In many martial arts belts are used as a way to denote rank or expertise. Each martial art usually has their own belt system with different competencies and requirements for each belt level. Typically a black belt is the highest ranked belt that one can achieve. Various different colored belts usually make up the steps leading to the black belt.
The use of colored belts to denote rank or ability in martial arts is a relatively recent invention in the long history of martial arts. It is thought that a belt system for the purpose of denoting rank was first used by the founder of Judo, Jigoro Kano, sometime in the late 19th century. Judo directly influenced other Japanese Martial which subsequently adopted their own belt ranking system.
The establishment of martial arts schools and the commercialization of martial arts has also influenced in adoption of belt systems. Many students sign up and train in the hope of someday achieving their black belt.
The value of a black belt can vary greatly depending on the martial art. In some martial arts a black belt is considered to be expert level and may only be awarded after more than 10 years in which a person may be required to have proved their skill through competition and regular training. In other martial arts a black belt can be achieved as a Juvenile after a couple of years of casual training. Martial arts that guarantee black belts and award them after a short period of training often have their legitimacy questioned.
Which Black Belt Takes the Longest to Achieve?
Judo – 4 to 6 Years
The exact length of time spent training in Judo before being awarded a black belt depends on many different factors. For example grading standards and belt criteria can vary significantly depending on the academy and the region of the world where you decide to train
Judo has different ranking systems depending on the region but in general the Judo ranking system is split into two ranking systems – kyū and dan grades. Kyū grades come first and comprise of 6 colored belts (white, yellow, orange, green, blue, and brown). Once a student has reached the final Kyu grade they may then test for their first black belt in the Dan grading system. There are 10 Dan grades of black belt with the first Dan black belt known as “Shodan”.
Unlike other martial arts a black belt in Judo is not considered to be expert level. “Shodan” literally translates as “first level” or “beginning step. Examination requirements for a Shodan belt vary depending on country, age group and of course the grade being attempted. The examination itself may include Kata or else a demonstration of skill in competition.
With regular training and dedication it would not be unusual for somebody to achieve a Judo Shodan black belt in 6 years or less.
Karate – 4 to 7 Years
Karate has four main styles: Goju-ryu, Shotokan-ryu, Wado-ryu and Shito-ryu. Each one has its own techniques and may have their own promotion criteria depending on the academy and their
Generally speaking, in order to get your black belt, you must advance through the 10 “kyu” levels. The first five levels (ranks) are signified with colored belts: white, orange, red, yellow, and green. The sixth and seventh levels are represented with a purple belt, and the eighth through tenth levels are represented with a brown belt. Once the last brown belt is achieved the next step is the first black belt, or Dan belt. This is commonly known as Shodan and is the first level out of 10 in Dan black belts.
The exact time it takes to reach Shodan or any level of Dan black belt depends on the time spent training, skill, and the discretion of the person awarding the belt. In general it is thought that a Shodan black belt can be achieved in approximately 5 years of regular training.
Jiu Jitsu – 9 to 13 Years
There are a couple of different variations of Jiu Jitsu in existence today with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu being the most popular form. This is in part down to its prevalence in MMA and the success that the Gracie family have had in promoting it over the last 25 years. In BJJ, a black belt is considered to be expert level and can take many years of regular training to achieve.
The exact criteria for the belt may differ depending on academy with some schools requiring black belts to have demonstrated their skills through teaching or even in competition.
Like the other martial arts the length of time that it takes to earn a black belt in BJJ depends on many factors and can vary greatly between academies and regions. However it is widely accepted that it typically takes on average 10+ years of regular training to be awarded a BJJ blackbelt.
The most popular criteria for belt rankings in BJJ was created by the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF). According to their standards a black belt recipient must be at least 19 years old. When you add up their minimum edibility standards for the other colored belts, the minimum amount of time a adult can achieve a black belt in is 4 years and 6 months.
There can be large variations in time spent training when it comes to the awarding of a BJJ blackbelt. Previous grappling experience, age, and athleticism often play a significant factor. For example a young professional MMA fighter who trains everyday (including training in the Gi) is far more likely to receive one quicker than a 40 year old hobbyist grappler who can only make training twice a week. UFC Hall of Famer BJ Penn famously received his BJJ blackbelt after training for only 3 years and 4 months. BJ would go on to become a BJJ world champion as well as the UFC middleweight champion.
TaeKwondo – 3 to 5 Years
Unlike some other martial arts TaeKwondo does not have a traditional ranking system that has been passed down through the centuries. In TaeKwondo the ranking system is a rather modern innovation to keep in step with other martial arts. The ranking system is modeled on the Karate ranking system but is divided into junior and senior ranks.
The junior system is made up of colored belts which are known as Geups. The exact number of geups depends on the exact style of Taekwondo being taught with anywhere from 8-12 geup ranks depending on the school. The senior system is made up of black belts with each black belt rank known as a Dan. There are typically nine Dan levels in Taekwondo.
Taekwondo’s ranking system is designed in a way that encourages young people to continue training until they reach the senior ranks. With regular training it is taught that a student could achieve their first Dan black belt in 3 to 5 years.
Aikido – 3 to 4 Years
Aikido practitioners generally progress by promotion through the kyu grades and Dan degrees similar to other martial arts. Not all Aikido organisations use belts to distinguish grades. Some use just white and black belts to differentiate between kyu and Dan grades whereas others use colored belts.
Testing requirements for a black can vary massively depending on the Aikido organisation. In general it is taught that an Aikido black belt can be achieved within a couple of years of training.