Wait – what?!? Yes. It finally happened. Growing up sometimes means growing pains. I experienced burnout. Don’t worry – I’m on the mend. I’m still with my home dojo, never fear. Let’s just get this out there – no, dear readers, you don’t need to know the specifics. Rest assured someone is making sure that I’m staying the course. Many others are completely unaware that they are helping me. Most of these are children who don’t need to be burdened with the knowledge of my struggle. I don’t think any of them read this blog, but if they do, maybe they’re ready to learn about a very real thing that can and does happen.
I have experienced burnout both as a parent and as a caregiver to my late grandparents. It took me a few hours to recognize what I was feeling in connection with my karate. Up until that moment, I never thought I would go through this with karate! Yet it happened just the other day. I am human. I’m glad I was able to catch it quickly. Burnout is a sign that I am investing heavily in my karate, which is a good thing! But burnout is also a sign that things are out of balance. Changes need to be made. I’ve taken measures, rest assured.
Recommendations to remedy burnout are many. Make time to get away and take care of yourself. Keep a journal. Talk to someone about what you’re going through. Pray. Exercise. Spend time outdoors. Have at least one person keep tabs on you. Get professional help if needed. These are great general recommendations, but what can be done about karate-related burnout specifically?
For some, burnout could indicate a need to change dojo(s). It’s a drastic step. If you’re considering it, make sure you’re leaving for the right reasons. Make sure you’re not viewing the dojo with a consumer mindset. See your dojo as a community, not a commodity. That shift in view alone could put things in perspective. That said, abuse of any sort is a good reason to leave. Dysfunctional relationships, illegal activity, neglect, unsafe conditions – these are all great reasons to get out. But if you’re simply running out of fuel because you’re dealing with things that most dojo(s) go through to one degree or another – tell someone about it and stick with it. You could learn and grow as a result.
For some, burnout could be a result of not making enough progress or making too much progress too quickly. Plateaus happen – just do a search on the Web for “performance plateau” and you’ll see it’s a phenomenon that is not exclusive to martial arts. There’s loads of good and bad advice out there, I’ll let you decide. A huge upward spike in performance can be stressful and lead to burnout too. Also doing too much of anything, really, can burn one out. The remedy for that is deceptively simple. Scaling back sounds easy, but, as with any human endeavor, it’s complicated. My best advice is to find balance.
I’m not qualified to address the specific needs of a sensei (instructor) who is burning out. The most I can do is offer some general things I learned from home schooling my children. Put on your oxygen mask first before helping others. Don’t be a slave to the curriculum – tweak it, mold it, knead it, pound it if necessary. Always search for fresh ideas and new activities. Ask your students to come up with something and have them lead the class for ten minutes or so. Don’t be afraid to step outside your culture and experience what life is like for others (this is what seminars are for). Be innovative – some things you try won’t work (and that’s OK) but more often than not you’ll find your intuition will lead you and your students to success. Trust yourself. Whenever you don’t trust yourself, read whatever records and journals you are keeping (you are writing stuff down, right?) to see your school’s growth and success. Most of all, get help when you need it. Your students need you and vice versa.
Ohhh yes. Never forget that you need your students. They can help you even when they don’t know they are doing so. The very next class after I recognized that I was burning out I looked for things to be happy about while I was assisting with the Intermediate class. I found plenty of things to be glad about, and my bucket started to fill again. One small student asked me to put my hand out as a target for him to kick – he recognized that this had helped him earlier. Another had a breakthrough with a kata (form) and appreciated me teaching him the concept of embusen. There was a belt test the next week, and the candidates were looking sharp. I remembered the pride I felt when the dojo sensei told me I was a big part of their success.
The big picture is hard to see when one is burning out. The other day when I experienced burnout, my perspective got skewed rather badly because emotions are powerful things. Immediately after recognizing what I was experiencing I read some articles on my blog. This included the post that was scheduled to publish just two days after I was hurting. In that post I wrote that making the world a better place is really the heart and soul of what I do in Karate. Oh my. It’s a lot to live up to, but it is so true. I had lost that focus. I asked someone to keep tabs on me and remind me of all that I’ve gained and about the fun I’m having. I’m willing to do the same for that person. Burnout happens. Fall down seven times, stand up eight.