There Is No Universal Standard In Jiu-Jitsu For What Any Belt Means
Henry Akins is the third American to be promoted to black belt under Rickson Gracie, and has served as the main instructor for the Rickson Gracie academy. He took the position after his instructor moved back to Rio de Janeiro. Eventually he would emerge as the head coach of Dynamix Martal Arts, a prime MMA academy in Los Angeles, California. Read more about Henry in his in depth interview with OTM.com
Here is Henry’s opinion on what a BJJ belt means:
“What does a belt in Jiu-Jitsu mean? I’ve been asked some form of this question a lot lately. Like one person told me they did not feel they deserved the belt they were given, another person asked me what is the difference between a blue and purple belt and had someone else say they are a blue belt but should be a purple… I’m sure many of you have heard something similar.
The truth is: THERE IS NO UNIVERSAL STANDARD IN JIU-JITSU FOR WHAT ANY BELT IS! It is completely based on your instructor and even with the same instructor, instructors hold different students to different standards.
Sometimes these standards are based on performance like placing well in tournaments or if someone is able to submit a certain level of their training partners in training. Sometimes the standards are based on having a certain level of knowledge so a test might be given. Sometimes the standard is based on the amount of classes attended assuming that after a person has attended a certain amount of classes then they should have a certain level of knowledge.
One of the experiences I had that really made me start to think about what a belt means and who deserves one was after a brown belt test done by Rickson for 8 guys probably around 2008-2009. Rickson rewarded all 8 guys with their brown belts even though I was there and helping to grade and I felt about half the guys failed the test. Afterward I asked him why he gave the belts to one of the guys that I thought had failed and he told me this. This guy was 50 years old had been training consistently for years once a week, every Saturday. He would never achieve the level of world champion in any belt but it doesn’t mean he does not deserve to get promoted for his persistence and dedication. This was the first time it really dawned on me that the belt is not even based on performance and level or knowledge. This was a guy that was really strong, and tough, was excellent at making tiny adjustments to defend so he was tough to tap out but had almost no offense at all. He didn’t have a huge arsenal of techniques and wasn’t necessarily smooth at all either, what I thought would kind of be the standards for a brown belt, those were the standards I felt I was held to. Rickson however made me realize not everyone has the potential to reach the same level but everyone has the potential to become a black belt with hard work, persistence and dedication.
If you think about it, even within a certain school where everyone was promoted by the same instructor, even among guys with the same belt and stripes no one is ever of equal skill level and training level. Some guys are faster, some guys are stronger, some guys are heavier, some guys have great guards some have great defense, some guys have great mounts or cross-sides, but even with twins their skill level and performance will be different.”
New Human Trafficking Tactics Make Self-Defense More Important Than Ever For Women!
Rachel looks like a soccer mom. On most days her minivan is cluttered with backpacks and sports gear. Leftover Goldfish and Cheerios are ground into the floorboards. When dropping her kids off at school in the morning, Rachel often sweeps her long blond hair into a messy bun at the nape of her neck.
On a sticky summer Tuesday morning, Rachel was stopped at a red light on the corner of Genesee and Balboa after dropping her youngest daughter off at preschool. She was un-showered and wearing a loose-fitting T-shirt and a pair of ratty cut-off sweatpants. The air conditioning in her gold-tone late-model minivan was busted, so her windows were rolled all the way down. Rachel was singing along to a pop song on her radio when a souped-up black pickup pulled up next to her with a good-looking younger man behind the wheel.
“I was in the turn lane, and he stopped his car in the middle lane next to me even though there were no cars in front of him,” Rachel recalls. Their eyes met. He smiled and shouted, “Hey, pretty lady! Can I have your phone number?”
Rachel blushed and held up her ring finger for the man to see and replied, “Sorry, happily married for 16 years!” The light changed and she drove away.
Rachel admits that she was momentarily flattered. It was a nice compliment to hear while in full mom mode. Minutes later, Rachel backed her minivan into her Linda Vista driveway and busied herself cleaning out her van. While depositing garbage into a gray trashcan left on her curb for pick-up day, she was startled to see the same truck from the red light parked in her cul-de-sac. The young man climbed out and started walking toward Rachel.
“What are you doing here?” Rachel asked, her voice bubbling with a mixture of fear and frustration. “I told you I am happily married.” She put her hands up in an attempt to send a clear message for him to stay back.
“I had a feeling of uncertainty. He didn’t look vicious or violent. He was smaller in build than me. He didn’t come off threatening. It was a very awkward moment. I was obviously much older than him. I’d already told him I was married. I had never been approached by anyone like that before.”
The man began pleading with Rachel: “I want to get to know you! I want to be your friend,” He begged, “Let’s go to the beach. Have coffee with me. I have kids, too. We can talk about our kids.”
“I kept repeating, ‘You need to leave. I don’t want to be friends with you.’”
Rachel’s 11-year-old son was inside. He opened the door and popped his head out to check on his mother. This startled the man.
“He seemed surprised and said, ‘You aren’t home alone?’”
Fearful for her son’s safety, Rachel shouted, “Get in the house! Lock the doors!”
When she turned back around, the man was walking briskly toward her.
“I put my hand up to stop him. I was afraid because he was walking closer to the house. I didn’t know if he had a gun or a knife, if he wanted to kill me, or rape me. He took my hand and put it on his heart. He said, ‘My heart aches for you.’ I took my hand away. When I did that, he thrusted toward me.”
Rachel pauses to wipe tears from her blue eyes. When she regains her composure she continues, “He put me in a body lock. He put one of his legs between my legs. He pushed my left leg out and wrapped his other leg around me so I couldn’t move backwards without tripping and falling. One of his arms wrapped around my back. He pulled me into him. He wrapped his other arm tightly around my shoulders and neck. He held my neck tight with his hand. He started grinding into me.”
Rachel froze. She didn’t scream. Her heart was racing. Her eyes met his, which seemed to be staring through her. He had her arms pinned to the side of her body.
“Somehow, I was able to squirm through. And then I punched him in an upward motion on the lower jaw, hard. He stumbled back in shock. I broke free and shouted, ‘I am calling the cops!’”
The man ran toward his truck, got in, and sped away.
Rachel called her husband’s cell phone. He didn’t answer. She then called a friend who lived nearby. He encouraged her to call the cops. She did. Three uniformed officers showed up almost immediately. They took down a description of the man and his vehicle.
“It all happened so quickly that I couldn’t remember all the details. I couldn’t even tell them if the truck was a Ford or a Chevy. I knew it was black with silver wheels and it had a silver chain-link design around the license plate. I didn’t remember if he was wearing a V-neck or a button-down.”
The police scoured the neighborhood. After several hours they were unable to find him and nothing more could be done. They said they would keep a lookout for him.
The next morning a group of detectives from the SDPD’s Sex Crimes Unit showed up at Rachel’s house unexpectedly. It was early. She was still in her pajamas fixing breakfast for the kids. They asked Rachel to come down to the station to answer more questions. They explained that they were flagging the incident for sex trafficking.
Rachel laughs, “It sounded so absurd. In my mind I didn’t fit that stereotype. That was for runaways and hookers. They explained to me that there was a new trend in trafficking. The officer said, ‘You were targeted.’A woman on a Tuesday afternoon in a school area driving a minivan hardly screams ‘I am available.’ But they were finding that sex traffickers were targeting young moms because we don’t like to make a scene. We are looking out for the safety and wellbeing of our children and not ourselves.”
Rachel went on to explain that the police believed the man who approached her was what those in the sex-trafficking business refer to as a targeter.
“This person targets women. He sees how far he can go before the woman retaliates. If they don’t retaliate, that makes them an easier target. They try to find vulnerable women and pounce. They will go around and follow that person to find out their schedule, see what parks and grocery stores they go to. When they collect that information they give it to the taker. The taker will monitor that person for a couple of weeks or months, to find out the best time to take that person, whether it be their morning job, or when they are sitting in their car checking their phone, not paying attention to their surroundings. The police assumed the person who attacked me was still working a certain perimeter [of San Diego] for targeting.”
At the police station, Rachel worked with a sketch artist to compose a likeness of her assailant.
“That’s the thing,” Rachel tells me, “when I first noticed this young man, I didn’t really notice him. I didn’t take account of him. It didn’t hit me until I had to sit in a chair and have an artist try to draw how far away his eyebrows were from each other and the bridge of his nose, the shape of his eye, that I didn’t take a real mental picture of him. It was frustrating. Ever since then, I play mental games with myself, memorizing license-plate numbers and the exact details of strangers’ faces, just in case.”
Two days later, the police found a man at a nearby park matching Rachel’s description.
“They found him at a park around the corner from Horizon school [in Clairemont]. There is a little community park right there. [Plain-clothed officers] saw a man matching the description I gave them approach a couple of different women at the park. He went up to a blonde woman, kept getting closer, and closer, and closer. She pushed him away. Police swooped in and got him.”
They asked the blonde what he was saying and it was almost word-for-word the same lines he had used on Rachel: “My heart aches for you. I want to get to know you better. Let’s go to the beach. Let’s have coffee.”
Rachel drove down to the Western Division police station on Gaines Street to identify him.
“They had five or six people that were similar in height and description. I picked him out right away. They told me to go home, they would call me later. Later they told me that they couldn’t really arrest him on an assumption of assault and battery. They took his picture and booked him. They kept him there for 48 hours.”
A background check revealed only a misdemeanor.
Explains Rachel, “They said, ‘You could take him to court. You positively identified him. He matches your description, but he didn’t penetrate you. It wasn’t rape. He didn’t cause you any bodily harm or physical damage to any property you own.’ He wasn’t even physically on my property; he was on my cul-de-sac. He wasn’t trespassing, so really what would I take him to court for? That he freaked me out?”
Officers told Rachel that the district attorney would point out that she didn’t run or scream right away and that initially she didn’t feel she was in danger.
Rachel shrugs and adds, “The DA might say, ‘Maybe you were leading him on.’ The officers explained that there are all these different scenarios that could make him look like an innocent man that I was dragging through the mud, even though clearly that was not the case.”
In the end, the man was released. The emotional drama wasn’t worth it. Rachel was told if she pressed chargers and took him to court, her attacker would only end up with 60 days in jail and a couple of hours of community service. He did, however, walk away with a record — not a charge, an arrest for sexual assault.
The memory of that day sticks with her.
“I didn’t think something like that would ever happen to me. It was such a shocking experience. It all happened so fast. I was shaking for days and couldn’t sleep.” Rachel breaks down and through tears continues, “Community parks no longer felt safe. I was super cautious all the time. If I was out with my kids, and I felt uncomfortable we would have to pack up and go home. I don’t let me kids play alone in our front yard, ever. You don’t know what will happen. He was a nice-looking young man. I wouldn’t expect him to be threatening or intimidating. In my mind, all those drug dealers or sex-trafficking people would have a certain look to them. He did not have that. He was a clean-cut, classy looking guy.”
After the attack, Rachel grew anxious anytime an unfamiliar car drove down her street. The slightest noises terrified her. So, after a week, she took her three kids and stayed at her parents’ house in Alaska for the rest of the summer.
“Our family was new to California. My husband had just been stationed at the Coast Guard base. I almost didn’t come back, but I got a job as a secretary at the kids’ school. The principal wanted me to start the week before school started. When I came back I couldn’t sleep. There were a lot of night-sweats and terrors. When my husband had duty in the evening, I couldn’t sleep. I was done with California. In Alaska I could chit-chat with strangers without having to worry; here it felt different. My husband didn’t really understand it. He wasn’t there when I was interviewed by police or when I had to do the lineup. When I explained to him that they got the guy, his response was, ‘Well, that is good. Now it’s done.’ But it really wasn’t done; not for me, anyway.”
Rachel still struggles with the idea that her attacker is out there, walking around free.
“It makes me really angry. I know he didn’t cause me any bodily harm. I could have had it a lot worse, I know I could have. But why do we have to wait until it gets to that point to get crazies off the street?! He had no good intentions. He obviously had sinister motives, yet because the way our system is set up, he is allowed a second chance. That is scary. It’s scarier for other young moms out there that might have to go through the same thing. The Christian in me says, ‘Forgive him. Maybe he has used this experience to learn and grow and carve out a better life for himself.’ But, I don’t care to learn if he turned his life around.”
How to Prevent Injuries in BJJ – 5 Minutes With Bernardo Faria
Bernardo Faria is a 4x World_Jiu-Jitsu_Champion as a Black Belt from the Alliance Jiu Jitsu Team who holds an extensive competitive resume with titles at the world’ top tournaments such as the European Open, Pan American and Brazilian Champion. In February and March 2013 Bernardo was ranked first in the IBJJF World Ranking of all divisions. Bernardo Faria is a black belt under Ricardo Marques who moved to the Alliance team in 2009.
DON’T BE SURPRISED if you see many athletic BJJ instructors who change their tune as they get older and will miraculously start preaching that technique is more valuable then just brute strength.
THESE GO HARD OR GO HOME instructors will find that all the jumping, flipping, speed and power they used as a younger man or women have deserted them. The instructors who refuse to change their point of view might even retire or simply quit grappling all together because younger, stronger, faster students are giving them an unexpected run for their money.
THEY, OF COURSE, CAN BLAME all the unnecessary accumulated injuries they have acquired over the years as the cause of their retirement but they know in their heart that the days of dominating others through their extreme athleticism are over. Glory days are gone.
THESE INSTRUCTORS CANNOT BEAR the thought of tapping because they have preached all these years and have tied their ego to a win/ lose philosophy for all to see and adhere to in the Academy. A Klingon approach that says you must kill the person ahead of you to be able to take their place. It’s why so many quit.
I HOWEVER, AM IN PURSUIT of that elusive hidden technique that if done correctly using proper angles, leverage and manipulation of my opponent’s weak muscle groups that I will be able to at the very least stifle a much younger man’s attack and at the most easily dominate him while using little force or energy. I have caught glimpses of this hidden technique on numerous occasions and will relentlessly pursue it for the rest of my days.
REMEMBER THAT CAPTURING that elusive “Perfect” technique must come above all else in your personal Jiu-Jitsu development even if the result is being “tapped” by your opponent on occasion. It’s part of getting better.
I’m Training For More Than Looks | The Jiu Jitsu Diaries: Ep 1-3
Morgan Beverly is a fitness expert who made a mini-doc about how and why she trains Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I checked it out and it was totally worth the watch. You might like it too! Catch all three episodes below.
Morgan Beverly Instagram: @morgannfit Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/morgan.beverly2 For business inquiries: [email protected] Snapchat: @morgannfit
White Belt Questions Asked: 6 Concepts For The BJJ Beginner
The good folks at Inverted Gear took the time to take some questions from beginners and then filmed extremely useful video responses!
Question #1 – xlice says: Any tips for how to free your foot when in 3/4 mount without getting rolled over? I’ve been trying to get a strong crossface, walk his arm up so he can’t push my knee, then bring my free foot on top to kick my foot free, but at the last second I keep getting rolled over to closed guard as I can’t establish any base to stop the upa.
Question #2 – jacksnullpointer says: Any good resources (or at least a short overview) on grips? Which grips should you go for, grip fighting basics, what grips are considered ‘strong’ (as in, your first priority is breaking them, otherwise you are not going to be able to do anything). I just started going to gi classes after a couple of months of no-gi and I’m lost all over again.
Question #3 – SnoopyJackson asks: When you are in closed guard on top,how do you manage to be stable enough in order to avoid the sweeps (especially against upper belts)?
Question #4 – arlmwl says: I’m terrible at getting on my side and getting an underhook in bottom 1/2. Usually someone passes my guard, I get bottom 1/2, but then they flatten me out before I can get to my side. What should I focus on; being faster during the transition to get to my side, or should I try to slow them down with framing, knee shield, etc and then get to my side? I just feel like I’m missing some key in getting to a better position in bottom 1/2.
Question #5 – bitmoji says: I am a 3 stripe white belt. I have been training for about a year and nine months. I still can’t reliably arm bar from closed guard.
Question #6 – godofdestruction asks: Any tips on how to finish the darce? I see a lot of videos explaining how to get there, but not how to finish.
So you started doing Jiu Jitsu after hearing all about it from this guy in your office who just won’t stop talking about it. This co-worker has probably been extremely committed to the grappling arts for around the eternity of 6 months or so and in the limited time they are not training they are more than willing to fill you in on the never ending benefits of wrestling around with dudes. Even though this guy was probably sent to you as a missionary straight from Brazil, here are a few things he might “forget” to tell you in his holy quest to bring you onto the mats.
It’s going to be really fucking hard. Your first year or so of grappling will most likely consist of you flailing your limbs around and getting worked by almost everyone else.
There will always be someone in class who is at least 40lbs bigger than you. You will remember when your grappling missionary told you about how in Jiu Jitsu a smaller opponent can defeat a bigger opponent. However, you haven’t been training that long and your girlfriend wants to spend time with you watching Dancing with the Stars, so right now you can only make it in 2 times a week and that hasn’t actually been enough time to learn how to turn the tides on this giant monster who you are always partnered up with. Even though this is your fifth class, you don’t really know any Jiu Jitsu.
After getting smashed by your training partner who strangely resembles Shrek you might be inclined to treat yourself to an easy round so you grab the opposite of the giant guy. In your class there is someone who is probably 20% smaller than you, they don’t appear to be anywhere close to as strong as you, maybe they are a girl who seemed more than happy to let you borrow some tape before class. You find comfort knowing that for the next 5 minutes you will be able to easily use your office worker strength dominating this petite little thing as you catch your breath and plot your revenge against the giant troll you just had to wrestle.
But once again you have made a foolish assumption. This girl has already gone though the hardships of her first year and kept coming to class. Unlike you, she told her significant other she would much rather go to class then sit around watching re-runs of Top Gear every night. She has been doing Jiu Jitsu for years now and she isn’t wearing a purple belt because it’s a cute color. She remembers her first year of getting smashed and she also remembers how you were spazzing the fuck out on her during the warm up. The next 5 minutes will grant you little time to rest as this purple belt in pink gi climbs around you like a Sherpa at the Base Camp of Everest. You will then be shown how a smaller person with skills can stomp a bigger opponent.
Aside from feeling like a punching bag during open rolls, Jiu Jitsu offers a very unique challenge. If you have never grappled before there will be movements that will seem very foreign to you that are common and required for your training. There will be terms you have never heard before; some moves and drills will be very hard to find context for. You might also realize that even though you switched to drinking Diet Pepsi instead of Mt. Dew and you have been taking the stairs instead of the elevator at work, that physically, class can be rather challenging and sometimes exhausting.
It might take your body a bit to get used to the workouts; you’re going to be sore. Maybe your elbow hurts because you just learned when you should have tapped to that arm bar. Your super soft skin might get rubbed off your shoulders or the tops of your feet. Some days it might be hard to make a fist; your fingers hurt. You haven’t ever used your abs like this before, its hurts to laugh, but that’s okay, there is nothing to laugh at right now anyway. And lets not forget how you may never be able to wear ear bud headphones ever again.
Give or take it usually requires about a year of consistent training before you get acclimated and can really start to see the bigger picture. Terms will start to make sense; you know what an underhook is now! The movements that seemed so foreign will become second nature; you might even start to help a new training partner on their first couple days. Now-a-days you will tap sooner rather than later, you might even compliment your partner on the method in which they just owned you. It still hurts to laugh some days, but now there is a little more to laugh at, even sometimes at yourself.
The more training you can fit in the better. Someone who makes it in 5 days a week is going to get a lot more exposure than someone who tries to come in once a week. Explaining to everyone in your life why you now want to dedicate a large portion of your time to wrestling around with sweaty dudes while wearing pajamas might be a little difficult. In fact you might even not know yourself why you are putting in so much time and sacrifice, and that’s okay, it will all make sense later. Lots of people didn’t know much they needed to do Jiu Jitsu until their belt changed colors a few times.
On the flip side maybe you have some serious obligations outside of the gym. Some relationships you have might require you to give them a high priority. Maybe you’re a parent, or a single parent or your taking care of your parents, maybe you’re the president of a large parent company. As much as all the Jiu Jitsu missionaries might want you to believe, grappling isn’t always the most important thing. If this applies to you do not let it deter you. Yes, 5 days a week is better than 2, but one day a month is always going to be better than none.
It can be frustrating if you cannot always dedicate a large amount of time to your craft, this makes some people quit. Coming to class and seeing everyone progress at a faster rate than you might be difficult, but its way better to get in the pool once in a while and swim with the sharks than to sit at home and wait for Shark Week. Your schedule will eventually change, you will find a way to make it in more and when that happens, you will be so stoked you came in when you did even if it wasn’t as much as you would have preferred.
Grappling possess a high-capacity magazine of challenges that can be shot at you in a variety of semi-auto, 3 round burst or fully automatic methods. Find comfort in knowing that it’s not supposed to be easy.
I got hurt. Injures suck, come to class anyway, do what you can, learn how to heal yourself.
Only enough time to come once a week? Come early, stay late.
The same guy in class has beaten me for years? He might always, he probably deserves to.
What the fuck is a berimbolo? Nobody actually knows, just say no to inverting.
I got eliminated the first round of the competition I entered. So did 50% of the people who chose to compete. Learn why you lost.
Should I wait till I am in better shape before I commit to doing Jiu Jitsu? Should you wait till you are a gourmet chef before you start cooking?
What about my ears, they look like kettle chips now? Chicks dig scars and now you finally have an excuse to buy those “Beats By Dre” headphones you always wanted.
My girlfriend/boyfriend wants me to quit, says its weird I am spending so much time at the gym rolling around with strange sweaty dudes. Yeah, its actually kinda weird, remind them how much you used to drink in your free time and how cool you are now.
Everyone is bigger and stronger than me. Someday you will make them pay.
Just like most things in life, you have to pick the raisins out of the trial mix before you can really enjoy it. The benefits far outweigh any hardships you are sure to run into along the way. Despite the popular sales slogan, Jiu Jitsu is not for everyone. It easily weeds out the ones who cannot handle the overwhelming barrage of laundry. If you cannot tell yourself and truly believe that the hair that ended up in your mouth is yours (even though you don’t have hairs that color on your body anywhere) then maybe you don’t belong on the mat. If you can’t handle missing Taco Tuesdays at the bar then you probably won’t even get that good at passing the guard.
Endure all these hardships and if you stick it out you will soon be the next Jiu Jitsu missionary, interrupting your co-workers so you can tell them you almost arm-barred a really good blue belt this weekend.
Note** The beginning of this video I talk about teaching and the difficulties of being an instructor. I also talk about a good training partner and how this technique fits into the larger picture of hand placement. If you do not want to hear about the teaching process and this aspect of the technique then you should fast forward to the technique demonstration.
In this video I show a version of the pocket sweep from the Half Guard. This is by far my highest percentage sweep and I use it, and it’s variations as the basis of my Half Guard game.
Hand placement is going to be important as well as arching to clear the arm. This is a peek at part of the series where I show how to get the arm across from a very specific location. There were other lessons that fill in the holes when you can’t get ahold of the hand like it is shown in this video. – Great Grappling
Understanding The Heel Hook Submission – BJJ Leglocks – Part 5 Of 5
Professor Gustavo Gasperin and Dr. Mike Piekarski, DPT break down the most devastating Leglock, the Heel Hook. How to apply it, the difference between Inside vs Outside Heel Hook, and tips on how to prevent injuries.
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