A couple weeks ago, I attended the annual Royce Gracie Network meeting at Valente Brothers Jiu-jitsu in Miami, Florida. This is an annual gathering of Royce Gracie black belts & academy owners from all over the world. It is a very intense, busy weekend of training and networking with other academy owners. Also, it is during this weekend that Royce conducts black belt testing for potential candidates. This has become a regular trip for me each year and I always come back with a lot of new ideas & information, and with a sense of rejuvenation & excitement. This year was particularly special for me, as I was honored to receive the blue bar on my black belt from Royce Gracie. This belt (the blue bar with the two white stripes on each end) is the “professors” belt, and it is a big deal for me personally and for my academy as a whole. So, I thought I would take the opportunity to briefly discuss the origin & meaning of this belt.
Many people are familiar with the Brazilian Jiu-jitsu black belt with the red bar, either with, or without the white stripes on the ends. Some are also familiar with the black belt with the white bar. However, the blue bar is relatively new to the Jiu-jitsu community and is specific only to the Royce Gracie/Valente Brothers network. This change was officially implemented by Royce Gracie in 2015. Prior to that Royce Gracie black belts wore the red bar like most other Jiu-jitsu black belts. This change was made as a tribute to Helio Gracie and signifies the commitment to preserve his original ideal of Jiu-jitsu as a self-defense art.
There is history behind the adoption of the blue bar. Originally, there were only three belts in Jiu-jitsu. White belt, light blue belt, and navy blue belt. Unlike today, students, regardless of skill level or training time, wore the white belt. The navy blue belt was worn by the instructors/professors, and the light colored blue belt was worn by students who were in the process of completing the professors course. The concept of the black belt as a measure of expertise as we know it today did not exist. At the time, students strove to receive the Professor’s Diploma. Helio Gracie had a very specific set of 20 characteristics that potential instructors were graded on, in order to receive the Professor’s Diploma, things such as courage, benevolence, impartiality, honesty, etc. It wasn’t until the creation of the original Confederation of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu in 1967 that the black belt started to be utilized. The black belt, and the other colored belts, were adopted from the Judo ranking structure. Judo, a Japanese martial art developed by Jigaro Kano, used colored belts to distinguish students by varying levels of skill & experience in an effort to create more fairness in sport competitions. While adopting a similar system, Jiu-jitsu differentiated itself by the use of the colored bar on one end of the belt, along with up to 4 white stripes to signify varying “degrees” within that belt color. Colored belts utilized the black bar, while black belts utilized the white or red bar. Later, the coral belt (red & black alternating bars) was adopted for the ranks of 7th & 8th degree black belt, and the solid red belt belt was used for 9th & 10th degree (with the rank of 10th degree being reserved only for the original 5 Gracie brothers). After becoming dissatisfied with the direction that the Federation was going and feeling that the emphasis on sport Jiu-jitsu competition was changing the original intention of Jiu-jitsu as a self-defense art, Helio Gracie renounced the Federation, took off his red belt, and reverted back to wearing the original navy blue belt. It is because of this that the use of the blue bar was created to honor the legacy of Helio Gracie & his intent of a focus on Jiu-jitsu as a fighting art used primarily for self-defense.
As with most things in Jiu-jitsu, there is very little standardization from one academy or organization to another. The same is true with the black belt. For many academies, students begin wearing the black belt with the red bar & sometimes with the white “instructor” stripes from the day they are first promoted to black belt. In our network however, new black belts wear the white bar for their first several years. Next is the professor’s belt, with the navy blue bar & white stripes. Once a student earns the professors belt, they may then be awarded with varying “degrees” on the belt, indicated by white stripes.
For me personally, it is a great honor to have received the professor’s belt directly from Royce Gracie. I consider it both a privilege and a responsibility to continue to carry on the legacy represented by him as well as his father, Helio Gracie.