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Hitting a Plateau

by on May 14, 2009

It seems I’ve stalled out. I’m working as hard as I ever was, maybe harder. I have high-intensity practice and low-intensity practice but I don’t seem to be getting any further. What can I do to get out of this karate-slump?

Does any of this sound familiar? For many karateka, plateaus come about unnoticed and unwelcomed. This happens when you continually see advancement and improvement for a while (perhaps even continually for years) and then you go through a period where it seems that nothing is improving no matter how hard you try.

I’ve talked to others about this and they say the same thing. You see measurable improvement for a while and then comes along 6 months of nothing at all. This happened to me (and those I’ve talked to recently) around the purple belt (4th kyu) level.

Perhaps it has something to do with continually learning discovering how little you know. Perhaps it has something to do with losing interest and focus. But regardless of the problem, plateaus happen, you hit a wall, take a dip, fall into a slump… however you want to phrase it, it happens.

And it’s happening again.

I’ve been practicing at home almost every night for a while now; at least as long as I’ve received shodan. I still go to class about once a week and research karate once or twice a week. But regardless of my efforts, it seems I can’t get any better. I’ve noticed this especially toward the end of class when I’m still as winded as I was as a brown-belt.

I’ve found solace in the words of a friend: “advancement in karate is not always physical or tangible”. How true. I do feel my understanding of it continues to grow, albeit slowly, but if I can’t demonstrate that understanding or bounce it back to another person verbally, how do I prove to myself that I really know it? My understanding of the Buddhist approach to explaining this are not in-depth enough to write it here.

Where do we go once we hit a plateau? Is this the top of the mountain for us? Do we continue to train as we have until we serendipitously realize we’re already partly up the next hill? I accept that life and karate are not about reaching the peak, but about the climb, but what if it looks like I’ve reached the top of my own personal hill or if I don’t know where to continue from where I am?

climbing the hill

Where to next?

realization at the top

The answer, in part, is to at least realize there is still a long ways to go.

2 Comments
  1. Me :) permalink

    From my own experience in training I found when going through the kyu ranks that you are learning so much so fast that improvements come in leaps and bounds. It feels great, look how much I learned and improved in just a few short weeks! The challenge comes when you’ve learned all the techniques, now it’s time to work on perfecting them. This is when the learning curve is perceived to have slowed down and you may think you’re on a plateau. The reality is, you’re still learning and improving it’s just that the pace has changed. Can you remember the first time you gi snapped when you performed a technique? If you had truly plateaued in your training then this improvement never would have occurred. People who plateau are the ones who tend to back off in their training. If you strive to improve, then you will. Pay particular attention if sensei points something out to you directly to work on, especially if you are a black belt. It can be as minute as a foot position adjustment in your back stance. Chances are if they point it out it’s something you’re doing incorrectly consistently and it should improved upon. If you really want to improve, videotape yourself. All your flaws jump out and you’ll drive yourself nuts trying to get better.

  2. You’re very right. Its the short-sightedness in many of us that stops us from seeing that we are still advancing.

    I’ve read in other places that it helps to record yourself when practicing and to have a strong heart when doing it, since, as you say, “the truth comes out”.

    Although I’ll try to avoid the ‘drive yourself nuts’ part.

    Thanks Me🙂

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