BJJ Poll: Do You Think Training in the Gi is Necessary for a Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?

On January 2nd, Rolles Gracie awarded Rashad Evans his black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Some in the BJJ community have expressed discontent over the decision to award the black belt to Evans, primarily because many years training in the gi is traditionally required before someone is given a black belt.

In today’s episode of The FightWorks Podcast we ask Rolles about the promotion. Read what he has to say and let us know in the poll above whether you think training in the gi is necessary for a black belt in BJJ.


The FightWorks Podcast: One of the things I wanted to ask you about Rolles, was your relationship with Rashad Evans. He had a [UFC] fight recently. You were helping him prepare his ground skills right?

Rolles Gracie: Yes, we’ve been training now for a while. He’s an outstanding guy, outstanding athlete, and soon you’re going to be seeing his jiu-jitsu kicking in a lot more every single fight.

The FightWorks Podcast: Let’s talk about that. I think one thing that surprised some people recently was – I think it was on your Twitter account (which is there was a picture that appeared and it sounds like you gave Rashad a black belt. Talk about that.

Rolles Gracie: Yes, I see what’s going on and I get a lot of questions and that came out like a big controversy, people questioning this belt. First I want to say that I have been involved in jiu-jitsu in my family my whole life. It’s been like a lifestyle to me… And for people to ask why I give a guy like Rashad a black belt is a big disrespect in my opinion, you know? When I realize all this controversy, people saying this and that, and they were asking, I was very surprised. Not only surprised but insulted. I don’t really owe an explanation to anybody. But then I realize that not everyone is lucky to train with guys like him and in the school in New York. Maybe they don’t know me or Renzo, my brothers, and the system that we teach. We have a school like I said that has over 1,000 students and I think that speaks for itself. Some great guys train there, great talents like Matt Serra, George St. Pierre, they all go there to train. And I really shouldn’t be like, explaining. But these people want to know how Rashad’s training is going, I’ll be glad to do this.

The FightWorks Podcast: I think one of the questions that people had was that traditionally people expect some years of work in the gi to be required for a black belt. Maybe you know something that other people don’t know. Does Rashad use the gi? Or is this different?

Rolles Gracie: I never trained with the gi with Rashad. If this happened five years ago, maybe I wouldn’t have given him his black belt, you know? But the sport evolved. Today we see Worlds and Pan-Ams gi and no-gi Pan-Ams by the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation, which is the biggest organization out there, the most renowned. So the sport has evolved. Rashad is a black belt in no-gi jiu-jitsu. That’s why I give him his black belt. Rashad is a phenomenal athlete. He is a great wrestler. He picks things up faster than anybody else, you know? So that’s what it is. If you see his last fight, he dominated! He dominated Thiago Silva on the ground. And Thiago Silva is a well-known black belt. He passed his guard, mounted him a few times. You know there are things I hear from people like, “[Rashad] did not attempt submissions, he never triangled, he never finishes anybody.” Man that’s his personal game: he likes to use the ground to hit, to use his ground and pound. That’s how he’s comfortable there. And I’m happy. And people are still questioning him? They should come back and roll with him to see how they do.

The FightWorks Podcast: So like you said, it’s justified based on your experience with him, that he is technical and qualified.

Rolles Gracie: Yes, because like I said – in the No-Gi Worlds and No-Gi Pan-Ams if you put him to compete it wouldn’t be fair if I put him in the blue, purple, brown belt divisions. He would be competing with the black belts. Would he win? I don’t know. After everyone signs up for the tournament, you can’t really know for sure.

The FightWorks Podcast: I guess a similar example would be Josh Barnett right?

Rolles Gracie: Exactly, exactly, I agree.

The FightWorks Podcast: Somebody who knows a lot of technique and maybe they didn’t train formally in a Brazilian jiu-jitsu environment, but skill-wise in noggin submission grappling, they are there.

Rolles Gracie: Yeah. And like I said, he’s just a phenomenal athlete. He picks things up real fast and I’ve been working with him a lot this past year. I dunno if people saw me on the TUF season. I was there, working with him, helping the other guys. So in this past year we have developed a great relationship training.

The FightWorks Podcast: Sounds like you guys are pretty close. It’s nice to have people like that, friends.

Rolles Gracie: Yeah. Not only that, Rashad is my first black belt. So I wouldn’t throw that at [just] anyone.

13 Replies to “BJJ Poll: Do You Think Training in the Gi is Necessary for a Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?”

  1. Hey Caleb, Why should anyone question Rolles ability to decide who and when to give out any belt he chooses, especially with his lineage and competition background. No one seemed to mind when Eddie Bravo promoted his first black belt Denny Prokopos, who only competes no-gi. Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge advocate of the gi, but nowdays, with the huge high level no-gi competition scene, many martial artists, especially mixed martial artists, train almost exclusively no-gi. Does that make them any less dangerous on the mat? Just watch the footage of Jish Barnett and Romulo Barral, Barral’s statements after that match shows just how well a primarily a high level no-gi grappler can do in the gi. Keep up the excellent work!! I look forward to the Fightworkspodcast every week. It motivates ne to hit tbe mat ad soon as possible every Sunday morning. – Eric C

  2. The primary purpose of the martial art Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is to teach practitioners how to fight in real street fights against people wearing clothes. The gi simulates clothing. Learning now to use clothing in a fight is an essential part of jiu-jitsu. No-gi equals no jiu-jitsu.

    The idea that a person could achieve expert level certification in a martial art without knowing the core components of that martial art is silly.

    If someone wants to award black belts in a sport like MMA where gloves protect the fighters’ hands from breakage and where fighters are tested for HIV, they can award sporty black belts in MMA like they do for sporty Taekwondo.

  3. Rolles, please dont add your name to the list of Gracies selling out their name. The colored belt system only applies to GI based jiu jitsu. A black belt in brazilian jiu jitsu represents something. The complete mastership of the art which is made up of a gigantic encyclopedia of gi based techniques in addition to the smaller set of no-gi techniques. It is impossible to call someone a black belt who has only mastered the smaller subset of no-gi techniques.

    Can you imagine going to the Torrance academy, and testing for your black belt, only to have the instructors realize you dont know the majority of gi techniques? You would be laughed out of the school, and yet you are awarding a black belt to Rashad. Its shameful. The watering down of BJJ continues.

    Rashad is clearly black belt level at no-gi competition, but if he cant pass the same test required by the rest of us at the Torrance academy, or any legit BJJ academy, then this is simply nothing more than favoritism.

  4. who cares what belt. it only matters to rank experiance in the tournements. my son will have had his white belt 8 years before hes 16. get what you need from jiu jitsu for your self to admire. we dont need to worry about flashy colours to impress people. i am waiting to see rashad on the mat. hope he dose well.

  5. I don’t think you disrespected him at all by asking the question.

    Also, I think anyone has the right to question anyone about anything. The answer one receives is beyond the questioner’s control though.

    Is BJJ mostly about training with the gi day in and day out? Or is a majority of BJJ about vale tudo and no-gi grappling? Historically it seems that BJJ is about the gi and vale tudo and no-gi were subsets.

    Are we to reward strength and power instead of technique? Or what combination of them?
    Does the UFC even matter to BJJ?
    Is BJJ turning into a traditional martial art???

  6. Lets go back to Romero Jacare Calvante interview, he stated that the gi is the true essence of the art. Of Course we have to respect Rolles decision, he is qualified to do give a black belt to anyone he thinks deserves it. Josh Barnett won hes division at the worlds no gi against a black belt, its anyone going to give him a black belt ? what are the chances of any other mma fighter getting black belt.

  7. Some of you guys are silly. Rashad is a black belt, so what? If he can use his two hands two legs most effectively on the ground, and can tear you apart with submissions and positional dominance, then he has the right to receive whatever belt his teacher gives him. Have you ever roll with guys who are like Rashad Evan? You will feel like shit if you do, so leave him and Rolles Gracie alone. Gi or No gi, it doesnt matter. Maeda fought in numerous vale tudo fights, i’m sure many of them he may have worn a gi, many without. The point is, brazilian jiu jitsu is about ground fighting, regardless of gi or no gi. If Rashad kicks ass like the way Rolles describes then he has every respect and honor to receive his belt.

  8. Isn`t the BJJ belt ranking system supposed to be performance based? So that if you roll like a black belt (wearing a gi), then you are a black belt…? I believe this is what sets the BJJ ranking system apart from other, traditional martial arts. If we keep to this mindset, the BJJ belts will forever represent the students ability to utilize the techniques and not “just” his or her`s knowledge of them and BJJ will therefore never be watered down…

  9. Bruce lee said the only thing a belt is for is to hold your pants up.
    I think it is just a symbol that a student has reached profound ability, and has nothing to do with wearing a gi. and yeah a gi might symbolize clothing but where i live most guys take there shirts off to fight. And you cant do a collar choke to a hanes t-shirt it will rip first. Very few people fight with there coats or jackets on.
    Many teachers will do different things different schools will have different grading systems thats what makes us martial artist. Every artist is different and the only thing that truly matters is the JiuJitsu. When your fighting a guy in the ring or in the street no one sees what belt you are but they will see the JiuJitsu.

  10. First and foremost I have the deepest gratitude and respect for the Gracie family and the great tradition of Brazilian JiuJitsu.

    I do not consider Rashad Evans a Brazilian JiuJitsu black belt. To earn a BJJ black belt it endures ALOT of training with the gi and no-gi. The last podcast of 2009 with Master Jacare Calvancanti, when asked the question..

    ” Would you consider a person who only trains in no gi jiujitsu a black belt in JiuJitsu? ” He responded with a ” NO ” He continued to add that a person can be a luta – livre / no gi black belt, but no a BJJ black belt. I agree with him on this. When Rolles mentioned how great of athlete/MMA fighter Rashad is and how he picks things up so quickly.. etc. I didn’t know that is what it takes to be a BJJ blackbelt. I really didn’t.

    Rashad has never trained in a gi as Rolles mentioned in all their training sessions together. To award him such a prestigous title of BJJ Black belt based on only training no gi.. doesn’t add up to me. In my opinion Rashad should of received a pair of grappling shorts with a black belt on it… but the belt? For what? what will he use it for ? What does it represent? How great of an athlete he is? How talented of a MMA fighter he is?? It doesn’t add up. A student of JiuJitsu puts in countless hours of gi and no gi training in bjj on the path to the black belt and beyond.

  11. Random thoughts…

    Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu = Gi
    Submission Grappling = No gi

    Submission grappling is a mixture of techniques, taken from BJJ, Wrestling, Judo, Sambo, and whatever else works on the ground. (within the rules of no-gi competition.)

    Traditional BJJ does not include Wrestling or Sambo, and you don’t see many BJJ competitors winning with uchi mata very often either.

    Both arts have the same goal, though, and use the same basic strategies. Get the fight to the ground, gain position, and get a submission.

    Many of the setups for the techniques are different because of the gi. (or lack of)
    Points are also awarded differently in competition.

    I’ve seen good gi players get killed in a no-gi match and vice versa. They are two different animals.

    I think no-gi hasn’t been around long enough for it to be legitimately separated from BJJ yet. That’s where the confusion is, imo. We have Submission grappling and No-gi Jiu-jitsu, which are the same exact thing. No-gi doesn’t even have an official name yet.

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