Recently I was asked an interesting question by a new student. This student had considerable experience in other martial arts and had just completed the trial week on our BJJ program. He had obviously enjoyed his training over the course of the week and was excited to continue. He approached me at the end of the class and asked ‘ How long does it take to get good?’
Since becoming a full time coach I’ve spent 100’s of hours attending Martial Arts and Fitness business courses focusing on Marketing, how to convert trials into students, upselling and many other related topics. I knew there was a perfect way to ‘re-frame’ the question, get him signing up and resulting in a high five and three year commitment to getting his black belt, however the question came at the end of a long week of tough sessions, teaching classes, training fighters and also working hard on my own training so I gave him the honest answer.
It might take your whole lifetime to get good and even then that might not be enough. What I meant is that Jiu Jitsu isn't a sequence of secret moves that you can memorise and then you’ll be invincible and receive your black belt in three years. It's tough, you learn the moves but your training partners learn the moves too so they can shut you down then you keep battling back and forth night after night, week after week for years and years until eventually one of you quit.
This is the reality of Jiu Jitsu training that separates it from many other martial arts. It is relatively ‘safe’ so you can go pretty hard almost every time you train without needing to pull your punches. You cannot comfort yourself with telling yourself that I would’ve won that match if I’d hit him with my power kick. You will get tapped out a lot on your way to getting black belt and you need to develop an ego that will allow you to deal with this short term inconvenience for your long term benefit.
I also explained to the new student that even though it sounds hard that the training is fun and enjoyable, and that's why people stick to it. Before long you forget about far off goal of getting a black belt and just enjoy the process of getting on the mat and testing yourself and your skills.
Afterwards though I realised that there is another way to look at the question “how long does it take to get good at Jiu Jitsu?’ This is an interesting question because it's very subjective, one person's idea of ‘Good at Jiu Jitsu’ may be very different to others. Some may think being good at Jiu Jitsu means winning a world title at the Black Belt division whereas another may define it as the ability to defend yourself.
In my opinion very few people get involved in Jiu Jitsu because they want to win world titles. Most people begin training because they want to get fit, lose weight or learn self defence.
My own definition of being ‘good’ at Jiu Jitsu is simple. Can you defend yourself and defeat a larger and stronger opponent using Jiu Jitsu techniques? If you can then your training has worked. One of the strengths of Jiu Jitsu compared to other martial arts is that it is possible to achieve this goal in a relatively short time (6 months to 1 Year). With other fighting styles it is much harder to achieve this goal. Styles such as boxing or karate take much longer to get the same result. It's possible that some students can hit very hard and defend themselves after six months of boxing or karate training but it's always difficult to say if that is due to the training they received or just down to their natural power. With Jiu Jitsu the results are very consistent. Everyone can learn the same basic strategy and the techniques aren’t complicated.
Another way of looking at this question is relevant to fighters and martial arts from all styles and backgrounds. The important goal is not to just get ‘Good’, the goal is to keep continually improving. To get better than you were last class, or last week or last year or in your last tournament. Even if you’re winning every match, is there anything you could be doing better. Making that armlock tighter, finishing that sweep or improving defence.
So in short it should take around six months to one year until you can defeat an average untrained opponent using Jiu Jitsu (Provided you are being taught correctly and are training consistently) however you can spend your entire lifetime improving and perfecting your Jiu Jitsu.