Fake Black Belts

Getting a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is really, really hard.  It takes an average of about 10 years of dedicated training, but sometimes as many as 15.  A black belt in BJJ represents serious dedication to the art and incredible technical proficiency.  Even achieving the rank of blue belt (the first belt after white) usually takes several years.  This separates the ranking system in BJJ from that of most other martial arts.  If your friend tells you that his 60 lb niece got her black belt in grade 4, it wasn’t in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

Not BJJ

In addition, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a fairly young martial art.  Today, practitioners can almost always trace their lineage back to the originators of BJJ.  For example, my BJJ lineage is:

Mitsuyo Maeda → Carlos Gracie → Helio Gracie → Pedro Sauer → Mark Johnson → Me

The difficulty of obtaining black belts and the short lineages associated with BJJ means that it is nearly impossible to fake your rank, especially at the black belt level.   People have tried this before, and they are quickly (and often very publicly) outed.  The difference in skill level between a new white belt and a black belt is immediately recognizable by somebody even slightly familiar with BJJ, and moreover, it is exceedingly easy to verify somebody’s lineage.  This is mainly because black belt practitioners are rare, and accordingly, are usually well-known in the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu community; since it takes so long to move up through the ranks, high-level practitioners form expansive social networks and rank-checking becomes simply a matter of making a few phone calls.

This happened recently near my current academy in Utah.  Two practitioners in Idaho were claiming the rank of black belt in BJJ and had opened an academy under these pretenses.  I remember seeing them at local tournaments wearing black belts and had heard rumors that they were faking their rank.  Eventually, one of the two “black belts” on their team was submitted by a purple belt in the advanced heavyweight division.  This immediately raised eyebrows from those in attendance (myself included); the “black belt” was much larger than the purple belt, and should have had a significant experience advantage.  Based on his rank (which it turns out was fake) and size advantage, he was easily the favorite in the match.  You can watch a video of this match here:

After this match, they were outed almost immediately, and the resulting backlash from the BJJ community was overwhelming.  A site was dedicated to educating the public about the head coach’s fraudulent BJJ credentials, and he was essentially ostracized from the BJJ community.   Because of this, he is no longer eligible to compete at officially sanctioned BJJ tournaments, nor is he likely to be accepted into any credible BJJ academies in which he could earn a legitimate rank.  You can listen to an in-depth discussion of this case on the Fightwork Podcast episode #248.

Moral of the story: train hard and earn your rank.

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About Dave

Grad student in Ecology, Blue belt in jiu jitsu.
This entry was posted in BJJ Etiquette, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Tournaments and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Fake Black Belts

  1. Justin says:

    First time i saw that guy was when Miles rolled against him in april 2010. Miles ended up losing only because he was injured, but still have him a hell of a fight.

  2. Reese says:

    Wow…how stupid do you have to be to think you could fake something like that? I only discovered BJJ two months ago and started training a few weeks ago and even I can tell straight off the bat that that guy was no black belt. He was stalling a lot and was not moving with the grace and skill that someone of that level should be displaying. I have brown and even purple belts at my MMA school that exhibit better far better technique than that. To think he could get away with it is pretty amazing. What a moron…and ripping people off by opening a school without the proper credentials, really, wow. Do you know what his “legitimate” rank actually was?

  3. Joe says:

    your video you posted is not the “fake BB” referenced in the story on Fightwork podcast

    • Dave says:

      You’ll notice in my post I said “one of the two “black belts” on their team.” The podcast discussed Matt Barvo, who was the head of Team Beast. The “black belt” competitor in the video was his teammate, who was also representing a false rank.

  4. An impressive share! I’ve just forwarded this onto a coworker who has been conducting a little homework on this. And he in fact ordered me lunch due to the fact that I discovered it for him… lol. So let me reword this…. Thank YOU for the meal!! But yeah, thanks for spending time to talk about this subject here on your blog.

  5. mike says:

    Too bad homeboy couldn’t keep claiming he tapped out a black belt. That guys base even just looked shitty. He was like a heavy sloppy blue belt. lol

  6. Reggie says:

    I’m suprised the the questionble fake black belt even lasted that long with a BJJ Purple Belt. I guess it shows how much basic wrestling is effective for a ground game.

  7. Joe says:

    I have to question that purple belt. His technique was crap.

  8. David says:

    @Joe thats a Keith Owen purple belt, I mean he got his purple under the guy who gave Ari Bolden his brown belt… So yeah, it’s not surprising. Any Blue belt from my gym would have submitted either of those guys in like 30 seconds to two minutes.

  9. Chris N says:

    @Joe & David, while I can’t speak on the Ari situation, I have personally rolled with the purple belt (who is now a Brown Belt) and his son as well at Keith Owen’s. I’m “only” a 3 stripe blue from a Relson school, but when I rolled with both Matt and Dylan they were both class acts and very technical. Legit Pedro Sauer/Helio Gracie jiu-jitsu.

    I’d love to take this opportunity to learn though, so what specifically about his technique do you find lacking?

    • Dave says:

      I second Chris N’s comment. Although I don’t personally know Matt Owen (the purple belt in the video), I have seen him compete at several local tournaments. From seeing him compete, I can say first hand that he is very technical and has always represented himself and his school very well. From what I understand, I think he’s also medalled (taken gold I believe) at the Worlds at both blue and purple. So I’m going to have to call BS on David’s claim that blue belts at his gym would smash him – unless they are severely sandbagging.

  10. Box says:

    That black belt is legit. He simply got fatigued at the end. Stop hating.

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