I’ve talked a little bit about this topic on Quora and even made a video on YouTube about the high attrition rate of blue belt students in their practice.
But I think it’s worth examining again. Especially for a lot of my readers that are not familiar this fact. Most practitioners will not progress to blue belt and even less move on from blue belt.
Jiu Jitsu is not easy
Jiu Jitsu is not an easy art or sport. It takes a lot of time, dedication, and humility to progress in the ranks.
In the past, there was this running joke online and on many of the major grappling/mma chat rooms and forums that a Bjj blue belt was all that was needed in order to beat Mike Tyson in his prime.
I’m not sure where it originated but it shows just how much influence and notoriety that Jiu Jitsu gained in the 1990’s and early 2000’s.
During that time period in the U.S. there was this hunger for Jiu Jitsu even though there were not enough instructors or higher belts to fill that demand.
Being a blue belt was rare.
They were looked upon as demi-gods among men.
Fast forward to today, and blue belts and all other belts have become significantly more common place.
Yet, I’m sure the trials and tribulations from white to blue are still the same.
Going from unconscious incompetence or wrong intuition to conscious incompetence or wrong analysis.
Blue belt is the stage where you realize that you really don’t know Jiu Jitsu.
You know some Jiu Jitsu techniques and even a few concepts but not how everything fits together and flows.
At white belt you’re ignorant of this fact. Every day you train. You learn something new and get better without trying. Just being able to recall a few moves is a big accomplishment when you first start out.
But starting at blue belt, you have to put more effort into your training and studying techniques. That feeling of leveling up after every session is quickly replaced with plateaus and working toward developing your own style of Jiu Jitsu.
As a blue belt you will need more awareness of your strengths as well as your weaknesses. Of course, your instructor will be there to guide you by showing you techniques and giving you advice. But as you progress, your instructor’s guidance will be less hands on so you will have to be more proactive in training.
That could mean taking private lessons, studying competition videos, competing, etc.
As a white belt there’s no expectation on you to do well in training or competition. Just by showing up consistently most white belts will see exponential progress.
I’m happy when my beginner students can remember past techniques and have the fundamental techniques such as shrimping, rolling (backwards and forwards), and can tie their belt properly. I could care less how they roll in sparring or how many times they get tapped out.
So they actually end up doing better because there is no pressure on them to do well or to have the techniques down one hundred percent.
But at blue belt, you have more experience under your belt. You’re no longer an innocent white belt. Your instructor has higher expectations on you to learn and demonstrate your technique(s) as well as you being able to effectively transmit that technique to newer students.
Many times during my classes, I will pair a newer student with a blue belt (or more advanced belt) with the hope and expectation that they will be able to guide the student in our fundamental techniques or to help them along with more advanced movements.
You represent your academy
Newer guys coming in to your academy are going to look towards you as a representative of your school as well as a target so you will want to do well against them, and higher belts are going to use more advanced techniques and attributes on you like strength and timing as you become more proficient and a tougher training partner.
Or as I like to say. They’re going to take your lunch money but there’s nothing you can do about it but just learn.
The experiential belt
As a blue belt, you will have a few go to techniques but no overall developed game. That’s why many blue belt students spend most of their time experimenting.
Experimenting with different types of guards, passing styles, and submissions. It’s no surprise that many blue belts will go through a phase when they will only use a single technique or style of Jiu Jitsu like berimbolo or wormguard.
Slave to trends
The most experiential belt is also the one that most follows the trends in the sport of Jiu Jitsu.
I remember when I was a blue belt and Eduardo Telles’ turtle guard was popular at the time. Of course, like any fan boy I added it to my game and relied heavily upon it for the majority of my time as a blue belt.
There’s nothing wrong with following the trends in Jiu Jitsu. It’s very important to keep you skills and knowledge updated but many blue belts fall into the trap of building their entire game around that one technique that they saw online.
There will always be this cycle of new techniques or strategies that become popular but then they are replaced by an older move or a technique that was “forgotten” but then rediscovered.
I think a lot of people’s time and energy would be better used by continually developing their fundamental techniques in addition to experimenting with the new guards and passing styles.
You should aim to be well rounded in all the major areas of Jiu Jitsu including: self defense, sport techniques, takedowns, leg locks, escapes, attacks, etc.
You’ve achieved the desired skill level
One argument that I haven’t fully explored in my writing or videos is the fact that many practitioners are happy with the skill level that they’ve developed at blue belt and decide to pursue other goals.
Again, Jiu Jitsu takes a lot of time and study commitment in order to progress. I can see how an blue belt could feel like they’re good enough. If you train at a good academy, then the average blue belt should be able to handle themselves both in a self defense situation against most untrained individuals.
Blue belt blues
If I think about it, being a blue belt is very much like being the unpopular kid in high school. You just have to put in your time and work until your skill level rises and you begin to develop confidence in your game.
My advice to you is that if your practice of Jiu Jitsu is meaningful to you. Then keep at it.
But if you don’t feel that training has any value on your life. Find something that does bring meaning and value. Then pursue that wholeheartedly.
You have to decide.