The high dropout rate among martial arts students is not surprising: many come in with visions of Bruce Lee and leave with memories of knuckle push-ups.  Instead of being formed into acrobatic fighting machines within a month, they have been forced to perform boring and repetitious sets of blocks, kicks and stretching exercises.

In many cases, dropping out is a considered decision made by a person who recognizes that he or she is not willing or able to commit the time and energy to learn a sophisticated system that, ideally, requires a lifetime of study.  Othertimes, however, students drop out when they hit a slump, telling themselves they will just take a break from the martial arts and then return.  Most, of course, never come back.

There are three danger periods in martial arts training, times when students are most likely to quit.  Following is a look at these three periods, with an explanation as to why they occur.


By far the greatest number of students leave the martial arts after earning their first or second belt promotion.  As mentioned previously, these students often go in with superficial motivation and quickly realize they're not willing to sweat and suffer for the next few years to achieve their goal.  Yet they are unwilling to be outright "quitters," so they stay on to earn that first or even second promotion before dropping out.  Thus, they are left with at least a mild sense of accomplishment, having earned a belt in the martial arts.

Some students quite honestly realize at this time, that they are not willing or able to meet the demands of martial arts training.  Intelligent and interested adults who, while still admiring the martial arts, decide they simply are not willing to invest the time, energy and money to pursue them in earnest.  It is wise for instructors not to urge such students to continue their studies.  Martial arts, unlike, say, guitar playing, is not something one can do haphazardly, just now and then.  With a guitar, one has the choice of learning a few chords or of going on and becoming expert.  In martial arts, it goes against the system to stay at the "few chords" stage.

In fact, if a student is going to quit the martial arts, the early-belt stage is probably the best time, for there has been no great investment--of time or money.  For whatever reasons, the student has decided the martial arts are not for him or her.  Who can argue?  Let them go.


The World Tang Soo Do Association "Black Belt Manual" describes the brown belt stage as "analogous to the plants which curtail their growth and prepare to flower in late summer." The brown belt is a sort of plateau, in which the student has become adept at basics and is ready to gear up for the harder training leading to a black belt.

A student who earns a brown belt is justifiably proud.  However, with this pride often comes a sense of complacency, the feeling that "I've earned my brown belt, now I can sit back and take it easy awhile." Quite frequently this feeling deteriorates into a slump in which the student loses his or her sense of motivation, attends class less often, and slacks off in practice.  The brown belt slump seems to be one of the most difficult syndromes for the students to conquer.  Those students who decide to lay off at this point just for "awhile" often never return.  This is compounded by the fact the student may feel confident in self-defense skills and not feel a burning need to learn more.

Lower-belt students should be cautioned in advance about this brown belt slump, which at times seems almost universal.  Instructors should tell students to expect such feelings so that they will not be lulled into the false security that may ultimately end in their quitting the school.  Forewarned, they can recognize the symptoms of the brown belt slump and wait it out.  The cure is to continue practice on a minimal level, forcing oneself to go through the basics until the slump has passed.  For, as black belts can attest, once the brown belt slump has passed, a remarkable and unexpected energy surges forth.  Suddenly, that "plant" begins to flower!


To a beginning martial artist, the black belt represents the ultimate goal.  He or she can rarely see beyond that.  And that is as it should be.  To a person standing in a valley, the mountain peak on the horizon appears to be the highest, when in fact it is merely one of the lower peaks at the edge of a vast, unseen mountain range.

As a student approaches his or her black belt, however he or she should recognize it as merely the end of one life cycle and the beginning of another.  Unfortunately, some students reach their first-degree black belt and decide they have mastered their art and obtained their goal--and they wind up quitting altogether.

This is perhaps the most puzzling of the three danger periods.  Quitting practice after achieving black belt is analogous to receiving an expensive and coveted car, and then never changing the oil, lubricating or otherwise caring for the car, until it finally falls apart at an early age.

A martial artist, black belt or otherwise, must practice regularly to keep his or her skills honed.  Reflexes, flexibility, power--these attributes do not magically exist in the body and mind of a student upon earning a black belt. 

What's the cure for this false peak of the first-degree black belt?  Perhaps the answer is exposure to dedicated and interested masters or higher-ranking students, who can show the first-degree black belts that they are merely beginners on a wondrous road that need have no end.  All martial artists need to remember that mastery of a style is a process, not a destination, and if they can keep plodding past the slumps and false peaks, their skills will not desert them.  They should also remember that a person must decide for oneself whether to continue martial arts study.  An instructor should not attempt to make a student feel bad or guilty for quitting.  Instead, the instructor should give the student every opportunity to understand the reasons for not quitting.  Some people are just not ready to learn the martial arts, and for them it is probably better that they quit.  Yet, when one is ready, truly ready, there is no holding that person back.