Most martial arts have a belt system that tracks a fighter’s abilities and progress. For example, karate, judo, and jiu jitsu each have its own belt systems, with black belts being at the top.
So, you might ask, since MMA uses many techniques from such martial arts, does MMA have belts as well? The short answer is yes and no. Here I’ll explain it all, so you have a clear idea of whether or not MMA has belts. Let’s get started!
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Does MMA Have Belts?
In MMA, no technical competence belt system is accepted universally. Instead, MMA practitioners are divided into the following three categories based on their interests and experience:
Professional MMA Fighter: Someone with an official MMA license who is paid to fight.
Amateur MMA Fighter: Someone who has participated in at least one amateur MMA fight.
Hobbyist: Someone who practices MMA for fitness, recreation, or reasons other than competing.
Having said that, the IMMAF (International Mixed Martial Arts Federation) is a global MMA governing body with a sanctioned belt system. The system was introduced in 2022 but its adoption is still not widespread enough for it to be considered a global MMA belt system.
Still, the IMMAF belt system looks promising as more and more MMA schools adopt it. This might be in part because the schools are required to adopt and follow the IMMAF belt system and guidelines to be eligible to participate in the IMMAF Youth MMA World Championship.
Any MMA school can adopt the IMMAF belt system by joining their respective country’s MMA governing body which is affiliated with the IMMAF.
IMMAF Belt System
The IMMAF belt system was created for MMA practitioners to be able to keep track of their progress and growth during their training. This MMA belt system also aims to help avoid pairing fighters with too large of a skill gap against each other in fights.
The belt system has seven major belt grades that represent a practitioner’s mastery of the IMMAF’s MMA syllabus. The MMA belt colors are very similar to many other martial arts. Here are the MMA belts in order:
In addition to these MMA belt ranks, there are also six minor MMA belt levels between each major grade. The minor grades are created to help to better assess and track a practitioner’s progress.
To qualify for a grade promotion, the practitioner must be able to demonstrate sufficient technical MMA knowledge and skills as per the IMMAF MMA scheme. The practitioner is also required to spend at least a year with their current belt grade to be eligible for belt promotions.
In addition to that, the IMMAF MMA black belt is only awarded to practitioners above 18 years of age and requires an official recommendation from the National Technical Committee to the National Federation affiliated with the IMMAF.
Do IMMAF Belts Represent Fighting Skills?
The IMMAF introduced its belt grading system to help promote and grow the sport of MMA across the world. The belts are a symbol of understanding of the MMA scheme, but it does not directly relate to fighting skills.
MMA fights require skills, but they also require a tactical mind and experience. According to IMMAF surveys, 95% of MMA practitioners fall into the hobbyist category while the rest are competitive. Since the IMMAF grades are made with hobbyists in mind, they are not a good indication of the fighting ability among non-hobbyist MMA fighters.
Importance of MMA Belts
While mixed martial arts belts don’t directly translate to fighting ability, they are still an excellent indication of how much the practitioner understands the techniques and correct form. The IMMAF scheme is designed to teach 230 different techniques divided among ten blocks of technical competence, these blocks being:
1. Striking attacks
2. Striking defenses
4. Kicks defense
5. Fence control
6. Fence escapes
9. Submission defenses
10. Groundwork reversals
An MMA belt translates to how well a practitioner performs and understands the 230 techniques. The IMMAF belts encourage steady progress and a solid foundation for all MMA skills for learners.
The IMMAF has 3 coach levels for MMA instructors according to their awards. These awards are:
1. Coach Level 1 (Bronze Award)
2. Coach Level 2 (Silver Award)
3. Coach Level 3 (Gold Award)
A coach is evaluated based on their experience, teaching effectiveness, and their IMMAF grade to be approved as a coach. Each level has a minimum belt requirement for approval and can only teach the IMMAF scheme up to their respective belt level. I’ll explain each coach level in detail below.
Coach Level 1 – To be a level 1 coach, the practitioner must have a minimum green belt technical grade. In addition to that, they must be able to grade lower belt levels (yellow and orange) effectively.
Coach Level 2 – Level 2 coaches start from the purple belt technical grade. Unlike level 1 coaches, a level 2 coach must be able to train and develop MMA athletes for both recreation and competitions.
Coach Level 3 – A level 3 coach must be an IMMAF black belt and they must be able to coach and prepare athletes for international level MMA tournaments and championships.
All coaches are licensed to evaluate and award grades up to one level below their grade.
How many belts are there in MMA?
MMA does not have any universally accepted belt system yet. However, there is the IMMAF belt system. They have seven major belt grades and six minor belt grades.
What is a white belt in MMA?
There is no white belt in either the MMA or the IMMAF belt system. The misconception of a white belt existing in MMA comes from Brazilian jiu-jitsu and karate white belts.
Is there a belt higher than black in MMA?
There is no higher belt than the black belt in the IMMAF belt system. However, after you reach the black belt grade, you can apply for a level 3 coach license.
How long does it take to get a black belt in MMA?
To get from yellow belt grade to brown belt grade, it takes roughly 5-6 years minimum. To be eligible for a black belt, you must be at brown belt grade for at least a year in addition to being aged 18+. If you meet the eligibility criteria, you will need your local federation to recommend you for grade promotion to the IMMAF to become a black belt.