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I am a 27 year old male and have been taking judo lessons twice a week for the past six years, give or take a year when the dojo was closed for the pandemic. The class is run by three men, all between 25-40, and teaches exclusively to adults. These three men are pretty united when it comes to instruction, so for the purposes of this question, they might as well be a single instructor. The dojo is run somewhat authoritatively-- students are permitted to ask questions of the instructors, but their word is law when it comes to technique.

Over time I became the most senior student in the dojo (the rank of 2-kyu, one step below black belt candidate) as the students above me cycled out and new students have come in after me. I have been at this rank for over a year now, but feel as if I am steadily getting worse with no improvement in sight. This lack of confidence has reached the point where I feel the version of myself from 2019 could toss me around without breaking a sweat.

I believe these feelings began about 18 months ago when I suffered a mild concussion while falling from a throw. I recovered quickly but after that I found that I was very nervous about taking falls I had previously had no issue with. 18 months later and I still feel like my breakfalls have not recovered.

When classes resumed for 2024, the instructors announced that the lessons would feature greater emphasis on the practice routines unique to the dojo, including one specialized in ground-fighting. However, I have never been very good at ground fighting-- at one point I was absolutely steamrolled by a guy my height and weight when he had only two months of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu to my years of judo. Other students with no martial arts background have been able to do the same after six months to a year of training. The thought of doubling down on drills I feel I haven't learned anything from has demoralized me further.

My morale has degraded to the point that my sparring has become almost completely defensive. Rather than trying to win using the techniques I've studied for years, I simply try to defend as long as possible, because it feels impossible for any of my attacks to succeed. In the rare cases I do accomplish a throw, pin, or joint lock, I don't feel any reward at all, chalking it up to luck. When the sensei points out a correction I could make for a more effective technique and it works, I have even caught myself suspecting that my sparring partner is "sandbagging," and that the same thing wouldn't have worked if I tried it before the instructor mentioned it.

Is there any tactful way I can explain to my sensei(s) that it feels like I am not getting better and am worried I may never get better? The past year-and-change of workouts has been a long-term wish for things to "click" and finally start improving after so much grind, so if I say nothing I am worried I will be totally crushed by these feelings of despair. However, I do not know how to explain these feelings without it coming off as an attack on the instruction or devolving into a total discounting of my capabilities as a student.

This dojo is based in the United States and all of us are Americans. No need to complicate by including Japanese etiquette.

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  • You wouldn't consider making an appointment with the most accessible instructor and talking it out? Feb 6 at 23:32
  • I am willing to talk it out one-on-one, either in-person or over e-mail. I'm really looking for a way to explain these feelings without accusing the instruction of being insufficient (the other students seem to be progressing well, they can certainly beat me) or declaring myself a bad student who can't learn. Feb 7 at 0:17
  • Is this the only dojo it is feasible for you to attend? (Location, hours, or whatever?) Also, are you doing any teaching (take these beginners to the side and teach them this thing they don't know at all -- in karate a simple kata, I don't know the judo equivalent)? Feb 7 at 1:36
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    What's stopping you from explaining it to them just like you did on this site? What about your story as you wrote it here do you think comes off as attacking the instruction? Is fixing your confidence and feelings of inadequacy the sensei's job, or would you be overasking them?
    – Tinkeringbell
    Feb 7 at 7:48
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    DaveG: This is really the only show in town for judo. It's these three guys or nothing. Feb 7 at 18:52

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