How Long Should It Take To Get A Black Belt?

How Long Should It take To Get A Black belt

Should You Lower Your Standards In Order To Increase Retention?

“How long does it take to get a black belt?”

We usually hear this question from new and prospective students, but the following question was actually posted on my member site forums this week by an instructor:

“How long does it take your kids to reach black belt? I have been told by my instructor that I will have extremely poor retention if it takes longer than 2.5 years, but I just don’t feel like that is enough time for the students to achieve the level that I expect out of a black belt.”

Kudos to this instructor for wanting to keep their quality high, even though their instructor obviously isn’t so willing to sacrifice profit for quality (I’d argue that improving quality leads to greater profits overall, but more on that later).

There were some great comments from the other members in response to the question this instructor posed. So if you’re a member and you get a chance, log in today to see what the other members have said so far.

Why I Insist On Keeping My Standards High For Achieving Black Belt

As for my answer? I replied, “As long as it takes.”

I’ve been teaching professionally for years (two decades + teaching kids). And, let me tell you…

If you set the proper expectations FROM THE BEGINNING, you are going to retain a HIGHER QUALITY OF STUDENT than if you set your school up to be a black belt mill just to make a quick buck.

Let me tell you something – the public is NOT stupid. They know exactly what is going on in your school when you “bump” someone in rank just to keep them around.

If You Think Your Clients Don’t Realize What You’re Doing Then Most Certainly, You’re The Fool

Case in point:

Last week I had an interesting conversation with a salesperson who called on my office. Once she found out what I do for a living, she quickly told me about her daughter, who has been enrolled in martial arts for the last five years. Her daughter is close to earning her junior black belt, and the mother just went on and on about all the benefits of martial arts for kids.

Her only gripe? That the instructors would often promote students whose skills and knowledge were grossly inferior to their peers, out of an apparent profit motivation. She said it was obvious they “wanted to move the kids up so they could keep making money off them.”

*Sigh*

Trade A Legacy For A Lexus? Not Me…

In my schools (where we teach a curriculum that is old school martial arts combined with modern self-defense) the average time is 4.5 years to 1st dan black belt.

For kids, it can take longer depending on at what age they enrolled. Younger kids just move slower through the junior ranks. Older kids sometimes move faster. And, we don’t give kids black belts – they get a half-black “junior black belt” in my schools.

Of course, teens and adults can do it in three years, if they’re dedicated. It’s only happened once so far, though. And, I’ll be honest – I simply don’t turn out a whole lot of black belts.

That’s for good reason. You see, I have a philosophy that not everyone is meant to be a black belt. That doesn’t preclude anyone from achieving it in my schools – far from it. However, few people will stick around and pay the price for earning a black belt from me, because my standards are so high.

Sure, I could lower my standards and probably make a lot more money. But it’s an integrity issue for me, because I’m not going to be the type of instructor who stands on the shoulders of giants, only to walk all over their legacy.

A Quick History Lesson

I have more training and rank in Korean systems than any of the other “traditional” systems I’ve studied, and I was fortunate enough to come from a line of really hard core Korean-style instructors. Also, I am very well read and knowledgeable regarding the history of martial arts in America.

Historically, the trend surrounding taking people to black belt rapidly started with a certain large chain of Korean martial art schools, who built an empire on selling instant gratification to their students.

No, they weren’t the only ones doing it…

However, they were perhaps the most successful. Due to their success, many other school owners (including those from other styles) started seeing how much money they were making by selling belts, and it caught on.

A Few Bad Apples… Can Look Like The Whole Bushel

The sad thing is, lots of Korean and Korean-style instructors kept their standards high and refused to follow the practice. But unfortunately, the practice became so widespread among Korean-style schools that it eventually damaged the reputation of the Korean martial arts overall.

What a crying shame. Personally, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to show people how serious I am about martial arts to get respect from them, simply because of my background in Korean martial arts.

Never mind the fact that plenty of great martial artists have backgrounds in Korean systems. But, let me assure you there are still quality instructors turning out quality black belts from Korean-style schools.

But I digress… I only brought this up so you’d know how the practice of lowering belt rank promotion standards came about, and to illustrate to you younger instructors that it wasn’t always as easy as it is today to get a black belt.

Getting Back To Promoting Kids To Black Belt

Now, it’s almost the norm in American martial art schools that teach sub-styles of karate (Korean and otherwise) to rank people very quickly and rush them to black belt for fear of losing students.

Again, what a crying shame…

By making this practice the status quo, the martial arts industry in America has succeeded in doing the following:

1. They’ve watered down the martial arts in America by turning out black belts who aren’t really prepared at all to teach… who then in turn start schools before they are ready and teach their own students their own bad habits and pass on their underdeveloped knowledge of technical execution –

2. They’ve conditioned much of the public into expecting to get things quickly and easily when they enter a martial arts school. Certainly, I can teach someone to defend themselves in two or three years of study (sometimes less, depending on the student). But it takes much longer to train a competent black belt who is capable of passing on what they know.

3. They’ve led the public and their students to believe that the only prerequisite for being a competent instructor is to hold a black belt… a belief that in turn has made it much easier for the public to be duped. Typically this is by marginally-qualified charlatans and con artists posing as legitimate instructors who are more than eager to fool the public into thinking they’re getting good martial arts instruction – all while charging them handsomely for sub-par training and instruction.

Since When Did Maintaining Quality Become A Hindrance To Doing Business?

You know, one of the fastest growing martial arts styles among kids and adults in America is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. And, as everyone knows, BJJ instructors are famous for not giving out rank quickly.

Me, I say they do it right. Eight to ten years on average for earning a black belt is just about right to me, when you’re talking about preparing someone to teach and pass on what they’ve learned.

Sure, a good four or five year purple belt is more than capable of leading a class. But I’ve long believed (based on years of observation) that it takes about ten years for an instructor to really gain a sufficient depth of knowledge regarding the subtleties of their art to become an accomplished instructor. (Note: I don’t certify a black belt as a full instructor until they’re 3rd dan or higher – which takes about eight to ten years typically.)

But wait a minute… it takes about two years on average to get the first belt in BJJ. Yet, we’ve seen people turning out in droves to join Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu schools over the last decade.

Could it be that the public wants something that is real? Something that is worthwhile and truly earned? Something not watered down, but that’s been kept pure and honest?

I say, the answer to all of the above is a resounding “YES!”

So, Here’s My Advice…

So, here’s my advice to you – instead of worrying about losing students because you aren’t lowering the quality of your programs enough…

…worry instead about retaining students by teaching the highest quality program you possibly can–trusting that your reputation and high standards will be your strongest retention tool.

57 Comments

  1. David Nelson on March 31, 2010 at 1:15 pm

    It took me 8 years to get my Shodan…so, I figure about 5-6 years is a good time period for a person to be ready. But it is more than just time in the dojo…it is the quality of the person themselves and their skill. When I put a black belt around someone, that is my reputation and my teachers and his, etc. It needs to really mean something.



  2. Kevin on March 31, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    My master told “there’s way easier ways to get a black belt than through me”. He was right. That was 1984, and some nights we had to wring our doboks out. He’s gone now, and I’m an old (well, middle-aged) man, but I’d like to train that way again. Not withstanding the limitations of aging. It was worth it.



  3. Master Jeffrey B. Cook on March 31, 2010 at 1:28 pm

    My take from the a very traditional backround in clasical period Chinese Kung fu…back in the day before Funikoshi created the rank system used by the Japanese and was adopted by other styles around the world ( the Chinese use a sash system adopted early last century ) belts did not exist. In the Chinese tradition, there were three “ranks ” : student,teacher, and master. I use the present Chinese system of sashes with my kids of 15 and younger. In my adult class, I use the traditional rank. If a prospective student asks me how long it takes to earn a ” blackbelt ” I tell them that I do not issue a ” blackbelt ” but that it will take them, dependent on their dedication, about 10 years to achieve the rank of teacher ( a Yellow Sash of which their are 5 degrees ). When they ask about the lower ranks, I tell them that there are none, that they are considered to be ” mingshou “, a student. Some are shocked by this. I tell them that if they are concerned more with rank than with learning, they should seek another school. Rank should not be the bone that is thrown to a student as it is in so many schools these days. Rank is an achievement to be earned and the student will achieve rank only when all of the requirements for that rank are met, period. It must be remembered – ” A student is a reflection of his teacher “. If quality is sacrificed for quantity ( knowing 20 forms half-assed rather than knowing 5 cold -every movement and the concept behind every movement and the ability to execute the movement ) any well schooled martial artist will immediately recognize the mediocre display of a student trained in ” a blackbelt factory “. My standards are high because I am a reflection of my teachers whose standards were high. I would dishonor them by lowering my standards below those which they held for me. My students will learn the same or they may exercise their right to leave.



  4. Michael Pejsach on March 31, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    I thought I was in the minority requiring a MINIMUM of 400 hours, in addition to being able to demonstrate a high level of skill, to earn a provisional black belt.
    Went to a workshop in Sarasota, Fl, pre-Hurricane Katrina (we in New Orleans use Hurricane Katrina as a bookmark), as the only Korean marital arts (WTF TKD) black belt. The Wado Ryu and other karate folks made fun of tae kwon do, making comments, like, “My neighbor’s 5 year old is a third degree black belt at _______ Tae Kwon Do. His 8 year old sister is testing for her 5th!” (Ha, Ha, Ha!)
    You’re correct in your analysis; inbred (“we-only-compete-with-each-other) tae kwon do franchises have met the demand so parents can say, “My son is a black belt,” after 18 months and 100 hours of training. We have had “their” black belts tryout our program and couldn’t keep up with our blue belts, quitting quickly looking to get their 2nd or 3rd dans at their former “school of mediocrity!” My green belt students complain that their friends “who started at the same time I did,” now have their black belt (1.5 years!!).
    We here in Metairie, LA will stay small, but our quality will stay high!
    Michael



  5. Miroslav on March 31, 2010 at 1:42 pm

    I agree
    1) Kid can reach sho dan black belt not sooner than 3,5 years from start ,if talented, motivated and focused. Some cannot reach master belt no matter what. It is not question how soon, it is question how high level is reached.
    2) Belts are relative points from beginner to master. Teacher should be able to recognize student skills before seeing their karate when see their belts. If students have wrong belts lessons can be wrong and belt system will collapse .
    3)Black belt does not make sensei from anybody. Coaching is very different from fighting or sport competition. Sensei is much more than black belt. And I have seen too many low quality instructors. Bad coach cam only make bad black belt Karatekas. This is Our greatest problem.

    Sorry for my English but i hope You did understand my point



  6. Prentiss on March 31, 2010 at 3:52 pm

    I came from Korean Systems and did feel at the time that I was passed along very quickly. It was an interesting situation when my instructor told me that it was what he had to do make money; essentially signing people up for 4 year black belt programs. I was lucky enough to have him teach me the way he learned from his traditional instructor because I worked in his store.

    I think the message of learning to perfect one’s body and technical skill is missed in today’s environment and a lot of people see the destination but not the journey that is involved. We as instructors should continue to pass on the message that the training takes deep commitment and a lifetime of refining skill.



  7. Jason on March 31, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    Mike,

    I agree with you 100% on how long it should take to get a black belt. It took me 7 years to get my 1st Dan in TKD. Even after 19 years of training and teaching, I still feel it was a great move on my part to take that long. Now, my instructor wanted me to test at my 3 year mark, but I just didn’t feel ready and those additional 4 years really made a difference.

    Now a 4th Dan and 2nd Dan in Hapkido with a blue belt in BJJ, I have an appreciation for schools that don’t focus on a black belt in 2 years and really take the time to get their students proficient.

    I teach with the philosophy of black belt not being the number one focus, but what martial arts provides that means more than the belt. I credit martial arts for a lot in my life, and when I reflect back, it isn’t the belt that I remember, but everything in between.

    As for young men and women in martial arts, it is disheartening to see school promoting them to black belt when they have no understanding about what it really means or is. I know it is a money plow, but we need to start fixing what we are breaking in this country.

    I have 2 nephews and 1 niece that were promoted to black belt in TKD 2 weeks ago and only one should have been allowed to go to “junior black belt”. The other two should have been denied the chance at this time.

    Only my thoughts…

    Take care Mike,

    Jason



  8. Mike Massie on March 31, 2010 at 4:23 pm

    Prentiss,

    When instructors don’t invest plenty of time and energy educating themselves about solid business practices, they can can very easily find themselves walking a fine line between making a living honestly and following business practices that reflect poor business ethics.

    I agree – we need to continue to pass along the values of commitment, dedication, perseverance, and hard work as the honest path to success.



  9. Mike Massie on March 31, 2010 at 4:28 pm

    Miroslav, your points are well-stated and well-taken.

    I couldn’t agree more with what you said in your second and third statements.

    Don’t worry about your English – I certainly cannot write or speak a single word in any of the Slavic languages. :)

    Honestly, I’m always impressed with people who can communicate in the written word using English when it’s their second language. The language is hard enough to learn how to speak, much less to write.

    Thanks for taking the time to chime in with your comments.



  10. Mike Massie on March 31, 2010 at 4:33 pm

    Michael,

    I’ve had similar experiences during my time cross-training with martial artists from other systems.

    Interestingly, one of my best black belts came to my school as a young teenage 2nd dan from a TKD school in another town.

    His first night sparring one of my red belts he left with tears in his eyes, more from embarrassment I think than anything else.

    Imagine my surprise when he returned the next class! He stuck around and became a fantastic black belt and an excellent instructor.

    So, don’t give up on those kids from other schools so easily. :)



  11. Mike Massie on March 31, 2010 at 4:41 pm

    Master Jeffrey B. Cook – nice to get that Chinese stylist’s perspective in here.

    Actually, it was Kano who created the belt system, not Funakoshi. However, some of the other modern budo quickly adopted the system from Kano, which was widespread by the JKA.

    In the koryu, there were no belts. If a student stuck around long enough and worked diligently enough to become proficient in all the aspects of the school of martial art they were training in, their instructor would present them with a teacher’s certificate. If they were the successor, they would receive the menkyo kaiden.

    This is fairly similar to the system you describe.



  12. Mike Massie on March 31, 2010 at 4:43 pm

    Kevin,

    My first school was a WTF tae kwon do school, and my instructor was hard core. The classes were long, the workouts were hard, but really he wasn’t a disciplinarian. He was actually very laid back… but there was never any question that you earned your rank at his school. As far as I know, he only turned out one black belt student in all the time he taught.

    I miss those workouts, even to this day. :)



  13. Mike Massie on March 31, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    David, the subject of the type of students you produce being a reflection of you as an instructor is one that is not addressed often enough.

    Then again, some instructors think the only measure of their merit is their bank account. ;)

    Keep us posted on when your new book is published!



  14. Beethowen Gregory on March 31, 2010 at 5:11 pm

    I learned silat at a very young age. I got my first blackbelt at 14. I taught as an assistant until 18. I taught close quarter combat in the Marines and when I got out, I resumed my studies in silat. My guru held me at one level for two years before he promoted me to 3rd degree, because the path of my art was interrupted with learning another art before the mastery of level 5. As taught in silat the black belt, you don’t get a black belt, but become a black belt. Certain spiritual and mental skill have to be mastered along the way.

    Each art I’m has its own stadards for black belt. But I tell my students not to focus on what’s in the other arts. Focus on silat. One can never be a true master until he has learned and mastered with all that is within. I teach them that each art is different, and not to be concerned about the belt of another, but be sure that everything that I taught for the belt that you hold is mastered. It is about what one knows,and has mastered. Not the belt.



  15. Richard ~ Goju Ryu Bushido Karate Academy Australia on March 31, 2010 at 5:24 pm

    Simply ~ whatever time it takes ~ to achieve the necessary Knowledge, Leadership Skills ~ Techniques ~ Continual Comittement to furthering the above.
    Richard Holdstock
    Goju Ryu Bushido Karate Academy
    Blacktown City NSW
    Australia



  16. Simon on March 31, 2010 at 5:33 pm

    I must say that the path to Black Belt is a hard one. I know because I trained for 7 years in Shukokai Karate and was one belt away from Black. I firmly believe in making it difficult to earn a black belt, as in my 10 years of training I have seen some very sub standard black belts whilst competing in tournaments. Black belt is merely a recognition of rank, not how good a martial artist you are. In my time, I have seen some excellent green and blue belts, who were dedicated and serious about their training then some brown and black belts. I think Mr Miyagi said it best that “A belt merely holds up your pants.” Black belt is an accomplishment by all means, but I think the focus for all students should be to train hard, and learn as much as they can from their instructors.



  17. Sara on March 31, 2010 at 8:04 pm

    When I started my program, I thought I was going to be a hard core instructor who expected my students to do everything perfect. However I have come to realize that is not possible, my new mantra is that I expect THEIR perfect not MY perfect. If my students are trying their hardest and doing THEIR absolute best then I don’t feel like I should hold them back because of it. Now if I know they are not trying then I have no problem withholding a belt. In fact I might have to do that this testing cycle. My students have to get their parents and their teachers permission to test and this particular student might not be getting his teachers permission because of his behavior at school. He asked me the other day if I would really hold him back. I told him with out a doubt I would keep him his current rank and make him wait, testing is a privilege and he has not earned it yet. A bunch of my little ninja parents were still there and I am sure that made them all smile because they know that I will back them and their childrens teachers up when it comes to behavior.



  18. Mike Massie on March 31, 2010 at 8:18 pm

    Jason,

    I hear you, loud and clear.

    We do have to start fixing what has been broken. And, it starts with teaching the next generation about personal responsibility and earning their keep.

    Otherwise, we’ll be old and gray and looking at a nation full of freeloaders looking for a hand out… instead of one that’s only half-full of them as it is now. :)



  19. Mike Massie on March 31, 2010 at 8:19 pm

    Sara, you are going to get so much more respect from the parents of your students for sticking to your policies.

    Good for you.



  20. Mike Massie on March 31, 2010 at 8:25 pm

    Beethowen,

    I agree that it is counterproductive to focus on what goes on in other arts.

    However, when we have an issue that runs across the entire industry – regardless of style – it deserves to be examined and held up to the light of day.

    We have to confront the fact that there are a lot of common practices in the martial arts industry that skirt being unethical.

    It’s only by bringing light to them that we can make changes where it will matter industry-wide – and that’s in the opinion of the consumer.



  21. Mike Massie on March 31, 2010 at 8:25 pm

    Well said, Richard.



  22. Luis on March 31, 2010 at 8:39 pm

    I believe too That “not everyone is meant to be a black belt”. And how long is take to become one, for me, there is not time that determine when you can be a BB,just the refine skills and knowledge that the student will adquired and the instructor experience and acute eye will determine when somebody is ready. i do not have any school just because I do not believe anymore in the martial art industry in USA. Im not talking about Massie school but in general I have seen a lot or school and BIG organitation that talk and teach about honesty, perseverience and bla bla bla, but where is the honesty when you tell to a chid that he/she is a black belt when you can badly do a good kick, how can they talk about perseverience if you offer a black belt in two years…
    And I can go on Blablasophy, pardon me phylosophy that is use to atrack parents to the Dojan (Dojo)…



  23. stanleychounard on March 31, 2010 at 10:21 pm

    The years that I have been involved in martial arts.
    and the different styles that I have seen and involved in.Some styles like TKD chain schools and the other so called Karate chain schools are out for money.Make it fun and games,to keep the kids there to promote them each month so they make the profits from the test fee’s.most of the schools just make it a sport not for the art of defense.
    Some schools train mainly for the sport.
    The instructor gets the students involved with tournaments.They don’t seem to care about the art of self defense.
    It take’s an average of 4yrs to get a black belt.
    I have had a few students do it in two years,But they were very intelligent people,with the natural ability to do just about anything.Some people learn fast,some slow.
    it depends on the student and the how the instructor teaches.One on one is the best way for someone to learn.But the student needs teaching time to.
    If a school if putting black belt on students in a two year period is doing it just for the money.
    I went to a open tournament last winter,and there was a young lady about 19 or 20 years old,and was a Sandan and she was only in martial arts for less then 4yrs.And her ability was maybe a 3rd brown belt.
    that is bad.
    She was trained at a chain tkd school that flies
    under the banner of a karate name.
    Stanley Chounard JR



  24. Mike Massie on April 1, 2010 at 5:21 am

    Stanley, there was a guy running a school down the street from me who was a 3rd dan with 4 or 5 years experience. He told one of my green belts if she joined his school she’d be a black belt in a year.

    Too funny. :)



  25. Mike Massie on April 1, 2010 at 5:26 am

    Luis, I agree there are a lot of instructors that give lip service to “traditional martial arts values” in order to attract students, that don’t practice what they preach.

    Then again, there are plenty of politicians, clergy, and motivational speakers who are hypocrites as well.

    However, it doesn’t make those values any less meaningful for the people who actually adhere to them, nor does it negate their value as lessons to be taught to children in the martial arts.



  26. Brent on April 1, 2010 at 9:30 pm

    Hi Mike,
    Great article and excellent issue to discuss. Thanks!

    One thing I think that compunds this problem is the lack of association among teachers and dojos. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a formal association or federation. But by being involved with other groups and especially teachers that you respect, you are more likely to toe the line.
    They will know who your students are. They will know how fast you are passing off your students. They will see and evaluate your behaviours (and the behaviour, skills, etc of your students).
    I am not talking about just going to local tournaments. I am talking about other events as well, such as: demos, seminars, etc.
    This forum and your business club helps to create the necessary environment to improve our global standard. Thanks!
    Brent
    Tokyo, Japan



  27. mani on April 2, 2010 at 1:21 am

    IN MY OPIONION MINIMUM DURATION TO GET A BLACKBELT FOR ADULT IS 3YRS DEPENDS OF THEIR HARD WORK. FOR KIDS THE BLACK BELT IS NOT ELIGIBLE. AGE LIMIT TO GET BLACKBELT IS 16YRS ABOVE



  28. Mike Massie on April 2, 2010 at 9:40 am

    Good point, Brent.

    However, I have to say that in my time coaching and officiating tournaments and attending and hosting seminars locally and abroad, it really doesn’t impact school owners all that much.

    If they are going to cut corners to make a buck, they are going to do it without worrying about their rep, and then rationalize it after the fact to make themselves feel better about looking worse. :)



  29. Filip on April 4, 2010 at 10:18 pm

    It took me 10 years for my shodan. But teachers forget that a lously blackbelt reflects on them. I think the same will happen to bjj some day. Bunch of people giving out blackbelts making the blackbelt less worth in the public`s view. I think the teacher should have a clear idea of what techniques a person should be able to do for each belt. I mean, really be able to do. So each belt level shows that they can use a group of certain techniques in full contact sparring. The lower the belt, the more common the technique ex: right cross. The hihger the belt the more difficult, but still usefull, technique.



  30. Mark O'Dell on April 5, 2010 at 12:50 am

    I come from a Kenpo based system and have had the opportunity to spend time with teachers who taught during the 1960’s when the martial art business was in its infancy. They often talked about what was required of a BB during that time. Their criterion was seriously biased but simple. No women, no wimps and no kids. I liked their straight forward approach but it seemed to leave a lot of room for interpretation of who did and did not qualify. It seemed a concrete standard was needed to make attaining the BB more objective and less subjective. Without a concrete standard then attaining a BB was more like being accepted into a “good ol’ boy club” and less about competence. I never liked that but I was at a loss for what standard to use as a base of reference.
    I think we all wish to avoid drifting towards the extremes found at either end of the spectrum. None of us want to be the dean of a college where any 7 year old can get a Ph. D but neither would we want to run a college where only 2 Ph. D’s were produced in 50 years. But what do we do to navigate the middle ground where competing ideologies overlap?
    The question of individual merit. As instructors we all know that talent varies greatly in our student body. How do we justify giving rank to a student who is exceptional but lacks work ethic while denying the same rank to someone who has worked on it longer and harder but still will never be as good?
    The question of competence. How good is good enough? What do we do about the student who has done everything we have ever asked of him but after 5 years on the same belt still lacks what we are looking for in a BB? What if the student can do 90% of what is required but will never have the ability to do the other 10%? Do we pass him on?
    The question of consciences. Do we teach someone even when we know they lack what it takes to get a BB? Or do we keep our mouths shut and dangle the carrot knowing we need them to help pay the bills?
    The question of age. Should we give a BB to anyone under the age of 18? If yes, then how young is too young and why? If not, should they be penalized for achieving too much too fast and have to sit on a belt just because they are not old enough? What do we do with the students who are just too old?
    The question of standard. Should a child be able to defend against another child to qualify for a BB or should they be able to defend against an adult? Should a woman be able to defend against a man? Should a man be able to defend against an opponent who is significantly bigger or stronger or just someone comparable in size?
    I’ve learned 2 very important lessons over the years that I think applies here. First, to find the right answers we need to ask the right questions. Second, begin with the end in mind. Based on this line of thinking the standard I use for my students is based on a single question; what do I want my students to be able to do by the time they reach this (or that) point? I know this is a simplistic approach but I think it is a good starting point to find the answers that works for us.
    What I think all of us are talking about when it comes to the BB is quality. And since quality cannot be mandated, regulated or enforced then each one of us needs to figure out what quality means to us as individuals and then strive to teach accordingly. I know the formula I presented above does not address everything this topic entails but I hope it helps.



  31. Mike Massie on April 5, 2010 at 9:13 am

    Good points, Mark.

    Interesting the criteria your instructors used back in the day.

    Thanks for chiming in.



  32. Mike Massie on April 5, 2010 at 9:15 am

    Filip,

    I’m a proponent of using fighting skill as a unit of measure for dan ranking (referring to adults – I don’t give kids dan ranks).

    However, I don’t think it should be the only measure.



  33. Stephanie on July 21, 2010 at 6:33 pm

    I started studying Shaolin Kempo this May. My sensei uses the belt system but he advances us only if he feels we’re ready. I’ve read about kids who “achieve” black belt in 2-3 years, some even less, and it makes me glad, in a way, that I didn’t try martial arts as a kid. If I ever get an instructor that passes me just because he wants to make a quick buck, I’ll quit and find another school. I’m going for black belt because of the knowledge I’ll gain from it, but I’m much more interested in the knowledge.



  34. Shane Vautour on December 3, 2010 at 10:31 pm

    My name is Shane, and I am about to finally test for my yellow belt. I have been trained by three different masters and have experienced a very rigid grading system and an extremely watered down one. My first teacher was the same age as me and did not take classes, instead she learned as a family tradition. She had two ranks, child and adult (adult would generally mean starting your own family that needs training). Of course she never could train me on a realistic level because of tradition but it did ignite my passion, recently I have trained with in a school where the expectations are VERY watered down, and realized this when it occurred to me that I, as white belt (as well as many other early students), was preforming better than the students preparing to test for their black. Due to some, complications, I decided that the trainer teaching methods were not to my own standards. I am now training under Shihan Joe Nesta who is a Judan (trained by proffesor Nick Cerio) and am quite impressed. He has trained disabled students (now black belts) one of which participates in teaching. Thinking back to the completely ‘functional’ people at the previous school and seeing these very impressive and disabled martial artist I am very glad to have changed. And to further make your point, everything that he has had to correct me on were habits I developed at the previous school. finally, when i said what school i was coming from his eyes rolled and he told me that high ranking students there have switched over before and had barely been able to gain a yellow belt in his school. needless to say i certainly enjoy martial arts and LOVE the new school, and i do it for enjoyment and interest in eastern culture not for belts.



  35. Shane Vautour on December 3, 2010 at 10:38 pm

    PS. my only interest in belt system is that I am growing bored in only having so much to practice. I would like to have enough techniques to entertain myself for ~ 1 hour without repeating each 70 times. Other than that rank means only as much as you believe it does.



  36. Mike Massie on January 4, 2011 at 10:09 am

    Shane, thanks for posting your comments. To all the instructors out there, this should be a wake-up call to all of you who think you have to hand out belts like candy to keep students.



  37. Jim on February 16, 2011 at 9:41 am

    I’m currently a brown belt under a “blended” system. Our “base” is Muah Thai, but we also do Kenpo, Jiu Jitsu, boxing etc. Me, my wife and both kids all train. My wife and I train 3x’s per week in addition to the running requirements (1-3 miles 3 times per week). This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. If you train 3x’s per week it takes a good student 3-5 years to obtain the rank of 1st degree black belt. My kids both started when they were 3 and it took my son 3 years on the dot to get his purple belt. I was just doing the math and since we train for 1 hour, 3 times per week it will take us 436 hours to get our black belt. That’s NOT counting all of the other stuff we have to do outside of the dojo (i.e. running). We also have to train at home just to make sure were on top of our game because our instructor will not promote a student unless he feels they are ready regardless of how much they’ve trained. We’ve had a lot of blackbelts from other styles come into the dojo and we typically destroy them (respectfully)… in fact ALL of them eventually quit. One thing is for sure… I can be VERY proud of my training and my school because we ABSOLUTELY earn our ranks with lots of sweat and in some case blood and tears too!! I believe that getting a blackbelt is just the first step… you’re “good,’ BUT the training NEVER ends and you continue to develop your skills over a lifetime.



  38. Maurice on February 16, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    I have a 5 year old son in Tae Kwon Do. I have read most of the posts here who claim that children shouldn’t be given black belts because it diminishes the privilege of having one. I disagree. I will also say before I go any further that my son will test for his black belt at 5 on March 19th. Aside from the fact that I think I started my son too early in contact sparring, I believe that he deserves to test for black belt. He has worked extremely hard since he started his training at 3. Which I believed was too young, but my wife assured me that we should do it. Three months later I go to a class, because I’m forced to go, and am floored by watching my three-year-old in diapers keeping up with kids two and three years older. From that point on, I told my son whatever he wants to do let me know. He started tumbling classes a year later while he was a blue belt. I agree that all black belt kids would not be able to handle an adult in a one on one match, but isn’t that what parents are for? Sure our Black Belt kids still need help every waking moment of the day because they are still kids and learning, but essentially that is the path of the Black Belt. Learning. Whether you are a child or an adult. A child Black Belt signifies that that child has passed all the requirements of his lessons and should privileged to be a Black Belt. The same as an adult Black Belt. No, my child can not fight off an adult. That’s not what his Master is teaching him. He is teaching him to be a better student in school, to do his best in TKD everyday. To have a great work ethic. To honor your commitments and to be a good friend and a great partner. To set an example, yes at 5, to everyone that looks up to you. My son have met and exceeded all of those challenges set by me and his Masters. So if you read this and say I’m an idiot for spending my money on a McDojo. I will tell you that I would have been and idiot for not letting my child do TKD at three.



  39. Mike Massie on February 25, 2011 at 6:55 am

    Jimmy,

    While I think being the toughest school on the block isn’t the most impressive or important thing when it comes to learning martial arts, it is good to know that your instructor cares enough to teach his or her students properly.

    Keep up the good work with your training – it will pay off in ways you never realized years from now.

    – Mike Massie



  40. Mike Massie on February 25, 2011 at 7:02 am

    Maurice,

    Your son is not a black belt. No self-respecting martial arts instructor would strap a black belt on a 5 yr. old, much less have them do contact sparring.

    You are not an idiot, your kid’s instructor is… or maybe he or she is just really, really smart when it comes to making money, ethics be damned.

    The question no one seems to ask about these black belt factory schools is this:

    How can a “master” be teaching “character”, when he or she does not have it?

    I have some advice for you – keep your child in martial arts, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that your son’s school and organization are the “truth” about what authentic martial arts culture is all about. Peek your head out of that school, and take some time to look around and see what’s out there.

    You may be surprised at what you find.

    – Mike Massie



  41. SRD on April 1, 2011 at 8:43 am

    My 7 year old son began taking Tae Kwon Do lessons this past September, and earned his white belt/yellow tip last night… after 7 months of training. After watching others that started with him (who were a little older) get promoted around Christmas, it prompted him to work harder, but his instructor kept waiting until he felt that our son was truly ready to earn the tip. What a proud night for him! He can’t wait for his next lesson so that he can start working on his full yellow belt… which he hopes to earn by Christmas.
    I am grateful that his instructor is not in to promoting students just to keep them and make $. I believe that my son enjoys it more because he sees that he has to EARN the belt.



  42. Hyun on April 2, 2011 at 12:52 pm

    Very interesting responses here. I do find quite a few opinions on how long it should take to be a black belt. They are just that, opinions. There are rules that some systems follow and even within those rules there are exceptions. What are the rules and when do we as instructors or governing bodies take exception? Well, let’s look at what 1st degree means.

    In my circle of training, a 1st degree black belt is a prepared beginner. As one is going through the keup/keuw/colored belt/sash systems, he/she is a beginner/beginner, beginner/intermediate…advanced/advanced and then the “prepared beginner.” The word master is not mentioned because the black belt is not a master of his/her art. This is important to understand before the “judging” of the agenda or character of the instructor is levied. This is NOT to say that the passing out of belts does not exist. Rather, the idea of how long it should take to obtain a black belt can be argued as a relative accomplishment.

    How often does the student train in and out of the school? That question in itself can lead to all types of answers thus the relative title. Moreover, how much attention to detail is displayed in that person’s training? Now we are at the eye of the beholder. Here is the kicker (no pun intended)…what is the level of observation being given to the progress of the student??? So, time can be placed as a requirement but does that mean he/she is ready to promote? I am sure you will agree the answer is a resounding NO! There are other factors to consider and there are MANY! One posted, age…another posted, behavior outside of the martial arts school…etc.

    However, I want to come back to the idea of a prepared beginner. This student is now prepared to learn and understand his/her’s martial art. The basics are solid (hopefully) and now the instructor can help the student build on the basics. While this is going on, the instructor is building on his/her guidance of students in the art. It is a beautiful relationship! Everyone is continuing to learn and improve. Testing is not just for the student, but for the instructor as well. Do quite a few if not all the students struggle at the same point of their forms? I mean, the list can go on and on about your own report card from belt testing.

    However, the instructor is NOT the prepared beginner but something much more advanced. Please do not confuse talent with requirements. This thinking includes talented teaching skills. Some of the most successful professional batting and tennis coaches were NOT the most successful competitors in their respective days. So it is safe to argue the same applies to martial arts.

    So where does this leave the awarding of the black belt? Whether the rules are written and followed or exceptions are taken, then time requirements are null and void. It has to do with the student and his/her instructor. Adding talent or the lack thereof and this debate can go on forever. In closing, awarding a black belt or any other belt or degrees is a very personal relationship between the student and his/her instructor. What one may perceive as a black belt as opposed to a brown belt is personal and will continue to be so. An outsider saying one deserves or does not deserve that belt is exactly why you are not teaching that student. Pay attention to your own students and instruction and do the best you can to improve and enhance your relationship with your students. Martial arts and its practitioners as a whole will benefit.



  43. Jack on July 8, 2011 at 4:28 am

    I find it degrading to martial arts that black belts are being labelled as teacher level. 1st degree black belt is meant for someone who has finally learned the basic techniques. Not just able to perform it, but understand application, use, importance, etc. My old teacher used to tell me that anyone can strap on a black belt, it was what you did to get the black belt that mattered.



  44. Marko on August 11, 2011 at 7:44 pm

    A good martial art would be JUDO. this is becuz u CANNOT be a mcdojo because for your shodan you need to do 2 things. 1) a a brown belt you must beat blackbelts in tournaments for a certain amount of points. So if they just give u ur brown belt in 2 years you will stay there for like 8 years cuz u jar can beat the “proper black belts” once u have enuf points **** ******** grades u on ur katas. NOT ur dojo so if u suck even though u have all the points no shodan :P



  45. Mike Massie on August 24, 2011 at 8:53 am

    Marko, I remember reading how much Bruce Lee respected judo because it was practiced with full contact. Good point. However, please refrain from dogging schools by name here. Editing your comment to remove the school’s name – we want to keep it civil here.



  46. Lim Dong Cheol on August 29, 2011 at 8:11 am

    Here in Korea you can get a WTF black belt in 10 months and that is by training a few times a week for an hour at a time. I took my WTF 3 gup in 6 months and was really unfit at the time. Meanwhile, my ITF black belt which I took in Germany in 1982, took 5 years to the day and involved some intensive training. And if there is one great advert for the McDojo school of martial artists it’s when kids like Jayden Smith are promoted as ”karate experts.’



  47. Asmo on September 9, 2011 at 11:34 am

    I’ve been training for about a year and a half now, my son and I both take around 5 hours (4.75 to be exact) per week and practice easily another 5 hours outside of class if not more, and have been doing so every week since day one. We are both now Red belts, but my son and I agree that while we are eligible to test next week, we will better serve ourselves by waiting another month; we’ve done it with every belt thus far. We have more work to be done, more effort to be made, to get closer to perfect. Both of our goals is not to be the first to achieve a rank, but to be the best. That is the way it should be in any school I believe, but the student is the one driving that bus, we all should expect excellence. Some people do not agree and they or their kids move up faster than they should, only to come to a screeching halt at some later date.

    At our school I’ve been told to expect 6th months to move from 1st brown to second, and 6 months from second brown to be eligible to test for black and that is taking around 9 classes per week or about 7 hours of class each week. To the comments earlier regarding the hours to be able to test, 400 hours is really nothing and a school suggesting that is not helping their students master themselves and this art at least not at a school where it is expected you take over 350 hours as a brown belt before you can test for black. I imagine to be close to 1000 hours in class at the time I have earned the privilige to test for 1st gup and that is probably a conservative estimate on class time.



  48. scott on October 21, 2011 at 12:51 am

    To my understanding earning the black belt is just the beginning of martial arts not the end. its like wanting to be a tradesman first you have to aquire all the tools of the trade in order to learn it.I recently earned my permanent or 1st dan black belt after three years but i understand that it doesnt qualify me to open my own branch. I now have a toolbox full of tools to start to learn the trade.
    The true problem starts when we in the martial arts society claim or atribute certian expertice to a rank or level. we all know of students who are lower levels but have a skill set that can surpase higher ranking people, and what of those people who are less able whether physically or mentally should they not achieve higher ranking or respect according to thier ability? No matter the rank, we are all students. Once a teachers stops learning from the student they should stop teaching.



  49. hailey on October 22, 2011 at 11:07 am

    My daughter, who just turned 6, has been in taekwondo since the age of 2. She started off as a Tiny Tiger, and is now a blue belt. Initially, in her school,graduations are “given” every 2-3 months based on specific requirements being met. After your first year(purple belt), you are tested, and have a pass/fail system! My daughter lost the honor of being allowed to test on a recent test because her feet weren’t facing forward in one of her forms, and she hesitated a few seconds too long between moves on one of the harder forms! On top of that, she must have permission from parents and teachers to test….and there are requirements such as keeping room clean and being respectful, as well as completing homework on time and getting good grades!



  50. TKDmom on November 11, 2011 at 11:56 pm

    Thank you so much for writing this; it’s cleared up a lot of things for me.

    I have a 7 year old who loves taekwondo, and he is also blessed with a natural talent for the sport. We love his school and caring instructors who are genuinely good at teaching children. My one big issue with them, though, is that it’s way too easy to move up. I see kids who can’t remember their forms and not only rise to the next belt but win trophies! It cheapens the efforts of my son, I feel, especially when less competent children get awarded and sometimes over our son who clearly performed better. I had always been puzzled by this until I read your post. Now I know that the school wanted to keep the less competent kids around, by praising and giving out trophies.

    I probably should shop around for a higher quality school but by now my son is so attached to his school and instructors.



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