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  • Writer's pictureJess D

Seeing the Signs: How to Tell if You’re Getting Your Next Jiu-jitsu Belt

Updated: Jul 22, 2022

Along your BJJ journey, you’re going to hit your highs and your lows, but you’re going to go through every moment and work hard. That hard work is going to pay off in many ways: better health, better techniques and all the goals that you had when you originally signed up. But the most visual way that people will be able to see what level you’re at is through a promotion. Promotions in BJJ happen in one of two ways: stripes on your jiu-jitsu belt or a direct belt promotion to the next level. Getting promoted and having your coaches/professors acknowledge your growth in the sport is an awesome feeling and you feel that all the sweat, training time, and soreness is worth it.

Generally, your coaches will not tell you that you’re going to be promoted directly. I think everyone knows that a nice surprise once in a while makes life a bit sweeter. But if you that you’ve been training extra hard and you’re looking for a sign that you might be promoted here are some clues that it might be your time.

A note on this: This is what I’ve noticed in the gyms I’ve been to. All bjj gyms have different traditions about how they promote their students, so don’t read this and say “Hey! You told me if my coach does all these things then I’m going to get promoted.” I’m just saying that these are some of the things that I’VE noticed when I got promoted or when my friends and training partners got promoted (bonus sign at the end, so makes sure you get there!)

The most obvious sign: Advertised Promotion Ceremony

In Shanghai, when the coaches were ready to promote a lot of people with both stripes and belts, there would usually be like a big promotion ceremony. It was usually scheduled around a gym anniversary, a bjj seminar, or after a major competition where many people competed. So, in this situation, you’ll probably know if you’re getting promoted if you competed and kicked ass or if you’re at 4-stripes currently on your belt.

There is always a big hoopla, and you’ll have to wear your nicest Gi and make sure that you look good for pictures.

Your coach tells you to roll with someone at the next belt level up

In this case, your coach will automatically pair you up with someone who is one level up to see how you fair against them. If you were planning on sparring with someone else, well screw that! Your partner will get over it. Just go spar with this person. Don’t be afraid and don’t think it’s a test (even though it kind of is… But seriously chill! It’ll be fine). Your coach will probably be looking for certain techniques and how you deal with situations that come your way when you’re in that situation. Again, just do what you naturally do and roll your best roll.

In some cases, your coach might have you roll with another person that the same level as you just to see how you all train together. In this case, your coach might be planning to promote both of y’all at the same time. I remember right before I got promoted to purple belt, my coach had me roll a lot with my friend Mateusz. He also kind of made comments about him noticing our technique improving and liking what he saw. A couple weeks later, Mateusz got promoted on a Saturday. I was also supposed to get promoted that day, but I had to do a Zumba event and couldn’t attend the class. The following Monday I got promoted, which was a big relief.

Your coach will ask to roll with you

Since your gym might have a lot of people, your bjj coach might not have the time to assess everyone who trains. Some gyms have class attendance cards to measure how often the students train. But honestly, this isn’t really the best indicator of how much you’ve improved. Anyone could just be in class just to be there and not absorb anything or even try (but then why even do jiu-jitsu?) But to check to see if your attendance matches your skills, your coach might ask you to roll to feel you out and see if any of their teachings rubbed off on you. They’ll maybe lead you into a specific game to see how you react and get you moving. They will make a mental note of the roll and see if you’re actually ready to be promoted

In many of the gyms I’ve been a member of, when it was time to get a stripe or a new belt, the coach would ask to roll with you. I always just thought of the coach trying to get their own rolls in, which is true of course but one of my first bjj coaches would often roll with me when it was time to get a stripe or be promoted. Right before my promotions, my coach would often roll with me and set-up certain moves that he taught during class to see how I would react. After the roll, my coach would tell me the things I did great during the roll and the things I needed to work on. Then he would watch and/or test if I was implementing his suggestions and if I did it, would lead to a promotion.

Your coach will stare and talk about you while you roll

If your coach isn’t the one to roll with their students (which again can happen sometimes, injuries happen and what not), then sometimes he will assess your skills visually. This might happen during positional sparring, or you might randomly see him stare at you and have a small discussion with another coach

This is kind of a weird one because of that feeling you get when someone is watching you. Then on top of it, you’re trying to have your best roll and you feel more pressure when the coach has his eyes on you. Then you feel like you’re going to mess something up because that’s what usually happens when the coach watches you. I don’t know if anyone else has had this situation when you perform a technique well when it’s just you and your training partner but as soon as your coach comes by, then everything goes to complete poop, and you have to assure your coach that you know what you’re doing it’s just pressure and nerves and then he gives you this “yea okay sure” look and you feel like a complete idiot. I say all this to say, don’t be nervous if you see your bjj coach looking at you and/or talking about you. He’s probably just noticing things about you that he hasn’t noticed before and taking mental notes about your training and your level. Just try to roll naturally and do your thing.

Your coach will ask you about your training

It’s always nice when your bjj coach wants to talk to you and get to know you after class. It’s a great way to build the community at your bjj gym. Sometimes the conversation will lead in to your specific BJJ journey and goes into like how long you’ve been training as a whole (if you’re new to your gym), how long you’ve been the belt you are, how often you train weekly, anything that you’re specifically working on, etc.

Your coach might be just trying to strike up a conversation to get to know you or they’re trying to gauge if the amount of time you’ve been training and the effort that you’re putting in matches your skill set, as well as if it’s around the time for someone to be promoted at the level they’re at. I’ve had a few coaches come up to me and engage in conversation around these topics. Sometimes it did lead to a stripe but again it depends on your coach and their conversation style.

Bonus: If you’re an upper belt/ The main big black belt isn’t always at your gym

In a few cases in my time living in Shanghai, there has been times where black belts have come to give seminars at my gyms and usually come with a surprise belt for one of the coaches or upper belts in the gym. This was the case when Lachlan Giles came to do a seminar and promote my coach to black belt. Another case was when my friend got his purple belt from his coach who came to visit from Berlin to do a seminar.

There are also some cases where a black belt gym owner who has multiple gyms comes to one of his gyms again for a seminar or to promote the coaches at the gym. I know this has been the case for a few of my friends who coach. They were pleasantly surprised by their coaches coming to visit and handing them their next belt.

Well… What if you don’t get promoted in jiu-jitsu?

There are sometimes when it may seem like all of the things, I’ve mentioned in this article happened and when a belt ceremony comes around, and you think that you might be promoted, and it turns out that you don’t. I know the feeling and it sucks. In this case, I suggest going to your bjj coach and asking him what you can do to improve in order to get to that next level.

NEVER go up to them and say, “why didn’t I get promoted?” It’s disrespectful and it shows that you’re not training jiu-jitsu for the right reasons. Keep in my although there are levels in jiu-jitsu, you need to appreciate the process and when the time is right and you do get that next belt, just know that I was well deserved.

But if you know you’re putting in the work, then when you see these signs, then your time has come, and everything has and will continue to pay off.

My question to you is, in what ways did you know you we’re getting promoted? Let’s discuss in the comments or on Instagram @blackgirlwhitegi_bjj

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