Martial Arts Instructor News and Articles

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.

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

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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