How Long to Learn the Martial Art
My Story – Hanshi Ellis
Quote from a Master

Determine that today you overcome yourself of the day before,
tomorrow you will win over those of lesser skill,
and later you will win over those of greater skill


There are so many people with different ideas in relation to the length of time that it takes to learn Martial Art. Many people talk in the number of years that they have been learning the art when in fact this means very little.

We could talk in the same breath of learning Martial Art and learning wisdom. We know wisdom cannot be taught we must experience, learning from making mistakes, we must have had to live a very full life and with that experience we have the opportunity to gain wisdom. Wisdom also evolves as we age. For wisdom to evolve in the Martial Art we still have to spend a lifetime of learning in the Martial Art, it doesn’t just come to us when our hair greys, we have to grow with the art whilst still learning and training.

Here I draw this parallel to give useful insight in what I regard as an apprenticeship to a serious learner. Being a TAFE teacher most of my working life I would greet a new class of apprentices and make the statement; “Your apprenticeship is only of four years duration, it is fact you won’t know all there is to know about this trade until approximately your tenth year.” As any tradesman would know even then there will still be more to learn as methods and technology change.

All students of the art should research a few great thinkers of their time, Masters such as Miyamoto Musashi, the famous Samurai known for his two-sword fighting style. Reading information written about this warrior you can understand the commitment, dedication and the long apprenticeship one must undertake to become a Martial Artist of any quality. I have seen and heard nearly all of the excuses that people give to move on or away from the Martial Art; not realizing that there exists a twenty year period of an apprenticeship to be a Martial Artist of worth. I make this statement as someone who spent 13 years as a training Shodan and back this up with nearly 50 years of Martial Art experience.

In many cases students count the years that they have been involved in the Martial Art, when in fact they may have only trained two nights each week and some even less than this. There are many students that have never even trained with their master since the day they received their new Kyu grade or their Black Belt, it is as though they thought that now they know it all. Over time most students will have some down time in their training for various reasons that prevents them from continuous training, be it sickness, family or work / study or other commitments. This reduces their average attendance, so when we speak of how many years has a person trained we need to look at the actual hours, four or five years as a Black Belt sounds a lot but might not necessarily amount to a lot.

We begin to understand that in fact what really counts is actually the hours that one is on the mat training and the amount of time again in hours that thought outside of the practical training goes into the techniques, the imagination of the technique can also be regarded as the training. When all of the hours are added together and we place this into eight hour days, it then can be realized just how little time students actually train, how many hours this adds up to when placed into days over any given year. For almost 20 consecutive years I have presented two classes each and every night of the week, held regular workshops on Saturdays and held JuJitsu competitions on Sundays. I have held 20 consecutive live in weekend training camps with up to 190 students in attendance, this amounting to 20 concentrated hours from the three days, Friday to Sunday.

Still today I operate with two classes three evenings each week and then there are the Sunday’s. A few years ago I trained two on two for six hours every Sunday for over a year and added to this was two hours every week before the scheduled classes for another year. You can talk with Sensei Paul that I was one of the only students that would train before and after classes at the Brisbane Sports School.

I still recall when this was explained to me of the duration it takes, the time that it takes to learn the Martial Art. Forty years! What? I must admit that I had said to myself that it wouldn’t take me 40 years. Looking back now I know how true that this statement was and to my thinking today I believe that it takes a lifetime to learn and then not all is learnt. To further explain the 40 years this was broken into four decades. The first decade was to learn and master the technical moves and principles. The second decade was to try to improve and perfect on the original techniques. The third decade was to slowly realize that the original way was in fact the best and you spend this decade to try and re-establish. The fourth decade you find this was time to revisit your master to bring you back to the original way to further enhance your knowledge only to find that your master now, is no longer there.

Musashi went on to live until he was 62; this was at a time when most Samurai died at a very young age. For the samurai to be defeated was to die. The samurai had a far different culture than westerners, at a young age they would visit burial sites at any time of day or night, there was no fear of death it was all about dying in an honourable way. In the 16th century Musashi had written a book based on his life’s experience, remembering that he had fought in countless battles, his first at the age of thirteen, one battle that numbered one hundred and sixty thousand warriors, he survived over sixty contests that ended in death. His concepts in the ‘Book of Five Rings’ is used today by corporations and business people trying to gain the edge over their rivals.

The five chapters in this book is titled, Earth, Ground yourself in finding the true way. Water, Hone individual skills to perfection. Fire, Take the battle to your enemies without fear. Wind, Study the ways of your competitors. Void, That which has no beginning and no end. That which cannot be seen, by knowing things that exist you can know that which does not exist.

Musashi did not become so good without plenty of practice and he would often go from province to province to engage in a contest, treating this as training. At the age of twenty Musashi went into the wilderness to perfect his fighting skills, one can only imagine just how many hours that he would fit into this four year period in isolation.

Much of Musashi philosophy centred around the fact that to be a great warrior one must constantly train and practice, psychological tactics, your adversary’s ways and temperament, thinking outside of the square.

Do not ever place a time limit in the number of years where you ever think that you have contributed enough of your time.

‘In the journey of one thousand miles, take but one step at a time.’ Musashi quote. In other words show patience a few years as a Black Belt in the Martial Art is only a portion or part of the apprenticeship. One cannot compare or transpose the amount of time and effort to get you to where you are in the Martial Art for you to ever say that I can leave now because I have given back, gee!

I want to share a quote that I received from one of my outstanding young students who had been with me for six years. Her thinking is beyond the years that she had been training. This student was always thinking outside the square as shown here, with a quote of Musashi that was sent to me in a Christmas card. The quote written was from that most famous Samurai, Miyamoto Musashi who lived during the 15th and 16th century.

‘Determine that today you overcome yourself of the day before,
tomorrow you will win over those of lesser skill,
and later you will win over those of greater skill.’

No special resolution was needed from Musashi, just every day doing your best and each new day trying to be an even better person than you were the day before.