Read more about the old Gracie Barra term "Faixa Azul-Preta" used to describe blue belts who are invited to train up. Blue belts who are invited to train with the black belts.
Every mid to large size Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu gym has at least one of these martial art outliers. He or she is typically a young blue belt who has virtually made your academy mats living space. No matter which gray morning or rainy night session takes place, this individual holds ubiquitous presence. Every training session, this young jiu-jitsutero is equally feared by all belt ranks as he dominates the mat with cardiovascular supremacy. As older hobbyists pack their bags and return home to be scolded by wives and girlfriends, the blossoming phenom continues to drill with an unearthly amount of stamina. You have stumbled upon the “blue-black.”
What is a “blue-black” anyway? Isn’t the term just synonymous with ‘mat rat?’ Not exactly. “Blue-black,” or “azul-preta,” is a term that originates from the Gracie Barra competition community. According to Orlando Sanchez black belt Ben Zhuang, the term started getting coined in a Gracie Barra Worlds tournament training camp.
“The term I first heard from Gracie Barra black belts at the Worlds camp. They usually only allow black belts in their comp training afternoon sessions, but they wanted the blue belts at my school to join because of their level. Hence they were called blue-blacks,” claims Ben.
In a nutshell, blue-backs are young grapplers who may lack the technical refinement crafted through many years of mat time but compensate in their immediate mat prowess through a combination of volume training, natural talent, and athletic ability to the extent they can competitively spar with elite BJJ practitioners.
“At my school, they were basically blue belts that trained twice a day as much as 5-6 times a week. They all had natural talent or a special trait that made them untouchable to basically any non-black belts or other non-competitors. It all comes down to mat time and drilling,” Ben tells me.
As Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu pays little, how can blue-blacks afford such an intensive training schedule?
An answer to the the recent rise in number of dangerous blue belts may lie in the polarization of Brazilian jiu-jitsu as a tournament sport. This allows a great number of young athletes to develop a type of skater and surfer approach to the art, in which they are encouraged to pursue jiu-jitsu holistically at all times of the day on a daily basis. Ben explains that blue blacks at his gym would compete as “much as 2-3 times a month” and because they were all young, did not not have “many responsibilities other than training.”
To offer a more accurate idea of mat ability amongst blue-blacks, Ben estimates a “ blue belt that can get onto the podium at the worlds at the adult level probably rolls evenly with most hobbyist black belts and even taps them. A blue belt world champion certainly can tap casual black belts.”
So if these blue-blacks can spar with and tap black belts, why aren’t they immediately promoted to purple or brown belt level? Unlike upper level belts, these practitioners may not have intricate, strategic jiu jitsu that can be used to contend with great black belts. They often rely on sheer physicality which makes them dangerous offensively to everyone, but this quality also places large holes in their defensive games.
The term “blue-black,” of course applies to exceptional blue belts, but the overall concept extends to all elite intermediate level practitioners. Ben adds, “At purple, people on the podium likely dominate hobbyist black belts.”
Are you a young whippersnapper dominating the sparring as a lower belt at your academy? If so, you may be a blue-black yourself!
The first step of your journey in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu begins with the first time you take a bow and show your Professor all the respect he/she is due. That is who will provide you with the tools you need to succeed every step of the way.
"All great masters are chiefly distinguished by the power of adding a second, a third, and perhaps a fourth step in a continuous line. Many a man has taken the first step. With every additional step you enhance immensely the value of your first."Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Your rise in BJJ begins the moment you first dawn your white belt and continues as long as you are willing to learn. In order to ascend to the next skill level you need to conquer the last. With each new belt that encircles your waist, your climb becomes all the more satisfying.
The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu belt promotion system is not difficult to understand. The International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) provides general guidelines that can be referenced worldwide with minimum requirements for moving students to the next level: http://ibjjf.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/IBJJF-Graduation-System-Poster.pdf. Keep in mind, those guidelines are just that, not everyone progresses at the same rate. Promoting a person per IBJJF standards refers to a timeframe in which an individual could reach the next level. A one-on-one with IBJJF certified referee and 3rd Degree Black Belt Bruno Alves, (Pinnacle MMA/GFT) helped shed some light on how he handles the promotion process. Professor Alves’s point-of-view on this is simple. The journey is yours but your promotion is contingent upon whether or not you have mastered your current skill level and whether your are in fact, ready. Basics and technique are the bread and butter of BJJ. Once you begin your ascent up the ladder to where the journey begins the basics are what help a student hone their technique.
Time is not always reflective of one’s skill-set. One student may take a year to truly get an understanding of what techniques work for them and how to apply those to their game. Another may take six months and another two years. The chatter in the BJJ world regarding how long a person takes to receive their next stripe or belt will always be around. The truth is we become what we become when the time is right, it is going to take as long as it takes. A BJJ student’s progression is no different than the preparation of a meal. You must follow each step for the optimal results.
When asking Professor Alves is it possible to take away rank from students that may regress in training, move from one academy to another, or take years off due to other obligations. His response was clear “the student cannot lose their rank once their band has been gained even if the teacher wants to take it away.” Injury, life, or sometimes complacency can get in the way of ascension but it is part of the process. You will either adapt or overcome the obstacles you incur or you will fall to the wayside as so many often do. Nothing worth doing well is easy. Every journey is unique, each step on the ladder defines you. As you begin your ascent or continue your climb up that ladder remember your purpose. When you inevitably run into an obstacle, face it and keep climbing. Each rung will hold the key to the next.
The first time you set foot on the mat could be described as coming upon a yearling in the woods trying to take its first steps. It's a sight to see. It's human nature to stare at a spectacle. The little thing is slipping and sliding all over the place. Whatever is in it's immediate path is going down. The longer you observe the more entertaining it is. Then something happens. The watcher starts to root for that yearling as it stays the course and inevitably succeeds. Being part of such a moment makes one want to return to that very spot in the woods to find that bumbling yearling, and watch as it grows. BJJ ascension is no different than the first steps of a newborn yearling. We are slow to catch on, often winded, falling all over the place, and amusing to watch. If you are in our path you are likely to become collateral damage one way or another. Inevitably those that stay the course will ASCEND, those that stay the course will BECOME. Their climb will be limitless and what the galaxy holds for them is what keeps them climbing. If you remember nothing else, remember this,
"when the way comes to an end, then change - having changed, you pass through."-I Ching