BJJ black belts: Different versions - an explanation

I've recently been befuddled by the variations of black belts available. I am not talking about brands of black belts (of which there are many) nor about black belts vs red-and-black (also called coral) belts vs red belts. I'm talking about straight up black belts (the one after brown and before coral).

Looking around, I could identify 4 different versions (if you know of another, please let me know) of the black belt:

Solid black belt, with no tab on it. It kinda looks just like the ones given in judo and many other oriental martial arts
Photo courtesy of Meerkatsu, featured here with Cobrinha

Black belt with a white tab on one end. This version of the BJJ black belt is rare, but definitely exists

Black belt with a red tab

Black belt with a framed red tab on one end (with two white wide stripes on either side of the stripe). This is the second most common version you see (I'm not refering to grade stripes. Those are usually thinner and are INSIDE the red tab and not framing it like the two I'm talking about)
red tab (left) and framed red tab (right)

I asked my BJJ instructor David 'Malandro' Onuma and he gave me his breakdown, but he suggested I do more research.

I did some of my own research and here is what I've found:

There appear to be no formal rules used by everyone. There are some general guidelines and some places may enforce them, but it is not a one-rule-for-all.

Here is what Relson Gracie, the second eldest son of the founder Helio Gracie had to say:

and here is a link to the system used by USAJJ (their executives are some very highly regarded people in BJJ!)

Finally, here is what the International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation replied to my enquiring email:

We don't have a rule for the belts.

Informally this is what I know from the belts ok ?

The solid black is usually used by athletes that don't have degrees and don't teach.

The one with red tab usually is used by professors.

The red tab with white edges is usually by professors that have been the black belt more the 1 year.

The white tab, nobody usually uses.

Hope I took care of some of your curiosity. Again, this is informal, we don't have a rule for that.

Best Regards,

It's all good fun. In my research I saw this most inspiring photo of a 78-year young gentleman receiving his black belt after 15 years of training!

Liam "The Part Time Grappler" Wandi

Proudly sponsored by Predator Fightwear: Built for the kill and Brutal TShirt: Made By Grapplers For Fighters

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on one end. This is the version you see the most of


AndrewWrites said...

Dude, great article. I found this SO interesting. Wonder if there is as much versatility in the other belts?

Liam H Wandi said...

thank you very much Copland for the kind words. It is something that has been on my mind for a while.

I think some places give red bars to colour belts if they help instruct classes, but it's hardly a common thing.

Thanks for reading the blog good man.

A.D. McClish said...

You know, I was wondering about that too. Thanks for explaining. :)

Megan said...

Nice...learned a lot from this one.

Liam H Wandi said...

Thank you :o)

Liam H Wandi said...

Everytime someone says "explaining" I keep hearing in my head:

"Lucy... you got some splainin to do!"

Haha, I'm not well :D

Brendan @ BJJ Gi Reviews said...

Very cool! I always just thought it was a style thing...

Andy said...

apparetly according to the USAJJ you should have a red patch on your belt Liam :P

Liam H Wandi said...

@Brendan: the first time I saw different versions was the ATAMA posters/adverts in BJJStyle magazine and I really didn't know what was going on. Now at least we have some kind of an outline :)

Liam H Wandi said...

@Andy: I know! I don't see the point though TBH. You walk into a room and it's easy to see who's teaching and who isn't.

I chatted to David about the different black belts and one of the things he brought up was: "How many black belts exactly walk around just training and never teaching?" Not many, at least not outside the huge academies in Brazil and San Diego.

I do, however, think the solid black looks very nice though

Anonymous said...

Here is what I was told. Black belt with white tab is what Helio would give to a newly promoted black belt. In order to receive your red tab you had to take an instructors course. A black belt with a red tab frame by a white strioe on both sides means you are an instructor with your own academy

Liam H Wandi said...

Yes annon. I tend to agree with that :)