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Plateaus in Training: How to stay the course when we don't see (or feel) progress

If you’ve trained in martial arts for an extended period, you’ve likely heard of, and likely experienced, the dreaded "plateau". We've been working hard, but not seeing the progress we once were. The same demon shows up in any self-improvement modality, whether it’s martial arts, strength training, competitive sport training, intra and interpersonal enrichment, meditation, etc. 

The tools you need to survive the plateau you likely already possess, or can easily obtain.  Here are a few of my recommended Plateau-Busting tools, what I call the DAPR method (pronounced "dapper"):


  1. Desire.  You don’t want to be on a plateau, you want to see improvement.  The key is to not let negative self-talk strip you of your desire and motivation.  Remember why you started on your journey.  Once you remember, make that your focus.  Let it be your “X” on the treasure map.

  2. A plan.  Don’t wander aimlessly.  The plan can change along the way, but never go without one.  Aimless work produces haphazard, unpredictable results.  Having a plan will give you a way to reach the “X” on your treasure map.  The plan becomes your compass.  Having a plan will give you the actual process wherein you can trust. (Tip: If you don’t have a plan, look towards someone who achieved what you desire.  Study his/her methods and processes. Make his/her plan your plan, but allow for individual differences.)

  3. Realization.  Realize what a plateau really is, a mirage.  What you're really moving along is a spiral, continuing up. Sometimes our progress is so slow and immeasurable, like the hour hand on a clock, but the clock is still ticking.  We’re still moving upward towards our goal(s). Plateaus suggest "no progress" which is untrue in my opinion. Whenever we work, we're working towards achievement. The gain may not be showing in our external physical progress as we had hoped and expected, rather our mental fortitude or some other "unseen" is improving. Still, it’s always progress, and possibly more important than the external.


The invisible strength gained during the hard times when you’re not seeing progress only helps us to better weather the tough times ahead. Banish the idea of the plateau. Our work means something. Something positive is happening whether we know it or not. You are traveling upwards and will have an incredible view.  Don't give up.  Be healthy. Be safe.

"Everything repeats.  Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I am on a spiral?  But if a spiral, am I going up or down it?" C.S. Lewis

Sifu Caleb Hood is a martial arts instructor at Hood's Martial Arts Academy in Salem, Oregon. He currently offers classes in the Hawaiian-born self-defense system of Kajukenbo Tum Pai, as well as Yang style Tai Chi. He has experience training people from all age groups and ability levels. He is always eager to share the arts he practices with anyone that has a good attitude and a willingness to work hard. In addition to teaching self-defense through martial arts, Sifu Caleb Hood also promotes a healthy lifestyle, emphasizing healthy physical habits, as well as healthy mental habits. To learn more about the classes offered by Sifu Caleb Hood, or about the art of Kajukenbo Tum Pai or Tai Chi, visit the Hood's Martial Arts Academy website here