If you are spending hours on the BJJ mats working your ass to attain those belt promotions it is wise to find out beforehand if at a moment’s notice your instructor can simply demote you and take that belt from you. Who wants to deal with the shame and embarrassment of having to wear a white belt again after sporting a hard-earned blue or even purple belt? Is this possible or just a myth?
Can You Get Demoted In Jiu Jitsu?
You can not get demoted in Jiu Jitsu, once you earn a belt it is yours for life. There have been rare cases in Brazil of coaches demoting students but this is abnormal and not supported by the BJJ community. If a student was promoted prematurely a coach will just keep them at their current belt longer.
In BJJ it is expected that once a student receives a belt it is theirs for life. In terms of changing belts, a BJJ practitioner can only progress and be promoted, they can not regress and be demoted. For example, once you receive your blue belt you will never wear a white belt again. You will only lose your blue belt once you are promoted to purple belt.
Some BJJ students who have taken time off from training and lost their skills want to demote themselves when they return to training. This often an emotional response after they find themselves in life and death battles with lower belts looking to tap a higher belt. Coaches will typically not allow a student to demote themselves. They will just help return to their former skill level.
The idea of BJJ belt demotion based on skill regression doesn’t make sense because as athletes age and stop training as much it is natural for their skill to decline. A high level black belt competitor in his 20s who is training every day is not going to maintain that skill level when they reach their 50s and are training a couple of times a week. That doesn’t mean that athlete should lose their black belt.
Also while a BJJ black belt is meant to indicate a certain level of BJJ skill it is still subjective and is calibrated to the individual athlete. A 50 year hobbyist black belt who has just been promoted after starting at 40 and training 2 times a week for 10 years is not held to the same standard as 22 year old purple belt who has been training every day since they are 12 even though the purple belt would be able to effortlessly tap the old black belt.
Some BJJ athletes when they switch to a new more competitive gym want to demote themselves after they become a small fish in a big pool. Again most coaches will not allow this.
On the Joe Rogan podcast, Firas Zahabi GSP’s coach and John Danaher black belt spoke about local BJJ students from other schools coming to train at his gym. He talked about how many of them were blown away by the skill level of his students and felt like they didn’t deserve their current belts. One student asked Zahabi to demote him from purple belt back to blue belt because he was getting tapped by lower belts.
Zahabi told Rogan that he was completely against Jiu Jitsu demotions and thought it was wrong. His response to the student wanting to be demoted was that he was going to train him until the student was a high level purple belt and throughout that process, the student will continue to wear a purple belt.
Zahabi’s philosophy is the most common one throughout BJJ. If a new student turns up at a gym wearing a colored belt but it is obvious they don’t have the skill that is indicative of the belt, coaches will double-check to ensure they legitimately earned that belt and then just keep the student at their current belt until they improve and have the skills representative of their current rank.
While belt demotion is in common and derided by the BJJ community it does occasionally occur. An instructor from Brazil had a new blue belt student start training at his gym. The coach was not satisfied with his previous training decided to move him back down to white belt.
The coach wrote on Facebook, “Today we’re having a different kind of graduation. I’m gonna take his blue belt and give him a white belt. I didn’t graduate him to blue, another teacher [previous gym] did when he was not ready yet. I’m doing this because of his humility in recognizing this is bigger than your pride to give or wear a belt you don’t deserve. Let this be a lesson to you all out there who seek belt promotions or promote someone to a new belt to feed egos rather than be honest to the skills”.
Another famous BJJ demotion was down by legendary MMA Enson Inoue. Enson was an early BJJ athlete and begun training in the 1990s before eventually earning his black belt in the early 2000s. Enson took a long time off training and when he returned he felt like his skill level was low and he didn’t know many of the modern Jiu Jitsu techniques. In response, he decided to demote himself to a purple belt. Enson stayed at purple belt for 2 years before reinstating his Jiu Jitsu black belt.