I'm a 14 year old girl with a second poom in WTF tae kwon do and have been doing a competitive sparring class for 2 years. Originally I joined because I wanted to try and make nationals, but though I can see myself improving, I'm still miles behind everyone else and I don't think I have potential. I always panic and can't think straight when I spar with someone in the class, who are all on the national team (I'm the only one who isn't). My coach doesn't pay attention to me because he's more focused on training the other competitive athletes; I get the feeling that the other athletes (ages ranging from my age up to university age) dislike me. It's getting so bad that I dread going there and always try and get out of it, even though I genuinely enjoy the sport.

Should I quit the class?

  • By "national team", do you mean the team at your school that goes to nationals, or the actual national team for your country?
    – JohnP
    Sep 21, 2016 at 22:56

7 Answers 7


Of course you should quit!

From what you said, you are neither having fun nor learning anything. I know you are young but your time is valuable. There is no point in wasting your time with people who do not appreciate you and refuse to teach you. The shame is theirs. Find another martial art class to go to, one where you can learn, grow, and have fun.

If you cannot find a tae kwon do class, it does not matter: look around for a good instructor in a fun setting with good people, style is second.

  • I think I'd have said "look around for a good instructor", but I guess "class" and "instructor" go hand in hand!
    – Mike P
    Jan 5, 2016 at 16:07
  • @MikeP: Good point. Lemme rephrase that. Jan 6, 2016 at 7:13
  • I agree to a point, but with caution.The 2 years time frame matches the period when the intellectual development begins to outstrip the physical skills development (aka green belt disease), and students are beginning to see things that they were not aware of previously. She may be feeling down because she IS advancing, and is to the point she is seeing faults she was not aware of before.
    – pojo-guy
    Jan 7, 2016 at 4:16

One of the things my early teachers in the martial arts said, that I have seen repeatedly over the past 20ish years of teaching martial arts, is that everyone goes through phases where they feel like they aren't learning, or are even getting worse.

Often, what is really happening is that the mental development that is part of learning a martial art is outstripping the physical skills development, so you see problems that you were not aware of faster than you can resolve them. I call this the green belt disease, because almost everyone hits this at about green belt level (1 and a half to 2 years at 4 hours training per week). That increased self awareness is actually a good sign of learning.

Also, at 14 your body is still growing rapidly. Your balance and timing will be off to some extent. When your body stops growing, your physical skill level will quickly match your expectations.

With that said, it is entirely possible that the club you are practicing with is entirely too focused on the high level competition for where you are at now. If you like the people and organization, you might want to talk to the instructor about finding a feeder club to start at a level closer to where you are at.

If you have no particular ties to this organization or system, there are many good martial arts clubs out there. Most serious martial artists have trained in more than one system. I feel it important enough to get input from people with backgrounds in different styles that our club hosts an annual rensei - a tournament format event that encourages and requires the "judges" to coach the competitors. My students learn things from other teachers that they will never learn from me.

At the same time, I believe it is important to focus on one art until you have basic proficiency (first black belt for example), before diverging too much from your roots.

If you are looking to transfer your existing skills to another art, TKD is most similar to other Shotokan derivative arts, followed by Shorin ryu karate and hard style kung fu systems.

Good luck, and don't give up.


You don't have to be the best. Your training should improve you in ways that are independent of where you may finish in competition. If your training does not do this, then I definitely recommend leaving.

That said, if you want to succeed in national competition, you need to improve in sparring. If you want to improve at sparring/fighting, you find the best opponents, which seems to be where you are.

Fourteen is a young, socially awkward age. This is an age when you and your peers are starting to grow into adults, with corresponding social and physical changes. Everyone's development may be different; you should not expect to progress at the same rate as everyone else, as in the tortoise and the hare story. But you need to make sure you make consistent progress.

Talk to your coach one-on-one. Tell your coach what problems you are encountering, and ask how to solve them. Be honest to yourself and your coach about what your goals are, and whether meeting them is a possibility. If your coach cannot coach you properly, then you should definitely leave.

There is a difference between people actively avoiding you and not making the first effort. So make the first effort to befriend your classmates. If they rebuff you, then you know exactly where you stand. [It's hard to tell from your question what your peer situation is. Is 14 really university age where you are? Small age differences make a big difference socially in school.]

If you are panicking, I suggest slowing down your partner sparring. Find a speed you are comfortable with, and gradually increase speed.

Don't do something that makes you miserable. There are plenty of opportunities in life outside the confines of athletic competitions.


It is a good goal to train for (nationals).

The only way you can overcome panic, freezing when sparring is to spar more. The more you spar, the more natural you will be. Fact is, even sparring in training center will be different when competing in arena with opponents that you don't know. That is why some people do so well in their own centers, but freeze or underperform in tournaments.

You might be panicking because you feel you are not as good as the others. And spend too much time ruminating on that. Try this: at least for one class, let everything go. There is nothing to lose, there is no one to disappoint. Live in the moment. There is only you and that opening in your opponent's vest and headgear.

At this level and age, you are probably still finding your own sparring style. Watch and observe styles that you think are effective, try them out. The style might suit your physical build and skill, or they might not. If it suits you, drill the style many times until it becomes second nature. If it doesn't suit you, keep on searching.

And another word for the road, not only applied to Taekwondo. There will always be people in life who will dislike you, and it's not your fault and it's out of your control. So what if they dislike you. Keep your head down and train. You're not there to make friends (if they don't want to). You don't have to please anybody. Be accountable only to yourself. Strive each day to be a better version of yourself (in Taekwondo and other aspects) than yesterday.


The way I read this, you have joined a high performance group and you are failing to meet expectations.

Failing is okay - it's continuing to fail that isn't okay.

So yes, you should quit. This class has taught you a valuable lesson - that you are not ready for competitive sparring at a national level. That's okay, not everyone makes it to the top. An absolutely crucial skill to have to become successful at anything is to know when you've failed, admit it, face it, accept it, then try something else.

You can be brilliantly successful at other things. You might even be successful at sparring when you get older, just not now. But pick yourself up, try something else - you might be great at forms, or you might excel in another art.

Don't be like this guy:

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  • 2
    Did OP fail or did her classmates and coach failed her?... It is difficult to tell with the current information. Jan 5, 2016 at 13:29
  • 1
    @Sard Good question - based on the info given I would say that Sky wasn't suited to the class, therefore the coach didn't fail. Once you enter a high performance or elite program it has to be a meritocracy - a coach should not (in good faith) train someone who is assured of failing at the desired level.....
    – slugster
    Jan 5, 2016 at 21:13
  • 1
    .... but having said that my aim is not to destroy her hopes, but rather to encourage her to focus her energy in a different and more productive direction. We've all failed at something, the key thing is to recognise and accept then move on.
    – slugster
    Jan 5, 2016 at 21:16
  • That is indeed what I thought you were driving at! Jan 6, 2016 at 7:13

A fight is not lost, until you really believe it is.

There are two options you can get out of this situation. Doing what Sardathrion suggested or you can stay and stand your ground!

Obviously, your current coach seems to be focused on his 'babies' aka nationals people. But what I mean is that you say you are seeing improvement in your skills even though you are not getting as much attention as the others and that means to me that you have potential.

Being afraid before a fight is just a feeling like being happy or sad and is caused through Adrenalin to prepare your body for a fight or flight situation. (Mike Tyson used to cry before fights!)

The main factor to focus on is to work on the way you are handling with this feeling. If you accept the situation and you succeed in 'not thinking' during a fight (be a wooden dummy like Bruce Lee said) - by that I mean you should not think about losing, getting hurt, not being good enough or giving up already because of your opponent is in the nationals or has a higher black belt... you will make big progress and you will learn to control yourself and your fears in all life situations.

It is always easier going the path with less resistance, but if you choose to go the 'fighting' path, there are two recommendations I give to my students:

  1. Do what you are afraid of more often and you will get used to it - it might happen that you start even enjoying it.

  2. Give your head a little help in bridging the freezing state after the pre-fight adrenaline pump, with a trigger word - like GO that you use to start the first move or attack ex sparring etc. (Of course that trigger word you don't say loud, its just your internal one :-))

Don't forget to have fun too.

Good luck whichever path you choose but as a Martial Artist there is only one way - Bushido...


If you're not seeing improvements perhaps learning a different style of striking might improve your game like kickboxing. Sanda and Muay Thai are popular styles of kickboxing.

  • Muay Thai is more ancient than kick boxing… Sep 19, 2016 at 13:27
  • 1
    @Sardathrion Mauy Thai is a type of kickboxing. Kick boxing is kind of a generic term, I'm not refering to American Kickboxing. Also Muay Boran is generally what people refer to when talking about traditional Muay Thai. Generally a subset of Muay Boran is taught in gyms and used in competitions and is referred to as Mauy Tahi.
    – Tom
    Sep 19, 2016 at 14:12

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