Do You Have to Earn a White Belt in BJJ? The Simple Truth

If you or your child are thinking about getting into Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu the belt ranking system can feel mystifying. The first belt ranking is the white belt and how you might need to earn your ranking as a white belt.

You do not have to earn a white belt in BJJ. In fact, “earning” your BJJ white belt occurs when you step onto the mat and commit to taking your first class. A white belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu happens at the very beginning of your BJJ training.

Now that we know that simply stepping onto the mat earns you your white belt, let’s take a look at what being a BJJ white belt actually means in the context of this martial art.

How Long Does It Take to Get a White Belt in BJJ?

Getting your white belt is a rather quick and simple process. You need to purchase a gi which will often come standard with a white belt. If your BJJ school has these in stock in your size and you take your first class, then congratulations, you have your BJJ white belt!

What Is a White Belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu?

Any beginning jiu-jitsu student wearing a white belt to class is a white belt. For no-gi jiu-jitsu, this extends to any student who has not yet been promoted to blue belt by their instructor.

The white belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu signifies the beginning of the journey within the martial art. The color white is often symbolic of new beginnings and is used in many martial arts to indicate the start of studying the art.

There are stories told of martial artists who start with white belts and the belt simply changed colors from the accumulation of dirt from the efforts of learning the martial art. Nobody can confirm the truth of these statements but the myths associated with the belt colors changing over time from white to black belt symbolically fit with the idea of progression based on efforts and learning done by the martial artist.

Any beginning jiu-jitsu student wearing a white belt to class is a white belt. For no-gi jiu-jitsu, this extends to any student who has not yet been promoted to blue belt by their instructor.

What Do Stripes Mean for White Belts in BJJ?

In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu stripes on a white belt indicate a student’s skill level within the belt rank. Increasing numbers of stripes indicate a higher level of proficiency and knowledge. The methodology for earning stripes varies from school to school.

During the first few months of training white belts will often receive different instructions and have some limitations on what they are allowed to do based on the stripes within their belt rank. This can take the form of not being allowed to participate in live grappling or not being invited to participate in more intermediate and advanced classes that are taught at the school.

When you earn stripes as a white belt you should feel proud. These stripes are meaningful because it demonstrates your commitment to learning an intense and often difficult martial art.

How Long Does it Take to Earn Stripes as a BJJ White Belt?

White belts in BJJ can typically expect to earn stripes at between 3 and 6 months of training per stripe. Methodologies for earning stripes vary widely from school to school which results in variable timelines.

There are 3 main methodologies that are common amongst schools in regards to earning stripes: instructor’s judgment, attendance-based stripes, and stripe tests.

Instructor’s Judgment for Stripes

In many gyms, instructors will award stripes based on their qualitative judgment of your progress based on their observation of attitude and your drilling and grappling in class. One of my favorite instructors told me while I was a white belt that he is awarding stripes based on what he sees in each individual’s specific jiu-jitsu journey.

As a funny personal anecdote, when I received my 4th stripe as a white belt alongside another individual who received their 4th stripe I remember being told that I received my stripe for my restraint and control during intense rolls with other students including the other student who received his stripe at the same time. He received his for his aggression and speed. We each progress in our own styles of jiu-jitsu in our instructor’s eyes for vastly different actions.

Attendance-Based Stripes

In many gyms, you will find attendance-based policies surrounding earning stripes as a white belt. This method is often criticized as watering down the art since it does not directly indicate skill level advancement. In my opinion, keeping students coming to the mats will naturally result in some progression anyway, especially if grappling is a part of the curriculum in the classes counted towards attendance.

BJJ Stripe Tests

In a number of schools, BJJ stripes are awarded through stripe tests. These tests will cover whatever moves or knowledge that the instructor deems important as part of the curriculum for the belt level.

These criteria will include things that vary from positional hierarchy (mount, back control, side control, turtle, etc.) and etiquette to the execution of specific moves that the instructor believes are important for their school’s curriculum at the white belt level.

Can White Belts Compete in BJJ?

White belts can compete in most BJJ and submission grappling tournaments. However, it is a good idea for white belts to speak with their instructors and form a plan to prepare for their competition as it will maximize their safety and chances of success.

Individual schools and instructors may have rules or guidelines surrounding when they would ideally like you to compete and may even spend extra time preparing you for upcoming tournaments. This is especially true for BJJ schools that are “competition schools” in which heavy emphasis is placed on competing in these tournaments.

Talk to your instructor before signing up for a tournament to get their advice on what they think you should do in order to maximize your experience if you are a white belt looking to enter into your first competition.

Another thing you should consider before signing up for a tournament is arranging some private lessons with your instructor or a higher-ranked individual with some competition experience.

Final Thoughts

Earning your white belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is relatively simple, you just need to walk in the door and step onto the mats to begin your learning. You are ahead of most people in the world just by getting to this point.

As a white belt, you will experience many ups and downs and will earn your way into stripes and progress in your own individual jiu-jitsu. The process of earning stripes will be different for each student depending on the individual and the school that they attend.

If you are a new white belt who just earned their white belt by stepping onto the mats, simply focus on showing up and being a blank slate so that you can learn your jiu-jitsu and enjoy your personal BJJ journey.

For more about white belts in other martial arts check out Do You Have to Earn a White Belt in Martial Arts?


Hi, I'm Andre and I am the author of this website. I currently train primarily in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu but supplement with other grappling martial arts as well as help to coach my kid's blended grappling program.

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