10,000 Hours or 30,000 Submissions?
2 min read

10,000 Hours or 30,000 Submissions?

What does it really take to earn a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu? Many people have tossed the 10,000 hours to mastery benchmark around. What constitutes mastery and do those people even know the reference that figure is from?

The "10,000 hours to mastery" is an expression that get's thrown around a lot.  Most people, I'm guessing don't know the reference is from Malcom Gladwell's book Outliers.  Further, they don't understand the scope of what "mastery" really describes.

Of course, earning a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a notoriously difficult process – most estimates are between 8 - 12 years of regular training.  Is this a master?  If you check your references (above), not necessarily.

Gladwell describes mastery as, roughly, your once-in-a-generation performers:

  • Tom Brady
  • Tiger Woods
  • The Beatles
  • Michael Jordan
  • Steve Jobs
  • etc.

That is where 10,000 hours of focused training gets you; emphasis on the "deep practice" rather than mindless droning.  At any rate, all hope is not lost if you didn't hit the communal or genetic lotteries (see also Daniel Coyle's book The Talent Code).  You can still be a very high, first class of world class, performer.  For example:

  • Olympic medalist
  • Hall of Fame (in any sport / discipline)

Gladwell estimates that the break for this tier is at 8,000 hours (again, of deep practice).  However, the next tier below the "cream of the crop" is at 4,000 hours.  This might land you a position like:

  • Professional athlete
  • Professional orchestra / theater

Finally, the "bottom of the top" tier is somewhere around 2,000 hours; which is actually my approximate estimate for earning a black belt.  This might look like:

  • Competitive coaching / teaching of high school or college sport / music
  • Well reputed private company or business

Now, all of that is a lot of context that I want you to ignore!  If you watched the above video, or read the article title, you know that the punchline here is not to measure "success" or mileage by hours, but in the number of times you've lost (been submitted).

Yes, you heard right.  That's not 30,000 submissions that you've executed against training partners, but 30,000 submissions you've failed to defend – and not for lack of trying.  We're talking about DEEP practice here.  

Let's do some math.  Say that you have an average of 5 x 5 min sparring rounds per night of training and that you train 3 x / week.  That's 15 rounds per week.  Now, let's say that you get submitted 5 times in each of those rounds.  That's 75 submissions per week.

  • 30,000 / 75 = 400 weeks
  • 400 / 52 = 7.69 years

Now, we can recall all that context from the beginning.  7 1/2 years of training 3 times per week, 5 rounds per day, and actively going into deep enough water (i.e. high enough competition) to be submitted 5 times within each of those rounds.  That's a lot of cauliflower ear and busted lips.  That's 7 1/2 years of being submitted literally every minute of live training.

Assuming a 1 minute rest per round, the above example brings us to 600 hours of sparring alone.  It wouldn't be a stretch to say you spent double that amount of time drilling (1,200 hours).  So, now we're drawing close to that 2,000 (1,800 total) hour figure I offered.

Recall that this is to attain high school / college coach affluence in your craft – jiu jitsu in this case.  You wanted to be a "master" right?  Not just cream of the crop, but mentioned with the Jordans and Bradys, the Marcelo Garcias, Buchechas, and Gordon Ryans?  I'll spare you the short hand math notes.  You get the picture.  Now get training!


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Originally published 7/24/2020