One of the many contentious points debated among jiu jitsu players — Gracie vs. Brazilian, gi vs. no-gi, competition vs. self-defense — is the emerging role of online learning. Similar to higher-education options offered by reputable universities, it is possible for a student to study for and earn belts blue through brown entirely online. Gracie University, the domain of brothers Ryron and Renner Gracie, offers lessons, training guidance and virtual performance evaluation starting at just $20 per month.

On the spectrum of instructional access, this is certainly ideal for students unable to get to credible brick-and-mortar training. And as anyone who has taken and passed an online or correspondence course will probably attest, the learning is real and the results are genuine. We’ve all seen advertisements for everything from graphic arts to motorcycle repair to gunsmithing, both in print and online, and we wouldn’t have to look to hard to find a friend who had picked up at least a serviceable set of skills after completing that kind of coursework.

So, the question is raised as to whether or not this type of virtual learning is in any way comparable to instruction in a credible jiu jitsu academy. As dispensed by Ryron and Renner, it is doubtless genuine, well produced and meticulously presented. So, is making a comparison between real-world and online really the important question? Ask anyone who ties a belt around their waist, and they’re probably going to agree that some jiu jitsu is better than no jiu jitsu. Those of us who have been training for more than a decade remember the dark ages, when purple belts were as hard to find as Donald Trump’s hairline, and VHS copies of Gracie garage battles were studied with the intensity of a crime scene investigator. Who could fault the isolated student who takes advantage of high-level knowledge disseminated online?

The more direct concern becomes when those cyber-students start to portray themselves as on par with students, and, increasingly, instructors, who have spent years on the mats learning directly from the art’s top practitioners. There is, for example, one recent circumstance where the recipient of an online blue belt is opening a school in a region that is already home to no fewer than nine Royce Gracie black belts.

This is certainly that student’s right. But when the messaging broadcast by that new school is that their jiu jitsu is more authentic, credible, or genuine than what is taught by those who have more than a century of combined experience on the mat, and who have passed the infamous Gracie Jiu Jitsu black belt test at the Valente Brothers Academy in Miami, it raises concerns about the false promise of learning jiu jitsu online. To be clear, earning a blue belt is a tremendous accomplishment, online or otherwise. Comparing that achievement to a black belt, however, should be met with hearty skepticism. Even Ryron and Renner make it clear that should you advance through their curriculum to brown belt, the only way you have a chance to earn a black belt will be after five full days of in-person testing at their academy. To put it another way, there is no such thing as “kinda like a black belt”.

If you’re looking to train, seek out the most qualified instruction possible. Supplement it as you see fit via videos, books, online instruction, podcasts — whatever blows your hair back. But know that the path to legitimate black belt will demand a level of patience and persistence unmatched by any frustrating download time, and that those who have it from unquestionable lineage are your best sources for instruction.

There’s nothing “kinda” about it.

by J. Ferrari