Someone requested that I write an article on the subject of ‘motivation’.  When I asked for clarification, he said that he wondered how I managed to motivate myself to come to the dojo so much, to have trained for so many years and to have taken so little time off for breaks.

I was hesitant.  As with several other subjects that people have requested I write about, I felt that I was not well qualified to write such an article since I do not really have to work at motivating myself to train.  I have never had to work at motivating myself to keep going with Karate.  Hence, only half of this article is on this subject.

What I have had and continue to have to struggle with is finding the time to devote to Karate, as well as the devotion required to maintain a dojo that barely earns me minimum wage.  It would be much easier to stay at home and train by myself than to come to the dojo several times each week to teach.  With so many other things happening in my life, it is sometimes a struggle to get to the dojo several times each week, every week.

Motivating yourself

Considering self-motivation, I would like to offer the following suggestions:
• Set aside a certain minimum amount of time each day (or at least every other day) to do some basic technique practice.  For some people there may be time to self-train for 2 hours every day in addition to going to the dojo (like I did back in high school).  For others, it may be only 10 minutes (as for me at times when my work schedule has been harsh).  Even a little is better than nothing.
• Even if you do not have the ability to do physical training, at least try to think about Karate at some point each day.  Even when away on a hectic business trip, there is always the time to at least spend a few minutes pondering what alternative applications might be possible for a series of kata moves that you practiced the week before at the dojo or rehearse in your mind some series of techniques you intend to practice at the next opportunity.
• Keep a training journal.  It can be easier to motivate yourself when you (a) see how much effort you have put into your training and therefore shouldn’t stop now or (b) see how much you really have developed through the course of time.  You could include goals and record when you meet these goals, for additional self-motivation.
• Don’t make excuses.   There may be many valid reasons why you cannot train every day.  But do not go out of your way to think up reasons not to go to the dojo.
• Work on “self-competition”.  Sometimes it is good to see if you can kick faster, punch stronger or have better technique than the person next to you while training.  This is especially valuable if that person is senior, more athletic or more experienced that you.  But it is also good to simply work at being better that you were the previous session or repetition.

Motivating others

What I think I, personally, have struggled with more than motivating myself is motivating others.  I suspect that this is at least in part due to that I do not have to work at motivating myself.  I must feel, at some level of (sub)consciousness, that others should also feel naturally motivated and not need my help in this regard.

I do not generally “push” the people in my class very hard.  I only teach adults and I think that as such they should be capable of pushing themselves.   Perhaps that is expecting too much, at least sometimes.  Motivating others is something I try to do primarily through leading by example.  I train along with them much of most classes and they can see that I am often trying at least as hard as everyone else.  I also sometimes mention to more senior members of the dojo that they have a responsibility to help motivate others, as the primary duty of the instructor should be to teach.

Some instructors find that having frequent kyu exams is a good way to motivate people to train more and train harder.  This is probably more true for children and why many semi-traditional dojo have instituted a separate belt color scheme for children.  This belt scheme may include stripes or additional colored belts to create more gradation in the ranks and therefore give them more frequent goal-steps (smaller goals) during their progress toward the higher ranks.

Some instructors find that frequent tournament competition is a good motivator.  Training for the pressure of a tournament can drive students to train harder than usual.

While both of the above can be useful motivational tools, they can also both be detrimental to the students’ actual advancement in traditional Karate-Do.  These tools must be used carefully, with goals and intentions clarified such that students do not misunderstand the meaning of such peripheral activities.   To place preparation for rank exams and tournament competition as top priority during training is, in reality, straying from the true purpose of Karate-Do.  But these things can help sometimes for motivation.

To motivate students to train for the sake of training is often a very difficult challenge for instructors and the apparent lack of motivation by instructors is sometimes a sign that the instructor is, ultimately, meaning for the student to further understand the deeper meaning of Karate-Do through his/her own struggle to self-motivate.

As usual, the opinions expressed in these articles are my own, unless otherwise noted.  If you have any comments, including motivational stories or quotes, please feel free to send them to me.  I may append this article with supplemental comments from others, if it seems like it might be useful to readers.

Copyright © 2022, Jon Keeling (originally published February 2003)