As one of the more cerebral and multi-faceted martial arts, BJJ possesses many intricacies which go beyond executing techniques on the mat. Many people who begin training need to comprehend and measure their progress so that they have a clear picture of how they can achieve their goals and progress through the ranks. Jits Magazine caught up with Royler Gracie, one of the most distinguished competitors and teachers from BJJ’s first family. When it comes to breaking down the BJJ belt system and motivating pupils of all ages, Royler’s credentials seem embedded in his DNA. The 4-time World Champion shared his insights on measuring progress on the mats. The long-time Gracie Humaita instructor is a firm believer that all BJJ academies should adhere to the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) system.
“First of all, we try to follow the confederation. That’s the universal language for the rules and belt system, and it looks bad if you do something different than the other schools with belts,” explains the 6th degree black belt and 3-time ADCC champion. “During the time that the student trains with us, we make sure that he can take his belt anywhere. Whenever he leaves the academy and goes somewhere else, he will be able to use the same belt.”
The current belt system contains four degrees between every belt. As Royler explains, this allows a white belt who trains regularly for six months to be recognized for the progress he has made.
“He is no longer a pure white belt, he is more than that. What does that mean? Well, every three or four months we can give the student a stripe and you continue until you have achieved four stripes.”
As the pupil gains more experience, the difference between each stripe becomes more pronounced.
“When you move to a new belt, lets say blue belt, it does not mean you can go and finish everybody just because they are of a lower rank or stripe. So many times, a white belt with four stripes can give a blue belt a very hard time,” explains Royler, who during his competitive career notched wins over the likes of Vitor Ribeiro, Leo Vieira, Leo Santos and Alexandre Freitas.
Indeed, the BJJ belt system is just as detailed and intricate as the sport itself and understanding the commitment it takes to earn that next stripe is a great way for an ambitious BJJ practitioner to set and achieve their goals.
But when it comes to getting kids involved in BJJ, the psychology of motivation is obviously much different. Royler believes patience and fun are essential to keep children interested and motivated to eventually take training more seriously.
“For kids it’s hard at four or six years old to tell them to do this or that technique. If you do this with a kid, he is going to leave,” says Royler who now lives permanently in San Diego with his wife and four daughters. “Kids come to the class to have a good time and have some fun. However, on the side, we try to put some self-defence in there; push and pull, rolling over and back, and some gymnastics and he doesn’t even know that he is actually learning! Once they become used to this they feel more comfortable. Only then can you start to make a program for them. At this point, you can still play around, but you have to become more serious at times and tell them that it’s time to apply an actual technique.
Once a child has matured past this stage, they are ready to train and apply more advanced techniques.
“It is only at 12 years old when the kids really start to understand what is going on and then they realize ‘ok I am starting to train now’. This is the kind of system we are looking for, and not pushing hard until after 10 years old. You have to make sure the kids are comfortable every time they walk into the academy. The kids may not realize that they already know a lot, but when someone pushes them, they will know how to base and recover. If someone grabs their neck, they will know how to defend themselves.”
For adults, Royler believes that white belt classes should always include self-defence and a little bit of floor training. Positions need to be drilled and practiced repeatedly at this level for them to become automatic. As you advance to blue belt, the positions should become more comfortable, and at purple belt they should feel even more instinctive.
“A good analogy for this is when it’s raining, a white belt doesn’t even have an umbrella with him when he goes outside, and he gets completely wet. By the time he is a blue belt he has an umbrella, but this umbrella is tattered and has a lot of holes, so he still gets wet, just not as badly. The purple belt’s umbrella has no holes, but sometimes the wind will blow it from his hands. By the time he has a brown belt, he becomes more solid with his grip on the umbrella, but occasionally, stronger winds will turn it inside out. Once at black belt, he knows everything, but continues to train to keep a tight grip on his umbrella.”
Indeed, the BJJ journey is not one for those lacking in patience and dedication. But like any other sport, the foundation that leads to star pupils and competitors always lies in fun and encouragement. Royler accredits the success he was able to achieve with his pupils by making Gracie Humaita a welcoming academy where people can have a good time first and foremost. In fact, one of the qualities that make BJJ an ideal sport is that even people that lead busy lifestyles and careers can still earn their next promotion, all the way until black.
“You don’t have to be a competitor to get your belt, you just have to understand the positions,” explains Royler. You don’t have to have the best endurance or strength in the world, but if you understand the analogy and detail, we will still give you the belt. The belt and stripe are like a gift for the student for the hours and attention they put in to get to that level.”
Words by David Abbou
Main Photo by William Burkhardt (BJJ Pix)
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