Although Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has a belt system the method of grading is different from the vast majority of other martial arts.
The adult belt ranks (in ascending order) are as follows;
Unlike most martial arts, there is no formal testing for belts in BJJ. Instead, you are effectively being tested each and every time you train. Belt promotions are based on a number of factors, the main ones being (in no particular order); sparring ability, technical knowledge, commitment to training, how hard you train and competition record. Different instructors will give different weight to each factor.
As BJJ is performance orientated, the most important aspect to being promoted is sparring ability. In particular, you are judged on how well you do when sparring with people the same rank and the rank higher than you. Obviously this means that competition record is also important (although it is not necessary to compete to be promoted) and a student with a strong record will generally be promoted quicker than average.
When judging a student's progress toward promotion, an instructor will also take into account size and age. A 50 year old, 70kg white belt will not be expected to be able to tap a 20 year old, 120kg blue belt who has won competitions in order to be promoted!
There are no set timescales for each promotion but it usually takes a number of years to earn each belt. Some people have earnt a black belt in as little as 3.5 years (the UFC fighter BJ Penn is a famous example of this) but they are a very, very small minority. The average time taken to earn a black belt is usually quoted as 10-12 years and some people have also taken much longer.
This system of promotion means that a black belt in BJJ can only be earnt through hard work and regular training, not through memorising hundreds of techniques. Although when you start it can seem a little off-putting that it takes so long to earn a belt, you should consider the sense of achievement you will have when you do finally reach that stage.
Between belts, many instructors award students with stripes in order for them to judge how they are progressing toward the next rank. These stripes are awarded on much the same basis as belt ranks but should not be seen as a definite indicator for promotion. Up to four stripes are given per belt but being promoted to 4th stripe does not necessarily mean the next belt is due soon. It is also possible to be awarded the next belt at any point before 4 stripes.
It should also be noted that there are no fees charged for promotions in BJJ.
If you have any further questions about the promotion system, please speak to Chris or Rob.