Being in Martial Arts vs. Being at Martial Arts

The length of time you are a martial artist has no value over the amount of time you actually train. Many people use the “I’ve been studying for over 20 years” ploy, but in reality, if you count their mat hours, they really have been studying for 2-3 years in most cases. If you’ve been in an art for let’s say 5 years, but show up to class twice per month, you are only getting 24 classes a year. As oppose to another student who has also been in the art for 5 years and shows up to class twice per week, giving that student 96 classes per year on average. There is a big difference between 24 and 96.

I’ve seen students who have been in an art for 4 years who are much better than some who have been in an art for 15 years. The reason is that the person who has been in it for 4 years has also been at it for 4 years by showing up to group classes at least 2 times per week (maybe even 3-4), taking private lessons at least twice per month, taking notes during classes (for those who are allowed to – some schools are against that), reading martial arts books and magazines (to improve mentally and become more educated), and practicing diligently at home.

The reality is you are only going to get out what you put in. Time is of no value if you don’t take advantage of it. The legendary Joe Lewis (RIP), who I trained with numerous times before his passing, got his black belt in only 9 months. That is completely unreal. Nowadays, if anybody gets a black belt under 4 years, they bought it – they didn’t earn it, in my opinion. And, in most cases, they don’t look anywhere near what a black belt should look like. The reason Joe Lewis got his black belt in 9 months is because he trained non stop. Not to mention, he was physically gifted and in phenomenal shape. He trained more and harder in 9 months than most students do in 10 years.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how long someone has been in the martial arts. That doesn’t mean they are better than someone who hasn’t been in the martial arts as long. There are many so called “Grandmaster’s” out there bragging about their 30 – 40 years in the arts, when some of them haven’t trained in years. They just bark orders with their arms crossed. I know some instructors who have only been in an art for 10 years who are much better martial artists and teachers than some who have been in an art for 30 years. Again, although other variables also come into play, time at the art is what makes a major difference.

In my organization, the Chinese Karate Federation, we have log books that log your mat hours, seminar hours, and tournaments (although my school isn’t a tournament school). At my school, all my adult students have to have a log book and I initial for every group and private class they have. All hours are accounted for. Any time my students attend seminars, they fill out the date, the location, the instructors teaching, the topics for the classes, and the hours on the mat. They then have each instructor sign it. I do the same for myself. I have several log books full of the many seminars I have attended over the years, as well as the many private lessons I have taken from numerous instructors over the years.  The only thing I don’t log is my personal training hours. I am still very active. I train everyday and teach 6 days a week. I feel if you are going to be a martial arts instructor you need to lead by example. I think my students appreciate the fact that I get in there and sweat along with them quite often.

Be realistic and honest with yourself. Life can sometimes get in the way (work, vacations, sickness, etc.), but just because you are paying your instructor and there is another candle on the birthday cake doesn’t mean you have improved your skills. Train hard my friends and reap the rewards. Don’t be belt focused. Focus on what really matters – knowledge and skill. Belts come with the territory when you are ready for them. TCB.


About Michael Miller:

Michael Miller is an international martial arts instructor and self-defense, personal protection, and anti-bullying expert who holds a 5th degree black belt in American Kenpo – a modern reality based street system of combat. He is the co-founder of the “Stomp the Bullying” program which is becoming world recognized with celebrity endorsements from actors Martin Kove (Sensei John Kreese in the Karate Kid Series) and Sean Kanan (Karate’s bad boy Mike Barnes in the Karate Kid III). Miller runs a full-time martial arts school in Bradford, Pa (Miller’s Kenpo Karate Dojo) and teaches American Kenpo, boxing, kickboxing, Joe Lewis Fighting Systems, Gracie Barra Jiu-Jitsu, and Modern Arnis. He worked for McKean County Children and Youth Services for three years certified by the state of Pennsylvania as a Direct Child Service Worker dealing with child development, child abuse and neglect. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Pittsburgh in writing with a minor in sociology. He is also a writer with several magazine feature articles published and one book. He can be reached by e-mail at or by phone at 814-368-3725.