How Long Does It Take to Master Aikido?


Aikido is a fantastic martial art. While not designed for fighting, it has elements similar to Judo, Jiu-Jitsu, and a strong philosophy behind it. But how long does it take to master Aikido?

Here’s what I know from extensive training with an Aikido black belt:

It takes 2 years to master the basics of Aikido, and a 1st-degree black belt in Aikido can be earned within 5 years when training 2-3 times per week minimally.

But true mastery can take a lifetime, as the more you learn, the more you realize what you don’t know. And naturally, it varies from student to student and from dojo to dojo.

There’s a ranking system in place in all dojos, and with good instructors, you’ll gradually but steadily move up in line with your level of mastery.

Aikido is not unlike most pursuits. The most motivated and devoted move up the hierarchy quicker than others who are not so committed.

Mastery in Aikido is a never-ending pursuit. The Kaizen ethos is an integral part of virtually all Eastern martial arts, and Aikido is no exception.

Let the fun begin…

Is Aikido hard to learn?

Aikido is hard to learn because it not only requires expert mastery of techniques but a philosophical mind shift geared towards doing as little harm to others as possible, which is counter-intuitive for martial arts, or at least for how martial arts can be perceived.

It takes some time to really “get” its spirit, as it were.

In a sense, it’s about learning “how not to fight” and yet still be able to stop a conflict or subdue one’s opponent. The learner may also be trying too hard. When we learn, we might be a tad frustrated if we can’t remember all the techniques we’re being taught.

But, the goal is not to have an “intellectual recall,” but to practice over and over again, so that the techniques become an intuitive part of us. In short, I’m talking about muscle memory.

And, this can only truly happen through many hours of practice.

And, truth be told, there are a lot of techniques to learn. It’s believed that there are about 10,000 techniques in Aikido. Naturally, these would not only take some time, but they’d also be challenging to grasp.

But, one of the reasons Aikido is probably hard is that it has a philosophical or spiritual base, which one must imbibe before one can “flow.” And, it’s about leverage.

So, you’re not thinking unilaterally, as a boxer would: “I’ll just punch the sucker.” In Aikido, you’re coordinating your movements, timing, and footwork with your opponent’s moves.

It’s more bilateral. Even when a boxer misses, the punch may still hurt. If you, as an Aikidoka miss, you’ve probably wasted your energy.

In a recent article of mine, I explored some of Aikido’s techniques. I break it down for both beginners and more advanced students with both a breakdown and a video for each movement.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

How long does it take to get a black belt in Aikido?

On average, training Aikido 2-3 times per week, a black belt can be earned in 4 to 5 years. But that does vary from dojo to dojo and also depends on how a teacher perceives a student’s motivation and dedication in addition to years of practice.

So there is a time component, a ranking system in place, and how much effort you are willing to put in.

It’s not simply about the number of years you put in. After all, we all know people who “eat and drink” whatever they’re exploring and those who don’t give it much.

The latter are often not as “obsessed.” It’s common sense that the person who’s truly devoted to a pursuit is likely to master it quicker than others.

So, the time differs depending on the dojo and the student.

It may take some people up to 7 or 8. They may not be as gung-ho about Aikido as others are. And, even with the same level of devotion, motivation often differs.

Some folks want to rush to the finish line, as it were.

Some want to immerse themselves in the fundamentals for a very long time because they believe that’s the secret to being good in the long run. These are folks who deliberately take their time.

I’ll be remiss if I do not mention that for sophisticated martial artists, a black belt is not seen as a final stage in one’s learning but rather as the “first steps in the path to mastery.”

This is one of the reasons there are degrees (or levels) and why the founder of Aikido advised that Aikidokas should “learn and forget.” Of course, if you’re hip to Eastern thought, this is not meant literally, but rather that real mastery comes through endless practice.

And, it’s vital to grasp its philosophy if you’re going to enjoy exploring it.

Its worldview is the theme of a recent article of mine. After all, you don’t want to mindlessly copy some moves an instructor makes. But what really surprised me was just how deadly it could be despite its peaceful nature.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

How many belts are there in Aikido?

There are 6 belts in Aikido, starting with white and ending with a first-degree black belt. But originally, Aikido just had two belts to indicate a beginner or a learner and an advanced student.

White was for the former, while black was for the latter. Between the beginner to the advanced stage, there are degrees/ranks known as kyu.

The beginner has to move from the 6th Kyu upward to get to the black belt stage. 6 to 5, 5 to 4…by the time they completed the 2nd Kyu, the next stage was a black belt, first Dan. Dan is another word for degrees. But when Aikido started gaining ground in the West, additional colors were added.

The below list shows the full range of colors available. These may differ slightly from dojo to dojo.

  • 6th kyu – white
  • 5th kyu – yellow
  • 4th kyu – orange
  • 3rd kyu – blue
  • 2nd kyu – brown
  • 1st dan – black
  • 2nd dan – black with thin gold stripe
  • 3rd dan – black with red stripe

How many days a week should I practice Aikido?

To excel at Aikido, a practitioner should practice twice a week minimally, and 3 to 4 times per week is ideal. That amount of training is really needed to convert learned techniques into simple muscle memory.

But it depends on how much time you have at your disposal.

If you’re very busy as most people are, at least twice a week is the barest minimum. But, as you know from your experience of mastering other pursuits, the more time you invest, the quicker the rewards.

So, 3 to 4 times a week, if you can swing it, is not a bad idea.

The secret to mastering Aikido is to integrate it into your life. It’s not a way of beating up people. It’s a holistic system that offers life-changing benefits.

So, the more you make it a part of your life, the greater the chance that you’ll “get” its philosophy, start noticing changes, and of course, you’ll even become more motivated to practice more which will hasten the time it’ll take you to get good at it.

What if you’re so busy or far from any school?

Can you teach yourself? Find out in a recent article of mine. I break down the best moves to learn alone at home and which ones absolutely won’t work.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

How long does it take to get good at Aikido?

It takes approximately 1 year to have a full understanding of Aikido basics, provided one is training 2 or more times per week. After 3 years, a practitioner will have a complete understanding, and in the 5th year, they will be at or approaching black belt.

It takes a long time.

The time it takes naturally varies from person to person. It is a function of how devoted they are, how many times they are practicing each week, the quality of the

instructions…and also their mindset.

It’s not just about mastering some physical techniques.

It’s also about self-mastery. So, before a good instructor “certifies” that you’re indeed qualified for a particular belt, they’re considering how well you’ve mastered the techniques.

But they’re also interested in your personal growth and whether you’ll be a good ambassador of the school.

If you put in your best and you’re working on your mindset, such that you can be an “ambassador” of the martial art, you could realistically expect to earn your black belt (first dan) in 4 to 5 years.

That’s quite some time. Yes, it is. But, it’s worth it. At the end of the day, it’s better not to focus on rankings and when you’ll get to your “destination.”

Why? Serious students consider Aikido a life-long discipline.

There’s no end to one’s capacity to improve. If you adopt a similar stance, then there’s only a journey, which can be so much fun.

Are Aikido classes expensive?

A recent article of mine gives you the lowdown on what to expect. I cover average tuition rates, uniform costs, registration fees, contracts, necessary gear, and so much more!

Just click the link to read it on my site.

Conclusion

We found out that Aikido is difficult to learn and it takes some time to master, but it’s more than worth it.

Especially when a person understands its underlying philosophy.

So just what are those philosophies of Aikido? I get into all of it in a recent article. The concept of Aikido is strong and doesn’t mean Aikido is weak or can’t compete with other martial arts. It just means the underlying beliefs and goals are very different.

Just click that link to read it on my site.

The underlying philosophy of doing as little harm to others as possible can seem confusing to a new martial artist. After all, we see martial artists on TV and in movies constantly kicking butt. But understanding the true nature of Aikido is just as crucial as learning the techniques.

Finally, we looked at how long it takes to get good at it and get a black belt, the belt system, and how many days one should practice each week.


Photo which requires attribution:

Aikido Impact by HoangP is licensed under CC2.0 and was cropped. color-adjusted, with a text overlay added

Jeff Campbell

Jeff Campbell was Academy Director for a large martial arts school for over 7 years, and has trained extensively in a variety of martial arts including Brazilian Jiujitsu, different styles of Karate, the Russian Martial Art of Systema, Aikido, and much more.

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