Judo, or at the time referred to as Jiu-do, was brought to Brazil in 1914 by Master Mitsuyo Maeda. Maeda, a grappling expert, was one of the top students of Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo. Maeda’s teachings to the Gracie family later developed into Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. From Gracie Jiu-Jitsu which focuses on sport as well as self defense, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (aka BJJ) was born which primarily focuses on only the sport of grappling. Practitioners of Gracie Ju-Jitsu still hold firm to the original teachings of founders Helio and Carlson Gracie while BJJ is evolving along with the changes in the sport.
Today, Judo and BJJ are now considered separate styles of martial arts and each have their own specific rule set for their sport versions. It is not uncommon to see practitioners from each art participating in each others respected art in tournament play. At this time the ranking system in each art is not parallel with one another. In regards to grappling, many believe that a black belt in Judo is equal to a blue belt in BJJ. This may be true in some cases but definitely not all. Some judo black belts are advanced in grappling while others prefer never to go to the ground. One most also consider that in Judo the goal is to control and hold your opponent once the fight goes to ground, while in BJJ the goal is to move into a better position and to submit.
In regards to throwing, many will agree that a black belt in BJJ with no previous Judo training can’t compare to a lower level Judoka (Judo practitioner). BJJ has a very simple takedown philosophy while Judo gets very advanced. However there are many BJJ schools that incorporate Judo throws into their training.
It can be said for both arts that progression is based on performance in randori/competition and not everyone can obtain a black belt by “just showing up to class”. In BJJ few make it to blue belt and most quit before obtaining purple belt. The same can be said for Judo since few make it to the first level of brown belt. In order to be considered a certain rank that person should be able to compete with other people of that rank. This of course can be adjusted when the opposition is larger physically or more athletic/agile due to age.
Below is an attempt to shed some light on the respective adult ranking structure of each art. This does not include a break down for the junior ranks. The time frames for rank are based on traditional protocol which unfortunately in the United States is not always adhered to.
Judo has roughly a 4-6 year progression from white belt (7th class) to Shodan (1st degree black belt). Each color belt before black belt is earned within a minimum of six months of each other. Brown belt has three levels. At Shodan a student should know about 60-70% of the entire Judo syllabus. According to the bylaws a student must be at least 16 years old to earn Shodan. Once a student reaches black belt it takes 15-20 years of consistent training and competing to be awarded the rank of Rokudan (6th dan). At this rank the student has absorbed the entire Judo syllabus. A student obtaining the rank of 6th – 8th dan may wear a red and white panel belt. The colors were chosen by Kano to represent the colors of Japan. It should be noted that this belt is for formal occasions and is never to be worn during training or competition.
The red belt signifies the apex of the art and is awarded at Kudan (9th dan). It is expected that an individual at this level would at least have 50 years of sacrifice for Judo. Judan (10th dan) is the highest obtainable rank in the system and less than 20 men in history have been awarded this ranking. Years after his death, Jigoro Kano was promoted to the rank of Nijudan (12th Dan) and is the only man ever to be referred to as Shihan (master) in Judo.
Brazilian Jiu-jitsu has a much steeper rank structure in the colored belt rankings compared to it’s parent art Judo. The belts stand out from traditional belts since they have a black sleeve on the tail of the belt. The sleeve is used to house stripes that are given out to show the different levels within each belt rank. One stripe can take months or even up to a year to earn. Traditionally there are four stripes per rank up to black belt. Unlike Judo there is not a set syllabus to follow for each rank up to and beyond black belt. White to blue belt is 1-3 years of consistent training. Many Jiu-Jitsu instructors agree that a blue belt has 75-85% of the entire syllabus for BJJ. It is also required that a student be 16 years old to acquire the rank of blue belt. The ranks beyond blue belt are based on the ability to use those moves learned successfully in randori (sparring). Blue to purple belt is 2-5 years of hard training. Purple belt is the first rank an individual is considered a teacher with the exception that a purple belt may not award rank to students. Purple to brown belt can be 2-5 years of full dedication to the art. And finally brown to black belt is about 1-2 years. Brown belt is considered a transitional rank between the colored belts and black belt.
So it could be said that a black belt in BJJ is acquired in about 6-15 years depending on the individual. It is often said that Gracie Jiu-Jitsu is even stricter since it requires a minimum of 10 years of regular training to reach black belt status. A student must be at least 19 years old to earn black belt (white sleeve). The black belt with a white sleeve represents a fighter. The black belt with a red sleeve indicates an instructor who can rank someone up to the rank of brown belt. The black belt with the red sleeve with white trim is a 1st degree black belt and considered to be a full instructor. Only a person of 1st degree ranking and higher can promote someone to black belt. For a student to go from white sleeve black belt to 1st degree black belt it takes about 3 years. Which of course is on top of the 6-15 years that person spent to get to white sleeve black belt. After 1st degree black belt it takes about 3-5 years to move up through each of the dan ranks.
The black and red panel belt is awarded at 6th dan and takes a minimum of 35+ years of hard training. 9th Dan is the highest rank in BJJ and is represented by a red belt. Like in Judo it takes a lifetime of hard training to reach red belt. 10th dan is now considered unobtainable and is reserved for only the founding Gracie Brothers Helio, Carlos, and their brothers. On January 29, 2009 the last living BJJ (Gracie) 10th Dan Helio Gracie past away at the young age of 95.