Info for Martial Arts School Owners and Instructors

The Martial Arts Teachers’ Association (MATA) is a professional organization that helps martial arts school owners and instructors improve their teaching skills and grow their schools with proven marketing, management, and curriculum design.

Click JOIN MATA to learn more.

martial arts instructor association and curriculum

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.

How To Get The Best Images For Your Martial Arts School

I was in Munich at the WAKO World Championships in 1987 as a coach and official. I had a slide from a photoshoot I just did. I showed it to the publisher of Banzai magazine from Italy. He said, “If you let me use this image, I will put you on the cover of the next issue. He didn’t write a word about me in the issue, but I scored the cover.


  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn

Step one is to get a pro-photographer. Use Groupon, Thumbtack or some deal site because photographers need business right now because everyone has a high-grade camera on their phone.

You will get much better results with a professional, so spend the extra money. You’ll be glad you did.

Step two is to pose your students. Joe Lewis learned this when he was a model and actor in Hollywood and he taught it to me for dozens of photoshoots we did together.

Look at the BW high block shot of Joe Lewis above. This was shot by a local newspaper photographer at my school in 1984. To this day, it’s one of my favorite shots.

Why this is a great shot:

  1. He drops his chin down and locks eyes on the viewer with intensity.
  2. Pooched lips draw his cheeks into peaks.
  3. His face elicits energy and intensity. That’s not by accident.
  4. The high block frames his face.
  5. Turning his shoulders slims his body.
  6. Key point. In the Joe Lewis punch, the fist is out of focus. That is a HUGE factor. Depth of field controls where the focus starts and ends. If the punch was in focus, it would be huge and distracting. Ask the photographer where the focus is and isn’t. 

Contrast that shot with this. Totally different effect due to depth of field and focus.


  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn

This depth of focus is the opposite of the Joe Lewis shot at the top of the page.

martial arts curriculum comparison illustration
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn

Both of these images are shot at extension, but what a difference. The lines of the cat stance woman are artistic while the combination of the eye contact and half-smile from my student on the left is engaging.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn

This is one of my favorite shots with Joe Lewis. This was in Pat Purdue’s photo studio in Largo, FL in 1985. I was reminded that his flooring was cement for several dozen shots like this. Joe elicits rage. I show terror.

karate champions Joe Lewis and John Graden
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn

Energy, fake pain, contrasting uniform colors and blurred effect all add up to a great shot of me being killed by Joe Lewis…again. Credit again to Pat Purdue.

Below is a link to 7 images of my son Alexander in our backyard. We shot these in less than 3-minutes with my phone. On each image, you’ll see my instruction to him for each pose.

  1. Think of the lines of the technique. Typically, the best shots are on full extension like Joe’s punch above.
  2. Eye contact. Where are you looking?
  3. Emotion.
  4. Expression. John Corcoran used to call the extreme expressions, “Fake pain posing.” Look at the cover of any martial arts magazine to see an example.

I could spend an hour at least demonstrating all of this for images and video. Let me know if you’d like to learn more about this.

Link to Images with Instructions

You May Also Like…