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.

Is Your School Attractive?

I’ve been fortunate enough to visit martial arts schools on three continents. As with anything, there is always a top, middle, and bottom third of success. I’ve been in schools that have not changed since they opened decades ago. I’ve been in schools that seemed as though they haven’t cleaned the school since they opened decades ago. I’ve also been in schools that were multi-stories high with a restaurant as part of the facility.

What I’ve learned is that the schools that continue to evolve and adjust grow while those who do not stagnate. To help you evaluate your school, I’ve broken this down to a number of categories that collectively make one school more attractive than another.

Before we dive in, let share an observation I’ve had for years. In every market, the most expensive school with contracts typically has the most students and income. Why? Because they are constantly evolving and improving. That doesn’t mean that they chase every shiny object, but they work on their teaching skills and their selling skills. Every aspect of the operation is part of a system that is usually in writing or video.

Here are some important areas that when optimized, make one school more attractive than another. We start with what you teach and how you teach it.

Your Martial Arts Curriculum

In designing your curriculum, it’s important that you take a step back and run everything you teach through a series of filters including, “Why am I teaching this?” “Is it necessary?” “What would happen if I stopped teaching it?” Attractive schools consistently review their curriculum and modify it as new information comes in. Just because an Asian in an Asian country decades ago did it this way doesn’t mean you have to do it that way. Design your curriculum to serve your students best interests, not the styles’ legacy.

See more on Curriculum Design

Professional Martial Arts Instructors

Everything starts with the interaction of the instructors and the students. The quality of that relationship will set the ceiling of potential for school growth. That’s why we have the MATA Certification program. This gives everyone a common understanding and language for becoming a professional instructor rather than simply repeating the same patterns and methods of previous instructors.

Martial Arts Uniforms

Adults, especially women, are sensitive to required attire and how it makes them look. The traditional karate is unflattering, to say the least. Some of you may be thinking, “Good. That teaches students to be humble.” The problem is that they have to be in class to learn these lessons and many women will not enroll because of the uniform. Many are also turned off by the prospect of being barefoot in class. 

Martial Arts School Logo

Most martial arts logos look either like a pesticide company or ancient hieroglyphics. The goal of a logo is to brand the school, not tell a history lesson. A good logo has one or two elements to it. That’s it. Think of the Apple logo. It used to have multi-colors like a rainbow. Today, it has one element, the gray apple. Most of the time, it doesn’t even have the name Apple on it. Think of your favorite sports team. Odds are their logo is simple but exciting. That is what you want for your school logo.

Martial Arts School Name

A good martial arts school name has one or two words followed by, “martial arts” “karate” or “kung fu.” Never use a specific style in the school name. It has no meaning to non-martial artists. Never use your name in the school name. It makes it harder to sell the school. If your area has a common reference like Tampa Bay, then Tampa Bay Martial Arts is a good name. Tampa Martial Arts confines the school to that cities’ identity which may make it less attractive to those who live outside the city and can create confusion if you want to open a branch school in another city.

Martial Arts School Website

Your website should reflect your school’s spirit, colors, and language. Have your site designed and built by a professional, not a friend of a friend or student. Make sure the images are NOT stock and that the students are smiling and enjoying themselves.

Understand that just having a website is not enough. You can have the best-looking school but if it’s out in the desert people will not find it. You have to invest in SEO so that people searching for martial arts will see your website on the first page of the search results.

Martial Arts School Condition

Your school must be clean and free of a barefoot stench. I always traded tuition for cleaning since that’s how I could afford classes myself. Whatever your system, be consistent.

Communication Skills

From answering questions to dealing with complaints, there is a communication skill for every situation. Learn them and rehearse them with your staff.

Martial Arts School Systems

Attractive schools stay attractive by recording everything in a system’s manual that is a combination of video and written steps. From how to order equipment to how to tell a student he didn’t pass his exam, everything is part of an established system.

Energy and Excitement

Attractive schools have a good energy. The instructors, including you, are in great shape and lead with a sincere smile. There is nothing less attractive than an obese instructor promising to get you in shape if you join. The easiest way to lose weight is not to “diet” but “decide.” Decide if this pizza at 10 pm after classes is worth the calories. Make it a habit to burn 300+ calories a day with exercise and keep your caloric intake under 2,200. You will begin to shrink.

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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