We’ve all heard of the blue belt blues. You know, when blue belts suddenly disappear from the academy forever after recommitting to their training goals and talk about all the amazing things they’re gonna do in jiu-jitsu!

Did you realize there’s another ailment out there that afflicts an even more exclusive group of students? In fact, this affliction can be more deadly to an academy than the “blue belt blues” and “White Belt Spaz Syndrome” combined! I call it “Purple Belt-itis.”

You’ve seen it. You’ve even felt it a little. But before I continue, let me first talk about the purple belt and what makes them so vital to an academy!

“A purple belt is a legitimately dangerous human being.” – Brian Mlinarsik,2nd Degree Black Belt under Pedro Sauer and Co-Owner of the BJJ and Self Defense Academy in Youngstown, Ohio.

There is so much truth to this statement. A purple belt at any reputable jiu-jitsu school can roll up a new person with great ease. They have been training a minimum of 5 years in most cases. They know the basics well and have even started exploring their own game in Jiu-Jitsu. Here’s a good way to look at it:

White Belts= Babies

Blue Belts=Adolescents

Purple Belts= Teenagers

Brown Belts= College Ages

Black Belts= Adults

Having purple belts on the mats is very important. Not only do they know the techniques well enough to help less experienced students out, but they also know the culture of your academy as well. As your academy expands, more and more members will have contact with the purple belts and brown belts than with the head instructors. They are the Sergeants who inform the platoon leaders so to speak. Because of this, Purple belts tend to be the multipliers of your culture. They are skilled, they deserve respect of those both above and below them in rank, and they can totally wreck a school if they aren’t careful.

Because purple belts are explorers, discovering new options and great techniques all the time, it’s easy for them to get a bit…cocky and headstrong. This can lead to them rolling too tough, creating an uneasy atmosphere, and even driving away new members.

Have you seen this purple belt?

Signs and Symptoms of Purple Belt-Itis

  • While everyone watches closely to what’s being taught, this purple belt will hang back, talk, and even lay down on the mat
  • Feels the need to add to or give “extra advice” on every move taught
  • Drills different moves from what the rest of the class is drilling
  • Rolls extra hard with blue belts to “test them”
  • Feels the need to give input on who is ready to be promoted and who is not
  • Ignores things their instructor tells them because it “doesn’t fit their game”
  • Regularly showing up late (without good reasons like work ect…)
  • These are just a few of the signs and symptoms of someone with Purple Belt-itis. But it’s more of a spectrum disorder. So a purple belt who does just one or two of these things, or only does them on occasion, probably isn’t much of a problem. It’s when the symptoms are many and begin going untreated that the problem will get worse.

    So what do you do? Well, if you’re a purple belt, and you are reading this list saying “that’s me…that’s me too” then my highest suggestion is to STOP DOING THAT! It could ruin the great culture you came up in and drive away students. That hurts the academy’s ability to stay in business as well as your ability to get good because you’ll have fewer training partners.

    If you’re an instructor and you notice you have some purple belts who are starting to exhibit some of these traits, just tell them to stop it. Their egos have survived a long time in BJJ. They will survive you telling to straighten up and fly right. In the end, they’ll appreciate it. And if you point out that they are the ones everyone looks to for an example, they will even feel good because they will know that you see them as leaders in the academy, which they are.

    In summation, I LOVE PURPLE BELTS! It was my favorite rank as I came up. But just be sure to realize how vital you are to your academy. You are a leader, whether you wanted to be or not. You need to set a positive example for the students coming behind you. Show them how you gained your skills and lead them down the path to self mastery. Don’t fall into the ego trap that is purple belt-itis.

    See You On The Mats,

    Bill

    Bill Jones is the head instructor and president of Top Level Martial Arts in Cuyahoga Falls, OH. He has been training martial arts since 1985 and holds several black belt ranks, including a Black Belt under Master Pedro Sauer. If you would like to learn more, contact bill at http://toplevelmartialarts.com

    Check out our podcast here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lcHo1mEgxFg&list=PLoctn4VZ_fkd1ZV6Fphnbj7PemUcwJXbS

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