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John Graden

John Graden

Executive Director

John Graden led the martial arts into the modern era by creating the first professional association, trade journal & instructors certification program.

15 Keys Points to Understanding the Features and Benefits of Your Martial Arts School

Why isn’t a $10 book with 1,000 pages worth more than a $10 book with 100 pages?

Would you buy a book because of the number of pages it has? That’s a FEATURE.

Or because it makes you smarter? That’s a BENEFIT.

Black Belt Eyes

Before we go any further, let me suggest that in order to get the most out of this mini-course you have to remove your “Black Belt Eyes.” 

When you look at your school and curriculum, you see it with the experience of a veteran black belt. That perspective typically comes with a lot of baggage. 

Instead, do your best to continue to read this with “Market Eyes.” These are the eyes of the uninitiated like the moms of your students. This is how the market sees you.

What are some of the FEATURES of most martial arts schools? Style is a FEATURE, not a BENEFIT.

  • The Asian Style Taught
  • The Asian Traditions Taught
  • The Continuous Complex Kata Required
  • The Asian Style Uniform Required
  • The Asian Language Usage Required
  • The Belt Exams to Progress Required

What are some of the BENEFITS of most martial arts schools and where else can you get them?

  • Fitness (Health club, active lifestyle)
  • Flexibility (Yoga)
  • Life Skills (PGA has a great life skills program)
  • Self-Defense (Evidence-based self-defense school)
  • Sport (Too many options to list)
  • Friendship and Social (Too many options to list)
  • Healthy Lifestyle (Too many options to list)

What’s More Important? Features or Benefits?

Do students really care what features give them the benefits they seek? – Yes, of course. The benefits have to be engaging, safe, and objectively make sense.

The key question is, do students want to slog through a 1,000-page book to get the benefits, or do they want to get them in 100 pages?

Benefits vs Features-Centric School Comparison

Traits of a Features-Centric School

  1. Students have to learn basic traditional blocks and kata. 
  2. More than 30% of the class is spent reviewing style-based skills like traditional blocks and kata.
  3. Students can have a delay in progress by failing a test for not performing a kata correctly.  

Traits of a Benefits-Centric School

  1. Students learn the most effective skills and techniques without any traditional influence/baggage. 
  2. Students spend the entire class incongruence because good defense, footwork, and skills never change. They don’t spend half the class pulling their hand back to their hip with squared shoulders and chin up and then reverse the focus in the second half for sparring.
  3. Students progress quickly with or without exams because there are far fewer skills to learn than in a feature-centric school. (The 100-page book)

Why Features Are Important

  1. Features act as proof of your benefits. They back up your claims if they make sense. 
  2. Features add substance. They give your class credibility if they make sense.
  3. Features add consistency. But only if they are not contradicting. 

How to Combine Features and Benefits When Teaching

Always include the benefit of a feature.

Here are some examples with the Features in regular text and the Benefits in bold.

    1. “All punches snap out and back to your face. That makes it safer to strike because your arm is not extended for more than a second and you’re snapping the hand back to protect your face.” 
    2. “In your fighting stance, keep your legs under you. Avoid getting them crossed up or too far apart.” This way, you can easily move in any direction.
    3. “As you move, keep your body turned a bit to protect your centerline. Keep your chin down and your hands up. This puts you in a strong defensive posture to protect yourself.”

When Combining Features and Benefits Gets Confusing

  1. “Hold the lunge punch out with your chin up.  This way you honor the art with good form.” (Is form more important than defense?)
  2. “Before you block, cross your arms and step forward. This way you can create power.” (Why does a block need power?)
  3. “When defending against multiple attackers, you want to stay on the outside and line them up so you’re only fighting one at a time. In kata though, you’re in the middle of an attack from six guys. And, if you get it wrong, you might not pass your belt exam.” This way you honor the art with good form. 

Your Assignment as an Intellectually Curious School Owner

Take another look at this list of benefits. Remove your sensei/master perspective and look at this with one goal in mind.

How can you provide these benefits in a more DIRECT, BAGGAGE-FREE, and EFFECTIVE process?

BENEFITS of most martial arts schools.

  • Fitness
  • Flexibility
  • Life Skills
  • Self-Defense
  • Sport
  • Friendship and Social

Notice Tyson’s hand is by his face, not his hip.

His chin is down instead of up.

His shoulder is up instead of pulled back.

His body is sideways to his opponent instead of squared off.

His legs are under his body not spread apart like he was riding a horse.

With this kind of form, he would fail his orange belt exam in most schools. 

How does that make any sense?

Sensei Tyson?

If Mike Tyson or a world champion kickboxer came to your school to teach your black belts. What do you think he would work on? Double punches, square blocks, and keeping your chin up?

I’m pretty sure he would emphasize head movement, how to snap your punches and a defense that does NOT include pulling your punch back to your hip.

I’m sure the students would learn advanced applications to adjust for different fighters. Notice I said advanced applications, not advanced strikes.

When you focus on application, you can apply that to almost any technique.

For instance, if the drill is about how to fight a taller fighter, the answer is more about footwork to stay on the outside until you can secure quick access. My brothers are 6′ 3″ and 6′ 4″ so I know something about fighting a taller opponent.

Drills that teach that application do not require complexity. They require simplicity.

The more complex a skill becomes, the less chance it can be used. Have you ever seen a double punch? Only in kata and here:

If you eliminated all kata and traditional skills, you could devote that time to drills and conditioning that would give your students a true advantage in sparring or self-defense.

Imagine teaching fewer skills that are easy to teach and learn than traditional skills and kata.

You could spend more time on the application of those skills rather than stepping up and down the classroom and holding blocks and punches out in the air, which leaves you wide open for a counterattack.

Rather than spending student’s time with the complexity and frustration of spending years perfecting the bad habits of pulling their hand back to their hip, keeping their chin up, aiming and holding a punch in the air, and blocking with power while stepping forward, your retention will improve. Your student quality will improve. Your curriculum consistency will improve.

This is the core of our white to black belt curriculum Empower Kickboxing.

It’s an old saying, but true. “Less is best.”

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