Belt Testing in BJJ

Douglas Esposito Coach's Corner

I know its been a little while since I was supposed to post this, but I hope you will excuse me as we have been (as anyone who has seen the place in the last week can attest to) super busy working on making the gym more awesome!

VII. Belt Testing as a Goal

“Capability is performance on demand.”

belt testing in bjj

This is obviously aimed primarily at the BJJ students, but it applies to the kids’ classes and will give some insight into our Thai Boxing informal ranking system and my philosophy on belt testing.

Let me say this in general: If you are concerned with belt ranks then Vanguard Gym is not the place to train. You can go pay for rank at some other school, get your so-called “black belt” and then come back here and get your butt handed to you by our white belts.


Pre- 1960, the belts for traditional eastern martial arts tended to be used to keep your gi closed and not so much for rank. The black belt was awarded to the serious student who had dedicated himself to the study of the art and the rest of the “belts” were really just teaching/coaching level certificates.

In fighting styles (including western boxing and wrestling) the levels are broken up into beginner, competitor, and coaching levels. The level you are as a competitor depends on the level at which you compete, and the coaching level is similarly determined by the level of athletes you produce and coach. This is pretty much how we run our boxing, wrestling, and Thai boxing programs; you are 1) a practitioner, 2) a fighter/competitor, or 3) some level of coach.

Overall, belts are a western affectation to the “martial arts” brought about to give people short-term goals. Eastern teachers of the martial arts found that the westerners were impatient when it came to working toward a black belt (which was really a teaching/coaching certification) and wanted more immediate gratification, so the modern day multicolored belt-ranking system was born.

This had the additional benefit of allowing for an increase in revenue if you had the students or their parents pay each time they tested. More and more belt levels were created to allow for more testing/revenue opportunities.


belt testing

All that being said, belts are a nice recognition of the time you have put in and are necessary for organizing skill levels for competition, along with weight classes. They also should somewhat accurately predict your probability for success in different level competitions and indicate a baseline level of skill.

The functional “levels” of training in the martial arts (and most sports) break down like this:
Beginner Athlete
Intermediate Athlete
Advanced Athlete
Elite Athlete

Lets discuss what these levels entail and where they fit into the rank structures here at Vanguard Gym.

1. Beginner Athlete – This is the newbie that knows very little and will learn something new and improve every single time they train. This phase usually runs for six months to two years, depending on the athlete’s gifts, and dedication to training during this time. This usually adds up to between one and two-thousand hours of instruction, mat-time, competition, and watching matches and instructionals. This is the domain of the white belt.

2. Intermediate Athlete – The intermediate athlete accumulates two or three thousand more hours over the course of his development. He is able to link basic skills and starts to develop higher-domain learning in the specific skills. The intermediate athlete can help beginners with beginning skills as well. Competition can begin to be a focus for the intermediate athletes, and with striking and wrestling work you may be ready for amateur MMA as well. This is the domain of the blue belt in BJJ.

3. Advanced Athlete – this is the domain of the purple, brown, and black belt in BJJ and the pro fighter in MMA. You will spend thousands of hours refining your technique and learning the intricacies of each position, posture, transition, and submission. Coaching classes and spending time as an assistant coaching will allow you to begin to move towards becoming a coach, or depending on your level of competition you can move onto being an;

4. Elite Athlete – This level athlete competes at an elite level. The worlds, pan-ams, Bellator, UFC and other high-level competitions are de rigor. This is usually a full-time job, with many hours dedicated to training and conditioning on a daily basis.



I have five main factors that I look at for belt testing. You need to understand that I look at everything we do at Vanguard Gym as a way or path to becoming a better person, and we all have very personal journeys on our way to growing. Belt rank is awarded in relation to your personal potential, and while there are some absolutes as far as technique goes, there is no absolute standard across the board. The mix of each of these factors will differ in importance from belt to belt, but there is always a portion of each of them in my decision making process.

1. Doing – this has to do with your knowledge and application of techniques. This is always a factor for each belt level, and there are specific things I need to see you doing against resisting opponents at each belt-level. For the blue belt it is pretty obvious, based on the basic curriculum, that I want you to be comfortable with your escapes and be able to apply a number of them from each of the eight basic positions. A few attacks from each position are important as well.

2. Giving – Your ability and willingness to share knowledge, help others, and give back to the gym community and culture. This becomes more and more important with each belt progression.

3. Challenge – your willingness to challenge yourself, push hard, and fight through adversity is important. You may demonstrate this with your goal setting, participation in competitions, or overcoming any number of obstacles in your life. Your consistency is a marker of your dedication. This is an important factor at each belt level.


4. Character – Setting an example and being someone for others to emulate, in and outside of the gym. There is a lot of prestige and other values to each belt and you must be the type of person who consistently uses good judgment and would not dishonor the team. This becomes more and more important the further along you get.

5. Coach’s Discretion – When I promote you, it is my stamp of approval and show of good faith that you have put in the time, have the knowledge, and will use it only where appropriate. If I have reason to question your judgment or other leadership traits then it will probably be a while before your next belt promotion. As my name goes along with the lineage of the belt, I take it very seriously. I would also never dishonor my lineage and award ranks that don’t reflect the standards of my lineage.

D. KIDS RANKS – the kids belt testing are in keeping with the IBJJF standards, are age-appropriate, and based on physical, mental, and character skills that are demonstrated during a formal testing period that is available once every three months.


You should be proud of what the belt you wear represents (work, skill, challenges overcome), and remember, it also represents your coach’s recognition and approval. The belt doesn’t have any super-powers, and anybody can be caught on any given day, so don’t have an ego about your belt or let the belt feed yours. Stay humble and always on the path to becoming a better person.

I will never charge money for belt testing. No one will ever to be able to say they bought their belt at Vanguard Gym. No one should ever be able to question the validity of the rank members receive at Vanguard Gym, and it should usually be no surprise by the time somebody gets promoted.

“Capability is performance on demand.”