You don't have to be a Panda to do Kung Fu

You don't have to be a Panda to do Kung Fu


Sometimes the most dreaded words to any Martial Arts teacher and sometimes the most pleasing.


Adults start Martial Arts for many reasons, fitness, exercise, self defence, a new challenge or even to become a Black Belt. Children also start training for many reasons, some their own, some from their parents including fitness, confidence, discipline and exercise.  Often when one asks a student soon after they start training, the response is usually that they want to gain their Black Belt.


When you start to look at why people start there are many good reasons and they all start with high ideals and lofty ambitions. There is an oft quoted statistic that “Only one person in 1000 will ever earn their Black Belt.” Whilst I don’t think there is a way to actually empirically prove this number, it is fair to say that more people quit learning a Martial Art before they achieve the coveted status of Black Belt.


There was a study in America and out of 210 adults questioned in a telephone survey, the reasons that they quoted for quitting their Martial Art (Judo, Karate, Kung Fu, Kickboxing, Tae Kwon Do and other mainstream arts were all included)


Personal or work time constrains – 31%

Moved away from area – 23%

Lost interest – 18%

Medical Problems – 13%

Classes finished – 8%

Financial – 7%

Some things a Martial Arts teacher has no control over. We can’t change how someone determines to spend their limited leisure time. I’ve been in positions where I’ve not been able to attend a regular dojo for months, because I’ve been travelling around Europe working and living out of hotels working 18 hour days. Likewise I’ve also limited some of my training in order to spend time with my family and woe betide the instructor who tells me that I’m not committed enough because I want to spend time with my family. Family, work, Martial Arts in that order is the right approach for most people.

I can speak with recent experience of people moving area from the Basingstoke area. One of our students left to go and work in Denmark, another to live with her father in Wiltshire, two more moved because their job forced them to move. 20+ years ago I handed over the reins of a very successful Karate club I ran, because I was offered a chance to buy into a business that was 200 miles away from the club and I had to move, or rather I chose to move to start a new business adventure.

A good martial arts club that follows the guidelines laid down by The Martial Arts Standards Agency  should have good procedures in placed to help reduce the risk of injury.  However, along with every sport, there is always the risk or injury, no matter how carefully you practice. Before starting any training you should discuss with your instructor any injuries that you have and whether they limit your participation during any particular exercises. A good experienced instructor may be able to help you find a work-around that suits your body. There are of course other medical injuries that may prevent someone training, a friend of mine did Ballet for many years, sadly it caused injuries to her knees, which has currently curtailed her Martial Arts training due to having a knee replacement.

The financial reasons why people quit can be varied, it might be due to a short term change in circumstances, for example redundancy. It might be that there are other ‘more important’ things for that family to spend there money on. Whilst it may be possible to provide free classes to that person/family, the instructor always has to consider that they still need to pay their hall hire, insurance, rates etc. It’s also worth noting that some people can also use this as an excuse instead of giving the real reason why they are stopping training.

So out of the answers given by people who gave up a Martial Art, an instructor has little or no control over 74% of those. That does leave 26% of people who the instructor can influence.

8% of people said that there class has finished. New classes when they start are often small in numbers and unless the instructor has got the mix of advertising right, they are unlikely to grow too successfully. Ergo it becomes a financial drain on an instructor to teach a small class and they can close down. When starting a class an Instructor needs to carefully think about how to maximise a new intake and keep people interested and attending in order to build up numbers over a period of time.

The final one and the one that Instructors have the most influence over, is people losing interest. Instructors need to consider how to structure their syllabus and also their teaching style to engage and motivate people. Everyone has a different reason for practicing Martial Arts and therefore their approach to their training can differ. But this is the one key area that instructor can influence whilst teaching. The instructor should consider:-

  1. Do they teach the same thing all the time in the same format?
  2. Do they use any equipment to liven the lessons up for example bags, pads, grappling equipment?
  3. Is each student sufficiently personally challenged?
  4. Is there a clear and demonstrable path for progression? Are there different things for the student to work on as they progress?
  5. Are the classes actually fun (for both the instructor and also the student)
  6. Is feedback given in the right way and at the right time?
  7. Are you still actively training and learning new things to pass onto your students?

The correct practice of Martial Arts should be a natural progression, there is always more to learn and more to teach. I’ve seen too many classes where a green belt is practising exactly the same techniques in the same way as a brown belt or even a black belt does. Being a higher grade doesn’t just mean that the techniques are performed the same as a lower grade, albeit faster. There should be a whole new depth to the techniques and you need to make sure that as an Instructor or Coach, that you are teaching your students these new skills in order for them to grow and develop. Moreover as an instructor, you need to be learning new skills to aid your development as a Martial Artist and as an instructor, if you are not training for yourself, then you have no right to call yourself an instructor.

At the end of the day an instructor won’t keep every student, but if they can engage their students a little more effectively, then maybe just a few more people will stay the course and reach the coveted Black Belt.

As a final point, it is also worth considering that although a student may say “I quit” a coach or Instructor also has the right to tell a student that they are quitting them or in business terms laying them off. Of course an instructor has to earn the right to teach someone, but equally a student has to prove that they deserve to be taught and that has nothing to do with money.

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