Why your first stripe is so important


Most BJJ practitioners, when asked about the most important promotion, will probably tell you that getting your black belt is the most important moment in your BJJ career. This may be true but unlike in many other martial arts in BJJ only few people get there. So, apart from Black, what other promotion is important? I think it's your first stripe on your white belt and here is why.

First published: 23/04/2022 | Last update: 03/05/2022

For a few bucks you can get a BJJ belt of any color on the Internet. However, you normally get your belt from your coach, or a friend may pay for it but it's the coach who puts it around your waiste or, at some schools, hand it over to you in a ceremony. Generally, it is not a good idea to wear a belt that you haven't been awarded, not even at a fancy dress party. If you happen to run into a real BJJ belt owner he will pretty quickly find out that there may be something weird about your rank and invite you to a couple of rounds of sparring to see if your belt is legit. If, on the other hand, you tell him that you are wearing that belt "just for fun", or "just as a fancy dress" or something like that, he will most likely invite you to take it off and, if I were you, I would follow his invitation to make sure I don't end up on the ground to get it ripped off my waiste in a rather unpleasant manner.

However, there is one belt that you can buy and wear without asking anyone for permission: the plain vanilla white belt, i.e. a white belt wihout any stripes.

What do the stripes on a belt mean anyway

Unlike in most other martial arts it takes a long time to go from one belt to another. For example, the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) says you must have your blue belt for at least two years. It is quite common to be a blue belt for three or four years.

A system with only a few belts has a couple of advantages. First of all you do not need to buy a new belt every six months, but most importantly, inspite of the absence of a defined curriculum for each belt, there are are some commonly accepted criteria and and clear expectations related to each belt. This would be impossible if the system were more fine grained.

However, the downside is that your belts do not reflect your mid-term progression. This is where the stripes come in. For those unfamiliar with the BJJ belt system: Belts have a black patch on which the coach/instructor can put white stripes (usually just a bit of tape) as a reward/recognition.

Although there are no defined requirements for each stripe there are a few exceptions such as the first stripe on your white belt.

What is so special about your first stripe?

The first stripe on your white belt is your first promotion in your BJJ career. It means "Welcome, now you are part of the family". Of course, over the years the BJJ community has earned a reputation of being a bunch of friendly people and everyone will do the very best to make you feel comfortable. But its promotion system has also gained a reputation for making sure that everyone is up to the expectations when it comes to promotion.

BJJ has a pretty high drop-out rate. Especially at the beginning, when you get constantly submitted and end up in uncomfortable positions a lot of people find out the BJJ is not for them. And it is true, in spite of some people saying otherwise, BJJ is not for everyone. And this has not so much to do with your physical attributes but rather with your character.

If there is a single stripe that has a fixed time requirement it is the first stripe, usually you will get it after six months of regular training. Your instructor wants to make sure that your enthusiasm is not just a straw fire, he wants to see if you are someone the club or the gym can count on in the future.

What is required to get your first stripe?

  • Regular training
  • You know the gym and mat rules and you stick to them
  • You fit well into the community
  • You know the warm up drills and routines
  • You are familiar with the first basic moves

As you can see, most of the criteria are soft skills. This is not only important in order to preserve the gym/club culture and to make sure that rolling with you is not a risk for other white belts but also to help you develop the necessary habits and mind to progress in BJJ.