Martial arts, which includes karate, judo, and many other styles, is an art form that uses alternative movements to compete in sports, self-defense, improve health and fitness, and military and law enforcement applications.
So, how long does it take to learn karate? Of course, learning a new skill or sport will take some time and dedication, including regular practice, to complete a task correctly. However, karate training can provide many basics that are simple to learn within six months to one year, depending on your training and dedication.
Here, we will go through the inner workings of the world of karate, its rich history, and its training fundamentals.
What is Karate?
Karate is a Japanese empty-handed martial art that is a weaponless discipline. Instead of using weapons, karate includes a series of movements of kicking, striking, and blocking with the arms and legs. Evolving in East Asia, spanning from the 17th century, karate takes on many forms and molded into the styles we see today.
Although there are over 75 different styles of karate throughout the ages, many around the world recognize four main styles, which we will dive into further detail later. Although someone can learn the basics of karate in less than one year, it will take years to master this art form and reach a level of aptitude where they can teach a style to others.
Sometimes learning karate will take a while to perfect. It does take some people years to master this art form and reach a position where they can then effectively teach the martial art. Luckily, even though it will take a while to master, it does not mean it is not impossible.
Let’s take a look at the time it will take someone new to karate training to effectively grasp the movements.
How Long Does It Take to Learn the Basics of Karate?
Students must use dedication to the art and regularly attend classes to learn the basics of karate successfully. It also includes practicing on your own. Whether self-taught or going to a dojo to master karate, it takes extensive training.
When learning anything new, you must understand the fundamentals before moving through to more complex movements. Learning karate includes memorizing and perfecting the actions. Because of this repetition, many students will pick up the techniques quicker the more they practice, especially if they are good at memorization.
There are four basic principles to the art of karate. These include:
- Tachikata – stances
- Tsuki – punches
- Uke – blocks
- Geri – kicks
Tachikata – Stances
Depending on your proficiency and level, you may work through numerous stances during your karate practice. Some styles require five basic stances, while others can include 29 or more within the movements.
Tsuki – Punches
Punches within a karate practice can start with three basic strikes, keeping movements simple. However, you will learn numerous variations that build on these basics during progression, evolving to over a dozen different punches.
Uke – Blocks
Blocking techniques will generally stick with four main principles. Students will find all karate’s blocking movements incorporate inward, outward, upper, and lower blocks against an opponent, no matter what level they practice at.
Geri – Kicks
Kicking within karate begins with seven basic movements for beginners. However, as students progress through belt levels, these kicks also incorporate jumping and spinning movements for more complex techniques.
The Elements of Karate
The elements of karate are part of every movement and technique. They are all about timing, tactics, and energy. The three elements that make up karate training are kihon, kata, and kumite.
- Kihon (Basic Techniques): This element sets you up for the more advanced level of movements which are katas. Kihon allows the student to learn karate in an organized and structured manner, including blocking, kicking, striking, and punching moves. It is the first step in learning karate and grasping the concepts. As you progress more within your training, the movements and steps will advance over time.
Kihon requires an individual to recognize several contributing factors to their practice. They include form, rhythm and timing, speed and power, hip movement, and breathing.
- Kata (Training Exercises with Premeditated Moves): Kata refers to a series of combinations of Kihon movements that students practice in a structured sequence. Kata is commonly used to simulate combat among multiple offenders. This element helps with quick thinking and automated self-defense when in stressful situations.
The basic kata technique may have over 20 to 27 movements to perfect. However, it can include over 60 complex actions with a more advanced level. Speed, power, body expansion, and contraction are critical for proper kata movements. Working through a kata means that regardless of your starting position, you will end up at the same point on the floor while starting and ending with a bow.
- Kumite (Sparring): This element pertains to the concept of sparring with an opponent during a match or structured practice. To achieve proper kumite, you and your opponent must implement good sparring and defense techniques to gain control over your movements. Naturally, students will use kihon and kata basics within kumite to help control their speed and power as contact with an opponent is prohibited.
There are three types of kumite which include basic kumite, ippon kumite (one-step), and jiyu kumite (free). Each will have its designated movements to allow proper striking and blocking techniques.
By mastering the basics, someone can build on these principles and perform more complex moves as they become more proficient.
The belt system within karate uses various colors to visually represent the level of achievement that a student holds. The belt colors can differ between schools and disciplines, where some will include colors that others do not.
How Does the Karate Belt System Work
As a general rule, new students to learning karate will start with a white belt. As individuals grasp new skills and training, they can move to a higher belt level, receiving a new color. Each belt rank will involve the training time necessary before a person can advance further.
Origins of the Belt System
The creation of karate is centuries older than the current concept of the belt system. However, it was not introduced until the 20th century when the creator of judo, Jigorō Kanō, decided to implement this system for his work.
The sole purpose of creating the belt system was to encourage karate students to advance more in their training and identify their opponent’s levels. Initially, there were only a handful of colors, those being white, blue, brown, and black. However, as more teachers implemented this, the system became more well-known, adding more colors.
It was not until 1924 that Gichin Fukanoshi decided to adopt this method into modern karate, therefore officially installing a ranking system based on Kano’s.
Here we list the various belt colors used by a karate training school, depending on their style and the time necessary before advancing.
- White: Day 1 up to 6 months
- Yellow: 6 months to 12 or 18 months
- Orange: 12 or 18 months to 21 to 24 months
- Green: 21 to 24 months up to 30 to 36 months
- Blue: 30 to 40 months
- Purple: 30 to 40 months
- Brown: 40 to 60 months
- Red: 40 to 60 months
- Black: 5+ years to reach this status after brown/red belts
How the Belt System Works
Two specific groups determine the belt system: kyu and dan. Kyu is a Japanese term for class, usually used to describe beginner students. When students start their training, they receive the white belt, the 10th class, or kyu. The beginner students are referred to as mudansha or trainees without rank.
The dan level belts are mainly the black belts, the lowest one being the 1st dan. Here is a highly advanced level, and those who reach this would be called yundansha, which refers to those within dan rank. The 1st dan, the first-degree belt, would be the starting point of this set, and the final would be the 10th dan, the ninth-degree master belt.
The first set of dan levels, usually the first five, is considered a more competitive set as it deals with more strenuous movements. The student goes through a series of tests to determine if they are ready to move to the next rank, and when they reach this stage, the ones giving the tests are other highly ranked students. The ranks 7 to 10 dan are honorary based levels that students are granted based on merit or after reaching a certain age.
What Are the Different Types of Karate?
Although it is possible to find over 75 various types of karate worldwide, the main styles of karate are Shotokan, Wado-Ryu, Shito-Ryu, and Goju-Ryu. These main types of karate originated between 1928 and 1939, and although they came from the same style, they differed in technique. Other types that are not as widespread but frequent in practice would be Uechi-Ryu, Shorin-Ryu, Kyokushin, and Ashihara.
Generally, there are five popular types that many schools practice regularly. These popular styles include:
Shotokan-based karate is one of the main types of this martial art. Created by Gichin Fukanoshi and originated from the Japanese islands. Shotokan techniques have an equal level of both easy and challenging methods. However, starting with basic stances, the beginning stages are more profound, and the advanced ones are longer. Shotokan has about 26 forms or katas.
Wado-Ryu is the second of the main types of karate. Its primary focus is on using softer techniques. It contains 15 kata forms. Wado-Ryu uses influences from Okinawa’s Tomari-te group, the Shind Yshin jujutsu school, and the Shotokan karate style.
Shito-Ryu is the third primary type of karate. This style, which mixes both hard and soft methods, was heavily influenced by the Shuri-te and Naha-te groups. The poses are natural and profound. There are a total of 94 kata in this style.
Goju-Ryu is the fourth primary type of karate. Influenced by the Naha-te group; this form utilizes both hard and soft techniques. Goju-Ryu has about 12 kata movements.
Uechi-Ryu is one of the traditional karate styles dating back to the early 1900s. Its founder, Kanbun Uechi, brought this ancient art to Japan and Okinawa. There are eight different katas within Uechi-Ryu karate.
Does the Type of Karate Impact How Long It Takes to Learn?
Each type of karate will take time and dedication to learn the style proficiently. Regardless of your experience or level, how quickly you absorb the principles will depend on your style preference and each technique.
Typically, it will take a beginner approximately one year to master the basic principles and movements. The timeline for progressing through each belt level is relatively the same for various types of karate.
However, new training begins once an individual progresses through the belt levels into the Black belts. In addition, there are 10 Dan levels that incorporate black belt training for the more advanced levels.
How Long Does It Take to Learn Karate for Self-Defense?
Learning karate requires self-discipline and continuous practice. Throughout this martial art form, you will learn how to use the techniques correctly and when it is appropriate. By building on the learning the basics in the first year, perfecting the art of self-defense should be achievable after only a few years of training.
However, the best part of learning karate principles is that you can avoid situations where you may use the techniques for self-defense.
If martial arts intrigues you and you want to learn more about karate, there are numerous ways to begin this practice. Although there is no set time limit where you can successfully learn karate, it is possible to learn the basics of karate within the first year with proper instruction and regular practice.
One of the best ways to learn new things, like karate, is to explore and read about current topics you are unfamiliar with. Here, you can investigate several other martial arts forms and techniques to help advance your skills and knowledge.