One of the age-old questions in BJJ is does your belt lineage matter. Although it might sound like a simple yes, no, answer; this question actually has many faces depending on your belt level. Perhaps you’re a fresh white belt looking for an academy to train at. Or perhaps you’re a seasoned competitor, and you want to get your black belt from someone notable.
Whatever the case, this article will take an in-depth look at this question, and hopefully explain why so many black belts take such different stands on it.
What is Belt Lineage?
For those of you new to the conversation: your belt lineage is who your instructors got their black belt from, and (hopefully) who you might one day get your black belt from. Some Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) schools take their belt lineage very seriously, while other schools don’t and believe belt lineage isn’t really as important as skill is.
Some of the most common, and well-known belt lineage trees include:
One of the founders of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. You might have heard his of some of his children, like Royce Gracie, who famously dominated the UFC ring as well as other Mixed Martial Arts tournaments.
The famous Gracie Barra (pronounced BA-HA) gyms are part of the Carlos Gracie gym lineage. Lilek Helio Carlos was a student of Mitsuyo Maeda, who is considered to be the father of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Founder of the legendary blue basement a gym that has produced many champions including the famous Danaher Death Squad.
Eddie Bravo (10th Planet)
Eddie Bravo has claimed 10th planet Jiu Jitsu is different from traditional Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. The 10th planet gyms are famous for their use of the rubber guard. A guard that Eddie himself famously used on Royler Gracie. Eddie Bravo also famously created the Eddie Bravo Invitational competition.
These are just a few of the notable Brazilian Jiu Jitsu belt lineage lines, there are many other reputable sources practitioners can get their belts from. But the deeper overarching question is “does it matter?” and if it does, is it more important for Upper belts or lower belts?
Does Belt Lineage Matter for White Belts?
If you are looking to start your Jiu Jitsu journey, you might be wondering if you should go to an academy that has a notable lineage. Perhaps they might be better than an everyday “run-of-the-mill” academy?
Many people agree that lineage only matters at the white belt to confirm that the academy you want to train at is legitimate. You might have seen this video that went viral seven years ago of a man named Jay Queiroz. He infamously opened a fake BJJ academy and claimed he was an IBJJF registered black belt.
You can imagine his surprise when real BJJ practitioners walked in the door and asked him to roll in front of his students. BJJ belt lineage may not matter a ton at white belt, but asking an instructor may be important, so you don’t end up in the situation above.
If you are interested, you can actually go on the IBJJF’s website, where they list all the IBJJF registered black belts. It should be noted that even if your instructor isn’t listed, that doesn’t mean they are not a black belt. The process to become an IBJJF registered black belt is complicated and requires people to take a course.
Does Belt Lineage Matter for Upper Belts?
Many BJJ practitioners want to get their black belt from someone notable in the BJJ world. It looks good to say I was promoted by someone notable. If an upper belt wants to open an academy, they can use their belt lineage as a marketing tool. Some schools also take it a step further and even change the color tab on the black belt to indicate who promoted them.
Black belts promoted by Royce Gracie are known for wearing black belts with blue bars, instead of red. Royce does this to try and distinguish his black belts from other black belts.
The age-old answer to this question is obviously lineage doesn’t matter as much as skill. Just because someone got their black belt from someone reputable doesn’t necessarily mean they are at the same level. Also, just because someone is competing from a new/unheard of academy doesn’t mean they aren’t going to be good.
Jocko Willink, a former Navy SEAL team leader, and a BJJ black belt under Dean Lister, famously said: “Belts stop mattering after purple.” Never mistake lineage for skill.
What Do Black Belts Have to Say?
Nick Albin, (aka, “Chewjitsu”) is a famous BJJ vlogger on YouTube, and he has some interesting thoughts on this as well. He says that having someone who is a good teacher, is far more important than having someone who has a prized lineage.
BJJ Black Belt (Under John Danaher) Brandon Bennett has some different thoughts on this. He says “The knowledge becomes more diluted the further away you get from the source.” While both these statements might be true; the most important fact in this question is that you find a gym that you like, and has a culture that makes you want to come back.
So does Belt Lineage matter? The answer is not as simple as yes or no. Instead, a comprehensive answer of why people think it’s important is the real answer. People believe belt lineage is important because having someone reputable attach their name to you looks good and might attract people to your gym.
However, what’s really important is ability level and teaching high-quality technique.
Jack is a BJJ purple belt who holds a bachelors degree in English Literature. He enjoys traveling, reading, and the Bow and Arrow choke. One day he hopes to teach English overseas and become a published author.