Dan was a second-degree black belt in martial arts and had been training with me for over seven years. He was an all-star kind of guy. He was extremely successful in business. He had a great attitude. He was athletic and intelligent. He was the kind of guy that you love having in the front of your class because you know he's going to raise everybody's energy. Dan was as consistent as the day is long. He never missed a class.
One day he pulled me aside to tell me that his attendance was going to be a bit sporadic over the course of the next month or so due to the opening of a new branch office a city away. I thanked him for the letting me know and told him what I tell everyone else who has to deal with a busy schedule: ”Don’t stress over it and just get in when you can and we will make sure to work with you if and when you need the help.”
The next time I saw Dan in class was a couple of weeks later. We started an advance Kata just after he left so, for the first time ever, Dan was behind the curve. He was doing his best to follow along, but I could tell that he was frustrated. I almost pulled him aside to work with another advanced student but decided against it. This is Dan we’re talking about. He doesn’t need any extra help. He continued to be sporadic in attendance over the next few weeks and I could sense his frustration growing. Once again, instead of offering him one-on-one help like I would most students, I just let him struggle. Although Dan was not an arrogant guy, part of me felt like this experience was a good way to keep him humble.
I didn't see Dan for a few more weeks and when I did, it was at the end of class and he was in his street clothes. I thought to myself, “That's funny, Dan must be injured or something.” He asked to speak with me privately so we went into my office. He said he wanted me to know how much he appreciated the training he received at our martial arts school these past 7 1/2 years and then followed that statement by letting me know that he was quitting. I was sincerely shell-shocked. I would never have guessed that Dan would quit. When I called him on it, he simply responded by saying that he was going to continue to be working extra and didn't want to be a mediocre student. He said he didn't like the feeling of not knowing what was going on and needing extra help and it had taken the joy out of his martial arts training. I assured him that I would work with him extra after class or on weekends, whatever it took to keep him training, but it was too late. He'd made up his mind. And so we said our goodbyes. That was the last time I heard from Dan.
I can't help believing that if I had taken the time to work with Dan just a little bit extra instead of letting him flounder, he would still be training martial arts with us to this day. Having Dan quit was a great lesson for me. It reminded me that even black belts quit and that I should never take any of my students for granted. If I see a student struggling, regardless of rank, it's my job to help him get back on track, and it's yours as well.
Remember, the next time you see advanced students who need a bit of help, think of Dan and then do what you can to keep them in the game.
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