Handling Burn Out

It doesn't seem to matter how intensely interested a person is in studying his or her martial art of choice, all of us, at some point or another, come face to face with burn out.

Now, "burning out" can range anywhere from a small sort of fizzle—in which your interest dips, or your body is just plain worn out so you take a brief vacation for a week or two—all the way to a complete and utter implosion, where you give up entirely on the art and never set foot in a dojo again.

I myself, have gone through several burn outs, so you might say I'm something of an authority on the subject. Fortunately, in each case, the burn out was never so bad as to prevent me from returning. I took months, even years off, but (so far) have always come back.

So what is "burn out" exactly? Why does it happen? What do we do when it happens? How do we prevent it from happening?

Over the years, I've developed a few ideas, and this post is the first of three on the subject.

Why does burn out happen?

The main reason is probably fairly obvious: overload.

For many folks, myself included, when you first start your study of a martial art, it's easy to get very excited about it. When I started, for example, I had just turned 20. I was young, unmarried, and in college so I had time and energy to spare. For a couple of years, I attended just about every class the dojo offered at the time. Couldn't get enough of it.

Until eventually, I evidently did get enough, and I stopped going. As delicious as ice cream is, if you ate nothing but ice cream everyday for every meal, you would get tired of it.

Another reason may be undergoing major life changes.

The other times I stopped coming to class followed some major life events. A "life event" might include getting married, moving, new job, death in the family, having kids, that sort of thing. Those sorts of things often require a lot of adjustment, and demand a lot of time and focus. Trying to squeeze in classes just felt like burning the candle at both ends and something had to give.

Another possible reason is you might not be as interested in budo as you'd like.

I love music. I played a couple of instruments growing up, I even played the guitar for a while as an adult. A part of me really wishes I still played something. But I have a ton of interests and only so many hours in the day, so ultimately I have to choose, leaving music by the wayside.

Budo may be that way for you. You like it, you enjoy it—but when it comes right down to it, it's just not high enough on the priority list.

Lastly, you might find your training has become too redundant and predictable.

Bow in, stretch, do your ukemi, practice your kihons, work on the kata, bow out. Repeat. Month after month, year after year….

On one hand, repetition is the cornerstone of martial learning. As Bruce Lee once said, "I do not fear the man who has done 10,000 kicks one time, but one kick 10,000 times." Repetition-over-time is the magic formula that ingrains techniques and principles into our sub-conscious and allows them to flow naturally like our own breath. The ability to focus and endure that kind of repetition is a test, for sure. It has a way of "separating the men from the boys," if you will.

On the other hand, too much of the same repetive action has a way of dulling the very blade it was meant to sharpen. We all need period challenges to push us higher and further than we thought we were capable when we begin to plateau.

So what do you do when you feel burned out? And what can you do to prevent it in the first place? Stay tuned, boys and girls....