Moving Between the Kids, Juvenile and Adult Divisions in BJJ

by Kanani Guerra

For those that are lucky enough to start at a young age (can we just take a minute to appreciate how lucky these kids are?!), there are certain things to consider when moving up the ranks in BJJ. The journey can often look much different as an adult, with a relatively straightforward ranking system. The IBJJF (International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation) and AZBJJF (Arizona Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation) follow distinct rules for children under the age of sixteen. For instance, there are specific legal and illegal techniques for children under sixteen (no guillotines, pulling on the head, etc.) for safety purposes. There is also a unique ranking structure different from adults with belts including greys, yellows, oranges, and greens. And for the competitors, there are tighter age and weight brackets. What happens when a student is going to “age out” of the children’s ranks? What does this mean for you or your child?

Jiu Jitsu age is determined by birth year, NOT birth date. In Jiu Jitsu, everyone’s birthday is January 1st (a whole new reason to celebrate New Year’s!). At sixteen years old, a Jiu Jitsu student is no longer eligible to wear the children’s ranks and becomes a juvenile. Remember, this is the YEAR the child turns sixteen. For instance, a student with an October 1, 2003 birthday will become a juvenile on January 1, 2019. Children’s ranks go by the following progression: WHITE – GREY (series) – YELLOW (series) – ORANGE (series) – and GREEN (series) with each series including a white stripe, solid belt, and black stripe. Juvenile and Adult ranks go by the following progression: WHITE – BLUE – PURPLE – BROWN – BLACK. There is also a series following black that can be viewed in the IBJJF Graduation System Guidelines. So how is the rank determined when a new juvenile reaches the year they turn sixteen? White belts remain white belts. But any student with rank beyond white (grey, yellow, orange, or green) must be moved to blue or purple in the juvenile ranking system. Grey, yellow, and orange belts must move to juvenile blue belt. Green belts may be moved to blue or purple belt at the instructor’s discretion.

From this point forward, juveniles will follow the adult ranking progression. Any juvenile awarded purple belt directly from green belt must spend a minimum of two years at purple. For competitors, this can be an intimidating feat- moving from grey to blue?! But rest assured, the juvenile competitors are segregated from the adult competitors. Juvenile blue and purple belts compete in their own divisions (by weight) separate from the adult blue and purple belts. The rule set changes as well. Juvenile blue and purple belt students are allowed all techniques that are legal for adult white belt (NOT adult blue/purple belt). This inclusion brings in attacks such as the omoplata, foot locks, guillotines, etc.

Knowing the rules of the age and ranking system, coaches must use great discernment when promoting their students. The promotion from white belt to the grey belt series can be one of the biggest hurdles for a child because a coach knows that there is no going backwards once the child ages into the juvenile division. Coaches, competitors, and parents should familiarize themselves with the technical rules and ranking rules in order to accurately assess a student’s readiness for grey belt, which could very quickly become a blue belt depending on the student’s age. Once a juvenile student turns eighteen (YEAR of eighteen, not birthdate), the student is then fully integrated into the adult divisions with adult rules and ranking requirements.