Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Rank (part 1) by Guest Columnist Eric Smith

“This belt only covers two inches of my butt, I have to cover the rest.”  -Royce Gracie

“There are no shortcuts on a path worth traveling.”  -Unknown

The thoughts below come from several sources and are not all original thoughts of mine but rather information and a perspective that guide me through my training. Therefore I do not take credit for this body of knowledge.

Rank in General

Keep in mind that rank  is a made up thing. It is neutral; it can be a good or bad thing. It is merely an investiture by someone whom we have put in authority over ourselves. It is my opinion that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), because of high standards in reference to ‘doing’ over ‘knowing’ and length of time training, is the only martial arts system were rank still has real meaning. Rank has become the necessary evil and silly ‘carrot’ that Americans need to stay motivated to train. Either you can fight or you can’t. Some of the most dangerous and best fighters I know have no rank or belt at all. Bruce Lee never had a martial arts rank or belt. Rickson Gracie, considered by many to be the best in BJJ, is not the highest ranked BJJ practitioner.

Belt Envy

We probably all have been guilty of belt envy. Belt envy is the obsessed admiration and aspiration that leads to an all consuming desire to obtain the next colored belt to wear around our waist.

One must be cautious not to let this vanity consume the practice of Jiu-Jitsu. Getting rid of vanity is difficult in a materialistic society, but in the practice of Jiu-Jitsu, it is necessary. Forget about belts and keeping up with the martial art Joneses; just be appreciative that you are healthy enough to train.

Promotions will come faster and in due time if you are focused more on learning and developing (your skills) than on progressing through the ranks.

Sensei Ryan occasionally tells a story about all the guys who started before or with him who have quit and fell short of achieving purple belt, let alone the coveted BJJ black belt.

This reminds me of the saying, “A black belt is a white belt who never quit.” Don’t be envious of others who may not stay the course. Understand that the transition between belts in BJJ is both a subjective and objective matter. Different instructors have different expectations and standards of students ready for promotion. Therefore, be careful in making comparisons; everyone’s journey and time in the art will be different.

BJJ Promotion Process

The BJJ belt promotion process is a long haul and often misunderstood process. Sometimes it will feel nearly like a lifetime wait. Part of this purpose is to determine loyalty, not only to an instructor, but to the art.

Bruce Lee did not believe in wearing belts and said, “If knowledge is power, why pass it out indiscriminately?”

We need to understand that instructors need time to also feel secure about who they promote and give additional prestige and power to through rank promotions. Some students can barely handle the current rank they’ve received without getting a big head.

In addition, there will be all kinds of other interest and obligations that will tempt you away from your current training in the art. Belts come easier in other art forms, so those gratified by cloth will or should leave for other styles. BJJ requires greater time and commitment.

It is often said that a blue belt in BJJ is the equivalent to a black belt in many of the traditional martial arts. Martial art standards and requirements vary from school to school and style to style. Rank and even the amount of time training can be misleading indicators to gauge a person’s knowledge and skill level.


The mistake of comparing ourselves to others is probably the main reason most people will not continue Jiu-Jitsu or most things after a year of practice. Comparison is when a person measures their progress against the instructors, other students, and people from other schools. If one measures themselves against their instructor, especially when the instructor has spent 10 to 30 years practicing the art, one can become discouraged and feel achieving a high level will take too much time or be beyond their reach. If one measures themselves against other students in the class or from other teams, it can work both ways meaning one can gain a false sense of worth if that student can tap the others, but knows less and cannot teach the moves well.

Conversely, one might become discouraged if a less knowledgeable, but more athletic student catches them in a submission. The only comparison of value in Jiu-Jitsu is a comparison of yourself now versus where you were at a given point in the past. Do you know more about the art now? Can you execute techniques today that you could not before?

Martial Arts training is a self paced, personal journey. While there’s nothing wrong with the desire to be promoted to the next level. Nonetheless, the desire for promotion when we feel we deserve or are entitled to promotion is one of the traps that many martial art practitioners fall victim to. This happens primarily when we see others being promoted before us. A good martial art lesson is to learn to be happy for others success and achievement, not envious of others.


In general, Americans are an impatient lot that have developed a fast food sort of mentality. We want everything quick and easy with little investment in time or effort. We start complaining if we have to wait for practically anything. Martial arts training is supposed to help us learn and improve our level of patience. We can only learn patience by having to wait longer than we want for something with a positive and persevering attitude. Learning how to wait can be a tough lesson. However, most of us wouldn’t want a doctor to operate on us or to fly with a pilot who just completed the accelerated program. We feel more comfortable and confident when we know that they have put the ‘time’ in behind their training. This time gives ‘experience.’

Enjoy each belt and the experiences that come with each. Practice patient waiting and persevere. Don’t cheat yourself by trying to rush the process or by looking for short cuts.

I can almost guarantee that if you have to fight tomorrow, your current or new ranking isn’t going to help you or impress the person willing to fight you. It is interesting how impatient we sometimes get when we think our life is going to somehow be better when we acquire something. Remember that most things acquired in life are just that, ‘things.’ They have very little to do with truly fulfilling us. Some of us think that there will be ‘magic’ in that black belt once we get it. Although being promoted sooner sounds attractive, many times you are doing yourself a great disservice. I know, waiting is the hardest part but waiting allows us to grow on the inside along with the outward physical strides in our training. Getting it on the inside is 90% of the feeling like a legitimate BLANK (insert color) belt.

We can all do techniques, but having that ‘knowing’ that comes with a belt that came with extra training time truly lets you know that you can deliver the goods because your belt has twice the sweat in it. There will also be many periods where you plateau in your advancement…hang in there. We’ve all heard the cliché, “winners (successful people) never quit and quitters never (persevere) win.


Unfortunately, the ‘swelling of the head’ syndrome happens oftentimes just because the color of someone’s belt changed. The higher we climb the more humble we should become. We are all just people before and after we are anything else.

Strive to be the best that you can be but keep the attitude of a white belt. Be mindful that there is always more to learn and improve upon. In the art of Kendo, they have rank but they don’t wear it. They say that you know who is who when you spar them. Anyone who has been in the martial arts for any length of time knows that certification and rank have been abused and misused for years primarily to stroke egos and make money. When not kept in proper perspective, rank can cause people to ego trip which runs counter to the humble spirit that good martial arts training advocates.

Rank inflation gives people a false sense of security, a false view of their true skill level and typically a swelled head. It’s sad that some of us need something that gives us that ‘one-upsmanship’ feeling towards others. One of my instructors in another art is starting to slide toward the ridiculous. He now goes by the title of ‘supreme grandmaster.’ I guess ‘grandmaster’ wasn’t good enough. The prostitution of martial arts starts with unscrupulous instructors and insecure students. These people give martial arts a bad name and embarrass the heck out of most of us with their fake titles, multi-colored-striped belts, belt factory schools and low standards.

Real warriors were those who fought for survival and the very right to exist. They did and still do not concern themselves with rank/titles. They understood that rank means nothing when it’s for real. Training wasn’t a game. Neither did they use martial arts training to stroke their ego or boost their self esteem by needing to be considered an alpha male. No one needed belts or rank for motivation to train and be prepared. They understood that a low level of skill got you killed almost as bad as having no skill at all and that only a high level of skill would suffice. Even though times and circumstance have changed for most of us, we should still train with the intensity and integrity of real warriors.

…continued in part 2

Eric E. Smith


In reference to rank, credentials and bio: Eric E. Smith is a legend in his own mind; The Absolute Ultimate Fighting Champion of all time and Ultimate Supreme Great Grandmaster of the Universe  second  only to God! Bruce Lee, Shaft, Mr. T, Rocky, Rambo, Clint Eastwood, Chuck Norris and all the other tough guys tremble at his feet. Rickson Gracie taps himself because he doesn’t want Eric  to do it to him. He is the blackest of black belts and whatever number of degrees you have on your black belt, he has one more than you. Michael Jackson told him he is ‘BAD’ and Ali said Eric is the greatest. Just kidding folks!

Note from Ryan Fiorenzi:

With over 30 years of experience in the martial arts, Eric E. Smith possesses a wealth of knowledge.  Mr. Smith holds the following martial art rank:  2nd degree black belt in Moo Duk Kwan, TangSoo Do under Michael Nunnally; 2nd degree black belt in Doce Pares Eskrima (Filipino Martial Art) under legendary Grandmaster Ciriaco ‘Cacoy’ Canete;  5th degree black belt in Hama Ryu Jutsu(Ju Jutsu) under Professor Walt Hartwich; Associate instructor in Jeet Kune Do/IMB curriculum under Richard Bustillo; Instructor and ‘Bulletman’ in the F.A.S.T self defense system under Bill Kipp; and authorized instructor and brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under Ryan Fiorenzi and Tyrone Gooden respectively.  Eric Smith is a certified National Rifle Association (NRA) instructor.  Eric is an Army veteran.  He holds a Bachelor’s degree in sociology and is currently finishing requirements for a master’s degree in sociology from Western Michigan University.  In 2003, Mr. Smith was also honored by being inducted into the United States Martial Arts Association’s Hall of Fame as Law Enforcement Instructor of the Year representing Michigan.

I’m proud to call him my training partner and friend!

14 Responses to “Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Rank (part 1) by Guest Columnist Eric Smith”

  1. Mike Mahaffey says:

    Great article! Sums up the attitude I (try to) have all the time: “the belt just holds my gi together”. I am looking forward to the next installment.


  2. Eric Smith says:




  3. Vince Anila says:

    “The only comparison of value in Jiu-Jitsu is a comparison of yourself now versus where you were at a given point in the past. Do you know more about the art now? Can you execute techniques today that you could not before?”


    Your whole essay reminded me of a quote from Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind there are few.” He’s not, of course, talking about anyone’s relative level of expertise, but about our attitudes — something I think your writing does a fine job echoing.


  4. admin says:

    That’s a great quote Vince! Thanks!

  5. Eric Smith says:

    Hi Vince,

    Iron sharpens iron! Thanks for sharing that great quote. I see this as we just keep feeding each other positive, edifying and uplifting knowledge. There’s so much negativity out there and it’s easy to get caught up in all the superficial goofy stuff. It’s quotes like the one you share and Ryan’s blog that help me keep things in the proper perspective. It’s so easy to get sidetracked, off-focus and distracted from what is really important. My mother is terminally ill so thinking of her life, my own life and what’s really important is critical to stay focused on.

    Wishing you the best in martial arts and life,

  6. Vince Anila says:


    I’m really sorry to hear about your mother — I know firsthand what that’s like, which makes me all the more grateful that you’d spend time and energy writing such inspiring stuff for guys like me.

    Take care,

  7. […] Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Rank (part 2) by Guest Columnist Eric Smith continued from part 1… […]

  8. ed loppnow says:


    Great article Sensei Smith and Sensei Ryan. Fantastic stuff!
    A lot of important and key elements here.

    My best to the both of you, and hopefully, see ya in the near

    All the Best:)
    Ed Loppnow

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