For many beginners of Taekwondo and other styles of martial arts, the first question is often: “How long does it take to reach black belt?” The covenant black belt level is considered by many new to these arts as being the top prize of achievement. They will soon discover that this is actually just the beginning.
The time required to reach black belt ranking varies within the different styles of martial arts. In addition, the variable times are enhanced by many factors, specifically, one’s individual training philosophy. Those who train five to six days per week will certainly reach higher rankings faster than those who train two to three days per week.
In Korea, where Taekwondo training is part of the country’s culture, one can advance much faster in rank than here in the United States. On average, it takes between three to four years to reach black belt status within the U.S., but only about one and a half years in Korea.
As Taekwondo is seen in Korea as a form of education, most begin training at a very early age with training being a daily ritual. As an example, students of the Chung Cheong University will practice 1,000 speed kicks, three times per day, every day; a dedicated practice that many in the U.S. will not.
Though some throughout the Taekwondo world disagrees with time requirements between belt promotion, the Kukkiwon has established such requirments explaining:
“The Purpose of these Regulations is to regulate the procedures of Kukkiwon (World Taekwondo Headquarters) Poom or Dan promotion tests and issuance of Dan certificates in order to up-lift the Taekwondo techniques and standardize the Poom or Dan grades throughout the World.”
With these time requirements in mind, Kukkiwon Taekwondo practitioners are only able to advance in belt rankings, according to the regulatory standards. So with this in mind, how long would it take to go from white belt to Grandmaster level?
Again, one must look at the individual training philosophy, especially toward the average practitioner in the United States. If one was to begin Taekwondo training at the age of five, training five days per week and never missing a day, they could reach 7th Dan Grand Master rank by the time they are thirty. Continuing on, they could obtain 9th Dan by the age of forty-five.
For that same person who begins training at the age of fourteen within the same training schedule, they would reach 7th Dan by thirty-nine, and 9th Dan by age fifty-four. However, here in the U.S. and much abroad, this type of training schedule is where the adversity lies.
Texas Karate Pioneer and 10th Degree Black Belt, Richard Jenkins who would later co-establish the Florida Karate Academies, is noted for advising that only one out of every ten thousand people who begin training in martial arts, will reach black belt level:
“For every ten thousand people that join a Martial Arts Academy, half will drop out within a year. Of those remaining students, about one thousand will complete one year of training and then quit. Five hundred will study for two years, but only one hundred will see their third year anniversary. On the average, only ten will make 1st Degree Black Belt. Usually one or two make it to 2nd Degree Black Belt. One will go on to teach others what they have learned, for Martial Arts is now a part of their life and they shall go on to share this life with others. This person is a black belt and this person is one in ten thousand.”
Grandmaster Jenkin’s statement is a clear definition of why many beginning martial artists within the U.S. and elsewhere, seldom reach such high levels of rank. Lifestyle, work and family responsibilities for many Americans most often prevent one from dedicating the time required to reach Master or Grandmaster status.
Grandmaster George Petrotta, Ph.D. is the founder of the International Sungja-Do Association and a 6th Degree Black Belt with the Korean Kukkiwon and has been studying the Martial Arts since 1963. In his 5th Dan Kukkiwon Essay, “Taekwondo: A Historical Essay” GM Petrotta briefly touches on this same subject and the differences between Korean and American cultures as it relates to one’s Taekwondo rank advancement:
“By comparison, the United States has a much shorter history in the martial arts than Korea, and therefore attaches less significance to it as a part of American culture. Neither does it have the tradition of attitudes and values. As a result, black belts are quite numerous in Korea, whereas they are a rarity and a curiosity in America.”
“If a student started at age 20, he would be eligible for 8th degree at age 55 plus. I know that there are quite a few Masters and Grandmasters who claim that they started training at age 5 and continued to train through their childhood into adulthood. But, if you look at most of the martial arts schools that cropped up in the last 30 years in the USA, how many of those 5 year-old students stayed with the program for 30 plus years? How many stay with it for 10 years? How many stay with it for 1 year? How many stay with it for 2 months?”
How long does it take to reach black belt status in Taekwondo? On average, three to four years while committing to a training schedule of three to five days per week. Lower this schedule and one can expect black belt in four to six years, yet there are still variables such as age, etc.
How long will it take to go from beginning white belt to 9th Dan Grandmaster? With full training dedication and commitment: a minimum of forty years.
The lack for many of those who begin training in Taekwondo or other martial art style may largely be due to a cultural difference as well as a lack of total commitment. For some, reaching the first degree black belt level may be enough, while others, if they are willing to overcome these differences and the difficulties that life may throw at them, can continue on to reach such a high Dan rank that in reality, few ever achieve.