Daily Dojo

Color Me Blue Belt

This past Saturday, on March 19th, myself and two of my dojo classmates tested for and received a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, given to us by Vitor Shaolin Ribeiro.


That’s myself, Luis and Alvaro, right after the test.

Our school, Omni Martial Arts, is in Astoria and our instructor is Sensei Julio Riveria, but the belt testing itself is done by Shaolin, our Sensei’s Sensei, at his dojo in Manhattan.

It was two and a half hours long and included a written exam. Yep. It was something and I’m very glad my classmates and I passed. There were a lot of blue, purple and brown belts there rolling and drilling us.

We’re very fortunate in that we have a great instructor in Julio and awesome training partners, some of whom received their blue belts from Shaolin last December, and also Alex, the assistant instructor at Omni.

Some notes for those interested.

Shaolin is a four time Brazilian Jiu Jitsu World Champion, in addition to being a well-known successful MMA fighter. He moved to NYC and established a school in 2008, and already has made quite an impact on many, many people. The beauty of living in New York is that you truly can work and train and hear from the very best in any given field, and Shaolin is definitely one of the best.


Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, or BJJ as it’s commonly called, is already pretty very well known, of course, but I thought I’d take a second to note that belts aren’t just handed out with BJJ, in fact, it’s common to see students still wearing white belts for some years (I had my white belt for well over a year). It’s not like those modern TKD or karate schools these days, where you get a new belt every couple months just for showing up.

In BJJ, you must earn it. I’ll post my personal notes for the test tomorrow, for those interested, but if a student can’t demonstrate or do the techniques they’re supposed to know, they don’t move up. It’s that simple. The belts are earned, and the higher you go, the harder it gets. Believe me, at the testing we also witnessed four blue belts testing for their purple belt, and they worked for it, they earned that belt, lemme tell you.

The belts are white, blue, purple, brown and black (after black, there’s a red belt, go to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu ranking system for more information) and that’s it. There are stripes you can get for each color, but what’s really important is the belt. You have to know quite a bit of information just to test for blue, and blue is probably the most common rank, but it can be anything from a guy who’s been training for a year or a really tough dude who’s been doing this for ten years. I know and have met many a skilled fighter with a blue belt.

The next step, to purple, is a big one. As Shaolin mentioned at the end of the test, the road from blue to purple means that you’ve decided it’s not just a hobby you’ve put a considerable number of hours in, but that you really love Jiu Jitsu and want it to be an important part of your life.

In other words, anyone who has a purple belt (or above) is a very committed martial artist who has been training for years. BJJ is not like other arts, in that regard, wherein one only worries about the black belt, blue, purple and brown belts are all very capable fighters, in fact, Shaolin won his first world championship as a purple belt.

And oftentimes many of those training in BJJ also hold ranks in other martial arts (Sensei Julio, for example, has a black belt in Judo and a black belt in Japanese Jiu Jitsu, in addition to a load of Muay Thai and MMA training) … a friend of mine calls BJJ the Maserati of Martial Arts, and it seems like an apt description.

There’s a reason this martial art has grown so much. It’s scary effective. There are a lot of very good men and women training. At Shaolin’s there were a huge number of students there, at all levels, and it was totally awesome.

For me, on a personal level, it’s been very gratifying to get back into the martial arts after a few years off, and to start over completely (my background is almost exclusively in the striking arts, except for six months of judo when I was 20, I had no grappling skills or knowledge, no wrestling, nothing at all when I began) as a white belt. And I needed it for other reasons, too.

In the summer of 2009, I weighed more than I ever had, 229 lbs. It wasn’t as though I was lazy, I played basketball often, walked a couple miles every day, rarely drank alcohol and soda, stayed away from sweets. I just got big (I have a picture but for some reason wordpress isn’t letting me post more than two pics today, but one in which I look like the staypuft marshmellow man) and couldn’t take the weight off.

So I joined the new dojo that opened in my hood that September, doing MMA primarily and started traditional BJJ gi class the following January. I’ve since lost 35 lbs and look and feel a lot better. And I’m happy. I love the martial arts, I first studied karate when I was 13, got into TKD and other stuff in college all the way through my 20s and it was an important part of my life for a long time, I missed it when I stopped and I can’t describe how happy I am to be able to empty my cup and learn something completely new. I’m honored on behalf of my dojo, my instructors and my classmates that I was given a blue belt.

Of course, I went right back to the dojo on Monday and got my butt kicked in class. That’s how it works. You get the belt, go back to work. The learning in BJJ happens the hard way, and it’s neverending. That’s the beauty of it.

I have a bunch of pics, but as I mentioned wordpress is being obnoxious and not letting me post most of them for some odd reason. If you’re a facebook friend, head over there to see them. In the meantime, below is me rolling at the testing.


My thanks to Sensei Julio, Alex, Adam, Nick, Esteban, Jeff, Pon, Luis, Al, Rafael, Dennis and Jarmilla (she spit on me for good luck a couple days before the test, heheh) and all the rest of my dojomates for bringing it hard in every class.

3 Responses to “ Color Me Blue Belt”

  1. James Says:

    Congrats! It took me a while to get a blue belt so I know they don’t just hand them out. That’s one of the things I love about BJJ (unlike say TKD). Remember, the black belt is the white belt who didn’t quit.

  2. Joshua James Says:

    Thanks man, yeah in TKD these days they hand belts out like lollipops at a doctor’s office, without regard to ability at all … it wasn’t always like that, but it sure is now.

    There are a ton of very smart and tough fighters in BJJ wearing purple and brown belts, many of whom were at the test, and it’s inspiring to be able to work toward that someday.

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