. They don’t yet understand the long term up & down journey of jiu jitsu. They don’t understand that everything they are experiencing on the mat, all of these setbacks are actually piling up under the surface, stacking on top of eachother, building up pressure, until they burst forward with a huge breakthrough that catapults them to the next level.
Through the maturation process, you begin to understand what you know, & what you don’t. What you have to learn, & how to learn it. How you can grow your own game & how you can help others. Why are you doing this? What is your motivation? When you begin to answer these questions, the answers add up to tip the scales over from the extrinsic motivation that comes from belt promotions or physical medals to your own intrinsic motivation to train. We talk about this shift all the time in our sport, but you usually hear it called by the phrase, “getting bit by the jiu jitsu bug..”
Once you ‘get the bug,’ everything changes. Purple and brown belt are actually easier in some ways than white and blue, at least mentally, because you are no longer fighting the desire to quit. There are plenty of physical challenges & breakthroughs, training milestones, mindset challenges. But the ‘quit’ is gone.
When you hit black belt, you have to have answered all of these questions, experienced & overcome all of these obstacles. These are the obstacles that cause most people to quit along the way. You have to have maturity. And you have to understand that you’ve got more work to do on the other side of the black belt than all of the work you did to get there. And there are never anymore promotions to mark your progress. If you don’t have intrinsic motivation, the drive within yourself to improve with no desire for outward recognition, you’ll quit the day after you get your black belt.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is unique. In traditional martial arts, a lot of people who aren’t running a school really do quit training right after they earn their black belt. I hear it all the time from my students who have earned black belts in other martial arts. Brazilian jiu jitsu is such a long road, it requires a total transformation, & it becomes such an ingrained habit over a decade, that BJJ black belts tend to keep training long after they get that last major promotion.
Throughout my journey to black belt I kept hearing a line that I always thought was a cliche’. “The journey BEGINS at black belt.” I didn’t understand how that was possible because it took me 9.5 years to get my black belt. But I finally got it after one of my first tournaments as a black belt. I competed against Comprido. He was a reigning black belt world champion when I first started training. I can remember sitting on the mats with my friends as a white belt talking about how great he was. Fast forward 12 years.. Standing across from him on the mat, wearing the same color belt was surreal.
I lost that match, but I didn’t make HIS highlight reel. ;) That match gave me so much clarity to understand that my journey is, at most, half over. I have so much to learn as a black belt.
On MY journey, this stage of my development comes through helping my students achieve every level of success in their own games, a level of success they can’t necessarily picture on their own.
For anyone training with me at URSA Academy or through the BJJ Teaching Pro Online Academy, that’s my job as your professor; to guide your journey & help you not to fall or give up when you stumble along the path, coach you to train through the end of every round. Train every round until you can’t train any more, no skipping matches when everyone else is training. Train until you’re done. Push yourself to train more matches per day and make each day count. Try to increase the number of matches you do per day. 30-35 matches per week. Then work hard to make it your goal to be the last one training on the mat.
Maximize each training day & make it count. Then make every week consistent. Because consistent weeks turn into consistent months, which turn into consistent years… The challenge of getting your black belt is, in a lot of ways, more fun than ‘having’ your black belt. Every promotion is a different test & a different challenge. Enjoy every belt. You only wear it once.