The question we always get from beginners is how long does it take to get a black belt. "How long does it take to catch a fish?" is one reply that is used in jest sometimes.
Yes, you already have an answer in "jest" to a quite reasonable question from prospective and new students. Do you possibly see a problem with that? If you contacted a university and asked them how long it would take for you to get a bachelors degree - and also, because you were thinking about it - how long it would take to get an accelerated degree - how would you respond if they answered, "How long does it take to catch a fish?" Seriously. Let's not insult the intelligence or the genuineness of people's inquiry. An honest question about a shodan degree shouldn't be a segue for zen koans. Because not only does it insult the person asking; it insults you, your teachers and the school.
And I'm not singling you out, Andrew. Your reply is fairly typical. And I'm not implying any wrong has been done here, but I am proposing that we could rethink and examine even just this one subject, and, perhaps, in the process - enlighten and empower the people asking, ourselves, our teachers, and the school.
Realistically we say between 5 and 7 years depending on the individual, their dedication and "real life" commitments. (a minimum of 600 days on the mat to get to 1st kyu which works out to 4.5 to 5 years at 2.5 per week and then another 200 mat days till Shodan) At our dojo we have also been advised by our Shihan in Japan that our testing intervals/requirements are too long compared to Japan and we have modified them minimally to maintain the quality we expect and get closer to his. Sometimes it does seem that we are being " More Catholic than the Pope" so to speak, but we believe that this is the tradition of our sensei who passed away a few years ago .
Our Shihan also tells us that Shodan is only a beginners level and after that we start learning aikido. It seems however, that in North America, we put greater expectations and credence on being a “Black Belt” and therefore we expect greater competency and therefore it is difficult to compare/equate one countries levels to the next.
Even if there was greater competency - which we can't assume there is - we would think that the greater competency of the school - not the student - would yield higher-quality results in equal to or less time than what is needed for a shodan in the very country where it was founded. We could consider that it actually might point to lesser competency of the school - if they're taking two to three times the time, effort, and money of the student for a shodan degree. That often points in the direction not to a higher-quality school, but, in fact, to one of lesser quality.
North America, in terms of aikido and the establishment of organizations, did not wind up with the higher-quality senseis. They were in fact, the youngest and most inexperienced. And by some accounts, the manner in which the territory was established was, to put it mildly, underhanded. It's as if North America, far from recognizing "greater competency," went ahead and gobbled up the teachers who would barely have been qualified to teach in their own country. This is not to underestimate what they did. They had an uphill battle, and took many risks to establish and grow aikido. And they stuck it out. But they and aikido - even by their own admission - also sacrificed quantity for quality.
But as there's in in yo and yo in in, [ insert cool lighting effects ] there's a great big aikido forest in the Americas, as well as in the rest of the world. And it's arrived at the phase where an informed overview and inventory are being taken, not only concerning the condition of the forest itself, but also to provide methods, standards, and tools to introduce better quality towards future growth. The soil is being tilled and aerated. Forgotten, lost, and previously unknown heirlooms are being incorporated. The bar is being raised, not from the top, but from the bottom.
Jeremy, you have entered the doors of aikido at a time where there should probably be some of those signs posted on construction sites during remodeling work. There are a lot of exposed beams, and things that are coming into focus that are perhaps not so positive, and other things that are shockingly brilliant. The art actually does have all the pieces - lying around in various places. And there are many people, seen and unseen, working towards providing the present and upcoming generations with an environment that is more authentic, responsive and dynamic. In no uncertain terms, aikido itself is going digital - again.