Why Black Belts Never Quit

In a class of twenty new Taekwondo students, ten will probably drop out within three months’ time. Though they will cite a variety of excuses for quitting, all the dropouts show a lack of commitment to Taekwondo training.

One year after their first entry into the dojang, half again will have quit, leaving perhaps five of the original twenty students. Only one, maybe two, is likely to stick around long enough to attain the rank of black belt.

Like those early quitters, the black belts are motivated by a variety of factors. Beyond these varied reasons, though, there must be some unique character attribute that drives these people to reach elite black belt status. What is that attribute?

…does anyone know the Korean word for cowardice?

The Problem of Perseverance and the Virtue of Quitting

“A man who views the world the same at fifty as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life. ”
~ Muhammad Ali

Traditional martial arts, at their best, are more than ugly dances in silly uniforms. Students at excellent schools can stay for all the many benefits of doing so. Frankly, no more self-discipline is required to stay there than would be required to eat an ice cream sundae.

Only when such benefits are not apparent, or nonexistent, must other justifications must be found. Chief among them is perseverance. Surely, the worst dojangs are the biggest advocates of perseverance: absent the opportunity to persist—and an eventual black belt in return for this alleged virtue—they would have nothing to offer.

In such circumstances, the wise and virtuous response is to quit. To quit is to create time and space for a more worthwhile endeavor, inside or outside the world of martial arts. It requires great courage, and a healthy disregard for common sense, to abandon the known for the unknown.

A black belt is someone who never quit: not for the wrong reasons, or for the right reasons.


  1. Indeed, we should always be seeking out new knowledge and new teachers. I don’t think this mindset should be limited to martial arts, the world is vast, and there is always something new to be learned and explored.

  2. I think you would enjoy the book “The Dip” by Seth Godin. It is a study of why people quit, and the art of knowing when to quit or when not to.

  3. I really like your post because it highlights an important aspect of martial arts training: individual commitment. We live in a culture where we expect fast results. Many people drop out of martial arts quickly because they soon realize that they are not in a movie. They have a romanticized vision of what they will learn.

    In the long run, I think it is best to be honest with yourself when training in any given style. So, your post provides some really good “food for thought”.

  4. cowardice = ‘gub’ (겁) I’ve seen the same thing but it’s a real problem that many people quit after getting shodan.

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