What Does it Mean to Be a BJJ Brown Belt?

November 27, 2023
Brown belt – the final checkpoint before achieving the elusive and highly coveted black belt. But what does it mean to be a brown belt?

The road to BJJ black belt is a long and arduous one. The brown belt is one of the most crucial stops along the way, as it represents the last coloured belt before finally reaching the rank of faixa preta.

But what does it mean to be a brown belt? And how does a purple belt know when they're finally ready to receive their brown belt?

It's true – a BJJ belt promotion will mean something slightly different for everyone. However, in this article, we'll cover some of the main features that make a brown belt one of the most important ranks in the entire BJJ belt system.

BJJ Brown Belt Requirements

Brown belt – the final checkpoint before achieving the elusive and highly coveted black belt. Not many will make it from white belt to this point, and so receiving a brown belt is an impressive accomplishment in itself.

Below are some common questions that practitioners ask about BJJ brown belts. Here’s our take on what it means to be a faixa marrom:

How long does it take to get a Jiu-Jitsu brown belt?

Based on the criteria outlined by the IBJJF, an athlete must be at least 18 years old to receive a brown belt. Additionally, the athlete must have spent at least 18 months at purple belt before being promoted.

Typically, a jiu-jitsu practitioner will spend 1-1.5 years at white belt, 2 years at blue belt, and up to 3 years at purple belt. Of course, these numbers will vary depending on a number of factors, including:

  • Age
  • Amount of time spent training
  • Quality of teaching/dedication to helping others in the community
  • Knowledge and execution of techniques
  • Competition experience

In the end, it's up to the head instructor of the academy to decide when their students are ready to be promoted.

What's the biggest difference between a purple belt and a brown belt?

There's really no substitute for dedicated training and consistent mat time. The BJJ journey is one of persistence and patience, and so the simple answer to what differentiates a purple from a brown belt is time spent training.

But besides time on that mats and overall skill level, a brown belt will likely have a more refined understanding of the art in general. That might mean a strong understanding of the meta-game of jiu jitsu (i.e., how guards and passes and submission fit together), the strategy of competing/fighting, and the history of the art.

Skill level is one thing, but not every practitioner will be able to execute techniques in the same way. A 20-year-old competitor should be evaluated the same way as a 50-year-old hobbyist. Executing techniques is important. Understanding when, why, and how to execute techniques is something else.

In our opinion, that's the biggest difference between a purple belt and a brown belt.

brown belt sparring

What does it mean to have a brown belt in BJJ?

As we said earlier in this article, having a brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu means different things to different people. Also, it’s incredibly difficult - if not misguided - to try to reduce the various belt levels to rigid, fixed time frames (i.e., you MUST spend X number of months at each belt).

Instead, we find it more useful to discuss what it means to have a brown belt in more broad, relatable terms.

Here are 5 points that define a BJJ brown belt:

1. Refine your style/ speciality

Purple belt is when practitioners start to develop their own game. Maybe that’s a certain type of guard, or maybe it's an affinity for a particular type of submission, like an arm lock. But at brown belt, it’s time to really refine the style/specialty that you started to develop at the lower belts.

By this point, you should have a few signature moves that your training partners know you for. You'll also likely have chosen a guard, or a particular style of passing, that you are most familiar with. Before you move on to the next belt, you'll have the chance to explore and develop your specialty even further than you did at purple belt.

2. Address any weaknesses/ remaining gaps in your game

At the same time, brown belt is also the last chance to address any glaring holes in your game. In other words, brown belt is an opportunity to round out your game before making the move from the role of a student (coloured belt) to that of a professor (black belt).

It's true, a brown belt level practitioner doesn't need to be an expert in every single area of jiu jitsu. But there shouldn't be any areas in which the practitioner feels uncomfortable. Put simply, a brown belt should be able to teach every technique/position to a lower belt – even if that only means knowing the basics.

For some practitioners, this may also mean learning more about leg locks. At the coloured belts – especially in the gi – you can get away with not knowing much about knee bars and toe holds. But come brown belt, you MUST be at least somewhat familiar with lower body attacks. Why ignore 50% of the human body?

3. Reinvest in the fundamentals

Fancy guards and extravagant submissions are definitely fun. But, more than anything, being a black belt means having a firm grasp on the fundamentals. That doesn’t only mean understanding the more traditional self-defense portions of the curriculum. It also means spending time learning about what makes each technique successful.

At the purple belt level, you can get away with being quick, slick, and flashy. At the brown belt level, you're expected to be smooth, fluid, and efficient. Why make two movements when one will do? Before you can call yourself a brazilian jiu jitsu black belt, you'll need to become a true master of efficiency on the mats, and that means reinvesting in the fundamentals.

4. Focus on efficiency

Most practitioners have seen the experienced black belt who is able to defend quite easily against a younger, stronger, more agile opponent. The black belt seems to move effortlessly, making only minor adjustments in body positioning, always managing to prevent or escape from dangerous positions.

Brown belt is when this efficiency gets further developed, refined, and reinforced. Escape skills and energy-saving tactics become more important than ever. Power and strength are still important factors, but precise timing and flow become crucial for brown belts.

5. Be a leader/ role model

Training, teaching (and sometimes competing) are all important parts of being a brown belt. But what underlies these three activities? Leadership!

As a brown belt, you’re looked up to by white and blue belts almost as much as they look up to black belts. Whether you know it or not, you’re setting an example for the new generation of grapplers, and that means that you have the opportunity to be a positive role model. 

For instance, purple belts are notorious for skipping or rushing through warm-ups. As a brown belt, that's no longer acceptable. Now more than ever, you are setting an example for the white belts, blue belts, and purple belts. Brown belt is the time to be a leader, and that can be as simple as leading by example.

How long does it take to go from brown belt to black belt?

The IBJJF requires practitioners to spend at least a year at brown belt before they can be promoted to black belt. However, it is not uncommon to see people spend 2-3 years at brown belt before they feel they are finally ready to move on.

Legendary black belt and multiple-time world champion Xande Ribeiro is credited with saying that, once a student receives their brown belt, they would in theory be ready to receive their black belt the very next day.

In essence, beyond the IBJJF requirements, it’s difficult to nail down a specific timeline for moving from brown to black belt. Instead, practitioners’ overall development, knowledge, technique, and attitude are evaluated to determine whether they are ready to progress or not.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_RvV02Zscc

Concluding Thoughts

What does it mean to be a brown belt in BJJ?

You'll get a slightly different answer depending on who you ask. But there’s no debating the importance of the BJJ brown belt. It’s the last stop before black belt, meaning it’s the last opportunity for practitioners to address weaknesses in their game, and to show their dedication to the art before receiving their final belt promotion.

In the end, any belt promotion is an impressive accomplishment. But as a brown belt, you have the opportunity to positively influence the next generation of grapplers – those who are struggling through the coloured belts, facing the same obstacles you faced years earlier. Because of that, we believe that the brown belt is one of the most important ranks in the entire BJJ belt system.

What does a brown belt mean to you?

FAQs

It's important to remember that brown belt requirements may also vary slightly from one academy to another. Because of that, it's difficult to provide absolute answers when lower belts ask questions about belt promotions. Also, as a lower belt, it's usually best if you DO NOT ask your instructor about your next promotion. Just keep training hard and smart, and the promotions will come.

But with that said, below are some answers to other FAQs about what it means to be a BJJ brown belt:

Can a BJJ brown belt teach classes?

Absolutely. In fact, teaching is an important part of being a brown belt. At the lower belts, it is perfectly acceptable to focus most if not all your energy on developing your own game. But at brown belt, it’s time to start helping the other students in the BJJ community – and that usually means teaching.

While teaching can certainly help a BJJ brown belt to improve their own techniques, time spent instructing students also represents dedication to the art – an important aspect of becoming a black belt. So, in a sense, not only can brown belts teach BJJ classes, but many believe that they should teach classes before being promoted to black belt.

Can a BJJ brown belt promote students?

Yes, brown belts can promote students – but there are some restrictions. A brown belt can promote students all the way up to purple belt, but a brown belt cannot promote a student to brown belt. Similarly, a purple belt instructor can only promote students to blue belt. In general, an instructor must be at least a purple belt in order to promote students. However, for the most part, promotions are typically handled by black belts – especially at larger academies.

Does a BJJ brown belt have to compete?

Competition can be a great way to develop as a martial artist. You'll get tested in ways that you wouldn't otherwise in training, which will only improve your game over time. However, competition is completely optional for all belt levels.  

Many BJJ students have no interest in competing, and there's no absolutely problem with that. Being promoted to a brown belt has everything to do with the time/effort you've put into the art over the years and the dedication you have to your academy and your training partners. Competing can be a nice bonus, but in no way is it a requirement to be promoted.

Can a BJJ brown belt own a martial arts academy?

Definitely! This will depend on a number of factors, including the individual’s overall martial arts experience (BJJ and other martial arts), teaching experience, and business experience. (And money, of course – owning a gym is not cheap!).

In major cities, you’ll usually see academies owned and operated by black belts. However, it is not uncommon to see brown and even sometimes purple belts who own academies in smaller towns.