It’s no secret that Brazilian jiu-jitsu is not as organized as it could be, though it is moving in the right direction. If you compare it with any of the other martial arts out there like judo, wrestling, and more traditional martial arts, you can see it is still a developing sport.
BJJ has some monitoring with large organizations such as the IBJJF, but there are no strong guidelines on how someone should be graded or receive their next belt. What follows are just some of the different forms of grading that have either been translated onto the mat for BJJ or that may help form a proper grading structure if implemented.
1. The “judo style” grading.
This is usually held at academies with instructors that have either a strong background in judo, or just like the structure of judo grading.
In judo, there are a certain amount of techniques and experience one must have before receiving their belt. Every school must be registered with the International Judo Federation and that automatically registers their students as well.
These belt tests are very formal - the students that are up for grading must demonstrate, in front of the class, a set list of techniques that the instructor has outlined for that belt. The test begins with a technique demo and is then followed by rolling in front of the class. Of course, this is not the only criteria that is necessary to be graded - experience in competition and seminars, prompt attendance, and attitude are also important factors.
2. The “rolling” grading.
This type of grading is usually more focused on rolling skill. What takes priority here is not the amount of knowledge a student has, but more so their ability to apply all the techniques in a real-time situation. This is important for all belt grading, but in this case it is more of a priority. It means that even if a student has a small repertoire of techniques, but uses those well (especially against people of his own rank), then that would be enough to give them a boost to the next level. This would not pass for the “judo” style of grading since there are certain techniques that the student must know, even if they cannot use it in a real scenario.
During this type of grading, the instructor can walk around the mats and actively monitor how the students are rolling to make his final decision on who is ready to be graded. Sometimes small shark tank sessions are held to see how the students handle pressure. At the end of the day, things like attendance and attitude still have an effect on the instructor’s decision.
3. No formal grading.
Nothing formal with no set dates or tests. At this point, it’s purely dependent on the judgement of the instructor and how the students train and behave all year around. The teacher knows if those students have had good attendance, their performance in tournaments and in the gym. This could be after a tournament or just after a good rolling session. When the time is right, they just hand the belt to the deserving student.