What makes people who have studied martial arts stick with it after years of training? Especially after they have left their teacher? Are the answers different for different arts? Are the answers different in different milieus?
Lets try to answer this question from our experience.
There are two obvious answers.

The first is they find a group to practice with, even without a teacher, and that group becomes an important social network.

The second is that they get paid for teaching, and in order to teach they need to practice. I think for this to work the person has to genuinely enjoy teaching, however money will change you. If you like the money, you will find ways to make teaching enjoyable.
Now to the tougher part of the question. What is it about the intrinsic nature of martial arts that will motivate a person to practice?
A significant number of people may train in martial arts because they want to show off, they want to look great, or they want be dominant. I believe all of these reasons will fail in the long run. The desire to show off fades with time, and even if it doesn’t, there are so many easier ways to show off. The desire to look great often fades around true friends who accept us as we are-- crooked timber of humanity. ‘Looking good’ as defined by some trivial external measure is a potent motivator, but it is not a good match for true martial arts practice. Lastly, wanting to be dominant could drive a person to mastery, I suppose. That kind of megalomania does exist. However, I think dominance is mostly about posturing and the release of hormones into the blood through the endocrine system. Once a person set on dominance learns how to dominate, they will have lost their reason for practice.
So now we’ve whittled the question down to:
What does training actually do to your body-mind?
What particular advantages does this daily routine have over some other available routines?
The answer to that question depends entirely on what I often refer to as “fruition.” What is the fruition of daily martial arts practice?
There are three types.

1.) The regulation of appetites. To get this kind of fruition one must view practice as a way to experiment with the relationships between our appetites for food, rest, sleep, and exercise. These are our core appetites and they are the key holders to all our other appetites; like our appetites for adventure, sex, entertainment, and inquiry.

2.) The revealing of ones true nature (de). The basis for this type of fruition is to use the various methods accumulated by your martial arts system to experiment with the limits of your potential. Because our nature is always changing, this is a never ending process.

3.) Immortality.
The most commonly unrecognized form of immortality is fun. We call this ‘being at play with earthly qi,’ dancing spontaneously with the way people and events manifest and change.
Another common form of immortality is languishing in the beauty of the moment. This is the story of the monkey seeing a beautiful peach and rushing to it, he bites in, as his eyes roll back into his head with ecstasy he sees another peach and leaps for that one. Each new experience uniquely satisfying.
A perhaps less common form of immortality is discovering ones place in a limitless continuum. To feel like the recipient of countless generations of human development, or to feel like a force of nature, among other forces of nature, trees, mountains, stars.
There are many other forms of immortality.

If you look at this list you may notice that regulation of appetites is jing, the revealing ones true nature is qi, and becoming an Immortal is shen, that part of our true nature which though unique, connects us the all things.

I’m headed to the mountains for a few days, my next post will be in 6 days.