Too Much Karate? Avoiding Burnout

By Hali Serrian

Those of us who are training martial arts have—to a greater or lesser Karate Burnoutdegree—been bitten by the martial arts bug. For some of us, this means enthusiastically coming to class once a week and moving along at a nice steady pace toward rank goals. For others it might mean three classes a week.  For those at the more intensive end of the scale, this can mean 8+ hours of martial arts a week, in multiple styles, ranking in each style. Whatever your martial arts fever, given enough time you run the risk of becoming burnt out.  Here are some of the ways to recognize if you are becoming burned out and how to keep something you love from becoming something you grow to resent.

If someone is close to burning out, they might feel tired, apathetic, annoyed or uninterested in the activity. In the case of karate, you might be tired every time class rolls around, or you might not want to go. You might even be annoyed that you “have to” go to class.  You might be uninterested in your material. If one or all of these feelings are present, recognize that you might be on the verge of burnout.

In order to keep burnout from taking you out of martial arts, take the following steps:

  1. Take a step back: Remind yourself why you started martial arts in the first place. For fitness? For fun? To achieve black belt? Why are you here?  Repurpose your goals if they have changed over time.  Create new goals!
  1. Be honest with your goals and how hard you want to work. If you only want to commit to one class a week, that’s OK. It means you won’t advance as quickly through the ranks.  If you want to make excellent time moving up the ranks and you want to be an excellent teacher, then you have to come to at least two and probably three classes a week. Be prepared and know what your path means for your development.
  1. Talk to someone. Be it a higher rank, one of the instructors, or someone in your rank group, let somebody know that you’re not feeling as excited right now. Ask them for help, or just let them know to keep an eye out for you since you don’t want to drop off the map.
  1. Come to class, and have fun! Remember, you definitely enjoyed martial arts. Get back to that starting point. Simplify your reasons for being here, and everything else can sort itself out.

Out of Class One Week, One Month, One Year, Forever

The recipe for success is simple: show up.  This is simplistic, since Show Upobviously you need to practice well, get feedback, work to improve yourself, etc.  But step number one is to show up.  Everything else flows from there.  Consistency is key to martial arts progression.  Students who come only intermittently are always just catching up and never improving or learning new material.  Many students stop coming for one week, then a week becomes a month, then a month becomes a year, then a year becomes forever.  How do you stop the long slide to leaving karate forever?

What leads to student absenteeism?  Injuries are common culprits.  When you’re injured, you shouldn’t be doing martial arts.  However, depending on the injury and your rank, you can continue to come to class to observe and help teach, thus keeping your mind involved in karate.  “Life” is a commonly cited explanation, which usually means work, kids, family, and all the other things which can occupy one’s time.  Sometimes work is more demanding, or the family requires time and attention, or you feel your other hobbies are suffering.  In these cases, reprioritizing temporarily is necessary for life harmony.

The problem comes in when momentum is lost.  It feels so nice not to have to get up and go to class two or three times last week like usual.  Maybe you’ll just take another week off to refresh.  Then you start finding other ways to fill that ‘free’ time- hanging out with friends, increasing time in another hobby, or watching TV.

A month passes with no karate class attendance.  Now there’s anxiety about coming back.  What have you forgotten?  Have your peers advanced beyond you?  Has your fitness fallen off, and will you look ridiculous coming back to training?  There are so many barriers once you have been off.  It is essential to realize that all everyone wants from you is to show up and try your best.  I have gone through so many ‘get fit then injure myself then get fit then injure’ cycles that I’ve lost track.  But I know now that I CAN get back into class and train hard and recuperate lost gains.  So can anyone else.  Once a month passes, then excuses begin piling up, then a year passes, and suddenly karate is no longer a part of your life.

Time is never actually free- you make a decision with each hour of your day.  Make the decision to show up.