Typically seen as the pinnacle of achievement in martial arts, a black belt is ostensibly the end goal of every student who enters a gym. Why, then, do so many fail to earn their black belt? The answer to that question is different for every student, but there are some reasons which are more common than others. Here are ten of the primary reasons why students end their training before reaching black belt status.
- Unrealistic Expectations – More than almost any other reason out there, martial arts students fail to get their black belt because they begin the journey with unrealistic expectations. Someone who expects to gain their black belt in two years is more likely to quit when, three years into training, they haven’t progressed through the ranks as quickly as they feel is warranted.
- Lack of Dedication – There are more students who want to say they have a black belt in a particular discipline than there are students who actually want to reach the requisite skill level to be classified as such. A black belt is very difficult to earn, and someone who’s not dedicated to continuing to learn and grow will eventually lose interest.
- They’re Training at a Legitimate Gym – There’s an unfortunate trend among unscrupulous instructors of offering “fast-track” black belt programs designed not to instill a love of martial arts and a dedication to learning, but to keep class fees rolling in and student retention numbers high. In a legitimate gym, a black belt is exponentially more difficult to earn, and as such, fewer of the students will earn their black belt.
- The Timeline is Unclear – There is a cultural expectation for defined timelines; people want to know they’re expected to dedicate a specific amount of time to achieving a goal, and then are guaranteed to reach that goal. There is no real timeline for earning a black belt; gifted students may earn one several years earlier than those of average skill level. Not being able to refer to a definitive timeline can be discouraging, causing some students to simply give up.
- The Belt is Their Only Objective – For too many students, a black belt is seen as the primary objective, not learning and training in the martial arts. Without a love of martial arts and a dedication to expanding knowledge, students aren’t likely to have the drive to reach black belt status.
- Their Own List of Priorities – There’s nothing wrong with having your own set of priorities. For most people, family, work and academic pursuits will rank far higher on a list of priorities than martial arts training. While training can still be an enjoyable and rewarding experience for these students, a black belt is a less realistic goal.
- Sustaining Injuries – While martial arts training in a high-quality gym does come with a host of safety considerations, it’s still a sport. As with any physical activity, there is a risk of injury. When a more serious one derails training for an extended period of time, it’s not uncommon for more casual students to simply stop training, rather than trying to get back on track.
- Fear of Injury – Far more common than an actual injury, the fear of sustaining an injury keeps people from reaching elite martial arts status. Students who are genuinely scared of being injured may feel more pressure to stop training as difficulty progresses, thereby failing to earn a black belt.
- Lifestyle Changes – When a child or young teenager begins training for instance, they have a particular type of lifestyle which may be well suited to the type of training required to reach black belt. As they grow older, enter college or encounter other lifestyle changes, training often falls to the wayside and martial arts is abandoned in order to make room for these new alterations in routine. Other lifestyle changes include a new job that takes you to a new town, you have a child, you lose your job, etc. All of these can factor into people giving up on becoming a black belt.
- They Simply Give Up – “You want to be training your whole life. One percent of people that train Jiu-Jitsu will get their black belt,” according to Ryron Gracie, of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Gracie family fame. With such a small percentage of those who begin training actually earning a black belt, it’s easy to see why some people simply give up before reaching their goal.
There is no one-size-fits-all reason for failure to obtain a black belt, just as a black belt has different meanings and connotations in different martial arts disciplines. Entering the upper echelon of training comes with steep requirements and demands great dedication, but this is not to say a black belt is out of reach. It simply means the vast majority of students will need to adjust their expectations and priorities accordingly, understanding the difficulty of earning a black belt is part of the journey and a solid life lesson.