An American BJJ academy based in Portland, Oregon have started to kick up a storm by promoting children to what they refer to as “Junior Black Belt”. The academy in question is 5 Rings Jiu-Jitsu and surprisingly, is affiliated with Ribeiro Jiu-Jitsu. According to the grading guidelines given out by the largest and most widely recognised tournament organiser for BJJ, the IBJJF, it is not possible for anyone under the age of 19 to be awarded the rank of black belt. Given that there are thirteen different belts specifically for children under the age of 16 and each rank can take years to progress through, there really isn’t any need for children to be given a Junior black belt rank.
It’s long been a key point of separation between BJJ and the more traditional martial arts, that children aren’t able to be awarded a black belt and this is something reserved for adults having dedicated years to the sport. Many of BJJ’s leading figures have spoken out directly against the concept of awarding black belts to children, including John Danaher who once said “I don’t believe in giving black belts to children as many martial arts do.”
This isn’t to say that children shouldn’t participate in the sport as there are so many advantages for children starting and sticking with BJJ. This even helps explain why children have an entirely separate belt system, in order to encourage them to stick with the sport through a higher frequency of promotions when compared to adults. On top of the more tangential benefits of the sport, children’s competitions have recently started to grow to the point where they can offer scholarships for the children involved.