The secrets to martial arts progress – Consistency

I have touched on this subject in past articles, but it deserves more attention. As always, this article is based on my own reflections. See here for more secrets to Martial Arts progress.

Throughout the years I’ve seen what seems like a countless stream of fellow students start training, all eager to learn. Most throw themselves at the training with the strongest of convictions, and quickly grow in skill and fitness. Every student brings his own talents and inherit potential (some stronger than my own) and most people could go far in martial arts if they stuck to it.

But most don’t. Normally if a new semester starts and 100 new students sign up, after a couple of months only 50 remain. At the end of the semester, there might be 10 left. A year after that, you may see two or three students left of those initial 100 students. This is a pattern I keep seeing in all schools and styles I’ve trained in. Over time it can get frustrating to see people drop out, both as a fellow student who enjoy their company but even more as an instructor when you’ve spent time and energy teaching them. But you learn to accept it, because such is life – but imagine if more would stick around, and become as great as they could be?

Unfortunately, a common (and unnecessary) reason for students to drop out is that they are inconsistent for various reasons. And when they for some reason need to take time off training, they often find it too hard to get back into the routine of training.

Flickr kaibara87

In my teens I was doing Kempo and was training hard for an upcoming grading. I had been doing it for a while but was still just a white belt, so I was excited and hopeful to get ahead with this opportunity. But in spite of having learned all skills and forms required for a middle-range belt I was only allowed to test for orange belt, which was a mere two grades up from white. Looking at how my other friends got higher belts (not to mention getting my arse handed to me in sparring) I couldn’t help but feel down. My sensei noticed this and told me not to get caught up on it – ‘Martin’, he said, ‘it’s not that guy you see in the front row with all the muscle and power that comes out on top in the end. Rather, it’s that guy over there in the corner. You may not notice this now, but he is diligently and consistently working on his techniques. Doesn’t make much noise of himself, but one day you’ll be surprised at how far he will have come’. Time proved him right – it’s not the hotshots, or the strongest, or even the most talented students that make it in the end.

It’s the students that are consistent in their training, the ones with the motivation and commitment that reach the top. Nothing stops these people – sickness and injury may hold them back for a bit, but they either bounce back or find another way to keep up their martial arts journey. This is the ideal I strive for with my own training, so I figured I’d share my reflections.

The Problem: Bad environment

Some organisations have a negative atmosphere, with elitism or a ‘clique’ attitude. This may also create a quasi-political situation with instructors competing against each other, or personal relationship drama poisoning the atmosphere. There are also teachers that abuse their influence as leaders to create a self-centred cult, where you will be shunned as a non-believer if you would ever dare to question the teachings.  Other schools have no structure to their teaching approach, offering little to no incentive or encouragement to keep pushing yourself forward. Even worse, some schools have severely unsafe practises that may lead to students getting injured and put out of training. All reasons that are likely to make students lose their interest and leave.

Flickr Cilou101

If this is your introductory class, you may have made a poor choice.

The Answer: Be Selective

You choose where you train, so make that choice count. When you are looking for a school, don’t go for the most convenient or cheapest option. Keep scoping out schools until you’ve found the perfect fit (or as close as you can get). Try to find one where the students are welcoming and supportive of each other, and teachers show professionalism and respect you as an individual. It’s a healthy sign when the school has a set and logical curriculum, along with rules that are followed by both students and leaders alike. If you live in an area with no schools, consider your options – maybe there is a school farther away, where you could go once every few weeks for a private lesson? You could then get some ‘homework’ to work on as you train by yourself. If you do join a school that’s less than perfect, at least aim to lead by example – if you want to change the world, start by changing yourself. And regarding risky exercises, remember that you always have a choice; if they are asking you to do something that you feel could be dangerous, you have the right to refuse.

The Problem: Flawed character

This seems to be the most common reason people drop out; boredom, apathy and lack of interest claim the majority of students. Some also have a tendency to rely on positive reinforcement from their teacher and other students, and lose their motivation if this approval goes missing. Another cause to people quitting can come from them having an ‘impure’ reason to take up martial arts – such as burning calories, hang out with friends, perv on other students or my personal favourite: “I just wanna kick ass!”. These people quickly learn that martial arts training consist of hard work, takes really long time to master and brings little personal glory. Thus it normally doesn’t take long before they quit. I’m quite happy with this, as their attitude in training can ruin the experience for others. So feel free to GTFO, the school will welcome you back when you’re ready to have a proper go at it.

Flickr Stefan Ledwina

And don’t you ever look back.

The Answer: Keep it real

First of all, stay out of the kitchen if you don’t want to cook. There are numerous other hobbies out there if you mainly want to meet people, bust moves, or bask in attention (try Zumba and get it all in one). In my opinion, martial arts need to be respected for their origin and purpose – as per The Code – so act accordingly. When you sign up, make no mistake; you’re in for countless hours of drills, repetitive exercises with no end in sight and tough challenges with very little immediate reward. Get your satisfaction from inner personal development rather than external rewards. Make patience and persistence your new best friends, as you’re in for the long haul. That being said, you should still set up achievable goals you would like to reach one day and the milestones that will take you there so that you keep feeling a sense of progress.

The Problem: Other factors

If you don’t see your martial arts training as a priority, you may find that end up finding a lot of other factors taking up your time. Other hobbies, TV shows, hanging out with friends, love life etc has a tendency to fight for your attention as well. And it’s not like the hardcore zealots are safe either; training every day or working as a full time instructor has its own risk of burning you out. And let’s not forget the twin evils of Injury and Illness – like lightning out of a clear sky, misfortune can hit you hard when you least expect it. From one day to the next, your situation might drastically change and you find yourself without the option to do martial arts. End of the line,right?


Tell that to this guy.

The Answer: Strive for Harmony

As with most things in life, there needs to balance. Some people have a strong need to hang out with family and friends; others get more satisfaction from putting all their focus on their training. Consider what is important to you and prioritise your time and attention accordingly. Try to find a level of commitment to your training that you can maintain in the long run. You will need to review this from time to time as well, as things always change. If you’re dedicating yourself to training and teaching beyond your passion for the art, it will only become a burden and rob you of the joy you used to feel for it.

As for injuries and illness, these can often be avoided through physical conditioning and a healthy lifestyle. But if disaster does strike, try to make the best out of it by working around the situation – if you’re sick, watch movies related to your art (I warmly recommend Human Weapon and Fight Quest), read books to educate yourself further on worthy topics such as nutrition or anatomy, and so on. If you’re injured then ensure that you’re taking the steps necessary to recover by visiting recommended doctors, physiotherapists and others. Commit yourself to the rehab and give it your best. Be as productive and creative as possible in these situations. As an example, a Capoeira player that is unable to train can still practise the musical aspect, learn songs and take lessons in Portuguese. An injured Kung Fu student can potentially explore the internal arts or take up Chi Gong for self-healing. Learn to meditate and explore your inner self. The list of alternate paths that will still benefit your martial arts progress is more extensive than you think.

Liked this article? Feel free to share it with others. Also, see here for more advise on training.

– Lobo

3 thoughts on “The secrets to martial arts progress – Consistency

  1. moxyjen

    Great post! I’ve quit a number of times over the years due to injury, the school being a poor fit for me, instructors moving, me moving, and illness. This time I’ve finally found the right school that’s worth sticking with. I wish I had read this post before my first injury in Jiu-Jitsu, due to poor oversight and dangerous practices for beginners. That one took me out for a year, and turned me off to martial arts for a long time.


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