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Martial Arts Student Retention Process 1 of 2

by | Instructor Certification and Training

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 an Inadvertent Lack of Integrity is
Sabotaging Your Student Retention

Martial Arts Student Retention is important because it’s much less expensive to keep the students you have rather than spending time and money recruiting new students to replace the dropouts.

There are a number of reasons students drop out. We’ll ignore the obvious like moving away and focus on areas of retention that a martial arts school owner can help to control.


Before we dive into the 3 Best Retention Strategies for Martial Arts Schools in part 2, let’s address some common tactics that school owners may be using right now to keep their students.

What makes these tactics work or fail is the integrity of the delivery, process, and communications. These are common retention systems in place in many schools and they can work, but you have to be careful how you interpret, execute, and communicate when using them.

1. Martial Arts Student Survey Integrity

Student Surveys can be helpful, but they only work to the level of participation. 

Typically, your most enthused students will be happy to complete a survey. However, the borderline dropouts may not take the time to complete the survey. Odds are these are the students you really need to hear from.

With each drop in participation from 100%, the integrity of the survey drops as well. That doesn’t mean anyone is doing anything bad, it just means the information is not a real survey. It’s biased.

Your most enthused students love what you do and they are happy to tell you that in the survey.

Your less-enthused students are not as excited to take the time to complete the survey.

2. New Martial Arts Student 2-4-6 Call Integrity

Calling students 2-4 and 6-weeks after they join is a great idea. 

What is NOT a great idea is telling the parents that their child is doing GREAT in class when the parent knows full well the child is not. There is NO WAY that every student in your school is doing “awesome” in class. 

You are not leading from integrity when you gush. 

Instead, ask smart, sincere questions. Your mission is to get the parent or student to tell you the truth and for you to listen, not sugarcoat the situation. That is unprofessional.

Compare these two phrases. Which will give you more actionable information?

#1  “Hi, Mrs. Jones. Just wanted to check in and let you know that Joey is doing great in class and we’re proud to have him.”

#2 “I remember when you first brought Joey in. You said you wanted him to gain some confidence. What are you seeing on your end?”

If you were Mrs. Jones, which shows more concern? Which shows more interest? Which shows that you really care about her son Joey?

3. Praise Integrity

I was a guest at a belt exam. The senior instructor is a world-caliber black belt. One of the requirements for brown belt was to skip sidekick through two boards. Each child got three attempts.

The third child in line bounced off the boards once, twice, and then three times. He never broke a board, but the instructor said, “Awesome! High Five!” My jaw hit the floor.

False praise makes it a lot harder for you to get excellence out of a student because what is better than awesome? Why would they need to work any harder?

Next week, we’ll include a video of an instructor holding pads and fluffing up the kids with each technique.

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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