Four Year Incubation Period to Get to Black Belt in Karate

Four Years to Black Belt? No Way!

It often irks me when people talk about it taking four years to get to Black Belt in Karate. This is one of the most insidious and stupid concepts that has ever taken root in the martial arts. And, I might add, it is just as stupid in any art, be it Aikido or Taekwondo or whatever.

black belt

Reverse Your Thinking...Get to Black Belt in a Few Months!

Martial Arts instructors who push this concept often claim that it takes that long for the body to change. The tendons have to elongate and the muscles have to striate and the bones have to do whatever bones do when you block and punch with them. This is, of course, a justification for time, when their real motive is to keep a student on contract, or to enhance their authority, or some other tawdry reason.

I’m sure there is some change in the body over time, but not that much. The fact is that if you gave a black belt and a white belt a battery of physical tests, the black belt would have an edge, but not much. Black belts and white belts train side by side in many classes, and except for a little more huffing and puffing, within a month the white belt keeps up.

So it takes about a month to recondition the body, and this is easily provable if you just look at the army. They take a person and totally change his physique within two months. So the idea that it is going to take four years to reach some mythical, ideal body state is silly.

The second half of this equation, or point number two, has to do with history and the people who have made it to black belt. There are people, pretty famous people, who have made it to black belt fast…Mike Stone six months, Chuck Norris a year and a half, Joe Lewis made black belt in three different styles in one year…and so on. So it is possible, but you have to break out of the mind mold that has been sold you, that it takes four years to get to black belt.

Now we come to the kicker on this. Where did the four year to black belt idea come from? Actually, it came from a guy who didn’t even get his black belt…it came from Ed Parker.

Ed Parker was teaching people kenpo when it was still just karate, and he was a brown belt. He went home to Hawaii and asked his instructor for more techniques because he was running out, and he was told no. I guess Thunderbolt Chow didn’t think much of Ed Parker, because he refused to teach him more, and he wouldn’t promote him.

So Ed Parker went back to the US, found somebody else to help him put a system together, and began selling karate like you would sell cars. A couple of his students (the Tracey Brothers) actually got a car salesman to train them how to put people on contracts for the length of time it takes to pay off a car…four years. And that is the truth behind why it takes four years to earn a black belt in Karate, or Aikido, or Kenpo, or just about any martial art that bought into this idea.

martial arts black belt

6 thoughts on “Four Year Incubation Period to Get to Black Belt in Karate

  1. Tim

    interesting what you said about Ed Parker. Actualy I went to Malaysia and got a black belt in Lian padukan Silat over the course of 3 months. It was full time intense training with a grueling test at the end.
    But thats a different martial art all together and I wasnt disapointed when I realised that I didnt gain special powers when I put on my black belt.

    Gradings are a good sellingpoint and a time frame is good for goal setting, but if you have a black belt or not doesnt make you any better or worse.

    1. aganzul Post author

      Times between belt gradings is interesting, a whole theory of thought (Plateau theory) has ‘grown up’ around it, trying to justify it. If you promote a student at the exact point at which he gets the material, he doesn’t plateau-but you have to get him exactly-he has about 90% of the improvement of the fellow who has to wait three months. If you miss the point and make him wait three months he’s only going to have slight improvement for all that practice. I’m always fascinated by this. Thanks for commenting. Al

  2. Earl O'Connell

    One point of note is that it takes more than 4 years for most peoples character to mature enough to understand martial arts. I think the physical analysis is not the only comparison because everyone has a different ability and outlook.

    What you may be referring to is the control that many clubs try to have over their students. A very confident and knowledgeable instructor who does not need the club to earn a living and has many years 20 plus experiance probably does not have to play this game. You can get respect from your students if they know you know your stuff and can manage discipline in a class environment for the safety and good of all students.

    There are many balck belt that do not merit the status of the belt. I would not be surprised if this is for 80% or more. I probably classify myself in this category, as we are always beginers.

    To be a very good Karate person physicaly, you probably need to be less than 30 years of age. However to be very effective and deliver effective techniques you could be much older, although how long you might last is down to stamina your training reigime and your age.

    In my limited experiance, many a good martial artist has given up when they have reached what they believe to be their limit. This is mostly physical, as to continue to train through your life is very hard especially when you body begins to decline, this is when the mind takes over. Some people never get to find out and drop out early.

    Hope you found my thoughts useful.


    1. aganzul Post author

      Hey Earl, your thoughts are most useful.
      I wrote an article about what a black belt is, it’s here…
      I’m of the school that knowledge (backed up by competence) brings about promotion. Not length of time. It’s when the man (woman) understands and can apply. In my experience this state has always been accompanied by maturity. Knowledge brings maturity. This is crucial to why I feel I can sell courses giving whole arts, and bringing people to black belt quickly. And, I want to say something about you…your point about 80% being less than black belt is right on, but I would put the percentage higher. And I wouldn’t include you in that number. The fact that you are aware of this factor automatically excludes you from it. Yes, all are beginners, but your knowledge reveals your maturity…reveals that you are black belt. Anyway, thanks for commenting, I always like a guy who puts his smarts on in the morning. Al

  3. Earl O'Connell

    Wow, I like the article, its certainly going to ruffle up a few egos. For me I know that I am past my best. I cant lie to myself, the simpe truth is that I am finding it ever harder to find a kind of perfection in technique and have to face a reality, it’s all in the perfection of intention.

    Maybe this is all to philosophical but how much effort am I willing to put in? how much am I willing to learn ? and now for me what will I have contributed to martial arts, to my fellow students and the good of others.

    What can I be really proud of regarless of any recognition. Just does not get any better than that for me. Once again thanks you for your blog response.



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