Returning to the Dojo

Looking for translated copies of this? Please jump to the bottom! 

It seems inevitable for many students – after years of dedicated training (or even just months), the training begins to slow down. Sometimes, it just stops suddenly, and there’s a conspicuous gap where a senior used to be. A pocket of quiet where a boisterous teen used to stand and idly nudge the punching bag while listening to instructions.

No student slips away unnoticed.

There are a thousand demands on our time, many beyond our control. Money must be earned, marks attained, sports teams made. Families require an investment of quality time, and for many teenagers, just getting to the dojo relies on parental availability and willingness. Sometimes, it’s as simple as an injury that dragged on and suddenly, it’s two months off the mat.

One missed class can easily become three. Three classes becomes a month. Then six. Then a year. And then there’s a day when you open your cupboard and there is your gi, hanging up and gathering dust. Waiting. (And silently judging you.)

“But what will Sensei think?” the student wonders, before slowly closing the door. “I can’t go back after so long.”

Oh, but you can. You can always come back. 99% of the time, your Sensei will be utterly delighted to see you return. All that matters is that you make the decision to put your gi on and get to the dojo. Oh, sure, there might be excuses, like…

But I’m so unfit!
So few people are genuinely fit anyway. If fitness was a precondition for martial arts, very few of us would get to start. Fitness comes back much faster than you think, and honestly? It’s not that important.   

What if my friends aren’t there anymore?
Then you’ll make new ones. A dojo is always in flux, so you’ll meet new people and make new dojo family. I’ve been in so many dojos, both because of moving and being a deshi, I know that you’ll soon find a good training partner and your own groove.

I never told Sensei why I left
Look, very few instructors are soft and fluffy and wear dreamcatchers. But your Sensei is human (very much so) and probably isn’t holding a grudge. (Disclaimer: I can’t speak for all instructors.) Just come back (bearing chocolate helps) and say sorry, and ask to train again. It sucks to ask, but it is also pretty hurtful when students disappear and text messages, calls and emails go unanswered.

I can’t remember it all anymore
You are not starting at the bottom – everything you learned is somewhere in your head. It just needs a gentle reminder and some dusting off, and things will start to flow back again.

A wise man named James Clear gives some great physics-related advice on how to stay committed to something. The whole post is well worth reading, but I simply wish to use this rule:


Losing momentum is the cause of so many failed hobbies, talents, dreams and projects. In trying to get any major goal accomplished, we forget that it is made of a thousand little steps. A black belt is only the sum of hundreds of classes, not a special talent. You don’t have to do amazing feats: you just have to go to class every week. Every class you can, except when you really, really can’t.

If you have a virus, stay out the dojo. If you have an exam tomorrow, then study. Big family thing? Even Chojun Miyagi believed that family comes first. But tired? Busy? But not so busy that you can watch two episodes of Game of Thrones?

Get your gi on and get thee to a dojo! 

UPDATE: Wow! Over 33,000 hits and shares! Thank you to the global karate community for sharing this! I would love to hear from you, so please do leave a comment and share your stories.

UPDATE 2: I am overwhelmed by the wide support for this article, and the patience so many have shown in translating it! If you would like to share and support these amazing martial artists, their work is below:

In German:

In Spanish: and

In Hebrew: Returning to the Dojo Hebrew translation by Guy Goldsmith (downloadable pdf)

62 thoughts on “Returning to the Dojo

    1. Zoe Hinis says:

      Thank you for stopping by! Truly it is sad to see them go, and difficult to bring them back. I was inspired to write this post when I was following up on absent students and one of them said he was working up the courage to come back. He honestly thought we would be mad!
      I hope that your students see this and that they return 🙂

  1. Daniel Haché says:

    This is great post! I left one year and a half after ago having been diagnosed with osteo arthritis in both knees. I am a second dan black belt. I am also older, 56. I told my sensei at the time as to why I left. I miss the dojo and the training. I get cortisone shots in both knees now – it helps a lot. Had coffee with my sensei a few days ago. I am now looking at going back, adapting my karate to my knee situation and taking the training to become a judge/referee for provincial and national competitions. Everything in this article is true! A good dojo and a good sensei will always welcome you back!

    1. Zoe Hinis says:

      What a wonderful comment, Daniel! I truly believe that you will find a workaround for your knees – I had to for my hips. I think your dojo will be so glad to have you back 🙂 All the best with your karate journey ahead!

  2. Kimpatsu says:

    I had to halt training for a while but I’m back now (although today’s training was cancelled because of the typhoon).
    But please don’t write or say “gi”; it’s a non-word. TIA.

  3. Steven says:

    This is so true not just karate in all martial arts , I trained in taekwondo from 96 to 2000 then things started getting in the way or excuses as I realised now. I got to a stage where I thought it was too late but eventually went back after 12 years absence and received my black belt last year the best move I ever made was to go back …👍🏻

    1. Zoe Hinis says:

      So true! No matter the art, it is important that we stay on the mats. I am so glad to hear you went back and that you got your black belt! Congrats, and all the best for your journey 🙂

  4. Marte says:

    I’ve been gone from my dojo for way too long, and i am truly comitted to starting again this fall. Your post just made me want it more!

    1. Zoe Hinis says:

      Wonderful, Marte! Please do call your sensei and go back – I am sure that you will be welcomed back with such open arms. Please do tell me about your first day back 🙂

  5. G. West says:

    Good article. I bowed off a judo mat at age 15 because of a family move to an island in Alaska. There was no dojo there. Thirty-six years later, at the age of 51, I bowed back onto another judo mat with my then 11 year-old son to restart my training and begin his.

    Today I’m a 2nd dan and he just earned his 1st dan. I run my own judo club and have a great time. Coming back was one of the best things I ever did in my life.

    1. Zoe Hinis says:

      I love this story so much! What a beautiful return to the mat – proof that it is never, ever too late. Thank you for sharing this with me, and I wish your dojo every success 🙂

    1. Zoe Hinis says:

      Hi Matthias!
      Wow, I would be honoured if you did that! If you can just include a link to the original post somewhere, then you have my blessing and delight. Please do share the translated piece 🙂

  6. alex mocella says:

    So so true ….great insight …..I began mu judo training in the early sixties and in the late sixties and early seventies training in karate….I stopped for over 30 years….I went back to karate in early 2000’s earned my shodan at 59 …had to stop for nearly 3 yrs…..back again in the dojo….Nothing does it for me except matial arts

    1. Zoe Hinis says:

      So wonderful to hear your story, Alex! I am so glad that you have always returned, and that it is never too late to go back. My best wishes for your karate journey ahead 🙂

      1. Barney Kinsler says:

        A 4th dan at 77 and still training I tell our students that the hardest thing about karate is putting your gi in your sportsbag and going to the dojo. I am lucky to be training under my son, a 6th dan and alongside two teenage grandsons!

  7. scott schor says:

    Thank you for the inspiration. I’ve trained on and off for almost 40 years. (I just turned 57.) Grandmaster Shin taught me martial arts training will keep me healthy, young and energized. Every day it’s the time to make a comeback.

  8. Barney says:

    This article is spot on! I left Jitsu when a junior, come back to the same sensai a couple of months ago (about 15 years after l left). Welcomed warmly, met new people, learnt new things. It’s like I never left – apart from the grade!

    1. Zoe Hinis says:

      This is exactly what I was hoping to hear from readers! Yay! I am so glad that your return was exactly what it should be 🙂 All the best for your continued training!

  9. Jim Wilson says:

    Made so many come backs ,but each one harder , but enjoyable non the less. Started in 1976 and still dabbling now an then .you just need to keep on keeping on .

  10. timothycronin1971 says:

    I started back training TKD after a break of 15 years went down a few grades working my way back up the ladder, first few months a killer but how I love the training. Grading next month butterflies but love it, first step just go into the Dojo. I’m 45 love the challenge with the younger students their full of life and it’s great.

  11. Mags says:

    I have not been able to train for two years now because of serious illness. It is so frustrating. I did go bag for a month and then got seriously ill again. I think I need surgery but not sure whether to go back now knowing that I most probably will be off for at least six weeks again😞

    1. Zoe Hinis says:

      Oh no! I am so sorry to hear that. Being forced off the mat due to injury is so incredibly frustrating. I am always so grateful that I can train, because I know how it will hurt me if I can’t.
      I hope that your illness comes to an end very soon – I am sure that your dojo misses you very much.

  12. Gustavo Durón says:

    I read your article and it is great. Actually, I traslated it and put in on my dojo Facebook (aikido saltillo Kangako Kan). I hope it will help students to make a comeback.
    Thank you very much

    Gustavo Durón

    1. Zoe Hinis says:

      What a great thing to hear, Gustavo! I am honoured that you took the time to translate it – I truly hope and believe that it’ll bring students back. They must know that we always want to see them return 🙂

  13. Philip Sta Maria says:

    Hi Zoe….this is so true……I stopped karate at Purple Belt when I was a teenager, 36years ago. Came back one year ago when I enrolled my 9year old son & I am now Brown 3…..I thought that at 53 it would be too late to continue but I proved myself wrong & am very much in it again I used to have dreams about coming back to Karate & although it has not been easy at my age, it has been sooooo worthwhile!

    1. Zoe Hinis says:

      Hi Phillip! That’s so wonderful to hear. I’m glad that you returned, and that your journey has been so rewarding. Thank you for stopping by and sharing your story 🙂

    2. scott schor says:

      It’s not easy at any age. And now that I’m 57, it’s still not easy. Yet I still do it. And yes, it is sooooo worthwhile! Welcome home.

  14. Tony Donovan says:

    By far my biggest regret was taking a break from Karate, now it’s 15yrs later and my daughter has convinced me to put my gi back on and I couldn’t be happier…

  15. binnightpodcast says:

    Hi, just returned as well. I have put on a lot of weight since leaving karate 12 years ago. A lot has changed in that time..throw in a promotion that involved travel and shift work..a divorce..meeting my current partner and now have an 18 mth old who is the centre of my universe. At 43 I am making a comeback. Time to get fit for my family. Starting in January is always hard because some see it as a New Years Resolution, when in fact, karate is a part of you. It never leaves but always involves buying a new Gi, that is maybe a size or two bigger than your last. I felt dumb and stupid when I walked back into the dojo. Parents of younger children watching, or maybe judging. Then I thought, at least I am the one who is not sitting on a chair. I know it is my insecurities talking me out of trying again but every week, I manage to still those voices for one more class.

    1. Zoe Hinis says:

      I am so, so happy to hear that you are ignoring the insecurities and getting back on the mat – its never easy to start again but the fact that you are back on the mat speaks volumes.
      I wish you every happiness in your training, and I am sure that one day your daughter will join you on the mat too. All the best!

  16. Saul Smith says:

    I agree with the article totally. I had to move away from my old dojo, i had only been there maybe once or twice (it was christmas and new year + i was working overtime).

    I’m stuck now, miles away from any dojo but I still pick up the iaito and katana and do kata at least twice a week in my home. I even sometimes wear hakama and gi to stop it going crinkley & stiff.

    Doing a martial art or combat form/style is not just an action you do but something which perseveres within your mind. It’s a state of mind & a way of life, you’ll find a lot of the things you do within the dojo and how you carry yourself will translate to everyday life

    1. Zoe Hinis says:

      There’s a great phrase from Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido:
      Heaven is where you stand, and that is where you train.

      You’ve definitely got the right spirit, Saul. Thank you for sharing!

  17. Jane says:

    A lot harder as you get older….. Even my knees fear bowing in……. But I still haven’t given up on going back… One day

  18. Florian Péan says:

    So I’m definitely not the only one: started at 12, stopped as a teenager (17) when I got my driver’s license, then stepped back into the dojo at 49, recently got my Shodan (first dan) black belt one week before my 57th birthday. Only took 45 years to get my black belt LOL. It’s never too late to come back.

  19. Javier López says:

    Hi Zoe!!
    Im Javier, martial artits of Bujinkan, from Argentina, and also writter in 😀

    Im so glad about your wisdom and sharing spirit!! Thanks for the mention in your post!! Only gona say that the translation that i did from your blog is in Spanish, not in Portuguese! hahaha 🙂

    Thank you very very much again!
    Kisses from a loyal suscriber!

    PD: Sorry for my awful english

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