By necessity, the multi-level dan ranking system where practitioners can only be promoted by higher ranked instructors of the art has to break down at the higher ranks. To begin with, if the founder of the art is considered to have a rank in that style, then he either promotes himself, is promoted by his students, or is given a rank by someone outside the art being ranked in. (For an example of this last, see the recently-bumped thread from 2003 referencing Dan Anderson's promotion to 8th dan.) After the founder, adherence to the "promotion only from higher ranks" rule would result in the highest possible rank gradually decreasing in each generation. If the founder's highest ranked student was a 6th dan, then he/she could never promote past 5th, the next gen couldn't promote past 4th, and so on, until no one was left who was qualified to promote to black belt (or whatever the minimum rank is for promoting at all.) There are various ways around this. The old Japanese menkyo system topped out at mekyo kaiden, which basically indicated total transmission of the system: the giver is awarding the recipient the same rank that he/she holds. This has analogies in other contexts. For example, in the apprentice-journeyman-master craftsman system the rank of master was awarded by other masters. Ph.D. candidates need their dissertations approved by other Ph.Ds. (The analogy isn't perfect - doctorates are granted by a credentialed education institution with standards set by doctorate holders. Master craftsman status was typically awarded by multiple masters in a guild. I'm sure there are probably better examples of rank awarded by a single person of the same level, but they're not coming to mind right now.) Some modern arts have certifications (associate instructor, full instructor, etc) which map pretty well to the menkyo system. In some systems, rank may be controlled by a single administrative institution (like the Kodokan for Judo). In this case the highest ranks are typically awarded by a committee of high-ranking practitioner and the ranks may be equal to or higher than that held by the members of the committee. I think this has worked well for the Kodokan, which has promoted only a handful of people to the highest rank over the last century. I'm less impressed by organizations where the top people all cross-promote each other so everybody can hold a high rank. Some people just end up promoting themselves or acquiring rank certification from outside organizations which exist just to award ranks (either for cash or for the "status" gained when everybody gets to cross-promote each other to higher and higher ranks.) I'm not a huge fan of this. I think the BJJ system works reasonably well. In most cases, black belt is the highest rank awarded based on demonstrated skill, knowledge, and ability. It's not "complete transmission" like a menkyo kaiden, because there is no complete transmission possible in BJJ - the art is constantly evolving. However a black belt in BJJ is considered a fully fledged representative of the art and qualified to run a school. Subsequent degrees of black belt are awarded based on active time in grade (training/teaching/competing), with the time requirements set so the highest ranks are reachable only towards the end of a practitioners lifespan. An given 8th degree black belt might not be more skilled than a given second degree black belt, but you know that the 8th degree has probably been actively contributing to the art for at least around 40-50 years or so. In any case, any rank in any art is only meaningful insomuch as you understand the criteria applied by the person(s) awarding the rank. Maybe a particular rank means that you showed up for 2-3 years and learned to demonstrate a certain catalog of techniques. Maybe it means you won a certain number of competitions. Maybe it means you pushed yourself to the limit for 15 years and demonstrated a certain level of technical fighting ability. Maybe it means that you've contributed to the art by teaching for a number of years. Maybe it means you're good buddies with the person giving the promotion. Maybe it means your check cleared. I only concern myself with a person's rank when I know what those promotion criteria are. In BJJ, standards are generally consistent enough that I can assume a BJJ black belt has a certain minimum level of functional expertise in submission grappling with a heavy focus on ground fighting. In contrast, if someone has a 10th dan in Whatever-Jutsu-Do awarded by the International Council of MisUsedJapaneseTitleShip, that tells me exactly nothing about the person's ability or knowledge. They might be great. They might be terrible. I have no idea, so I don't worry about it.