“Jiujitsu, huh? So, what belt are you?”
If you train, you have been asked this a lot. You’ve probably picked up on the wide range of opinions on what, exactly, belts are for. If you don’t train, it might surprise you to find out there is a hell of a lot of controversy in the martial arts world about this concept. Martial arts people are a melodramatic, finicky bunch. With that said, I have my thoughts on it.
White, blue, purple, brown, and black. That’s the belt system in jiujitsu. The way I see it, you must have technical knowledge as well as the ability to apply that knowledge against a resisting opponent. You can learn most all jiujitsu techniques inside of one year. Put this hand here, that leg there, and presto, you’ve learned a technique. Drill it a few times to sink it in your memory, do that every day with a new technique, and soon enough you have all the knowledge in the world.
Great. You’ve learned what your arms and legs are supposed to be doing to effectively perform a rear naked choke. Now, go do that against somebody that doesn’t want you to choke them. To effectively apply the technique against somebody trying their damnedest to beat you takes a whole lot of time and effort. Skill is the byproduct.
That’s the beauty of jiujitsu compared to other arts. Most every class I’ve been to encourages live sparring against an actively resisting opponent trying to beat you. You can learn how to do a technique, but in order to know a technique requires the ability to do it against somebody that doesn’t want you to do it.
For various reasons, most other martial arts don’t practice or encourage live sparring. You simply learn a technique, drill it, and that’s it. No sparring. People ascend the belt ranks much quicker in other martial arts systems due to this factor. What you are left with is a watered down, ineffective system churning out black belts that can front kick a heavy bag with the best of them but couldn’t possibly land that kick on an actively resisting opponent.
This lengthy blog post is the response I want to give to people that don’t train jiujitsu but ask me my rank, and then scoff, “You’ve been doing jiujitsu for nearly six years and you are only a purple belt? My twelve year old has been in kung fu for only a year and a half and he’s testing for his black belt next week!” Ultimately, belts don’t mean everything they are cracked up to be. There is probably some athletic four month white belt that could tool me right now, and there’s probably a black belt in a coma somewhere that I could beat down. For reference, consider what one of jiujitsu’s pioneers had to say about belts: