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How Long Does it Take to Master a Martial Art?

If you’re reading this, then chances are you’re interested in training martial arts. You might have even taken a few classes in your chosen martial art. But at the beginning of your martial arts journey, it’s common to see more experienced martial artists and wonder, “How long will it take me to get to that level?” In this post, I am going to explain what it takes to reach mastery in a martial art.

To master a certain martial art is takes years of training, discipline, and dedication. On average, it takes around 8 years to get a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu/Judo black belt, and around 5 years for a Karate/Taekwondo black belt. Although boxing and muay thai don’t have belts, I’d say it takes around 3 years of only one style to master either of the two.

How to Define Mastery…

Now of course, when someone asks, “how long does it take to master a martial art?” the real answer is… it depends. I know, it’s the easy way out of the question. But the truth is that there are many factors involved in this question. What martial art is it? How often do you train? How much are you learning outside of class? What is your fitness level? Do you have previous training experience? In order for you to attain master on your martial art of choice, we must first set some assumptions about your dedication and discipline.

Choose One Discipline

First, I will be assuming that you only train in one discipline, dedicating all your focus and training to your martial art of choice. I assume this because it is very easy to get distracted from your training and more specifically from your goal of mastery.

With the growing popularity of mixed martial arts competitions, many martial arts students might feel the need to diversify their skillset. While this is a good idea, many professional fighters get their start in one particular discipline, becoming experts in one field, and then accompanying their expertise with growing knowledge in other fields.

A perfect example of this is UFC Lightweight Champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. If you look at Khabib’s skillset, you’ll find that he is an incredibly skilled wrestler. You may even look at his striking and be unimpressed, due to him often getting hit before completing a takedown.

Most great MMA fighters are exceptionally skilled in one discipline, such as UFC Champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, who is an amazing wrestler.
Most great MMA fighters are exceptionally skilled in one discipline, such as UFC Champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, who is an amazing wrestler.

Despite his lack in the striking department, he has accomplished takedowns against every opponent he’s faced. His wrestling is so unstoppable, that in 27 fights, he has only lost one round to former champ Conor McGregor, in a fight which Khabib won by submission.

Therefore, if your goal is to attain mastery, then choose one martial art, and stick with it. Even if your goal is just to win fights, maximizing your potential in one skillset can be more beneficial than spreading yourself out.

Fitness Level

I will also have to assume that your level of fitness is at least average. What I mean by this is that your level of fitness should not affect your ability to learn the skills associated with your martial art. Of course, if you are slightly overweight or not very athletic, that’s ok!

If you are consistent with your training, you will quickly gain the athleticism, strength, and endurance required for your discipline. However, being overly obese will negatively hinder your performance and will also lengthen the time it takes for you to learn new skills, so keep that in mind.

Training Regimen

Next, your training regimen should be very consistent. For someone who is serious about becoming a master martial artist, I would say you should be training almost every day, about 6 days a week. Even on days you don’t train, you should be watching videos and learning new skills through less straining methods while you rest.

Also, don’t overexert yourself. If you feel that you are pushing your body to its limit, take some time off. A recurring injury can seriously shorten your active training time. Take it from someone with a nagging wrist injury (from overtraining), it can slow your progress.

Taking a day off for rest is never a bad thing, especially since you can still learn through non-physical methods as mentioned before. If you want to know more about overtraining (and how to prevent it), I made a post on exactly that, which you can read here.

How to Train

Now we will address the actual training required to attain mastery. Assuming that you have yet to choose your martial art, I would first recommend trying out a class for every martial art that has piqued your interest.

Most gyms offer one free class for newcomers, and some may even offer up to a week or more! Take advantage of this, and use to not only find a martial art that you enjoy, but also to find an environment that is comfortable, motivating and enjoyable.

You could be learning Jiu-Jitsu from the founder Helio Gracie himself, but if you are not being motivated or are not enjoying your time, then that gym is not for you.

Helio Gracie, one of only a few to receive the Coral Belt, and the founder of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Helio Gracie, one of only a few to receive the Coral Belt, and the founder of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

With that being said, there is also some vetting to do around the legitimacy of the gym. Make sure to find out who the head instructor is, and find his qualifications. Make sure to get to know them by asking questions such as, How many matches have they been in? Who was their instructor? How many years of experience do they have? How successful are their students in competition?

These questions will help you know if the person who will be training you is qualified to do so. In order to train someone to the level of “master” the trainer must be able to articulate all the details involved in making a technique work.

For example, a good boxing instructor will tell you to turn your hips into your hook. However, a great instructor will be able to explain how and why turning the hips generates momentum and power and how this is effective in a fight.

Also note that your trainer does not have to be the best martial artist in the world! A good example of this is a mixed martial arts instructor named Matt Hume, who at first glance, may not be the best fighter to ever become an instructor, with his professional record of 5 wins and 5 losses. However, among those wins are former UFC Champion Pat Miletich. The most important features that an instructor should have are:

  1. An immense knowledge in the martial art.
  2. The ability to motivate and inspire their students.
  3. The ability to perform the martial art themselves.
  4. The ability to articulate the techniques in a martial art.
  5. A genuine care for their students’ well being.

Because Matt Hume possesses all of these qualities, he has been able to train many successful fighters, with his standout student being Demetrious Johnson, one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world and a 12-time UFC Champion.

Matt Hume (left) with Demetrious 'Mighty Mouse' Johnson, after a successful title defense.
Matt Hume (left) with Demetrious ‘Mighty Mouse’ Johnson, after a successful title defense.

Having the Right Mindset

Now that you have chosen a gym and a trainer that you like to work with, I have to make something clear. There are no limits to what is possible in the world of martial arts. At the beginning of the post, I mentioned some timeframes on the time it would take the average person to get their black belt. Know that these timeframes are not the end all be all!

There is no waiting period for advancement in rankings. If you are learning new skills, training hard, and beating people ranked higher than you, then you will gain a new ranking. A perfect example of this is former UFC Champion BJ Penn.

Penn began training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at the age of 17. By the time he was 21, he had won multiple Jiu-Jitsu competitions in Brazil and had earned his black belt. He has attributed his quick advancement in the martial art to being, as he states, “young and hungry”.

BJ Penn (right) with Andre Pederneiras, the man who awarded him his black belt.
BJ Penn (right) with Andre Pederneiras, the man who awarded him his black belt.

With a winning mindset like Penn’s, you can accomplish any goal in your martial arts journey, and do things many might deem impossible. Like I said before, the timeframes at the beginning of the post are for the average person.

Follow the tips listed in the post and you are sure to reach martial arts mastery. If you have questions about training, check out the Training Tips page, which features posts that will help you on your journey.

Be better than average and power through your goals! Thanks for reading.