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MATA and SFIC Respond to Story

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.

This is a follow up response to Instructors Shocking Response To Student’s Injury

John Graden’s Response

For over 20-years I have advocated for self-policing to avoid any kind of government regulation. That’s why I create the MATA Certification program. It’s a universal instructor certification program that helps to complete the education process for professional instructors. In short, it’s the kind of education that could prevent these kinds of events.

Analysis from Jennifer Urmston of SFIC

There are a number of teaching points from an insurance coverage perspective that I will note below from this story. I believe, however, that the bigger issue is for this school to embrace the ideals and beliefs of their teaching and live by them, having the same honor and compassion with their student that they taught. There was definitely a way to embrace this student without putting the school in any legal jeopardy for a claim.

Regarding the social media post, this may have been what upset the instructor and manager but they could have prevented it by being more proactive in helping the student come back to class successfully.

From the perspective of liability insurance coverage, the following points are important for this story:

1) The instructor should have been actively supervising the grappling during which the student was physically injured. Period. There should always be supervision for grappling. There is too much risk of injury for the instructor to walk away.

2) After any incident when there is possible injury, a written incident report should be prepared and copies kept on file. All parties should sign the statement if possible.

3) Either the instructor or manager should reach out to the injured party to follow up via whatever method is best for the student until the student is able to return. Ask if they prefer a phone call or an email.

4) If a student injures another student by either being too aggressive or horsing around or different skill levels, etc, then that student should have a documented reprimand to try to prevent a similar injury happening. It is ok to reassure the injured student that the questionable behavior was addressed and they don’t need to fear it upon their return.

5) This injured student should have been able to have an open conversation about the incident upon returning to the school and their feelings should have been acknowledged compassionately.

The instructor or manager or both could have acknowledged the student’s feelings without admitting to fault on behalf of the school. Example, “We understand that this has been difficult for you and we are sorry. We want to help you feel safe and comfortable coming back to class. What can we do to help you?” Ask then reassure them that the behavior has been addressed, there will be supervision, and that they are welcome.

6) Medical Expenses – When general liability coverage is written with No-Fault coverage for medical payments, students can turn in medical bills for reimbursement without the school admitting to fault as a “goodwill” gesture. We include $10K of coverage for these types of medical payments in our policy.

This story is an example of the situations where we feel that goodwill is important both to prevent lawsuits and for the school to thrive. This could have helped turn a negative incident into a positive for the school.

Thank you very much for bringing this real-world story to me. Although I am always saddened to hear of injuries, real-world situations teach us and, hopefully, can help the martial arts community grow.

What Do You Think?

What are your thoughts? Please share them below and send this article to your colleagues in the martial arts.


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