Just How Rare Are BJJ Black Belts Today?

6 min read
We’ve all asked it… “why are BJJ black belt’s so rare?”… Below you’ll find the answers you’ve been looking for!

Black Belt Lineup from Atos

Just How Rare Are BJJ Black Belts Today?

We’ve all asked it… “why are BJJ black belt’s so rare?”… Below you’ll find the answers you’ve been looking for!

Location: Orlando, FL.

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Photo by: galvaobjj

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has been captivating the public for more than a century. Its historical roots are found in Brazil and can be credited to the Gracie family for its development. Nowadays, millions of people worldwide practice BJJ as part of their martial art training regimen.

While it is among the most popular martial arts, those who attain a black belt in BJJ are quite tricky to come by even though the numbers have improved significantly over the last 20 years, especially in the U.S. In fact, some statistics estimate that less than 1% of practitioners have achieved this feat after beginning their BJJ journey. [1] So how long does it take and why is reaching such an accolade challenging? Let’s dig into these questions to find some answers.

First, a brief history of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

BJJ is a martial art that prioritizes ground combat and grappling techniques. It’s considered one of the most effective self-defense systems today, focused on controlling an opponent through joint locks and chokeholds. With BJJ, you can achieve dominance over your foe in no time!

What sets BJJ apart is its ability to enable even smaller, weaker people to protect themselves against larger, more powerful adversaries. This is possible because of the focus on leverage and technique rather than size or physical power.

BJJ has a long and illustrious history, tracing its roots back to Japan’s ancient martial arts. Before that, the roots can be traced to China and India, where monks sought a combative solution to defend themselves without killing the other person. Carlos Gracie, one of the famous Gracies brothers responsible for popularizing BJJ around the world, was taught by Mitsuyo Maeda – also known as “Count Koma”- who was an esteemed Judoka and among some of Japan’s earliest black belt holders in this noble sport.[2]

Maeda eventually ventured to Brazil, where he founded a dojo and began instructing his art form to the Gracie brothers. Of those siblings, Carlos Gracie was particularly attentive; as such, it is no surprise that he later went on to teach BJJ to his own kids – most notably Helio Gracie, who has been dubbed by many as the patriarch of contemporary BJJ.[3]

Helio revolutionized the martial art of BJJ and its techniques by refining what he had learned from Maeda, as well as inventing new methods that suited his smaller frame. His sons would also become renowned black belts in BJJ, guaranteeing that the Gracie name stays solidly entrenched within the martial arts world even today.

The chief aim for many BJJ practitioners is to earn a black belt…. but in reality, the journey, in this case, is so much more rewarding than the summit. 

Belt Levels in BJJ

Earning a black belt in BJJ requires that you first journey through the lower ranks of belts. Your path to success begins with white, followed by blue, purple, brown and finally reaching the esteemed black level.

Full IBJJF chart below:

Photo by: IBJJF

As you progress through the belts of BJJ, each has a unique set of milestones and achievements. For instance, before advancing to blue belt status, white belt practitioners must first understand and apply basic techniques such as the closed guard, mount, arm bars, etc. Additionally, blue belts need to demonstrate more advanced proficiency in order to move on to the purple belt level.

Every practitioner’s journey to their next belt is an individual one. Some may advance rapidly, while others take more time; there are no hard-set predetermined timelines or expectations for each rank. That said, IBJJF has outlined a general rulebook on each belt’s minimum time requirements, which over 80% of Jiu-Jitsu academies observe.

Once you earn a black belt (primarily based on your technical skill, teaching ability, and character), there are two additional belts that you can achieve — a black belt with red and black stripes, also called a coral belt, and a solid red belt. This is the highest rank in BJJ. Red and black belts and red belts are reserved for those who have contributed significantly to the art of BJJ.

BJJ Black Belts

So, how long does it take to earn a black belt in BJJ? The answer is: it varies. It typically takes anywhere from 10 to 12 years to achieve the rank of black belt in BJJ. However, there have been some notable exceptions.

For example, Royce Gracie, one of Helio’s sons, was awarded his black belt at the age of 18. And Rickson Gracie, Royce’s brother, was also awarded his black belt at the age of 18. Both Roger and Rickson are considered to be among the most excellent BJJ practitioners of all time.[4]

After becoming a student of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, the odds of making it from white to blue belt are only 10%. Then out of those dedicated few, an even rarer 1% will continue on their journey to become black belts.[1] As reported as of January 2023 by The International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJFF), there are only 7,665 individuals who have accomplished this grand feat and registered![5]

Even though the exact count of black belts may be unknown at this time due to the numerous BJJ practitioners who are not IBJJF members, it is estimated that there could likely be around 25,000 individuals in the world with this esteemed martial arts rank. While that number appears high, when looking at all those who have taken up Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (3,000,000+ people) training worldwide – it only accounts for a small fraction of them. [6]

Why are they rare?

So why are black belts so scarce in BJJ? Well, there are several explanations for this. To begin, attaining the rank of black belt signifies one has achieved a highly advanced level of skill and proficiency in martial arts; it takes determination, hard work, and long-term training to reach that milestone. Not to mention the thousands of hours on the mats and countless rounds of rolling.

Furthermore, a practitioner’s black belt proficiency requires more than just the ability to perform techniques. It demands an in-depth comprehension of how each move works, so they can pass on their knowledge to others. Not all knowledgeable individuals have this aptitude for sharing what they know about BJJ.

Plus, you get beat up a lot (especially as a white belt) when learning Jiu-Jitsu, and most people simply can’t take it and don’t have the long-term delayed gratification mindset that it takes to achieve greatness in a sport.

Finally, to be officially acknowledged as a black belt, martial artists must pass an intense testing process. This ensures that they possess not only technical aptitude but also the capacity to apply their insight when challenged in real-time scenarios… many schools require you to compete to earn your Black Belt.

The path to a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt

Attaining a BJJ black belt may be challenging, but it is absolutely possible. The rewards of earning the coveted rank are far more gratifying than the brutal training, tapping, and physical and mental costs you encounter… Jiu-Jitsu helps make you stronger and is a wonderfully accurate mirror showing you who you truly are… you can’t hide anything on the mats! With hard work, consistency, and perseverance, you can reach any goal—even that of attaining a BJJ black belt!

If you are thinking about starting your journey towards a black belt, there is no time like the present… Most people say, “Once I get in shape, I’ll try” NO!… put a date on the calendar to start training BJJ to get in shape and transform your life!… Ready, fire, and then aim.

P.S. if you’re looking for a GYM near you, check out our GYM finder HERE


[1] https://youtu.be/fS54v9sCY3Y

[2] https://youtu.be/p4NeRJ1O4gw

[3] https://youtu.be/_8RmbTd9Th4

[4] https://roycegracie.com/about-royce/

[5] https://ibjjf.com/certified-black-belts?_ga=2.265957263.1285441017.1674947184-809446808.1674844005

[6] https://askwonder.com/research/people-practice-brazilian-jiu-jitsu-grappling-globally-zk9hgvroz



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