Today, it's not difficult to obtain a Black Belt as any martial arts store will sell you one and nobody really cares if you buy one anyway. Has it lost its value? I remember the days when you walked into the store and a Black Belt was something which had to be brought out from a vault. The vendor would be inquisitive and interrogate you under a spotlight before handing it over. God help you if you got caught wearing one if you weren’t a Black Belt; it was sacrilege. You'd be on the front page of every newspaper and stoned to death in Martin Place!
I earned my Black Belt in the days of ‘only the elite few will get it’. The gradings were long and hard – no mercy, no complaining, no break, no water! Your fitness and spirit were ultimately put to the test to see if they could break you; if they succeeded in doing that then you'd have to wait for the next grading which was only a year or two away. Of course, times have changed and that culture is virtually non-existent but it is a shame things can go completely the other way. Changes are good but not when they go overboard. Just look at discrimination laws, ethics and politically correct statements gone mad. It gets to the stage where it is difficult to know whether you're on the right track anymore.
However, it was time for a change in the way we graded people especially to Black Belt because it had to be achievable for a larger part of the population. Another reason was because some of the new styles that came later on the scene did a good job of marketing themselves at no consideration of jeopardising their integrity. This put pressure on the older and more established styles to make changes in order to compete. I remember one Instructor advertising you can get a Black Belt in 6 months. You can't roast a leg of lamb any quicker. Maybe, the Black Belts he was giving were microwaved. That 6 month thing didn't work and didn't last long.
Today, good schools maintain a certain standard in the grading system to ensure the belt you earn means something, otherwise, it is only a piece of material you buy over the counter.