How Long Should It Take To Get A Black Belt? 

by Stuart Anslow

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In this day and age, opinions vary greatly on the length of time it should take someone to gain their black belt from complete beginner. Some feel it's just a case of getting the 'basics' down, so shouldn't take too long, others feel it is a little more than that and represents a pivotal point in any Taekwon-Doists career and some serious skills should be attained. I have heard it can take as little as 2 years, to an average of 4 to 6 years for some, 10 years or anywhere in between!

These times are based on the Ch'ang Hon/ITF system, the Kukkiwon/WTF system may be different as I have heard that in South Korea, there is less emphasis on what a Black Belt represents and thus students can obtain one in a year and I`m not sure how that equates to the rest of the world (May be one of our Kukki based writers could do a similar article/comparison)!


As I said, opinions vary, but not only that, so does what is actually required to gain a black belt - between different organisations and different clubs. In my school for example, you could, in theory, get you black belt in three and a half years, though the average 'real' time is between four and half to six years, but our syllabus is significantly different from many organisations. So, taking that in account, lets refer back to what one may consider the 'standard' syllabus of basically patterns, sparring (at the appropriate levels) and destruction.


If we look at General Choi's 1965 book, he stated that gradings for Kup grade students should take place every three months. However, back in 1965 there were only 8 Kup levels (as opposed to the 10 there are now), so that equates to only 2 years from complete beginner to black belt, 1st degree!


However, if one looks a bit deeper, you can see that these tests were based on the 'training schedule' he devised, which shows that the '2 year to black belt' was for the student training 1.5 hours daily for 6 days a week, every week without exception (just Sundays off!).  General Choi also offered a '1 year to black belt course'  which was basically double the 2 year course,  training 3 hours daily for 6 days a week, again every week without exception (just Sundays off!).


In his 1965 book he actually puts the number of hours down for each of the courses; 1250 hours for the 12 months course and 940 hours for the 24 month (2 year course) which actually works out at 936 if you do the maths! Note, the maths in the 1965 book is also incorrect for the 12 month course as he states 1250 hours, but it actually works out the same as the 24 month course at 936 hours! With that said, what we see here represents an approximate 25% decrease in hours spent training over the extra year, assuming this is deliberate reduction in training time based on a longer time to digest the information, and a mathematical error as stated above! 

In 1965 when he devised the length of time he required students to train to obtain black belts, I would assume he was working on the following criteria of physically fit adult males, possibly soldiers (as Korea was also male dominated society back then)! Now whilst I don't feel this criteria would be any different for female students, it would definitely need to be longer for child students.

The section in General Choi’s 1965 book ‘Taekwon-Do’ detailing Training times.


You may feel this is old and he would have changed things as Taekwon-do was spread around the world and more and more civilians would take up the art and indeed he did, however, the actual 'hours' of training remained pretty much the same. For example, in his 1983 (15 Volumes) books, instead of 12 or 24 month courses, he now offered 12, 18 and 30 month courses.

The 12 month course is much the same as it was in 1965, with the exception that training time per day was up'd to 4 hours per day as opposed to the original 3 hours, making it a total of 1248 hours in total. The 18 month course required 1.5 hours training per day, 6 days a week (totalling 702 hours) and the 30 month course (2.5 years) required 1.5 hours a day, 3 days per week (totalling 585 hours).


There are a couple of things we can obtain from all this data:


a) To gain a black belt quickly General Choi expected the student to train every day (except Sundays) for longer periods than most schools run classes these days ie. 4 hours per day, 6 days per week, without exception for the 12 month course.


b) For those who would take longer and couldn't commit to 6 days per week training, he expected at least 3 sessions a week, without exception for around  same amount of time the average class trains today. 


However, this is General Choi's view of things. Personally, I would have expected the amount of hours to go up, rather than down as the period of time increases, as 'knowledge' lost between gaps in training is larger, the longer you leave it, so more sessions would need to be done. Any teacher can attest to the fact that the more frequent  learning is, the better a student gets, quicker, as  more is retained, as its continually drummed into you and not lost through time waiting for the next session. However, maybe his basis was on the fact that he expected students to train themselves between actual lessons, and thus absorb the information more fully that way, I do not know! 



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The section in General Choi’s 1983 book detailing Training times to Black belt (1st Degree)