It amazes me how time spent off the mat can be just as important as time spent on the mat as far as learning the craft goes. If you’re a programmer, this is a familiar article. I remember being given it by a professor in college. There’s that figure of 10,000 hours of mat time, but to be honest, I don’t really believe it. I learn better when I have time to internalize. A measure of time also doesn’t necessarily measure the quality of work we’re doing. Here’s some math.
There are 8,760 hours in one year. Assuming you sleep 8 hours per night, that’s 5,840 waking hours per year. We’ll go ahead and assume that you need 3 hours per day for things like preparing food, eating, bathroom needs, showering, commuting, and so on. 4,745 usable hours in a year. So if you’re training 13 hours each day, you would get in your 10,000 hours in 2.1075 years (two years, one month, and depending on which month 8-11 days). Most of us don’t practice 91 hours per week. As a recreationalist I’m doing more like 6-8 hours per week. That’s probably why I’m not a top competitor, but where does that put me for a black belt estimate? At 8 hours per week I’d expect to get a black belt after 1,250 weeks (about 24 years give or take). It clearly doesn’t take 24 years for a recreationalist to get a black belt. Wikipedia says the average time to black is around 10 years. My experience says it’s somewhere between 8-15 for most people who are on schedules like mine. At 8 hours per week for 15 years I’d be hitting right in the neighborhood of 6,200 hours. That’s quite a bit shy of the estimate of 10,000.
Look back at the Norvig post I linked up top – excellence is 10,000 hours, good is 8,000, a music teacher was 4,000 hours. 4,000 hours to reach the point of teaching. Ten years at 8 hours per week is roughly 4,170 hours. After ten years, you could probably be a mediocre teacher. At least, that’s what seems to be suggested. Again, it’s something I don’t really buy. After 10 years you’ve not only gotten in 4,000 hours of practice, but you’ve gotten in quite a bit of quality practice. Time off the mat reviewing material counts too, doesn’t it? I mean, if we were to take a set of identical twins and have them start training identical amounts of time, but teach one to do flowcharts and game plans, what would we expect? What if the twin that learned flow charts and game plans also had access to the videos from the best instructors in the world? This comes back to that issue of exposure. It can help you get better faster, and it’s becoming (or is) quite common now.
I’ve got what used to be pretty reasonable goals, but they seem lofty now. I wanted a black belt in BJJ, judo, and jujitsu before I was thirty. I then decided BJJ and judo is good enough. I’m to test for brown in judo shortly after I return so it’s another 3 or so years to black. BJJ seems forever away though. From blue to black has a minimum of 4.5 years by IBJJF standards, but average time is closer to 8-10 years from this point.