Dear Prospective New Student: First, welcome to our training facility. We are glad you decided to start your martial arts training journey and we're glad you chose us. We'd like to share a few things with you to get started, and we'd like to issue a couple of warnings, just so you know what to expect. PRE-QUITTERS: We'll never get to know you, unfortunately. You've called or come by the training facility, picked up some literature, asked some questions. Maybe you even stayed and watched some training. You told yourself that this is something you think you'd like to do. But for whatever reason, you don't come back. You may be surprised, but every training facility has people who call multiple times to ask about training, and to state that they will definitely be in the next week to start training. Some call every year in January; must be a New Year's Resolution or something. Whatever; you won't sign up, you won't train. You've quit before you've begun. Some of you will ask around online about training. Where the local facilities are, if this or that art or trainer is well-respected, and so on. You'll describe your desire to start training, maybe give some background about yourself. Perhaps you've been in the military and gotten some martial arts training there. Perhaps you are a little older and trained in some martial arts style as a child and now you'd like to get back into it. Perhaps you think it would be a good way to lose some weight, to stay fit, to learn self-defense. You're very inquisitive, and seem enthusiastic, but you won't actually sign up and start training, for whatever reason. Some of you will ask about video and book-based training. You may or may not be pleased with the reply, because although there are some who think martial arts can be learned from a book or from a video, many trained martial artists do not, and they'll give you their unvarnished opinion. We realize that this will probably lead to some angry words and a rapid departure. Not only won't you join a martial arts training center, you also won't practice your asked-about book or video learning either. We won't see you again online, although the discussion threads you've begun will probably continue for some time after you've gone. Some of you will describe all the ways that it is impossible for you to train in person. You live many miles from the nearest training facility. You do not have a job, and therefore no money. You do not have a vehicle or access to transportation. You work or go to school when the training facility offers classes. There are many reasons why local in-person training is not possible for you. We can offer only this; finding a way to attend training is the first part of your martial arts journey. If you cannot do this (and your reasons may be quite real, we're not calling you a liar), you would not keep training anyway; because it only gets harder from there. If you really want to do it, you will find a way to make it happen, even if it means doing things that are quite uncomfortable or difficult, or making long-range plans that include waiting until you can change your circumstances. Some will recommend that you wait until you can change your circumstances, but that in the meantime, you consider doing calisthenics, working out, doing weight training, becoming flexible, or taking other classes that can help you later; like ballroom dancing, or jazzercise or yoga or other forms of physical activity that require you to develop balance, rhythm, and increase your endurance and basic fitness level. You may reject these; after all, they are not what you want to do. We agree, but we know from the benefit of having trained for awhile in martial arts that these things can and will benefit you; dancers are often quite good martial artists, people who are flexible from yoga find it easy to perform higher kicks, and so on. Again, if you are unwilling to consider this type of training while you wait until your circumstances change so that you can get started with martial arts training, you are probably not that serious about martial arts training. And let us just say that being a quitter is not a bad thing. It's not meant to hurt or insult you. People choose to do or not do things for all kinds of reasons, and just not wanting to do it is a perfectly valid reason. There is no shame, and no harm, in deciding you don't want to do something; or in deciding after trying it that is just not for you. Have no fear; walk away and do something you DO like to do. We're all different, and we all want different things out of life. No harm, no foul. You're still a good person; you just don't want to be a martial artist. Totally OK. DAY ONE QUITTERS: About half of our prospective new students quit after the first day. Reasons vary, and we don't even know all of them, but our theory is that for many, the reality of our martial arts training does not meet up with their expectations. For example, we spend at least 30 minutes of our 2-hour training session doing calisthenics and stretching exercises. We understand if you are not in good physical condition or if you have physical limitations that prevent you from doing everything we do; but do ask you to do what you can. We do pushups, we do jumping jacks, we do crunchers and situps and we skip rope. If you are able to keep pace, you will be breathing hard and sweating by the time we're ready to start any kind of actual training. We do this because it is important to prepare the body and the mind for the activity that is to come. We have found that some new students did not expect to have to do hard physical exercise, and that's not what they want to do. We also start our newest students off with extreme basics, such as how to make a fist, how to stand, how to step forward and back, how to punch. This may seem a far cry from smashing bricks or doing 'real' self-defense, but in grade school, you practiced writing your alphabet before you started writing words, and this is no different. We have found that some new students do not like the idea of beginning at the very beginning. It has also been noted that invariably, new students ask us "How long until I get my black belt?" This is a very common and legitimate question, we'd be surprised if you did not ask it; but the answer may not be what you want to hear. In our training facility, the answer is that it varies, depending upon the student. At the minimum, it will take several years, and the average for us is probably somewhere in the five year range. That's a long time, and we understand that may be disappointing for some. We cannot say that it is not legitimate for a person to have 'earning a black belt' as a goal for their training, but in our training facility, we keep two things uppermost in mind. First, for us, we're more interested in the training we receive than the belt we wear around our waists and second, sho-dan (first degree black belt) is only the beginning of a lifetime's commitment to martial arts training. We do understand if that is not what you are interested in, but it is what we do here. 3 MONTH QUITTERS: We're always happy when a new student returns, especially after the first day! Unfortunately, we have also noticed that a lot of students stop coming around the the three-month mark. Again, we're not certain, but there may be a number of reasons for this. We have noted that some students seem to quit after they have received their first or second belt promotions. This is disappointing to us, because we've invested a lot in you as a student by now, we've gotten to know and like you as a person, and you've put in a lot of hard work. We've welcomed you into our family, and no that you're not there, we notice it and we miss you. We wish you'd come back! When asked, some have said that they quit because even after three months, they felt they were not learning 'martial arts'. That is, they were still spending a lot of time on basics. Stepping, standing, punching, kicking, and the beginnings of kata and the foreign vocabulary words we use in our training facility. Some of it does not feel like it's very much geared towards self-defense or even the kind of fluid, graceful, martial arts moves one can see in movies or on the Internet. They might become discouraged or think that they are not progressing. The fact is, you are progressing, you just don't see it in yourself yet. You are adding speed and balance and power to your punches, even if you are punching air or a bag. You are learning distancing and how to hit without hurting your hand, how to kick without hurting your toes. You're improving; but you just don't see it in yourself yet. The truth is, you'll probably never see it until you get to the point where you see yourself objectively, but you will get to the point where you see new students who are where you were, and you'll realize that you're not like that anymore. The seasons are also changing after three months, in many places. Fall turns into winter, the weather turns bad. Students go back to school, schedules change for many of us. It becomes harder to get to the training facility, harder to dedicate the time necessary. People catch colds and flu and although they are understandably out for a short period, starting again afterwards can be an uphill slog. The thing you should remember is that there is only one thing that separates many advanced students from beginning students; they kept attending training. That's it. No magic. They're not more talented than you (OK, maybe some are, and you may be more naturally gifted than some of them), but they kept attending training. If they seem much better than you are now, that's what time and practice does. That may seem difficult to accept from the 'beginner' side of things, but it's true. Boredom. Yes, it's true. Although we vary the routine in our training facility to try to keep things fresh, ultimately we are doing the same things over and over again. And there is a certain amount of tedium in it if you do not have a long attention span. But training the body is not exactly the same as training the mind; the body requires repetition to make certain movements natural and reflexive, to apply speed and power to them. There will come a time when you will see an opening during sparring and you'll throw a punch or a kick and it will go right where you intended it to go, just as you intended it to land; but it will happen because you have thrown that punch of kick hundreds or thousands of times until it seems as natural as swatting a fly or reaching for a kitchen utensil. It will be in your 'bag of tricks' and you can call upon it anytime you need it. But until you do it over and over and over again, knowing the movement is not the same as applying the movement. Yes, it's boring and repetitive and it gets old. Part of your martial arts journey will be doing things that are not that much fun, without any apparent short-term benefit. Afraid to come back after an absence. Yes, we understand that there are good reasons why you have to stop training for a period of time. Jobs, school, children, parents, seasons, sickness, injuries, finances, all kinds of reasons, many of them valid. But we also want you to come back. We like you by now. We miss you. Yes, some of your fellow new students will have advanced since you've been gone. But that's not a big deal; this is not a race. You will have lost some training too; you'll forget your kata or forms, your moves will be slow and rusty, you'll have to relearn some things. But you'll also be surprised at how quickly you'll get it all back once you start training again. It won't take as long as you think. So don't think that it's a good idea to stop training permanently just because you had to stop training temporarily. You don't even have to explain to us why you had to stop; we know how life is. Just come back and start training again. BLACK BELT QUITTERS: The saddest thing is to see a student quit training when they receive their sho-dan or first-degree black belt. One instructor put it this way; "It hurts to know that they see the benefits and choose not to train anyway." A student who earns their black belt has generally shown the kind of dedication needed to keep training, to keep learning, to keep trying, no matter the obstacles put in front of them. You are actively helping others in the training facility; you are looked up to as leaders and newer students model themselves after you. You are respected and liked; your absence will be sorely felt. Why did you quit? Perhaps you felt like taking a break. After all, it was a long and difficult climb to that first black belt rank, and there was quite likely an even more difficult last-minute push to make sure you had everything in place to test and pass that milestone. You were in that last sprint to the finish line and perhaps now it feels like the race is over, or at least that you're not ready to immediately start another race to the next belt. Hopefully, you don't think you've learned all there is to learn. Most black belt students are quite aware that those who have advanced black belts have a level of mastery above them as much as they themselves have over a beginner. You may have learned all the kata or forms, all the exercises, all the weapons; but it would be wrong to say you've mastered them. Just as a person with a Bachelor's degree in biology understands the basics of human health, they are in no way a medical doctor. Perhaps you feel that you've ticked a box off your bucket list. If that's all all you wanted, it's perfectly valid; but it does mystify many of us who have turned the corner of perception from martial arts as a way of learning something (self-defense, good conditioning, etc) into seeing martial arts as a way of life, something to be pursued forever, perpetual students who always strive for a deeper level of understanding. Everyone has their own reasons for training; and for quitting. There is no 'right' or 'wrong' to it; but once a student reaches black belt range, many life-long students start to think that all black belts feel the same way about training that they do. It's often a shock to find out that's not the case. THE WAY OF MARTIAL ARTS SUCCESS: The secret, prospective student, is simple, even if it is difficult to implement. Find a training facility you like, with a qualified instructor that you respect, that teaches what you want to learn. Find a way to attend regularly, even through difficulty and sacrifice. Then keep training. Through boredom, through injuries, through changes in your life that make it difficult to train. If you have to stop, start again as soon as you can. Practice when you are not able to train in person. Repeat this for the rest of your life. That is the secret to martial arts success.