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!
Today in the our Rickson Interview Series: What do the belts mean in BJJ? What do you expect from a blue belt, purple belt, brown belt and most of all a black belt?
BJJ Legends: Speaking to that preservation, it's important to manage people's expectations across the board, so that people know what they're getting into. It seems as though you're making a good effort to do that. The belt system is something that I think we use to broadcast to others and within, what you can expect from that individual.
In past interviews, I've talked to other black belts, and I've asked the same question. We can talk about your ranking system within, that you propose within the JJGF, but what I'd like to talk about more is what those belts mean, both to the layperson and to an individual.
I know Royce said... Royce told me once that Helio said, "The belt only covers two inches of your waist. You have to protect the rest." What do we expect from... What do you expect from... What does the Federation expect from a blue belt? A purple belt? A brown belt? And most of all, a black belt? Because you make some distinguish... You distinguish on your website between black belt instructors, of course, and referees, in terms of the expectations you have of them, as opposed to, say, just a normal participant.
Rickson Gracie: Yeah. First of all, and most important, we are not here to divide. So everyone who has a belt in his waist, if he's legit, if he's promoted by somebody, if he has a record, we will validate. So we're not here to say he don't deserve the belt he has on. That's not the case.
We firmly suggest to him to understand the level he's supposed to be, as he has his belt in his waist. So it's more like a reference, a guidance of what you expect from a student in that level, what he's supposed to know. That is the suggestion.
We give them a reference to know because, for me, the black belt... When he comes in, just from a tournament perspective, he can be a very tough guy, but he's just an amateur black belt. If he becomes professional black belt, that means a teacher, he's supposed to have the whole full program of self defense.
If he don't have, I'm not saying he don't deserve the black belt. I will suggest him to open his eyes and see what he needs to fulfill that gap, because his school will be better, and everyone else will be pleased with his work. So if I don't have self defense in my program to teach, I will be no more than 25% than I am, by teaching only competition Jiu-Jitsu.
Tomorrow: Rickson tells us how he choose his executive team, Carlos Gama and Tony Pacenski.
Today in the our Rickson Interview Series: We ask Rickson Gracie If he struggled with the path that was chosen for him?
BJJ Legends: I started Jiu-Jitsu a little bit late, my late 20s. I've been doing it ever since, past 14 years. It hasn't always been easy. It took some time for me to understand some things about myself along the way. You were born into the family. Everyone around you did Jiu-Jitsu. For me, it was a brand-new discovery, but what I found was, as I progressed through the belts, I also progressed as a person, in terms of how I understood myself and what I saw as elements of myself that either needed modification or didn't.
Sometimes I was resistant to the changes that Jiu-Jitsu was affording me. Did you find that for yourself, as a child growing up, even though you had excellent examples all around you? Did you ever have an internal struggle as to the path that had either been chosen for you or that you saw laid out in front of you?
Rickson Gracie: No, I never felt uncomfortable in any situation. Well, something I have to learn is how to manage my extreme confidence in myself, how not to be aggressive or impose my desires or my position to others. So in one point, I felt like I have to just express how good I am, how tough I am, and the way I want.
Then I realized all this power becomes even stronger when I start to respect people and become more concerned about how they think and how I should approach people. So as I'm getting bigger in my confidence and my self-esteem, I start to feel like how important for me is to level up myself and make everybody feel confident to approach me, to talk to me.
Even sometimes I have to apologize in another matter. It's not about me. I'm tough guy in the streets. So whatever I say is right. It's not like that. I feel like it's given me the sense of apologizing if I'm wrong, respect people in the line, and so on. So that's a great learning process.
Tomorrow: Rickson tells us that Jiu-Jitsu for everyone; Jiu-Jitsu is like a church..
Today in the our Rickson Interview Series: Rickson Gracie shares his profound and humble personal story of change through Jiu-Jitsu.
BJJ Legends: It's different for everybody. Can you share with us how that transformation came over you? What was your personal experience?
Rickson Gracie: My transformation is -- I mean, before I was born I was already in the DNA of Jiu-Jitsu. So for me, I was born and raised in the family. When I was kid, "Oh, you wanna be like your dad. Oh, you wanna be a fighter too." So I was born in the family. I was born fighting, competing since six years old. But actually, the transformation became, first, I was trying to be a good fighter. And then I become a good fighter. And then I fulfilled my ego. Okay, I'm good. And then what can I do with that? And that becomes the biggest part. because I started to be a reference for people. I started to teach people to try to become like me. And this process of learning makes them feel like they're improving. And I felt like it's a huge positive component and feed people with what they need. And that's my transformation maybe is from egocentric levels of trying to make it to be important in the community and then to pass that knowledge and to fulfill people and motivate people to excel. So the transformation is from an athlete to a teacher.
Tomorrow: Rickson tells us if he has struggled because he was born into a fighting Jiu-Jitsu family.
Today in the our Rickson Interview Series: Rickson Gracie will discuss why so many people's lives are changed by Jiu-Jitsu.
BJJ Legends: This is very consistent with other things I've heard you say, other members of your family. Robson Gracie was attributed with the statement that Jiu-Jitsu... he believes Jiu-Jitsu is fantastic and that its a form of education.
Rickson Gracie: Yes.
BJJL: He felt it was transformative. Do you feel that same way?
Rickson Gracie: I'm sorry.
BJJL: He felt it was transformative. It changed people, that Jiu-Jitsu had the ability to change people and that was one of the things that made it fantastic and the fact it had an educational component to it. Do you feel the same way, that it's very transformative for these reasons?
Rickson Gracie: I'm positive, but not because Jiu-Jitsu transforms you. Jiu-Jitsu gives you the opportunity for you to know what you are made of and how you adjust yourself to get better. You don't have to be panicked in those situations. Jiu-Jitsu proves that. You can be more relaxed here. You can have your leverage to instead power. By understand about your leverage, your weight distribution, your techniques, your elements of emotional control, you definitely become a different animal. You become a much more complete animal in terms of strategy, in terms of courage, in terms of capacity to handle emotions. So that transformation, coming from within, based on the exposure of Jiu-Jitsu.
Tomorrow: Rickson tells us how Jiu-Jitsu changed him personally.
Today in the our Rickson Interview Series: Rickson Gracie describes how the JJGF will be of service to the Jiu-Jitsu community and the community at large.
BJJ Legends: You were talking about the three pillars.
Rickson Gracie: Yes.
BJJL: You talked about communications, competitions.
Rickson Gracie: Competitions.
BJJL: We talked about the rules a little bit. And the third?
Rickson Gracie: The third one will be, maybe, the most important in service, of all. Which is, feed those. For example, I just talked about the teacher, who coming from a competitive school, training, system. It becomes a black belt with good recognition. Then we opened the school and it has no teaching programs from our traditional aspect. The education aspect is exactly created to provide knowledge. To provide programs for those teachers become more effective in the way they teach. By having those programs...becoming a certified instructor, training, he becomes much more knowledgeable with the elements he can use to fulfill the needs of the community. That will be very, very important for him to have more students. It will favor the instructor. It will favor the school honor. It will favor the students because more people can learn. More people can enjoy the math. The teacher will be happy to favor more people. The school honor will be happy because it can retain more students. Education is a very important tool for the federation to spread the concepts, to spread the knowledge, to make our culture have a reference for the future. Without that, any school can teach anything without having the idea of what is our backbone.
Tomorrow: Rickson will discuss how it is that Jiu-Jitsu has changed so many lives.
Today in the our Rickson Interview Series: Rickson Gracie: Stalling is an Efficient way to win a fight but it is not very Effective in a real fight.
BJJ Legends: Let's talk about that for a moment. This isn't the first interview that you have done and I managed to see one or two of them, and you talked about the difference between efficiency and effectiveness.
Rickson Gracie: Yes.
BJJ Legends: I think you've been circling around it here a little bit in terms of the things you and I have been talking about right now. Let's stop for a moment and talk about how the Jiu Jitsu Global Federation, the JJGF, is going to promote efficiency.
Rickson Gracie: No.
BJJ Legends: Effectiveness.
Rickson Gracie: Effectiveness.
BJJ Legends: Excuse me, effectiveness over efficiency.
Rickson Gracie: Yes, because efficiency is how many packages you do a minute. Effectiveness is what's the purpose of this. So efficiency to get medals, I mean, I can see the guys consistently win medals by doing very boring game, like very bored. It's just the way they fight. It's very efficient to get the medal. But the effectiveness of this in real life, is almost close to none. So I don't believe in that kind of efficiency. I really pray for people understand. Jiu Jitsu is something we have to have for effectiveness. To result, to be able to survive, to be able to protect, to be able to create elements for you to feel good about yourself. Not only when you compete, but when you walk on the street.
Tomorrow: Rickson will talk about JJGF's service goals.
Today in the our Rickson Interview Series: Rickson Gracie believes you have a responsibility to your community to teach the minute you put a black belt on your waist.
BJJ Legends: I noticed that you said you wouldn't be a Jiu-Jitsu fighter without self-defensive aspect, will not be a complete fighter or inability to teach. What responsibility do Jiu-Jitsu artists have to share the art, to share the sport, supportive aspects of the art and the self-defensive aspects of the art with others?
Rickson Gracie: I think, I mean, you can compete, you can have no responsibility of anything. But at the moment, you become famous, you put a black belt in your chest, I mean in your waist, and you open a school. You should have the compromise to serve the community in a complete way. I think if you just gotten, I mean, I heard another day, a student coming to his teacher, his Jiu-Jitsu teacher and asked for self-defense. And he said, No, if you want a self-defense, you learn Krav Maga. We hear training Jiu-Jitsu competition, and I feel like this is just like killing the sport, that's killing our traditional culture. Because the first generation, the second generation of the Jiu-Jitsu family, when they go on the street, they feel comfortable while they're competing. And why this doesn't translate anymore? Is just because the competition becomes so specific, so much detailed in grips and stalling, which doesn't translate in effectiveness anymore.
And on the schools, the programs of self-defense have been forgotten, just because 'let's train, let's roll, let's have fun.' But the community service, the need for the community is much more than just having fun, or get sweat or get busted ears. You have to know how to protect yourself from a slap, or a knife or a gun or something. You have to have chances, nobody is going to be unbeatable, nobody is superman. But more elements you have to fulfill the need, the more you going to feel better, walk around, talk better, everything will be better for you. And the Jiu Jitsu I learned all my life, the Jiu Jitsu I teach all my life, has none of those strategic elements to the medal.
It's all bout effectiveness, it's all about what works for you on the mat, on the street or in the cage. And that's I feel like, that's crucial for us to preserve our culture and leave Jiu-Jitsu to the future with some kind of reference. Because now, or a few, the Jiu-Jitsu is going in that direction. And the roots and the effectiveness and what we believe is being forgotten. And Jiu-Jitsu maybe ten years from now, will be like Judo, with great athletes, tough guys, but doesn't translate to reality anymore. It's like Taekwondo, which same thing, great athletes, super moves, but completely unrealistic if you put the guy on the cage or in a self situation, on a self-defense.
Tomorrow: Rickson gives us one of several gems not to be missed: Effectiveness (being able to protect yourself) vs Efficiency (winning tournaments)
Running a business without knowing how is similar to rolling for the first time with a black belt. You're going to get destroyed!
It might sound like a great idea to buy a martial arts school, but it could turn out to be a big nightmare.
That's exactly what happened to me. I started my own school in 1997, and in 2005, I purchased a Tae Kwon Do school that had 130 students and merged their students into my school. After a few years, there was almost no one left from the school that I purchased! I wish someone knowledgeable about this would have told me the things I'm about to share with you.
#1) The first thing you have to consider is: What is the culture of the school you are thinking about purchasing?
Students in the Tae Kwon Do school I bought earned their black belts in 2.5-4 years. And there were 8 year old black belts. How do you think everyone responded to an average of 10 years or more requirement for a BJJ black belt? Not good. They couldn't get over it.
Even if you are thinking about buying a BJJ academy, is the culture of the school the same as the culture you will have? I recently heard about a BJJ academy that was focused on self-defense, and the BJJ franchise that they belonged to changed their focus to tournament Jiu-Jitsu. They left the franchise. There are definitely different cultures among BJJ schools.
If you are a BJJ teacher, and you are thinking of taking over a BJJ school, you may think that there won't be a problem because it's the same art, but you would be surprised to find out how fussy students are. If the owner was a 160 lb. guy and you are 200 lbs., some students will complain and leave because they liked the little guy game and you have a big guy game. Or vice versa.
Read about my friend Jocelyn Chang and her black belt super fight with breast cancer.
What would you do if at the age of 39 you were diagnosed with cancer? Would you fall into a depression and let the sickness win or would you fight back with determination? For anyone in this situation it becomes a defining moment in their life and for some the trial becomes a turning point to do even greater things than they had before they were sick. Most of us will never have to face such a challenge but even still we can learn from and be inspired by those that have.
Jocelyn Chang is one of those people and a true inspiration. A Jiu-Jitsu black belt who trained under Leka Vieira, she has always been the coolest of cucumbers. And when she discovered she had breast cancer, that didn’t change.
You can’t tell by looking at her that she has ever been sick. She still stands tall at 4’9” and 95 pounds, has a full head of hair again, stands strong, and trains regularly at her studio Let’s Roll Jiu Jitsu.
After being diagnosed with cancer, she underwent a double mastectomy, 18 weeks of chemo, and, 33 days of radiation. In spite of feeling sick and down, and at times being unable to get out of bed, she managed to keep her spirits up. Her radiation treatments ended on March 30, 2010 and 2 weeks later, she was back on the mat. Talk about fierce.