In traditional martial arts you need to go through a formal grading process to achieve your next belt or rank advancement. However, BJJ is not your traditional martial arts. It’s very informal in nature and so is the grading process. Belts are awarded through their tenure marred with blood and sweat on the mats and often take a hell of a longer time to achieve compared with other martial arts.
I personally liked this method as the rank you achieve is the one you deserve – that is, the rank is awarded to you when your instructor feels that you are ready (rather than after a performance of pre-arranged techniques).
I achieved all of my ranks this way, except for my black. It wasn’t until I got my black in an impromptu grading process and upon reflection, did I re-evaluate my perception which in turn, made me see the value of formal gradings.
Sure, it’s great to receive a new belt when you least it expect it based on when your instructor feels you’re ready. But the only criticism I have of this practice is that there is no pressure! It would be similar to the scenario where a person who crushes everyone in his/her gym but crumbles under the pressure of competition. And it is exactly during these conditions when one will truly know if he or she has the mastery expected of them or not.
In short, from my experience in traditional martial arts, informal BJJ gradings and competition experience, I believe (and will start to personally adopt) a grading process that encompasses these three aspects:
Traditional – You need to be able to execute a pre-determined list of techniques as a guideline and minimum benchmark of what is expected at that level.
BJJ – You need to pay your dues and demonstrate diligence and persistence in mastering the craft.
Competition – And most importantly, in my opinion, one needs to be able to demonstrate his or her techniques under duress and have his or her heart and mental fortitude tested through supervised combative rounds.