How Long It Takes to Get A Black Belt? Part 2

This is a follow up to the article I wrote last week regarding how long it takes to reach black belt.  In that article I showed how students are earning black belts in the same amount of time although they are doing it in less actually training time.  This is resulting in students learning less curriculum, requirements being simplified, and overall quality in many areas going down. 

In this article I will expand upon those observations while examining the black belt ranks and the time to achieve each subsequent degree of black belt.

Achieving Higher Dan Rank

In most Tang Soo Do systems, the minimum amount of time required to achieve higher black belt rank is the number of years of that rank.  For instance, 2 years after 1st Dan to achieve 2nd Dan, 3 years after 2nd Dan to achieve 3rd Dan, etc.

In the previous article I showed how determining time requirements in years rather than training hours can result in a large discrepancy in how much time students actually spend training.  I actually do not have a problem with this.  The skill level and ability at higher black belt levels is much more difficult to define.  I feel qualified instructors do a good job in teaching students the necessary requirements to advance in dan rank.  There is a lot more judgement involved and less clearly defined requirements in going to 2nd and 3rd Dan as opposed to 1st Dan.  Therefore, the minimum time requirement is just that, a minimum.  There seems to be a lot less of a hurry to get students to higher dan rank than getting them to that 1st degree black belt.

Some instructors feel that they need to get a student to black belt in order to keep them from quitting.  Once they get to black belt it seems like there is less of a quitting concern and instructors really start to fine tune students with less of a strict schedule to follow.

1st Dan-3rd Dan

For the most part, from 1st to 3rd Dan I don’t have much issue with time requirements.  It’s after 3rd Dan that things start to get a little murky in my eyes.  The minimum number of years training equal to the degree of black belt still holds true in most Tang Soo Do systems (i.e. 4 years from 3rd Dan to 4th Dan).  However, the definition of “training” is what I’d like to dissect.

In my opinion, for 1st-3rd Dan, the bulk of your training is taking actual, physical classes being taught by an instructor.  As you go from 1st to 3rd Dan your teaching responsibilities will increase which I also consider training.  A lot of knowledge and wisdom are gained through teaching.  However, as I mentioned, this is not the majority of the training at this level.  There are those outliers who become an instructor very early on and do not take physical classes as much as the need to but for the most part, the class to teaching ratio is heavily leaning towards the class end.

Getting higher levels of black belt should be increasingly more difficult
Getting higher levels of black belt should be increasingly more difficult

Somewhere around 3rd Dan there is a shift in training going from taking physical classes to more heavily focused on teaching.  As I mentioned, I still consider all of this training.  However, the time requirements get a little harder to understand.  Let me explain.  Let’s take a look at two separate 4th Dans on their paths to 5thDan:

4th Dan –  A:

Teaches part-time at a health club, YMCA, community center, etc.  Teaches 2 classes a week for a total of 3 hours per week to about 30 students.  Trains individually or with others informally for another 4 hours per week.

Weekly Training Total = 7 hours per week

Yearly Training Total = 364 hours per year

5 year Training Time Total = 1,820 hours

4th Dan – B:

Is a full-time instructor who owns his own studio and teaches around 80% of the classes.  Teaches multiple classes per day, 5 days per week, for a total of about 15 hours per week to about 150 students.  Trains individually or with others informally for another 4 hours per week.

Weekly Training Total = 19 hours per week

Yearly Training Total = 988 hours per year

5 year Training Time Total = 4,940 hours

I fully believe that at 4th Dan and higher the emphasis should be on knowledge, experience, and wisdom over sheer physical attributes (although I still feel physical abilities should remain very high at this level).  Which of the two 4th Dans above has more experience, knowledge, and wisdom?  The one with nearly 3 times more training hours most likely.

The concerning thing is that in most Tang Soo Do systems, the above two individuals will likely be promoted on the same schedule, after the same minimum number of years since their previous rank, all other things being equal.


So, my conclusion is, just like in my previous article, more emphasis needs to be put on training hours versus just time spent on the planet.

Peter Gibbons in Office Space said it best.  “You can only ask a person to work hard enough to not get fired.”

People will always do the minimum, even when it comes to getting higher black belt grades
People will always do the minimum

It seems to me that the definition of time spent between ranks in not consistent right now with what it was originally intended to be.  This minimum is actually getting lower.  Five years of training now is not what it was when these time requirements where instituted.  As with the lower ranks, I feel that adhering to the old time requirements is hurting the quality of many Tang Soo Do black belts.

My analysis and discussion in this article only relate to black belts up to around 5th Dan.  At 6th Dan and higher I think things change once again and require different discussions.  I will examine those in part 3 coming later this week.  Stay tuned!

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to reach out.  I would be more than happy to share my system with anyone who is interested.

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