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.

Today, we have a somewhat ominous combination of factors that relate to student retention. First, this generation of parents knows more about martial arts than ever, so what you teach and how you teach it is critical. Second, this generation of parents will pull their child out as soon as the kid complains about going. 

Parents may be seeing that their children need self-discipline but they may not be helping them develop that skill because they don’t want to hurt their child’s feelings. In many ways, this is a result of the disastrous self-esteem movement launched by Dr. Nathaniel Brandon in the 1960s. Dr. Brandon was also a mentor of my instructor/mentor Joe Lewis. But all of that is a different story.

Stop reading until after you answer these questions.

1. How do we teach self-discipline to children?

2. What is the first lesson in discipline? 

Watch this video first and then, join me below for the answers.


The number one reason parents enroll children in martial arts is to improve their self-discipline. We all know that, HOWEVER, most of us are missing the most glaring issue with self-discipline. The FIRST discipline is that the child HAS to come to class for whatever period of time that’s been agreed to.

You have to set those expectations. You can’t depend on the parents to do this. 

How to Set Expectations with Martial Arts Students and Parents

I always suggest a two-class trial program for $20 that includes a t-shirt and gi-pants. When you enroll the student into the trial class, make sure to mention that you’d like anyone who will be involved in the decision to join the school will be present to see the class. Make that clear on your website as well for enrolling trial programs.

You present the enrollment options after the first class. This eliminates the “We want to think about it” objection. If they return for the second class, they are most likely going to join. 

Right after signing the papers, your role is to set expectations. It will sound like you’re teaching the child, but you’re actually teaching the family.

“Joey, do you want to learn martial arts with us?”

“Yes sir.”

“Great. This is very important for you to understand. Your mom has enrolled you in our school for the next six months. Be sure to thank her for that. That’s called gratitude, and you always show gratitude when someone does something for you. That’s gratitude. Now let’s talk about self-discipline. Self-discipline is when you are mentally strong instead of weak. When you get up in the morning, you make your bed whether you feel like it or not. When your mom asks you to do something, you do it whether you feel like it or not. The more you practice what we teach, the stronger your self-discipline becomes. Your classes here are Monday and Wednesday at 5 pm. That means on Monday and Wednesday at 4:30, you get ready to come to class. It doesn’t matter if you’re having fun playing a game or with a friend, you use your self-discipline to stop and get ready to come to class. On the days you don’t have class, our best students still practice 15-20 minutes a day. With self-discipline you can be one of the best students in our entire school. We even have videos on our website that will help you practice. So, are we clear on this? What is gratitude?”

Help him with the answer by leading not answering for him. “Ok, what is self-discipline?” 

You’ve just “laid down the law” for the family with clarity and respect. You’ve provided the parents with the perfect counter to dropping out. However, you still have to teach really good classes that are focused on the students’ requirements rather than the requirements of an outdated, clunky style, like me in the video.

By the way, did you notice that I didn’t tell Joey

he was “awesome” or that he did a “good job”?

My job as the martial arts instructor is to be an authoritative leader of people. That is my role. I praise when it’s warranted, not to placate a child’s “self-esteem.”

 

Check out EmpowerKickboxing.com for an curriculum example

 

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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