This is a question many people will ask their instructor, while others will either not care and just get on with training or know that they will do whatever it takes to get a black belt. It is however a question we should maybe all be asking and understand what kind of commitment and sacrifice will be involved to reach our goal.
Very much depends upon a number of things:
- The club/association
- Your age
- Your other commitments
- Your physical condition
- Your attitude and desire
I will concentrate upon the latter 4 bullets as I will assume most readers are members of BMAA and understand that grades are of little importance to us except to indicate hierarchy within each class for easier identification of who should be helping who. Our grades are only awarded as a reflection of commitment, standard and knowledge, not time served or monetary payment.
Age can have several different impacts upon how far your karate career may take you. The most obvious and most likely to affect you is the younger you are the longer your future therefore the more years you have ahead of you to keep training and attain higher ranks.
Below are rough timescales for ranks:
Your age will also have an impact on each of the other factors: commitments, physical condition, attitude and desire.
Your other commitments
Obviously we all have commitments to work/school/university/family/volunteering/… etc which, depending upon our priorities, will take up a certain amount of our time each week. This can therefore affect the frequency and regularity of your dojo training. A good instructor will understand this and (although disappointing for a sensei) will accept the situation while advising you of what you can achieve with the time you have and help you to do so. With infrequent or irregular training your progress will of course be slower thus increasing the time between grades, it will undoubtably also be a case of one step forwards, two steps back throughout your karate career. If you find yourself in this situation there are also things you can do to limit the negative effect on your karate:
Try to dedicate a set amount of time each week to karate and put it on a timetable, I always say to families where their children are members and going through GCSEs that 1 -2 hours a week of karate practice where nothing exists for them apart from karate is a great way to escape and relax. Sometimes it is letting go of other commitments regularly for a short spell is the best thing for your stress levels and enables you to achieve more in the time that you are dedicated to those commitments.
- Practice anywhere and anytime. Karate can be practiced in a very small space, even while sat at your desk on a conference call. If there is space to more safely and you have even 30 seconds… do something!!
- Find a way to incorporate your karate into one of those commitments. Now I am not suggesting that while visiting an elderly relative in a retirement home you start using them as a punch bag, or that you bring them along to a class, but if you have a young family then bring them along to the dojo for a family class and progress together, or make your home kata practice a family affair by teaching your youg children the stances and kata patterns yourself.
Obviously there is also the flip side where some will have few commitments or will have prioritised karate above their other commitments, enabling them to attend the dojo more often and do more personal research. It is important to note that although this is of course going to speed up your progress, training 4 times per week does not mean that you will improve at twice the rate of someone training 2 times per week. This is because the body needs time to change and adapt, while the brain needs time to contemplate and adjust.
How much time is required for training each week? This is obviously very difficult to answer, but I can give you my opinion/recommended volume of training:
- White belt – 1 hour per week
9th Kyu Orange Belt – 1 hour per week
- 8th Kyu Red Belt – 1 hour per week
- 7th Kyu Yellow Belt – 1 hour per week
- 6th Kyu Green Belt – 2 hours per week
- 5th Kyu Blue Belt – 2 hours per week
- 4th Kyu Purple Belt – 2 hours per week
- 3rd Kyu Brown Belt – 3 hours per week
- 2nd Kyu Brown/White Belt – 3 hours per week
- 1st Kyu Brown/Red Belt – 4 hours per week
- Black Belt – 5 hours per week
- Instructor (Any Grade) – 5 hours per week
Obviously karate-do is a physical activity and the more ability you have and the better conditioned you are, the better your technique and knowledge can be. Therefore this will go hand in hand with the rank you can achieve…. the better you are the higher the grade you should have.
Of course there are considerations that can be taken for special cases (injuries, disabilities) which mean that higher grades can still be attained without peak physical condition, but it will be demanded from those who are capable. Our over 50s reduced grading syllabus is there to enable those who are older still to have the opportunity to display a black belt standard, knowledge and attitude even though they may not have the physical ability to perform to the level of a younger karateka.
And finally… your attitude/desire
I could ramble on here for thousands of words, but the simple fact is that if you have a goal grade and you want it enough then you can overcome all of the above! You can train harder today than you did yesterday, you can improve your diet to improve your fitness further, you can make spare time to study and train more… there is literally nothing that can stop you if you want it enough. So adopt a can do attitude, empty your thoughts and put your trust into your instructor.
The answer… what grade will you get to?
Look in the mirror and ask yourself…. it is all in your hands and ANYONE can achieve the highest ranks. Best of luck with your decision as to how far you go, but most of all – best of luck with your training!