Care about getting your purple belt
There is a lot of talk going on about belt promotions in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which results in a whole range of potential discussion topics. In what follows, I will try to stick to one of the essentials, the time between promotions and, if you stick to it, the time it takes you to reach black belt.
There is a lot of pride in the BJJ community when it comes to the effort involved in getting your black belt. While there are some prodigies who managed to get theirs in less than 4 years, it seems the average time to achieve that sort of proficiency is somewhere around 10 to 12 years for the regular jiu-jitsu practitioner, such as myself (around 3 training sessions per week). There is nothing wrong with that, but it usually results in comparisons with black belts from other martial arts considered “fake” or less worthy of that title. This is actually a bad approach, because the belt system is actually more of a marketing tool and less of a true measure of one’s worth on the mats or in real life. What I mean by that is very simple. In order to keep the students coming and increasing their numbers, you must give them something back. Stripes and belts are thus also a reward of their commitment to the gym and to the gentle art.
If you try long enough you will eventually get your black belt, but this doesn’t mean you know all there is to know about jiu-jitsu or that you can’t possibly get destroyed by a professional competitor who is only a purple belt. Yes, you have read that right. Think about Keenan Cornelius who competed as a purple belt and defeated some black belts in important tournaments. And now multiply that by a number of your choice, because there are a lot of others in his position.
The marketing speech, or if you must, the officially jiu-jitsu discourse claims that only if you beat other similar belts in sparring can you get promoted. But sparring prowess is dependent on a whole range of factors besides simple technique, such as flexibility, speed and, obviously, strength and conditioning. Strategy also matters, and a purple belt who competes on a professional level can have enormous advantages compared to a black belt who doesn’t and only trains for fun. This doesn’t mean everybody should compete in order to get their black belt, this would be absurd, but it does mean that the truth is a lot more complicated than a simple black or white statement.
To me, the landmark of learning in BJJ is the purple belt. A blue belt means you are just getting started and getting an idea about what BJJ and grappling truly are, but a purple belt should know pretty much all of the techniques and be proficient from any position. The difference between them and the higher belts is a difference in degree, not in nature. From purple to black you need refinement and a deeper understanding of the art, but from white to purple you need to really expand your knowledge and absorb all of the techniques and principles of the art.