How to Balance Training and Studying

“No matter how you excel in the art of “Ti” (Okinawan precursor to Karate), and in your scholastic endeavours, nothing is more important than your behaviour and humanity as observed in daily life.”  Junsoku Uekata (Confucian scholar), written in 1683

We are always aware of the increasing demands on children’s time. As schools introduce more and more tests while slashing down on break time, children have less time than ever before to just be children. Our teens have not only increased workloads, but social pressures that we are all still learning to navigate, especially the tricky ground of social media.

On top of this, it always feels like students are busy with cycle tests and exams. The tests are starting sooner and sooner, and like American schools, South African schools seem to be developing a toxic culture of test-taking that has 9 and 10 year olds swotting an unrealistic amount for tests that seem to have little value other than teaching them how to cram. But, whatever difficulties the school system presents, wherever you are in the world, school still has value in transferring knowledge and skills, and failing finals has very real consequences. We definitely understand that schoolwork comes first.

However, we also believe that the time students spend in the dojo is incredibly valuable in managing their stress. It is an hour away from a screen and from the books, spent challenging entirely different parts of their brains and keeping their bodies moving. It is also an opportunity for socialising and relaxing, for them to see friends and to share some of their frustrations. A good dojo always feels like a refuge from the challenges and pressures of daily life, and this is especially important during times of relentless stress.

It is also an ideal way to teach time management, as children who love the dojo will quickly learn that if they get their homework and studying out the way, there will be time for karate. Teaching time management from a young age will ensure a life-long discipline that will carry them through the challenging years ahead, especially at university!

Here are some tips for balancing training with studying:

  • Chat to your instructor about changing class times to earlier or later just over the exam season, or to reducing classes to just once a week for a month. We would always much rather be flexible in our schedules than lose students!
  • A disciplined study routine will ensure that time is set aside for karate – you only need to find 2 hours a week out of 168 to maintain your progress.
  • Kata are the living textbooks of karate – a student can do kata at home during study breaks, which helps combat the effects of sitting too long as well as restoring mental focus and energy through increased oxygen intake. Five kata per 15 minute break x 5 a day = 25 kata! That’s a wonderful way to keep up with training when it is impossible to get to the dojo.
  • Take study materials to the dojo so that some extra work can be done while waiting for class
  • Stay involved in the dojo – once you lose momentum, it becomes too easy to quit, and that path is filled with regret. For advice on how to prevent this, read this post on Returning to the Dojo

Parents, we really do get it. The schools are piling on the extracurriculars and reducing the amount of time kids have to play and explore their interests. And now, you’ve got to help them get ready for the umpteenth test of the term. On top of that, you’ve got to get them to the dojo as well.

It is up to us as instructors to offer high-quality karate that serves as a vehicle for important life skills such as discipline and self-confidence. However, developing these skills takes time, and this is why we always insist on regular attendance.

Slow or fast doesn’t matter – progress is progress, but it can only be made when students continue their training with patience.


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)