My friend Cathy Chapaty wrote a really good blog post that got me thinking.
Here, give it a read, and then come back. I'll still be here:
I think she has diagnosed it correctly - that martial arts students who stay more than a few months are either belt-driven or lifers, and the belt-driven quit once they hit whatever rank they have their eyes on (usually 1st Black) through no true fault of the instructor's.
This is partially a side-effect of being focused on the rank of 1st Black as a motivator in itself. We have "Black Belt Clubs" and "Black Belt Schools" and we talk constantly about achieving 1st Black as if it's the most important thing in the world and the whole reason for training. It's hard for many of us to see past that because we emphasize it so much. I wrote about that here: The Cult of Black Belt
But I think it's also just a fact of life that very, very few of us are martial arts lifers.
With kids, it can be really hard judge in the short term, because they're often over-achievers who take breaks in order to do other things they can only do at specific times (like sports seasons or a play or marching band). They may decide to focus on school for a few years and either don't have the money or time to train as well as keep up their grades. Some come back to training as adults, either in their original style or they try something new - but many don't, for a lot of reasons.
There's lots of people who start as adults and take that same path. Achieve 1st Black, then they move on to other hobbies.
It doesn't invalidate their ranks nor does it make them bad martial artists. As Cathy correctly diagnosed, they were belt-driven, and now they've met their goal. They're done.
That's okay. It really is.
I didn't know I am a lifer until I'd been training for years. I joke about wanting to do this until I die, literally keeling over on a mat (NOT REALLY - that'd be awful for everybody else in the room and I'm not that mean). Turns out my husband is a lifer too, but again, who knew? I didn't!
Lifers are rare. Expecting a person to commit to a hobby for the rest of their lives is really unreasonable, when you think about it objectively. I know we tend to carry that expectation of our training partners and our students, but we're lifers. We expect everybody to be lifers like we are.
Expecting everyone to train for the rest of their lives is as unreasonable as insisting that everyone train with the same inner motivations. Some of us train for health and fitness reasons, some of us train for self defense or fighting, some of us train for the mental benefits, some of us train for the sense of belonging and camaraderie you get when you're in the dojo, some of us train to overcome personal trauma... the reasons to train are just as diverse as we are.
And so it is for the belt (or rank) driven and the lifers.
As a lifer, I am going to make an effort to respect and connect with the belt-driven. We have them for a short time in the scheme of things. We should cherish them while they're here and make sure they are welcome if they decide to come back.
My question to you is: how can you spot a lifer early on? Or is it simply not possible in the early days? What is the hallmark of a lifer and how do you know you're one?
Let me know what you think!