Most martial arts use a belt grading system to determine the level of each student. By setting criteria on what skills an individual must acquire to reach a certain belt level, they can better track their progress and stay motivated. The belt grading system usually starts with a white belt and progresses up to a black belt, with a black belt signifying that a person has invested a lot of time and effort into mastering a particular martial art. Regarding mixed martial arts, there are no set criteria for belts in MMA, and most MMA schools don’t have a grading system. This can often lead to confusion among practitioners, as they can’t track their progress. However, there are some advancements regarding this topic, which we will discuss in this article.
IMMAF Grading System
For a long time, mixed martial arts didn’t have an international governing body that would govern the sport and create an MMA belt grading system. Nonetheless, in 2012 the IMMAF (International Mixed Martial Arts Federation) was founded, and since then, it has been the main governing body for the sport of mixed martial arts. The IMMAF has a grading system similar to other martial arts. Beginners start with a white belt and progress up to the black belt, which can only be earned by athletes 18 years and older. The MMA belt grading system created by the IMMAF is not used in every school, but it is an excellent tool for MMA schools that join the IMMAF.
Who Can Grade Students
If someone wants to grade his students under the banner of IMMAF, he must be a certified IMMAF coach with at least a blue belt degree. Getting an IMMAF belt certification requires the individual to visit international seminars that are held throughout the world. At these seminars, the athlete can get graded by certified instructors and become a licensed IMMAF coach. Coaches and athletes must be able to demonstrate and explain specific techniques in the IMMAF technique syllabus and have a deeper understanding of mixed martial arts. There are more than 230 techniques in the syllabus that cover all essential aspects of MMA, such as striking, striking defense, kicking, submission offense, submission defense, fence control, takedowns, and more.
There’s a set of grading criteria for students graded under the IMMAF. Most of the evaluation is biomechanical, and the student is expected to display correct technique mechanics and body movements. Additionally, senior athletes will be tested in the form of live drills, which are done with a training partner and are similar to actual sparring. A coach might also expect a student to explain some techniques and have theoretical knowledge of certain positions.
MMA Belt Levels
The International Mixed Martial Arts Federation uses six different belts in MMA and six additional mid-grades so students can learn the game and develop in smaller steps. The first significant MMA belt color is the yellow belt, which is followed by orange, green, blue, purple, and brown. The highest-ranking MMA belt color is a black belt, which can only be given to athletes over the age of 18.
Every athlete must spend a minimum of time under each grade, which is 1 year. This means an individual can get from a yellow to a black belt in a minimum of 5-6 years. A timeframe like this is common in most martial arts and is used to prevent premature belt promotions for athletes. In addition, athletes that start at a young age won’t have an advantage as there are age restrictions for particular belt ranks.
Other Martial Arts Grading Systems
Mixed martial arts schools worldwide usually don’t have a grading system, and it may be expensive for many to get certified under the IMMAF. Because of this, schools typically use grading systems from other martial arts, such as Brazilian jiu-jitsu. In addition, certain MMA academies have their own curriculums. An example is Greg Jackson’s academy, which uses a system known as Gaidojutsu. Jon Jones is a famous black belt in Gaidojutsu, a fighting style similar to mixed martial arts. Let’s look at the belt systems of other martial arts.
BJJ Grading System
Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a martial art based around ground control and submissions. Throughout the years, many BJJ specialists have had great success in MMA, such as Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, Demian Maia, Charles Oliveira, Roger Gracie, and many others. Brazilian jiu-jitsu is an essential part of mixed martial arts, and many coaches have a BJJ curriculum in their MMA academies. Through these curriculums, many MMA fighters are evaluated in the art and can receive belts. Brazilian jiu-jitsu has four main belts for adults and an additional four for children. Let’s take a look at the grading system of Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
- White belt. Every student, whether an adult or a child, gets this belt once he starts training. A white belt is intended for complete beginners, and individuals usually spend up to two years in this ranking.
- Gray belt. A grey belt is the first ranking in the Brazilian jiu-jitsu youth system. Kids aged 4 to 15 can get a gray belt. A child may also get a gray-black belt before getting a yellow belt.
- Yellow belt. Yellow belts are available to children aged 7 to 15. Prior to receiving an orange belt, a yellow belt can be upgraded into a yellow-black belt.
- Orange belt. Kids aged 10 to 15 are eligible to get an orange belt. Like the previous belts, an orange belt can also be upgraded into an orange-black belt before receiving a green belt.
- Green belt. This is the last youth belt in the Brazilian jiu-jitsu belt system. Children aged 13 to 15 can get a green belt, which can also be upgraded to a green-black belt.
- Blue belt. Practitioners who are 16 years or older can receive this adult belt. Blue belt is a rank where students are expected to know the fundamentals of BJJ. Students usually spend up to two years at this level.
- Purple belt. Students who are 16 years or older can get promoted to a purple belt. The International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation recommends that practitioners spend at least two years as a blue belt before getting promoted to purple belt.
- Brown belt. The brown belt is the last colored belt before the black belt. The student must be 18 years old to be eligible for a brown belt. Getting from white to brown belt usually requires at least 5 to 6 years of dedicated training.
- Black belt. In BJJ, a black belt is considered someone who has devoted years to this martial art and has great technical proficiency. The athlete must be at least 19 years old to get a black belt. After a black belt, a person can get degrees on his belt, going up to nine degrees, with the ninth degree signifying a red belt.
Judo grading system
Another martial art with a traditional belt ranking system is Judo. Judo is an internationally recognized unarmed martial art and an Olympic sport. It focuses on throwing an opponent to the ground with force, making him land flat on his back. Similar to Brazilian jiu-jitsu and MMA, Judo allows strangles and joint locks. However, in Judo, the groundwork is limited to 20 seconds only, so the techniques are much different. Judo is a highly valued combat sport, and many people practice it worldwide. Here is the belt grading system used by most Judo academies.
- White belt – 6 years old
- Yellow belt – 8 years old
- Orange belt – 10 years old
- Green belt – 12 years old
- Blue belt – 13 years old
- Brown belt – 14 years old
- Black belt – 16 years old
Muay Thai Grading System
One martial art that is becoming increasingly popular in the world of mixed martial arts is Muay Thai. Muay Thai is a striking system similar to kickboxing with added knees, elbows, and foot sweeps. Thailand is the origin of this fighting style, which has a long history there. Muay Thai fighters have had great success in MMA, and this style is very well suited for mixed martial arts because it involves many clinching techniques, such as the Thai clinch. Traditional Muay Thai, as practiced in Thailand, doesn’t have a belt grading system like other martial arts such as Karate or Judo. Muay Thai fighters are graded only on their competition experience and fighting resume.
Nonetheless, since this combat sport has been gaining a lot of popularity recently, some schools in the US use a grading system. Western Muay Thai schools use a praijoud (armband) instead of a regular belt. A muay Thai fighter’s armband is often a luck symbol, and many western academies rank students by the color of their armbands.
Karate Grading System
Karate is one of the most popular martial arts in the world, and it has a very structured belt ranking system. Karate is a striking system from Asia based on kicks, punches, and elements of grappling. Several variations of this fighting style exist, with Kyokushin being the most popular and combat-effective. Let’s look at the belt grading system of karate and the age requirements for certain ranks.
- Yellow belt – 7 years or older
- Orange belt – 8 years or older
- Green belt – 9 years or older
- Blue belt – 10 years or older
- Brown belt – 12 years or older
- Black belt – 15 years or older
Some schools might also include a purple belt between the blue and brown belts, but this is not always the case.
Taekwondo Grading System
Taekwondo is a Korean martial art that heavily relies on punches and kicks, with a primary emphasis on head kicks and variations of spinning kicks. This martial art is quite popular around the world, and it is also an Olympic sport. Many high-level MMA fighters have practiced this martial art at some point in their career and used its kicking system with great success. Taekwondo has a grading system that allows students to achieve their full potential. Here are the belt rankings of Taekwondo.
- Yellow belt
- Green belt
- Blue belt
- Red belt
- Black belt
An interesting fact is that Taekwondo doesn’t use a brown belt like many other martial arts.
Why Are Belts in MMA Important?
Many traditional martial arts have developed a ranking system to help recreational athletes keep track of their progress and stay motivated. In modern MMA, there are many recreational practitioners, and giving them belt promotions can help them stay in the sport and achieve their full potential. MMA belt ranks created by the IMMAF are a great tool for practitioners to aid their personal development and help them understand mixed martial arts. Here are some reasons why MMA belt levels are important.
Mixed martial arts is a mix of many different combat styles, and mastering this combat sport may take a person many years. For this reason, having a structured system that lets you know where you are headed and how long you will need to get there is a great idea. An MMA belt grading system can help students stay motivated and keep track of their progress.
In the IMMAF MMA belt grading system, there are many techniques, and practitioners know what areas of mixed martial arts they need to master in order to progress. This is a great way to encourage technical progression and keep students interested in the sport. For example, a very good grappler may need to improve his striking to get to the next belt level, which is great for his progression.
The last but most important reason why MMA belt ranks are important is personal development. Achieving something as prestigious as a black belt can be very satisfying. Because of this, students tend to remember each of their belt promotions and keep them in their hearts. In addition, students can often look back at themselves when they were white belt and see how far they have come.
In this article, we have talked about belts in MMA and the MMA belt grading system. We have seen that there is an international governing body that oversees mixed martial arts and has a grading system for students, which is the IMMAF. We have also looked at different grading systems from other martial arts, such as BJJ and Karate, and we have discussed why mixed martial arts belts are important.
What do you think, are belts in MMA a good idea or not? Leave your comments down below.