9 posts / 0 new
Last post
GeoffG's picture
Inspiring a student

I have a student in my class who shows up to class most weeks, but puts in very little effort. The student has remained at their current grade for a signficant period of time (a few years) because none of the other instructors are prepared to grade the student for similar reasons to mine. Last year I did a formal assessment of the student and provided them with written feedback about the things that needed correcting, and promised them that I would help them with the corrections and send them to grading provided they improved over the year. Unfortunately there was minimal improvement despite numerous corrections and encouragements.

I know that this student wants to grade but is only prepared to put effort in when they think I'm assessing them - forgetting of course that I've told the class several times that I am constantly assessing them and that a pre-grading formal assessment is a confirmation that they are ready to attempt grading. It is encouraging that this student keep coming to training but I often wonder why when I see the level of effort and committment that is put in. I've run out of ideas for inspiring this particular student. Any ideas and suggestions are most welcome.


Gary Chamberlain
Gary Chamberlain's picture

It's got to come from within.  The more you do for people like that the less they do for themselves.

I used to spend 80% of my time trying to get the laziest 20% up to scratch.  Not any more, it's a mugs game. 


Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Hi Geoff,

For some people the martial arts are a passion and vacation. That would be most of the people here. It’s not just something we do; it’s a part of who we are.

Others are what I would call “recreational martial artists”. These are people who enjoy the practise of the martial arts as a recreational activity, but who are not sufficiently enthused by them to put in the hard work to advance to higher levels. I see no problem with this and I feel the martial arts have plenty to offer everyone whether they train hard every day or train recreationally twice a week. However, the trouble we sometimes have is when recreational martial artists expect non-recreational results.

The fact is that training recreationally will never yield anything other than recreational results and your student needs to be aware of this. If it were me, I’d be pointing out that they have now gone about as far as their current intensity of training can take them. If they want to stay where they are and simply enjoy their martial arts then that’s totally fine. However, if progress is important to them, then they need to be prepared to do what is required to make that progress.

I don’t see it being a problem if people want to train recreationally (not that I’m personally interested in teaching recreational martial artists as I prefer to work with the “karate nuts”). There does, however, need to be an acknowledgement that recreational training can never lead to high levels of skill or unending progress.

If it were me, I’d ask the student what their training goals were? Ask them why they train? If they say that they enjoy it and are not that motivated to go further, then you have no problem. If they say that they hope to reach higher levels, then it needs to be pointed out (again) that that is not possible with current levels of training.

As well as your student’s attitude to training, you may also want to look at your view of this student? The fact this student has been training for years without grading would suggest to me that grading / making progress is not a great motivating factor for them. They may be fine doing what they do? If they are not pressuring themselves to grade, then perhaps it would make sense to simply let them get on with it and for you both to accept that things are fine as they are for that particular student?

One problem we instructors have is that, by definition, we are not recreational martial artists ourselves. Sometimes we need to be reminded that not everyone is as motivated as we are, and that that’s fine so long as they are not deluded about where recreational training can take them. Not everyone wants or needs to be a high level practitioner.

If you student is adamant that they want to reach high levels, then they need to adjust their attitude to training. If they don’t, then I think you have done all you can for them until they do. To echo what Gary said, when you have led the horse to water you can’t force it to drink.

If they are OK with training for training’s sake, then there is no problem if you are happy to accept that is the case and you are prepared to let them get what they personally want from the martial arts.

I hope those thoughts are some help?

All the best,


MelS's picture
Some great points from Iain. You cant teach desire. It comes from within. If you can identify what motivates them you may get some insight. Have them write out their goals. Some students never identify with 'the way' thinking only of the grading goal.
Chris Rob
Chris Rob's picture

Great advice Iain, I implement this with my younger students and their parents.

shoshinkanuk's picture

Yes some good points raised,

Personally if I had a long term student who was struggling to move forward due to simple lack of effort, I would talk to them once, in full, away from the dojo and very directly, if there was a problem offer to help them - once- then if no change ignore them around the issue and just not grade them, or even worry about it.

If they ask why they are not grading, I would just tell them straight - in front of whoever was there, friendly of course.

It's fair enough if someone is more interested in say the social element, but I don't have time to focus on their personal training, and they can learn enough to keep them busy by simply following, and of course asking what they wan't, when they wan't - it's not rude of me, just appropiate I think.

I learn't many years ago - 'I am a karate nut, most others simply arn't!

buzzbevan's picture

Why not let the student grade?  maybe the failure will be what the student needs to shift them selves up a gear.

This is not from a POV of an instructor but that of a student that sometimes finds it hard to motivate himself.

GeoffG's picture
Thank you very much for your feedback. I will give it some thought and talk to the student.
Andrew Carr-Locke
Andrew Carr-Locke's picture


IMO there are a few different things to consider....most of these I would investigate through friendly conversations with the student, either away from the dojo, or quietly on the mats between lessons. 

It all depends on the vibe of your club or dojo, but in what I do I am friendly to everyone on the mats. Anyone who comes in consistently for training becomes a friend and student. If I can motivate them from my passion for the art, and enthusiasm for what I do then great. Because that is how we do things, when someone is coming out consistently then I know either A) they want to learn karate and what we are doing, or B) they enjoy the social aspect of what we do. Either one is ok, but they know that if they are hanging around or if they are training seriously for the art. 

The next point is on how we structure our programs, as everyone learns the same material from day one. There are no advanced techniques. It’s all fundamentals, so the difference between a high level belt and a lower level is time in practice, not availability of techniques and training opportunity. 

First- why did the student come to karate in the first place? What do they want from the training? 

Second- are they happy? Right now in training? Or are they asking for a grading? And if so, why?

Third- Time for the talk about seeking recognition from outside one's self and the pitfalls of seeking external approval. Do what you do, not for the level around your waist but because you know that every time you get on the mats you learn something. Have them seek performance, not a pedestal. 

History- has this student ever had the passion and motivation we are talking about? Is it something lost, or just something that was never there? There is a huge difference between a recreational student and a karate-nut (refer to Iain's post) and the performance measures are different for each. Make sure the student knows where they fit in as well.

The last note is boredom. If they have been at the same level for a while, and are not motivated- in my experience at some clubs where some techniques are held back- training becomes really boring after a time. The no you can't join the green belts because you are still an orange belt gets really tiring after a time. It could be a matter of letting this student join the more advanced class for a couple weeks. That might kick start the passion for training again. 

Other than that then maybe relationships in the club are not as strong as they could be. He might not identify with anyone or anything in there and see no real connection. As long as he is happy though. This is where we encourage him to find his bliss wherever it is.