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The Green Belt Paradox

There's this old karate saying.

For every 10,000 students who join, half will drop out in the first 6 months.

Of those remaining, only 1000 students will complete a full year of training.

500 will make 2 years, but only 100 will make their third anniversary.

20 will achieve 1st degree black belt.

Less than 5 will make their 2nd dan.

From my experience, I'm not sure that this is 100% accurate: but it's close.

The gist of it is this:

At some point, most people will quit karate. Especially kids.

And that's okay. Life happens, and things change.

But here's the thing. In my opinion, there are a few common Breaking Points. Things that either lead to - or entice - a student to quit.

The problem is that if a student quits for the wrong reasons, quitting in that very moment might just undo all of the good that karate has done for them up to this point.

In my opinion, of the most damaging reasons for a student (read: a kid) to quit is when something scares them.

And I'm not talking about something like the instructor yelling at them for something they didn't do. I'm talking about something in class, something controlled and physically harmless, that frightens that student into not wanting to go back.

Because here's the problem with fear-based quitting: it undoes so much of the work that student has done up until that point. Karate is centred around the idea of Never Give Up (at least mine is) so giving up because of fear or anxiety is no reason to quit.

You know what it teaches them?

That when something is scary, different, or new, it's okay to not do that thing. It's okay to back down. It's okay to quit.

Let's talk about the Green Belt Paradox.

In my tears of teaching, I've noticed this phenomenon pop up. After about a year of training, kids come to the time to test for their green belt. The ones who pass the test are finally allowed to begin a new kind of class:

Sparring Class.

Sparring (in our dojo) is done in full foam gear, and always starts slowly. The drills are controlled. And yet, first-timers (new green belts over age 9) are always scared.

Because it's scary to have some kid coming at you throwing punches, even if those punches are slow and controlled. Even if you are wearing full body protective gear.

You have no idea how many students I have seen quit because Green Belt has been too scary.

(and it's not just sparring. It's beginning kata, joining a new age group... anything new.)

Yes, some of these students may have been close to quitting anyway. But if I can give students (and their parents) any advice from the point of view of an instructor, let it be this:

Don't let fear dictate what you do. Overcome this fear in the dojo, work with your Sensei, and, if you're still so inclined afterwards, then quit. But don't let fear dictate what you do.

As a person with horrendous anxiety (which I deal with far better now than ever before) I can confidently say that karate has been a huge part of forcing me to do things despite my fears and despite my anxiety. If not for karate, I never would have opened a business, I never would have competed in tournaments in front of 300+ people, I never would have attended multi-national training seminars on the other side of the world.

You'll be scared in life. That's just how it is. Things will always scare you, and most of them will be worse than a kid called Lou wearing foam on his hands and trying to tap you on the stomach.

Quitting because of fear is fine right now, but what about down the road? What about when it's time for speeches at school? Or presentations in front of the class? Or starting a new school? We can't quit those things because they're scary, so we shouldn't quit Karate because it's scary at times, either.

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