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  • Writer's pictureJackie Bradbury

What's My Motivation?

A friend online was having trouble getting motivated to go to karate class.

She'd spent a long time (years) in "competition mode", training specifically for tournaments. For various reasons, she wasn't going to compete any more. As a result, she was having trouble finding her reasons to go to class.

I started to give her a standard "Here's the reasons you should be training" spiel a lot of us would say. That in the martial arts, we should be focused on personal growth and development, our health, etc. but it just sounded... wrong.

Because it is wrong.

We all have different agendas for training and we all have different goals.  We aren't all motivated by the same things.  Some of us need having a concrete goal in front of us to strive for (like a rank advancement or a participation in a tournament), and some of us don't.

What motivates me to train doesn't have to be the reasons for someone else to train.

Me, I train for my health, mostly - my mental and physical well being.  I like how the martial arts keeps my mind sharp and my body moving. It's an endless puzzle of new information that's always waiting for me to figure out.  I sleep better and I'm less stressed when I'm training than when I'm not.

For me, there is no concrete goal to martial arts training. My life in the martial arts is more of a maintenance program without any specific goal ultimately in mind.

Lots of other people need concrete, specific goals. They want and need the pressure that competition puts us under in order to keep focused, and that's okay, even if it isn't my thing.  Others want and need that constant goal of the next rank to keep training. And that's okay, too

There's lots of other goals you can pursue. Hey, I have a friend whose goal is to know and perfect 100 kata. Why? Just because. He likes the nice round number of 100 and he likes doing kata, so that motivates him to train.

I think it becomes a problem only when our goals change and we don't change our expectations... and we lose interest in doing this crazy little hobby of ours.

For example, let's consider the process of achieving the rank of black belt.  For many of us, it's THE goal when we train - and honestly, we martial arts instructors sometimes make that rank so mystical, so magical, so important sometimes that we give the impression that it IS the only real goal in training.

Yes, yes, "black belt is only the beginning", "black belt means you're ready to really learn". Sure, we say that, but do we live that?

Sometimes we do. And sometimes, we don't. I wrote about this here: The Cult of Black Belt.

Depending on the style, it can take anywhere from three to five, or even ten or more years to achieve black belt rank.  We work so hard for it, and we achieve it...

Many martial arts schools do a poor job in a training plan and helping students stay focused and motivated beyond black belt.  This is one reason why so many of us quit at this rank and move on to other stuff to do - the next rank isn't as, well, sexy as that first jump into wearing a black belt.

Another example is what happens in schools that are very focused on competition. That's fantastic, but what happens when you can't compete any more, or if the circumstances of your life don't allow you to train to the level required to be successful in competition?  How do you stay motivated to come to class if you can't do what everyone else is going to do?

It's like beating the final boss in a video game you love to play, and now the game's over.  Some gamers will restart the game and try to play it a different way (and some games are smart and build in or sell other stuff to do after you beat that final boss), and others will move on to another game.

We achieve a goal, we move on to the next one.

My friend said she needs to fall back on "discipline" to keep going until her motivation returns.  I agree to some extent, but to me it sounded like going to class was more of a negative thing than a positive thing.

Needing "discipline" to go to class makes it a chore. Martial arts training should never be a chore.

My friend had to find a new goal, a new reason to train. Or she'll quit, and honestly, that's not a crazy or unreasonable thing to do.

What's the point of training if it isn't fun or fulfilling a need in your life?

So what motivates you to keep coming to class year after year?  Have your goals changed over time?  Let me know in the comments!

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