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.
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.