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How To Get A Black Belt

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“How long will it take me to get a Black Belt?”

This has got to be the most common question asked to any Martial Arts instructor by potential students.

“How long is a piece a string”  is probably the most common answer….

I try to equate it with other skills in life. How long does it take to get a degree at university?  If you work hard on a daily basis and attend all your classes and work hard it should take three years.

If you wanted to learn to play the piano or guitar, 3 years of daily practise and weekly classes should give you a basic skill….

Gymnastics…. Ballroom dancing…..  Ice skating…..  all about the same.

So generally it equates with a basic skill level – if you are moderately intelligent, reasonably well co-ordinated and attend three classes a week and practise what you are asked to daily at home you should reach basic shodan level in about three years.

If you attend two classes a week and train at least three times a week at home maybe 5 years.

If you attend only one class a week and barely train at home you will never make it.  That’s the facts of life.

You can throw into the equation factors like is the instructor a good coach?  How good are the training facilities?  It can make a considerable difference if the club has a dedicated facility where the classes can be split into smaller groups and specifically taught what they require rather than being “dumped” into a noisy sports hall next to trampolining or aerobics in a white to black belt class with one highly stressed or couldn’t care or less instructor.

Does each student have direction and planning?  Does the coach have a 3 – 5 year plan according to your disposable time and abilities?  Does he/she have a grading to grading plan?  An individual lesson plan?  Is there a system where your progress is monitored and feedback given both ways?  If not I would say it’s like making a journey to an unknown place without a map or guide…..  your chances of making it even to base camp (shodan) is unlikely.

Maybe that’s why the student attrition rates in some clubs are so high….  It may just be that it’s not the “high standards” that make people leave but the poor coaching and structure….

Although some clubs simply drop the standards required and continue with shoddy instruction, just giving grades in the specified time periods…

So ask yourself the questions:

Is there a progressive recognised coaching structure within my club?

Is my training skill based with each skill clearly taught to me within each specific grade group?

Is my progress monitored and the opportunity for adequate feedback given at regular intervals?

Am I given adequate opportunity to match my standard to others in the Martial Arts world at large by attending national and international courses and competitions?

If the answer to any of these is “no” then you should take a long hard look at your progress.

There are a lot of “trendy” coaching methods and “skill games” around – particularly in the Martial Arts that make me suspicious.  Let me explain with an analogy

If I went to play the guitar and the teacher said “First you have to learn what a guitar looks like – so I’ve hidden one in the house and you have to find it then bring it to me”  I’d be worried.

Then “Okay that’s the guitar – now for the strings….  Then the plectrum….”

“Right – now you need dexterity of the fingers so I’ve devised these exercises called “Cats Cradle” and “Church and People”…..  and so it goes on….  We never get to play the guitar or if we do…. at a real base (white belt) level.

It strikes me that there are a lot of physically fit people doing white belt Martial Arts harder and faster wearing a black belt.  What ever happened to the skill?  Will that technique deal with a bigger, stronger person?  Are they relying on physical strength, youth and fitness?  Whatever happened to using the other person’s strength against them?

So these endless time consuming “drills” and “games” never seem to work, they just seem to make the coaches job easier time wise….  Are we doomed to this endless “fast food” style mind distracting “fun” method of teaching and constant lessening of standards as each generation fail to make the required grades?

We’ve seen it in our schools as levels of literacy plummet and each successive generation seems to get higher grades with less skills..  Is this what’s happening to the martial Arts?

I’ve already outlined what I feel should be the way forward.  I’m not advocating a return to the bully boy, macho, egotistical methods employed by many in the past but a well planned, well structured, skill based informative method of teaching for the future.

And this requires planning, motivation, humility, patience and determination.  Qualities that any good Martial Artist should strive to possess.

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