Q: "How long will it take me to get a black belt?"
A: "Can't tell you."
...and we're right back at the beginning.
Grading isn't based on talent though, as far as I can work it out it comes down to a combination of time, commitment, knowledge, aptitude and attitude in varying proportions depending on the society, sensei and student.
Whenever I've heard one of our society's instructors being asked the question the answer is always "it depends, but rarely less than four years and sometimes quite a bit longer"; everyone tends to be quite matter of fact and perhaps they're conscious that if a starter got an analytical or mystical response they might get switched off.
We don't have fixed requirements for time on the mat, we grade when sensei says we're ready to grade. I accept this at face value, it's certainly not my place to question his judgement on these matters even if I might feel a few more weeks intensive practice on one kata or another would be nice. I'll get that practice in the long run since my home class sees a steady influx of starters.
There's a core syllabus requirement for each grade (built around the 9 arts of Shihonage Iriminage Kotegaeshi Kaitenage Tenchinage Ikkyo Nikyo Sankyo Yonkyo up to 1st kyu) but beyond that a lot of discretion is allowed to local sensei. Some of our dojos bring in weapons, randori and koshi from 6th kyu so people don't get intimidated by the things that can cause issues later on. Some have formal 6th kyu grading, others do it combined with 5th kyu, etc.
Yep, grades don't matter much and it's enjoying the practice and the journey for their own sakes that's most important. However, I think a key aspect of grading in a non-competitive art like ours is that it allows us to test our mettle under sustained mental and physical pressure.
Dan's cost comparison on page one got me thinking. I've long suspected it's all about love not money in our society since I was able to compare with a tai chi/kung fu school that I was involved in for a bit which was more than twice as costly (it was the money-grabbing vibe that led me to find another tai chi class) but it seems we really are at the bargain end of the market
Parent organization, Aikikai Hombu = 300 days, in 2 years, and roughly $2640 in mat fees.
Branch organization, NY Aikikai = 1140 days; 7.3 years, and roughly $14,000 in mat fees.
Our organisation: (not Aikikai affiliated since 2001) = 384 days, 4 years, $2224 in mat fees + $93 to cover membership/insurance and $440 for 16 shihan taught courses (seminars)
That's based on training twice a week for 48 weeks in a year (pay as you go) at today's rate of 1.54$ to the £. I tend to do more courses than that and summer school as well but this is probably a reasonable representation of a fairly typical path to shodan. Let's just not mention the fuel costs to drive over the mountain to our 2nd class each week.
Annnnyyywayyyyy, it's all aikido