BJJ differs from other martial arts in that there are no clear requirements for getting your black belt or if there are, they vary from school to school.
Other traditional martial arts, on the other hand, usually have very clear-cut criteria about what you need to do to achieve each belt on the way to becoming a black belt. In karate, for example, there are certain techniques you have to be able to demonstrate and katas you have to perform before you can move up a belt. Even in Judo, which is the closest thing to BJJ, there is a progression path used all over the world for accumulating competition points, demonstrating certain techniques, and then performing the Nage no Kata to obtain a black belt.
Grading requirements can vary greatly from place to place in BJJ. Some schools measure belt advancement solely by the amount of time served and classes attended, while others focus on the number of techniques demonstrated for each belt. Others, such as my original academy (Carlson Gracie London), based belt progression on performance in competition. If you didn’t win a tournament at your current belt then you don’t progress to your next belt.
Your instructors will pick the best grading criteria that work for them, and your school will probably have its own variant, but in general, there are several keys to making progress in BJJ.
Don’t focus on the belt.
Instead, focus on improving and learning. It usually takes 8-10 years of consistent training to achieve black belt status. Some people get it faster if they train full-time. Others, like myself, will take longer. (12 years in my case). If you enjoy the training and it becomes a part of your life, you won’t care if it takes 3 years or 25 years. The journey is more important than the destination.
Aim to train consistently rather than overdo it at the start. Don’t train 7 days a week for 3 months and then quit. Train 3 times a week for 7 years and then you’ll achieve your goals.
I’ve been training in BJJ for approximately 22 years. The people who compete always make more progress and stick with their training. You don’t have to be a full-time competitor or quit your job to focus on BJJ competition but my advice would be to compete at least a few times at each belt level along the way to get accurate feedback on your strengths and weaknesses. 5 to 10 minutes in real competition can be the same as 6 months of relaxed training in terms of your development.
Be clear about what counts as training time. If you’ve been training in BJJ for 8 years but have had several 6-month breaks or periods where you only trained once a fortnight then that doesn’t count as 8 years of training. Also, if your training session consists of you trying to overpower and tap out the new white belts rather than focusing on your learning and development then that also doesn’t count as real training.
Be a good training partner.
Your coach has your best interests at heart. They want you to make progress and eventually get your black belt because it reaffirms to them that they are doing a good job as a coach. However, they also want what’s best for the other nineteen students on the mat. If you’re a crappy training partner or even worse a dangerous training partner who risks injuring the other students there’s a good chance the coach doesn’t want you on the mats and won’t promote you. Learning how to be a good training partner is perhaps the most important BJJ skill you can learn.
Come try out my BJJ classes at Australian Combat Sports Academy in Thornbury, Melbourne.