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Question 1: How Long Until I Get a Black Belt?

by on January 28, 2009

No matter where I go and how many demos I take part in, the first question we receive from an audience member is usually the same:

How long does it take to get a black belt in karate?

Every style varies but I suspect that the average is not significantly deviated from by most styles. Assuming you work real hard and practice often (because otherwise you’ll never get a black belt even if you attend every class), here’s an example within Shotokan Karate in both the ISKF and JKA.

While some McDojos will “guarantee you a black belt in just 2 years”, these black belt factories are meaningless and don’t really indicate your knowledge or progression, just the amount of dues you’ve paid to the karate club.

Even in non-McDojos a black belt doesn’t mean you have mastered the basics, only that there’s a decent chance you’ve done so because there is a grading scheme in place that isn’t motivated primarily by money. Most agree that with hard work and perserverence, many people can be at a stage in their training there they qualify for a black belt in about:

4 Years

Its like getting an undergraduate degree. In fact, that’s how a good friend of mine refered to a 1st degree black belt, like an undergraduate degree. It shows you know the basics and can even explain many concepts, but there is little in-depth knowledge (except for the karate nerds).

To get a master’s degree in karate? Well that typically comes around the 3+ degree stage. After you reach 1st degree, it will take about another 5-6 years to reach 3rd degree; 2 for 2nd degree, 3-4 for 3rd degree. This is all assuming that you pass every test the first time, a feat about 50% of people achieve.

So, if you’re in high school headed off to university, it is not unreasonable to think that you could have a 1st degree black belt in karate around the same time as you graduate with your undergrad. That is, of course, if you work as hard for the black belt as you do for your undergrad degree (note that for most people completing an undergrad, this will be their 1st degree as well :)

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From → examination, training

11 Comments
  1. kaywex permalink

    I guess you got questions at Koshugatsu? :P

  2. Invariably. But I think it has to be accepted. Someone without much knowledge of the martial arts is not going ask anything beyond the surface level, and people typically seek instant gratification. Its like when people are considering which line of work to go into, the first question is often “how much will I make?” Not always, but at about the same rate as the black belt question in karate.

  3. Personally, when people ask me “how long will it take me to get a black belt” I am most often tempted to reply thusly:

    “3 to 4 days regular shipping, 1 to 2 with overnight shipping. Sooner if you go to sportcheck”
    :)

    Then again, that response is unfair to raw outsiders who haven’t been given the chance to understand that training karate is not about getting a black belt, but rather getting a black belt is about training karate…

    still, a very good discussion… and it reminds me that I need to post more articles of my own on here…

  4. I can see this article has been up for some time, but I just wanted to say I like that you put a simple basic spin on it. If you get too deep into philosophy, the layman will not be able or even interested to follow. Also, I’m glad someone answered the common question. I have heard and been asked that one a few times myself. My favorite was to my 1st instructor from the father of a potential student in his early teens. He asked: “How long does it take for the average person to get a black belt?” And Sensei hit it right on the head I thought when he replied that the “average” person DOESN’T get a black belt.

  5. patricia permalink

    I’am brown belt in shotokan karate and I do not want to obtain the black belt in karate. I gave up on karate and I practise Iaido, I also do not want to obtain the black belt in Iaido.But I feel I’am strong and I don’t care abou’t what others thinks abou’t my martial arts.

    • Please remember that a Black Belt truly means that you are a serious student. I read a quoit once that said “White belt to Black Belt you sharpen your sword and from Black Belt on you learn to use it”
      Typically if a student attended classes 2 times a week that would be 112 classes a year. At my school you need a minimum of 500 training hours so it would take that student roughly 4 years to earn their Black Belt. I also offer a Master Club course where students are required to attend an average of 5 classes a week getting them 560 hours of training in the first two years.
      So it really depends on the individual student and what they are willing to put into their training.

  6. anna permalink

    This is really interesting. I’ve never practiced in karate, and all the exposure I’ve had have been the McDojo you described. That, and one person who came into our MMA class bragging about their green belt after four months and ended up leaving with a broken foot.

    I enjoy the way you have written this and the way you’ve explained it. I’m enjoying reading your blog and it’s given me a newfound respect and interest in karate. Thank you.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Question 2: How Many Boards Can You Break? « Karate Daily
  2. Intermediate Shotokan Karate Ranks « Karate Daily
  3. Black Belt – Rank or Degree? « Karate Daily
  4. Should MY Black Belt Mean Anything To You? « Modern Karate Arts

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