Pssst, want to become a BJJ black belt?
The ‘secret’ is simple: just don’t quit!
Of course, the devil is in the details, which is why this article is more than two lines long…
I want to start with the fact that almost everybody can eventually become a black belt, so if you just keep training hard then you’ll probably make it.
One my teachers and inspirations, Dan Inosanto, started BJJ when he was 65 and received his black belt from Rigan Machado when he was 75. So if being 75 years old didn’t stop him then what are you worrying about?
Now it’s true that some people are going to get there faster…
If you’re 16 years old, gifted with great genetics and athleticism, and can train twice a day without having to put food on the table for your family then you’re probably going to get your black belt relatively quickly.
At the extreme end of the spectrum there are physically gifted phenoms who trained incredibly hard, competed a lot, and got their BJJ black belts in 3 to 4 years (BJ Penn, Geo Martinez, Vitor ‘Shaolin’ Ribeiro, Nic Gregoriades, etc.)
But if you’re starting BJJ later in life, aren’t particularly athletic, have pre-existing injuries, or can only train 2 or 3 times a week then it’s certainly going to take longer. In fact that’s why the average time to get your black belt is more than 10 years.
10 years is an eternity, especially when compared to the Tae Kwon Do school down the street pumping kids through their black belt program in two or three years.
(And also charging extra for the school ‘leadership program’, also known as the ‘teach-the-younger-kids-for-free-so-the-grandmaster-poobah-teacher-doesn’t-have-to-work-as-much’ scam).
So yeah, to get your BJJ black belt takes a long time. But you know you’re going to have a really solid foundation in the martial arts when you get there. You’ll have some totally legit skills and be a much better person for it.
Take a Japanese perspective on things: if Jiro Ono (the 85 year old master chef in the movie Jiro dreams of Sushi) is still learning new things about making sushi after 75 years of practice then maybe worrying about how long your black belt is going to take is a little bit silly…
Now earlier I said that the secret to getting your black belt was not quitting.
There are lots of reasons that people quit training, but I thought I would address the ones I see most often here individually…
Quitting BJJ Top Reason 1: Getting Too Busy
Many people train like madmen when they start BJJ: they buy all the gear, they watch all the videos, they go to class every day. They’re at the super-enthusiastic beginner phase – it’s cute to watch!
But eventually life starts getting in the way and they just can’t get on the mats as often. The main culprit here is simply getting older and developing more responsiblilities. You get a real job, a girlfriend, have some kids, or buy a house and – BOOM – all discretionary time seems to vanish.
Instead of having a carefree existence that revolves around training 5 times almost every day you’re now hammered with responsibilities and are lucky to be on the mats twice a week.
A lot of people get really discouraged when they can’t train as often as they did in the past. Because they’re not training as often their rate of improvement slows down, and now the young punks start passing them.
Eventually they say “F*** it, if I can’t train a lot then I’m not going to train at all.” And they pack it in and quit.
This is a terrible idea.
Don’t succumb to all-or-nothing thinking.
Sure, 5 times a week is better than twice a week, but twice a week is a thousand times better than zero times a week. You’ll still make progress, it’ll just be slower.
So do whatever you can to keep your head in the game during the busy times and eventually the chaos of your life will subside (your job will slow down, your kids will start school, the crazy family dynamics will resolve themselves). You’ll get some time back, and jiu-jitsu will be there waiting for you.
Quitting BJJ Top Reason 2: School-Student Mismatch
Jiu-jitsu is hard, no doubt about it. And if you don’t feel supported by your teacher, your team and your training partners then the odds of staying in the battle for long enough to get your black belt are pretty slim.
A lot of people quit jiu-jitsu simply because they’re not at the right school.
For example, if you really want to compete but you’re at a school that only does the Gracie Combatives curriculum and very little sparring then it’s not a good match…
If you’re an older guy with a professional job but you’re training with a bunch of wannabe MMA meatheads then that might not be a good fit either. Depending on your job, showing up at work with black eyes every week could be problematical…
Most fundamentally however, if you don’t like your teacher or most of your fellow students then that’s a huge problem!
If you want to become a black belt but can’t stand the people you train with then you’re not very likely to achieve your goal.
So before you quit jiu-jitsu forever try changing schools and see if you can get a better fit!
I’ve heard from lots of people who were ready to stop training, but they went to a different school and fell in love with the art all over again. So this is definitely possible!
(Now if you’ve trained at 3 different schools and there’s always a problem then maybe you’re the common denominator. The only answer here is to take a good, hard look at yourself and figure out if the problem is you or them.)
Quitting BJJ Top Reason 3: Getting Injured
There are so many people out there who could have been so good if only they hadn’t gotten injured.
Injuries stop you from training in the short term, and can limit your potential in the long term, so an absolutely critical part of getting to black belt is minimising injury as much as possible.
Some injuries are complete flukes, and there’s not much you can do about them except wear a football helmet while sitting on a couch in a padded room for the rest of your life.
Aside from those flukes though, many injuries are preventable.
I’ve written a TON about preventing, rehabbing, and training around injuries on this site (lots of my articles on this topic here) so I’m not going to reiterate all that advice here. However some of the highlights include don’t train with idiots, tap out early and often, and be very careful when training takedowns.
BJJ is a contact sport and eventually you’re going to get banged up. So it’s also really important to do everything in your power to heal up properly when you do get injured. Go to specialists, do the rehab, and take the time to heal; don’t let those injuries become chronic.
Finally, Remember That A Black Belt is Just the Beginning…
A BJJ black belt is a great achievement. It’s the result of a lot of blood, sweat and tears (or at least perspiration).
Will you know everything there is to know about jiu-jitsu once you wrap that black belt around your waist?
Nope: ultimately it’s just an overpriced piece of black cotton, not the be all and end all of martial arts wisdom.
A black belt indicates a certain degree of mastery to be sure, but there’s lots and lots of that art left to learn. Not to mention that even if you did know absolutely everything (which is impossible) the art is evolving so fast that you need to be continuously learning in order to stay up to date.
I’ve been a BJJ black belt now for about 10 years, and believe me, I’m still learning something new almost every day that I step onto the mats.
When it comes to learning new things in BJJ I’m basically going through the same process as every white or blue belt – asking lots of questions and trying to figure things out – I’m just a little further down the road. That means I can continue growing in the art forever, which is a very cool prospect!
Black belt after black belt has said the same thing: a black belt is just the beginning of the learning process, not the end!
— StephanKesting (@StephanKesting) July 26, 2016
By the way, if you found this article useful then here are some articles you might be interested in checking out too:
- BJJ Lessons from a Sushi Master
- All Articles Related to BJJ injuries on Grapplearts
- Blood, Sweat and Sparta – Why We Train!
- All Articles about Older Grapplerts on Grapplearts
Just. Don’t. Quit!