To earn a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is one of the most respectable achievements in the world of Martial Arts. Only a very small percentage of those who started training has or will become a BJJ Black Belt. There are a variety of reasons why people stop practicing the art. It may be the lack of knowledge or professionalism, making the White belts' lives too difficult to bear, or the absence of a proven methodology presenting frequently small challenges to the Blue belts, so they feel the progress. Maybe the environment and culture are not welcoming to women of any belts.
Also, we all know that if the warm-ups are longer than 90 seconds, you're losing your purple belts. No doubt about it!
Brown Belts tend to stick around. They're so close to the much desired Black belt that they decide to just stick around. One thing is for sure: It takes an unreal amount of discipline and perseverance for you to become a Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. You have to be really tough!
But, is toughness all that is required for you to be a BJJ Black Belt? We have spent a significant portion of the 20th century trying to prove the efficiency of our Martial Art to the world. Practitioners had to be ready at all times. For a long time, it was not uncommon for your professor to pit you against a challenger from another art, with no notice. There you would be, fighting a complete stranger in a no holds barred contest, at your professor's command. This scenario happened over and over, and many times these challenges weren't even that friendly. If you wanted to become a black belt, you'd have to survive the brutal sparring sessions daily for ages and occasionally defend the art's honor against a game opponent, who would be willing to do anything to "defeat Jiu Jitsu".
Being a BJJ Black belt back in the day communicated your toughness unequivocally. In one sense, that's pretty much all it took. A Black Belt was not required to be a trainer or to even teach classes, but if they'd desire to do that, all they had to do was to emulate their professor. Just do whatever professor always did, and they'd be fine.
The art and sport have come a very long way since those days.
Jiu Jitsu seems to be all over the world and is certainly the fastest growing Martial Art of our day. Things have changed! We are all becoming more and more professional every day. Classes are shorter, schedules are optimized, mats are sanitized, uniforms are mandatory; tournaments happen every weekend everywhere and class might even start on time these days.
The practitioner has also changed. Stay at home moms, accountants, teachers, waiters, students, and people from all ages and walks of life, now darken the doors of our schools and many are not really interested in "being tough". The mat side chat, stress release, weight loss, and sense of community are far more appealing to them. We are learning to implement methodologies, that accommodate these needs, without selling out.
Black belts living in this environment can't help but feel the need to adapt. Future black belts who didn't live the "old days" might not even know any different than what we live right now.
But how has today's Black Belt changed?
The truth is that today's Black Belt is a completely different animal!
While 20 years ago, being tough was the only requirement, now it's just one of many. Social media alone is already a major reason for our Black Belts to work in a different way. In today's world, whatever you do can travel the world in half a second. Everybody knows! Whether you post anything or not, people will know about it. A black belt represents a school, a team somewhere, and whatever they do will reflect on their team, on their school, on their professor, and etc... As the world of Jiu Jitsu becomes more professional and competition increases, schools cannot afford to have their reputation marred by anything. The black belt has to have a social life that passes the "social media test" if they want to stay anywhere for a longer period of time.
In today's world, the BJJ Black belt has to fight a whole lot off the mats as well if they want to be successful competitors, coaches, or any sort of BJJ professionals. All businesses involved in Jiu Jitsu, and they are not many, are digitally marketing themselves, not only with paid ads but associating themselves with popular figures of the sport who represent their brand.
In other words, good luck getting any significant sponsorship if you're on the second page of Google.
Athletes more than ever have to connect with their fans, promote their brands, give interviews, learn management, produce content, and still be tough, but toughness alone won't do it anymore.
The distance seems abysmal when we compare yesterday's to today's Black Belt, but if Jiu Jitsu keeps up with the current growth pace, in the next 20 years the distance between tomorrow and today's Black Belt will be even greater.