It was common in jiu-jitsu’s early times to find the black stripe on the belt of everyone present on the mat, without degrees. When there was a colleague with a little degree in the belt, such thing was so rare that the guy could even be a target of jokes from older members. Although not that common in past times, degrees always existed, especially in judo – gentle art’s basis.
But why were they so rare? Because the focus was strictly on the competitions. Thus, that little space in which we see little tape stripes – there are different colors as well (for the children) – just became valued in the last 10 years.
It was just in that transition period from the sportive jiu-jitsu to a modality that anyone could practice that degrees were reborn from the ashes and returned very strongly. Those tapes, despite being something only symbolic, are part of the long road to the black belt. They represent the learning progress of the student, considering or not the results in competitions. Often, they also serve as a stimulus to keep improving. 1,2,3 or 4 degrees, no matter how many you have, the important thing is keep training, moving forward and, the principal idea, always evolving.