by Sensei Neil Prime
October, 1996

Compared to the amount of people who start karate, those who actually attain the level of Black Belt is very low. I have heard manyscenarios' similar to this one:

If 2000 people where to join a karate club today, then approximately 1000 people would graduateto yellow belt. From there, only 500 people would graduate to orange, 200 to green, 100 to blue,50 to brown and only 10 would actually earn the rank of Black Belt. From this level, only 1person would attain a level higher than Shodan (1st degree black).

Upon many in depth conversations I and many fellow karateka have tried to pin point the reasonswhy. Is it the instructor?

In some cases maybe, but I don't think this is true for the people who have already attained acertain level of expertise with the same instructors guidance unless for some reason there is amajor change in the thoughts or ways an instructor chooses to teach or the influences of thestudent may change. There will be differences from instructor to instructor and also betweensomeone who attends a class and someone who teaches. There is definitely nothing wrong withbeing a student, it's just not the same as teaching. Teaching requires a special desire, skill andpersonality. Some people who are very good at the technical aspect of something are notnecessarily the ones who should be teaching.

Being an instructor, I highly regard my time on the floor as a student. It helps keep me awareof someone else's perspective and enhances my own technical abilities. So, is it the material?

Most instructors like to teach what they do well themselves, but if they do not expand upon thesetechniques or if they are unable to relate them to each individual then there will be a certainlevel of frustration.

(A): either the person will look at the instructor and feel that their level of ability is not attainableor

(B): the actual physical limitations of the student do not allow them to attain these certainlevels.

Both situations can be very hard to deal with emotionally because people don't want to do thingsthat they feel they are incapable of doing. This is likely to happen more so at the beginning ofones' career rather than later.

The other factor that may fall into this category is that a person may come to a conclusion thatwhat they are doing is not believable. This can be a result of either the material is so complexthat you could never imagine it working in a real self defence situation or that you have tried thetechnique over and over and can't make it work. This will make your confidence in the techniquediminish.

One scenario I have a hard time accepting is when people move onto other clubs because they'relooking for "something different". To expand on ones' horizons is very important, but to havea foundation and a place you can call home is also important. I know more people who go fromclub to club trying to find that something special, and it's not there. You have to make it!

I met someone not too long ago that told me they had studied 5 different martial arts. This personwas not even 21 yet and I already can tell you that this person will never succeed in the martialarts because he already thinks he knows more than the person trying to teach him. This guymight have an okay punch and kick, but there is no psychological support to back up any of histechniques and he hasn't stayed in one discipline long enough to learn any real combinations tomake those techniques work.

If a person has a foundation and they wish to compliment what they are doing, then I agree100% in cross training, otherwise you only confuse matters.

In the past 5 years I have trained in karate and kickboxing and attended seminars in variousstyles of karate, judo, kickboxing, Jeet kun do, tai kwon do, boxing, 3 different forms of kali, 4forms of jui jitsu, aikido, hapkido, kung fu and even pressure point areas of attack. All of whichhave improved and complimented my skills in karate, yet none of which I claim to knoweverything about. As a matter of fact, I have barely scratched the surface in the grapplingarts.

Is it the time required to earn a belt? If it is, the person probably was in martial arts for thewrong reasons. In any case, I have seen people make it to brown and black belt level in under3 years in certain clubs. Most of those same people question their ability to honor the rank.

For the others, it must appear that karate requires little work to master and if someone wanteda real challenge they would try something else. There has to be a sense of accomplishment ateach and every belt level or your gradings mean nothing!

Could it be the discipline? Although some clubs are more strict or militant than others, there isa certain sense of respect that is in the air in most karate clubs. The people who just come in tolearn how to beat people up don't last. Either they conform or they don't stay, being expelledor feeling uncomfortable in this type of environment.

Karate, unlike team sports relies heavily upon ourselves for stimulation. Sure there are factorsthat help, but when it comes down to the crunch you are the driving force behind the stimuli.It is very difficult to keep pushing yourself and rather easy to make excuses for why NOT to dosomething. As the saying goes "you can find a dozen reasons why you shouldn't do something,but try to think of only one reason why you should".

Mr. Joe Lewis stated in a recent article in Karate International magazine: "If you sign up for aBlack Belt Membership (some clubs offer this type of promotion) the onus of earning that rankshould be placed upon yourself, not the instructor. The information is available for you to take,and you must be the one to take it".

I strongly agree with what Mr.Lewis is stating. Dedication is the key factor to success. I feel thatdevotion to your short term and long term goals should not be underİminded. You must take theresponsibility to carry out them out and not make excuses when you are the one who fails tofollow something through.

With me personally there is a thirst for knowledge. Not just having knowledge but being able toapply it and to teach it. Sometimes this quest can be very frustrating especially when I think thatI started karate 19 years ago and today I have so much more to learn. With each and every goalattained there is a certain level of confidence, yet it is sheltered by the fact that my search formore is never ending.

Sometimes people feel that they need a break from their regular routine. I see this very oftenafter people are graded to Shodan. They work so hard for so long to reach this goal and the verynext day they realize that this goal as wonderful as it is, is only a hurdle. I feel at this point thatyou should collect and organize your thoughts. Ask yourself "why did I come this far? and howdid I make it here?" After all, you could have been part of the higher percentage and quit beforeyellow belt.

Compare yourself to the person you are now and the person you where when you firststarted.

Sensei Brian Chmay made an excellent point by stating "if you earn your yellow belt, you havethe potential to earn your Black Belt".

Lastly, think of the physical benefits through karate. The human body needs physical activity tosurvive with any type of vibrancy, and the brain needs new knowledge to continue to functionwith clarity. Karate offers this to all, but YOU have to be the one to take.

I try to make it a point to find out why people leave our karate club. When I first started teachingI used to take it very personally when people quit. Now, although I miss those people, I acceptit and carry on trying to improve the odds of losing more students to this fate. I also realize thatnot everyone is going to love this wonderful sport as much as I do.

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