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3 Steps to Improve Martial Arts Student Retention-PT 2

by | Offline Marketing & Sales

Setting Expectations for Martial Arts Students Upfront

Authority is highly influenced by emotion.

While your staff and students may intellectually understand that you are the boss and master instructor, they have to feel it, not think it.

It’s the emotional connection that anchors your authority on a deep level.

If there is one powerful moment in your role as a professional martial arts instructor, it’s in the enrollment conference.

While the parents may see you as the master black belt, they usually don’t have an authoritative reverence at this early stage.

The enrollment conference is a seminal moment for you to establish your authority and gain the respect and gratitude of the family you’re dealing with.

Presenting the programs and their cost to parents can be tense at times. Some parents want to negotiate. Others might object to the agreement. Some want a safety net in case their child wants to quit.

While it’s important that you are prepared to overcome any objections, it’s when the bottom line is signed and the initial investment is completed that you have a critical window to demonstrate your authority.

Many owners complete the transaction and gush with statements like, “Awesome. It’s great to have you on board. Johnny, you did an awesome job tonight. High five! Thanks Mrs. Jones it’s great to have Johnny as part of our family. Let me know if I can help with anything.”


Who has the role of authority here? Mrs. Jones and her credit card. That was a missed opportunity.

Let’s try again. You would adjust this script to the age and circumstance, but here is an authority template for the enrollment conference.

Mom has just enrolled Johnny into the program.

You, “Johnny. You want to learn Empower Kickboxing, right?”

“Yes sir.”

“Good. I want you to understand that your mom just enrolled you into a six month program. You are going to learn a lot of great skills and lessons. It’s going to be fun and sometimes it’s going to be hard. That’s the good part because that means you’re learning. So you have to pay attention and practice at home 20-minutes a day when you don’t have class.

Are you going to work hard and practice?”

“Yes sir.”

“I’m glad. Your classes are Monday and Wednesday at 5pm. When are your classes?”

“Monday and Wednesday at 5pm.”

“Good. You’re a smart guy. That means that you have to be ready to come to class by 4:30 on Monday and Wednesdays so that you’re not late. Will you do that?”

“Yes sir.”

“No matter what you are doing, you will be ready by 4:30, right?”

“Yes sir.”

“Good. The first lesson is integrity. Integrity means that you do what you say you are going to do. You keep your promises. You promise to work hard and be ready for class, right?”

“Yes sir.”

“No matter what you’re doing. Right?”

“Yes sir.”

“Great. We’re going to be so proud of you. Your mom just enrolled you, so please turn to her and say, ‘Thank you mom.”

“Thank you mom.”

“Alright. When someone does something good for you, you always say thank you. That’s called gratitude. What’s it called?”


“Correct. So you’ve learned two important lessons today. Integrity and gratitude. What does integrity mean?

“Keeping your promises.”

“Yes. What does gratitude mean?”

“Saying thank you.”

“You got it! You are going to do great, I can tell already.”

“Remember, your class is…”

“Monday and Wednesday at 5pm.”

“When will you be ready to come to class?”


“You have a good head on your shoulders Johnny. You’re going to be good at this.”

“Because you’ve showed your mom gratitude and you’re going to keep your promises, here is a school t-shirt for you to wear. Every time you put it on, I want you to think of integrity and gratitude. Will you do that?”

“Yes sir.”

“I just gave you a shirt. How do you show gratitude?”

“Thank you sir.”

As taught in the MATA Certification program, it’s also a good idea to let mom know that it’s important that she control what Johnny is doing around 4:30 which is the agreed upon to be ready for class.

If Johnny is playing with his friends or deep in a video game, it’s going to be harder to get him to get ready than if he is cleaning his bedroom or something he’d like to leave to go to class.

Keep in mind that mom is watching this happen before her eyes. What have you done to establish your authority?

  1. You’ve provided her with a language pattern that both her and Johnny understand. This is huge.
  2. You’ve given mom the “integrity” framework to deal with any reluctance to go to class.
  3. You’ve provided her with a strategy to engage Johnny in less fun activities so that going to class is an easy decision.
  4. You’ve laid out when Johnny should get ready for class without complaint.
  5. Before her eyes, you taught her son important lessons with real world examples. No doubt, your authority sky-rocketed in her eyes and in her heart.

Look for places where you can make these kinds of strong emotional connections.

Demonstrate true authority and leadership. That will last much longer than a trite, shallow compliments like “Awesome! Good job.”

This will help your students to understand how and why they are training with the best school.

Preventative Measures to Improve
Martial Arts Student Retention Early

Last week, I shared three common retention strategies schools use that can be useless if not used carefully. A quick review.

1. Student Surveys only work to the level of participation. Your most enthused students will provide great feedback. You’re less than enthused usually won’t. They are the ones you want to hear from.

2. 2-4-6 Calls work best when you speak to the parent honestly and ask real questions rather than gushing how “great” the child is doing.

3. Praise ONLY works if it is SINCERE and EARNED. Some instructors are more afraid of students’ mothers than Bas Rutten. Somehow this notion of feeding parents and students false praise has now permeated the martial arts school business. It’s not helping.

This week, I’m offering two and a half rock solid retention boosts for your classes. 

1. When you enroll the child, set clear expectations with the parents present.

“Joey, do you want to join our school?” “Yes sir!”

“Great we’d love to have you. Your parents are going to pay for this and we are going to teach you. Do you understand that? “Yes sir!”

“That’s important. Good. Now, here’ your part. Class is on Monday and Wednesday at 4:30pm. That means that you have to be ready to come to class at 4pm. If you’re playing a game, watching TV whatever, you have to stop that and get ready by 4pm. Will you do that?”  “Yes sir!”

“Alright. That’s what we want to hear. On the days that you do not have class, we want you to practice for 15-minutes at least two days a week. We have videos on our website to show you how. It’s not hard, but it’s going to help you get really good fast. Will you do that?”
“Yes sir!”

TIP from the MATA Certification Course: Tell the parent in private that if the child is doing something they don’t enjoy, they are far more enthusiastic about stopping it and going to class than if they are doing something they enjoy. Kids are all about the moment, so this is something to consider in the time leading up to getting ready for class. 

2. Be consistent in what you teach.

If you’re like me, I always started class with a review of our tae kwon do basics and then the basic kata that class knew. During the basics and the kata my corrections were always:

a. Aim your punch!

b. Hold your punch out in the center!

c. Pull your hand back to your hip.

d. Square your shoulders and keep your chin up.

In the second half of the class during pad work or sparring, my corrections were always:

a. Don’t telegraph your punches! (Aiming a punch is a telegraph)

b. Snap that hand back to guard. Don’t leave it out! (Holding your punch out in the center is dangerous)

c. Snap your hand back to your face. Protect yourself! (Your hip doesn’t need protection. Your face does.)

d. Turn your body sideways and tuck your chin down! (Squaring your shoulders and keeping your chin up destroys your defense.)

That is a complete contridiction from the first half of class. Well, which is it?

Lack of consistency leads to confusion. Confusion leads to boredom. Boredom leads to drop outs.


2.5 I say this a half point because I did a video on this, but it bears repeating so it’s at the bottom of this page.

A far too common segment of class is where kids line up and the instructor stands in front of the line holding a target. Each kid gets one shot at the target and then runs to the back of the line to wait for their next turn. What is the comment made 97% of the time? “Good job!” “Awesome!” What you don’t hear is, “Try that again. This time, pull your knee up a little higher….” 

Translation? You don’t hear any teaching. All you hear is vapid praise.

In the meantime, learn how to teach like a professional with the MATA Certification Program.


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

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