Most people want to know how quickly they can advance to black belt. Generally this is accepted as proof that you have a reasonable amount of competency in your style.
In Tang Soo Do, you should expect it to take 3 to 5 years to earn your first degree black belt.
I was once told that ancient practitioners began their training with white belts. Whenever they were thrown to the ground, their belt grew dirtier, darker. The darkest belts represented those who had been training longer. If you washed your belt, you washed away your knowledge—we still do not wash our belts in respect of this tradition.
There are different ways to look at martial arts. If getting your black belt is a “bucket list” item, there are schools available which serve as black belt factories. You will easily earn the rank in about 12-18 months.
For some, the attainment is enough, as they do not plan to pursue martial arts afterward. This is fine as long as you are realistic in your achievement. Compare it to any other sport. Tell someone, “I’ve been playing soccer for one year,” and see if they are impressed. They are equal accomplishments.
Practicing martial arts is a lifelong-pursuit. The belt structure was not traditional, but a more recent creation. It does provide a good reward system to keep us on track, such as, when to learn new forms, techniques, etc. It also provides smaller, attainable goals to encourage us (especially children) to continue.
However, someone’s claim of rank does not indicate anything. You can order a black belt from any magazine and put as many stripes on it as you like. I often ask my Smiling Tigers if they would appreciate having a black belt if I gave it to them right now. Half of the time they honestly answer, “yes.” This is a typical 4 to 5-year-old mentality.
A black belt is the Beginning
It is often said that once you’ve earned your black belt, you know enough to begin learning. The ranking system helps to encourage and motivate us, but a true martial artist continues to practice martial arts and does not lightly claim to master it.