The Path to Black Belt
"How long will it take me to earn a black belt?”
Prospective students ask me this surprisingly often and it always stuns me. Why would someone who has never done a lesson, who has no idea about the art or whether they would even enjoy learning it, be thinking about earning a black belt?
I would like to think that the answer is ambition and that these people are setting demanding goals for themselves. Ah, if only it were true. The truth is that these people are fantasists. They are attracted to the idea of being a black belt – the fantasy – without really knowing what it means.
On average it takes 3-4 years to earn a black belt but what I always refrain from asking these people in return is this: “What do you think your chances of earning a black belt are?”
I have no real data on this but from experience the number is 3-4% so for every 100 people who start learning a martial art only 3 or 4 of them will earn a black belt.
About half drop out in the first 6 months when they realize the time and effort involved. Then about half of those left drop out about half way or just past half way to black belt. I have no idea the significance of this halfway mark but I have seen it again and again. Interestingly, the number halves again as students get close to their black belt – so near, yet so far. Then there are those that drop out somewhere else along the spectrum for whatever reason and only 3-4 will get their black belt.
This is why I am always stunned when people ask me how long it will take them to get a black belt when 95% of people who start will never get one.
It takes real commitment to earn a black belt. It takes sweat, pain, frustration and multiple blows to your ego as you make the many mistakes required to learn new skills. It is a physical, mental and emotional journey that, as the numbers show, only a few are cut out for.
But allow me to let you in on a secret. You have it in you to earn one if you do one thing – persist. Ninjutsu means “the art of perseverance” and a black belt awaits anyone who is prepared to keep going. There will be good days and bad ones, times when your energy levels are high and times when you feel flat but you can get there if just keep going.
I admit that as far as secrets go, it is a pretty boring one and nowhere near as good as the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique from the Kill Bill films.
So let me share another secret with you. When you earn your black belt you will not consider yourself worthy. You will be pleased and you will be rightly proud and others will be genuinely impressed but you will also be aware of how much learning still lies ahead of you. I call this realization black belt maturity.
Sadly not everyone has it, which is why the next point at which many people quit training is when they earn their black belt.
You see the answer for white belt students and black belt student is exactly the same – to keep going.
So if you want to begin your black belt journey, there is no time like right now.