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Mount Fuji

This is a very common question in any dojo. However, it is not the right question to be asking. The more important question is, “How will I get my black belt?”

A common response is “a black belt is a white belt who never quit.” Put in the work, and you will be rewarded. Students who go to class, practice at home, and follow their instructor’s guidance will have the opportunity to test for their black belt.

“Yes,” the student (or their parent) will then ask, “but how long will that take?

There is no concrete answer. Sure, some schools will guarantee a black belt in X number of years, but that is not how Sensei Oliveri operates, nor do his teachers and the other instructors in his style. A student might be able to get through a curriculum in a short length of time, but that is not the same as understanding that curriculum or performing its instruction with an appreciable level of skill.

Another common analogy to earning a black belt is it’s like climbing to the top of a mountain: there are many paths to get there, but it’s different for every one of us. How long does it take to reach the peak?

Now we’re getting a little closer. First, how old are you? A healthy 10 year old is going to look at the path very differently from a 60 year old battling a bad hip. What kind of shape are you in? Someone who is already physically active and athletically gifted will have certain advantages over someone who has worked a desk job for ten years and is carrying around some extra weight. All four of these people are capable of earning their black belt, they’re just going to face different challenges.

Then consider your support system and obstacles. There are students who attend every class without fail, and there are students who have professional or family obligations that interfere with attendance. There are those who have the time, space, and motivation to work out at home, and there are those for whom class time is their only opportunity to work out. For some children, karate is their only activity and they hit class regularly year-round. Others are involved with school athletics and extracurriculars, music lessons, church activities, and/or park district sports programs. A young bachelor has fewer obligations than a middle-aged husband and father of three.

Then we have to recognize that life happens. Career changes, family and lifestyle changes, waxing and waning motivations, injuries, school commitments, and more can all affect students and/or their families at any time. Sometimes these can be beneficial, like finding a job closer to home that frees up time to get to class. Other times they can slow things down, such as a severe injury that requires extensive rehabilitation.

Just as that mountain top will be there within your lifetime, so too will your opportunity to test for black belt. Your path will cross a number of obstacles, backtrack, and take many detours, but if you keep climbing you’ll get there. Sensei Oliveri earned his black belt after about six years of training. Some of his fellow students did it between four and five years, others took as long as 10 or 12 years.

What it takes to be a black belt is a subject for another post. In the meantime, your best bet is to come to class, practice at home, and discuss your goals and your timeline with your instructor.

Post Author: Sensei Oliveri

Sensei Mike Oliveri is currently a sandan, or 3rd-degree black belt, in Shuri-ryu Karate-do. He started training with the Academy of Okinawan Karate in 2007, and he served as Sensei of their Eureka location from January 2015 through March of 2019. He opened the Heartland Dojo in Roanoke, Illinois, in April of 2019.