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Renato Migliaccio: The Path to Black Belt

MigliaccioEditor’s Note: Renato Migliaccio, the newest columnist, is a decorated martial artist, holding black belts in both Judo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (under the late Ryan Gracie). Additionally, Migliaccio also is considered one to the top lightweight MMA prospects not signed to a major organization with a perfect record of 6-0.

In his guest columns that will appear periodically on 5 Oz., Migliaccio will provide his insider’s perspective on martial arts training. In his first submission, Renato outlines the general path for BJJ practitioners with hopes of attaining black belt status.

For more information on Renato, please visit

The path to achieving black belt status in BJJ all begins with finding a highly skilled instructor to train under that can offer a structured curriculum. But finding the right program isn’t enough, as a student must push his or herself to apply the knowledge that is being transferred down to them. In order to continue to push yourself and achieve consistency in your training, the major battle you must win is to stay motivated in your pursuit of progress.

Those are just some of the general rules, now I will take you on a more detailed step-by-step process in helping you reach your ultimate goal: the Black Belt.

Step One:

Starting out, the biggest hurdle you could encounter in your BJJ life is intimidation. For those who have never trained in a martial art, everything from the student body who will become your future friends, the instructors, and even the facility itself could cause anxiety.

However, it is only natural to feel some anxiety when starting such a long quest. In time, you will become more comfortably and BJJ will consume your life as you start to learn the techniques and discipline.

When learning these techniques, you should be like a sponge and try to retain as much instruction as possible. However, this is often easier said than done as retaining everything you taught is not often practical. And in the beginning when you start rolling (BJJ’s equivalent to “sparring”), the focus might just be on simply surviving.

Your early lessons will be tough so it is essential that you remain patient and not give into frustration. You must believe in your instructor and focus on the fundamentals and if you are able to master a couple of techniques or positions early, you will achieve some success. You won’t be able to learn everything at once. Remind yourself that if achieving black belt status in BJJ was easy, everyone would have one.

As time goes on, your instructor should be doing constant progress checks to ensure that you are moving in the right direction. In order to designate such progress, some schools are even changing the traditional path in achieving your blue belt (the traditional next progression from white belt) by breaking it down into new belts: yell, orange, and green. At some schools, colors are not used and instead stripes are awarded to your white belt.

Step Two:

Now you are a blue belt at this time and by now you have some experience and confidence. And by now, you also know a couple of techniques. It’s at this point in which the instructors will help you to build a game; a style or your own way to fight or compete. More techniques will be shown and at this stage you should start to have some BJJ understanding.

Step Three:

Now you’ve reach purple belt. By this point, you really know how to fight and now it is time to add more weapons to your game. You should be able to fight from top and bottom. By now, you shouldn’t just know a lot of techniques, but should be able to apply them with an adequate level of efficiency regardless of someone’s weight or body type. It is at this point where you might begin to train against those with far less experience than you and as a purple belt, you must assume greater responsibility for your training partner’s safety.

Step Four:

The brown belt and black belt: the way you flow and combine the techniques are very different at this point. Everyone should be able to notice that you are performing at a high level and posses refined technique and good timing in your application.

By now you are well experienced and for most students, you should have accumulated a great deal of tournament experience.

Eventually, you will reach a transitional stage in which you gradually evolve from being a top student to the status of being an assistant instructor or instructor (but even once you become an instructor, it is important to understand that you must continue to improve and grow as a BJJ player). At the black belt level, new techniques be developed and displayed.

But being a black belt is more than possessing just great jiu-jitsu; you must set an example and show good values and morals on and off the mat. You must demonstrate a strong work ethic in your training, respect for both higher and lower belts, and control your ego. It is essential to show these qualities because more people will be watching you now that you are a black belt. There will be those that either look up to you or look to you for guidance and it is your responsility to reinforce honorable behavior.

Above all else, never forget to respect your instructor and the knowledge he or she has bestowed upon you. You should always respect the lineage and never try to break it just because you now feel powerful or greater and don’t need your instructor anymore. Those that forget their roots and do not honor those who have played a great role in their personal success will prove in the long run to have made a major mistake.

Unfortunately, the reality is that there will always be a few black belts out there that are not based in good values, honorable principles, and a respectable sense of sport.

Frequent Asked Questions:

“What is my progress based on?”

Your will progress based on attendance and retention of the required material. Your instructors will also conduct formal evaluations in order to monitor the level of progress you have made.

At a large school, it is important to make sure your name is on the sign in sheet or you have submitted your card into the attendance box. For some instructors, this is the only way to 100% be certain of a student’s attendance record.

For kids, there will be formal tests but often times informal tests. If you are someone who is training in an adult program who wants to be promoted, you must understand that you will be evaluated in everything you do: from the warmup, to the teaching of technique, to the actual drills, and the sparring/rolling time at the end of the class.

For those looking to excelerate their growth, you can do so by taking private lessons, going to open mat and getting as much rolling time in as possible, participating in seminars, and attending tournaments.

I cannot stress enough that a promotion isn’t just about how good you are as a BJJ player. It is also about how you carry yourself. You might be at the head of your class but you will find it difficult to advance if you are not representing the art of BJJ in an honorable manner.

“How long it takes to get into my black belt?”

There’s not a standard answer to this question, as there are many variables such as your attendance (you should really strive for an 85% attendance rate), your ability to retain technique (the best way to reinforce proper technique is through consistent attendance), and whether you come from a previous martial arts background (for example, someone with a background in judo or wrestling traditionally is able to learn BJJ at quicker rate).

If you do everything right and train consistently, it’s possible to get your black belt in just 6-7 years. Sometimes it will take longer, as not everyone is able to train consistently. And for those that begin training at a young age, how many years you’ve trained can be irrelevant because according to the Internationa Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF), you cannot receive a black belt before the age of 18.

For those looking for a basic timetable of estimated time to achieving belt promotions, see below (note: this is only an estimate, depending on vairables, promotion time could be longer or less):

White to Blue: 1 1/2 years
Blue to Purple: 1 1/2 years
Purple to Brown: 2 years
Brown to Black : 1 year

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