brown belt clip art with post title

Why do students quit at brown belt? Part 2


Our post “Why do students quit at brown belt” received quite a few clicks. It’s a topic that deserves some more insight and discussion. So here is our Part 2 which offers a cool scientific explanation.

Fear of the known

So many people don’t like the word fear. It somehow denotes inadequacy. Quite the contrary, fear can be very helpful in some instances. Fear of driving too fast – because you might lose control. Fear of crossing a busy intersection – because you have a greater chance of being hit. I’m not referring to phobias; just ordinary, daily fears. And those are the ones we can readily admit to. It’s universal – those are healthy fears.

Fear of failure

Then there is fear of failure. That’s the one that will make a brown belt quit, and many times, won’t admit to this fear. Black belt tests can be long and physically and mentally demanding. When a student is afraid of sparring, for example, sometimes that becomes projected onto the instructor for “not partnering me up fairly”. If a student is not proficient in required techniques this can quickly turn into  “sudden symptoms of injury” that would prompt a medical note to cease training. This is the fear that can almost be referred to as ironic. Aren’t the martial arts supposed to instill self-confidence and courage?  This is the one that needs involvement with the parents, the instructors, teachers and the student. It’s important to keep asking and probing. Be realistic and don’t promise outcomes. The focus should be on the insignifigance of failing if a true effort has been made. The best thing about failing is knowing what you need to work on!

When a student has passed test after test, has learned and grown, even prospered in their martial arts training, why would fear of failure suddenly take such a strong hold? It’s true that black belt tests are meant to test technique, but more important is the spirit and drive the student demonstrates to earn a coveted rank. If you can discover the underlying fear of failure ( sometimes evident as anger at everyone and everything ) you have the opportunity to change a person’s perspective for life.

Fear of success

As a martial arts student and teacher for over 28 years I can tell you I have heard many, many excuses from brown belts for quitting. While I was training as a colored belt there were three other females my own age and belt rank. We all made it to brown belt and all trained hard together. But one by one our group of four became a group of one; me!

The first friend to quit blamed everybody and everything. From inconvenient class times to injuries, she began to let us know that she didn’t need a test to be as good as a “black belt.” And she was gone.

Friend number two was at the top of her training for the years leading up to brown belt. She was devoted and interested. Things changed when she earned brown belt. She didn’t feel our teacher was giving her good training. ( So – it was great for three years, but now it’s not?) She said she was going to another dojo to train. She didn’t. Quit at brown belt.

The last friend in the group not only had Brownbeltitis, she was a classic example of Imposter Syndrome.

Individuals with “Impostor Syndrome” tend to suffer from a very specific self-esteem issue: The belief that they are unworthy of success. -PsychTests

Imposter Syndrome

This is a real thing and one of the most relevant statements I read is this:

…the more success “impostors” experience, the more pressure they feel because of the increased responsibility and visibility.     –

Martial arts are known for their heirarchys and expectations of advanced students. What once seemed like an unachievable goal – earning black belt – is now closer than ever for brown belts. Brown belts are looked up to by younger students because of the role they play in the heirarchy. But brown belts are still a part of the “under belts” community. This community is comfortable and known to the brown belt.

And then comes the once elusive rank of black belt. Achieving a black belt is a huge accomplishment and seen as a big success, especially from your peers. Success can mean stepping into a new role with more responsibility, and more eyes watching.

That last friend I mentioned was living in the wreckage of her future. She had forgotten all the long training sessions, the thank-you’s she received for helping students and the hard-work we all put into reaching our goals. In her mind, becoming a black belt was not achieving a life-long dream anymore. It had become a success she was afraid to achieve.

If I knew then what I know now, I’m confident she would have been testing right beside me!

Get it done.

Links for your consideration

Inspiration: Courage 

Inspired by the “F” word

Why do students quit at brown belt?

Bushido Karate

Why do students quit at brown belt?


To quit, or not to quit, that is the question

When I was looking for insight about this topic online I was shocked at how many articles address this phenomenon.  In this particular site on reddit a dad asks for advice. His daughter wants to quit Tae Kwon DO and he wants her to stick it out.  I was discouraged to see how many replies said “let her quit” before I hit one that said “no”.

I wish I knew a little background on the responders. Their age, or generation? And whether or not they have ever trained as a martial artist?  What instantly came to mind, though, was that the number of  “quits” was directly proportional to to the real-life ratio of most traditional martial arts schools. A very small number will actually achieve black belt.  I also read that one of the replies mentioned he was now an adult and regretted quitting. I can almost guarantee that anyone who quits training at a brown belt level will one day regret it.  How many times does an accomplished martial artist look back and say “I regret earning my black belt.”?

The cure for “Brownbeltitis”

As an instructor since 1999 I can tell you this is a real thing in the martial arts world. It is not fatal, but it could be final. The good news is there is a cure! Simple steps can prevent it, or cure it.  Simple, but not easy.


There is a reason. But what you are told might not be the truth. After training and advancing toward such an important goal for such a long time there is truly only one reason that is real and valid: TEENAGER.  That’s tough because the mentality can be a very hard thing to influence at that age. A lot of changes are happening and he or she may truly have lost interest. Teenagers really believe they know what is best for them. But they don’t. So too bad. Make them finish what they started. It’s hard to be a parent, no doubt.  Ask for help from the instructor. That’s what we’re here for.

At Bushido School of Karate black belt tests, all candidates are required to write and read aloud a speech about their journey to this memorable day. I can’t tell you how many times we have heard “I wanted to quit when I was 14, but my parents wouldn’t let me. I’m so glad they didn’t”.

Other than being a teenager, if you or your child are ready to call it quits at brown belt, that takes some further questioning. Let’s remember that feelings aren’t facts. Sometimes we convince ourselves, but it’s harder to convince others. So make sure you talk it out loud. And especially with your instructor. There are very few times – actually none that I can think of – that quitting in the months before your black belt test is a good decision. Achieving and earning black belt is one of very few memories that will be with you for the rest of your life.  Start the questions after you read this: Inspiration: Courage .         Dig deep and get it done.


Gun violence, mental health & parenting


A teacher’s post on Facebook

Florida middle-school teacher Kelly Guthrie Raley, who was named Eustis Middle School Teacher of the Year 2017-2018 posted to Facebook about gun violence, mental health, and a parent’s responsibility.  Here is an excerpt:

Until we, as a country, are willing to get serious and talk about mental health issues, lack of available care for the mental health issues, lack of discipline in the home, horrendous lack of parental support when the schools are trying to control horrible behavior at school (oh no! Not MY KID. What did YOU do to cause my kid to react that way?), lack of moral values, and yes, I’ll say it-violent video games that take away all sensitivity to ANY compassion for others’ lives, as well as reality TV that makes it commonplace for people to constantly scream up in each others’ faces and not value any other person but themselves, we will have a gun problem in school. Our kids don’t understand the permanency of death anymore!!!

It took guts to write and publish that post, and it has gone viral. We’ve reposted the full essay on our Facebook page


Teachers know kids

Ms. Raley has been teaching kids for 20 years. She has seen and met so many personalities and witnessed good and bad behavior.  The same holds true for anyone whom has spent a good portion of their career instructing children.  Support from parents is crucial in helping to mold happy and productive children.  Like Ms. Raley, I too remember being petrified if my parents received a phone call from my school.  Something does seem to have shifted in that respect.  A truly great teacher has nothing but the best in mind for the children he or she teaches. The lessons may not be easy, for parents or children, but lessons that promote change for the positive are sometimes hard.  Until repect for each other is naturally commanded, we must demand it. If nothing changes, nothing will change.