“A blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu really means that you are a serious student of the art. Nothing more, nothing less. When I see a blue belt I know that is someone who has put in a significant amount of time and effort towards improving their game. It doesn’t really say anything about their ability to fight, or how many moves they know. It simply means that they are a serious student.” — Bill Thomas from “Are you ready for the next level?

I’m very curious about what black belts what they look for when they promote blue belts, because it’s completely different from one school to another, as I’ve mentioned in a previous article. I recently went to a seminar by “Magical” Ray Elbe, a BJJ black belt, whose website can be found here. I’ll be writing a review of the seminar later, but wanted to share this tidbit, which was amazing. I asked Ray what his personal philosophy is about promoting to blue. We actually talked for a while about it.

Ray is in the middle. Cupcake is on the right. 🙂

In his gym he said that to get a blue belt there’s a minimum amount of knowledge necessarily. They should also be able to give a brand new person an intro lesson, and were he to leave for a day, his blue belts should be able to run a class. Then we talked about the extra, more intangible things.  One thing I hadn’t really considered – when you give someone a belt, you’re passing on YOUR lineage.

Then he did an exercise with me. This was taught to him by Marcos Avellan, a BJJ black belt who guest taught at Ray’s gym for a month, and which I now pass it along to you, because it’s really freaking cool.

You will need a pen and paper, or open up MS Word or Notepad and do it digitally.

Now, make a list of everything you want in your ideal BJJ coach. No really, do it now.

Here is my list:

Sense of humor
Family feel
Knows students
Challenges students
Good, solid methodology

Do you have your list? No? Dang it – go do it now! Got it? Okay – now go through it and write a T next to anything that is a TRAIT (ie. dealing with personality) and an S next to anything that is a SKILL, anything that needs to be gained/learned.

[edited to add this awesome comment by SL, who was listening in at the time] Actually Ray mentioned that the Skill section is exclusively BJJ related. So that would make stuff like: Good listening skills, Humble, self-critical, Good judgement of character as Traits instead of skills 🙂 – Things like “black belt” or “competition experience” or “won the Mundails” would be the types of “Skills” he’s talking about.[/edit]

Mine looked like this:

Friendly (T)
Accessible (T)
Knowledgeable (S)
Understanding (T)
Sense of humor (T)
Family feel (T)
Knows students (T)
Challenges students (T)
Kind (T)
Good, solid methodology (S)

While he did this I realized I hadn’t listed anything like “Black belt” or “competition experience” or anything. Most of mine was trait based.

Then Ray pointed at the TRAITS and said if you’re looking for a coach who is friendly, accessible, knowledgeable, understanding, etc, then promote based on that list. So someone could be a total genius at jiu jitsu at white belt, but if they’re a complete tool they will be a white belt for a VERY long time. This made so much sense to me. If I am passing on a LINEAGE to someone, they’re going to be a reflection of me. If I were a black belt, I wouldn’t give some toolbag my lineage. I would give it to people who I would be proud to attach my name to.

Thanks, Ray, for sharing that with me!

At this point I feel it necessary to share what is auto suggested by Google after you type in “Magical Ray Elbe.” Yes, it made me laugh out loud.

Ray hasn’t promoted a ton of people to blue. He has a list of people he’s promoted on his website here. As of today (January 26, 2012) he has promoted 10 people to blue and 1 person to purple. To be fair, his gym mostly deals with ex-pats who visit his school during a 4-6 week camp so this record does not necessarily speak to whether or not he’s super stingy or not. 🙂

I’m curious – what ended up being on your list? Did this completely blow your mind like it did mine?

Also, if you’re interested, I’ve been posting photos from my visit with Cupcake Armbar in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia! You can find the set here!