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Martial Arts Instructor Certification: How to Ask Questions

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 an excerpt from the MATA Professional Instructor Certification program now available at

How to Ask Questions in Your Martial Arts Class: Name/Question or Question/Name?

Do you call out a question to your class and wait for hands to go up? Or, do you pick out a student and ask that student the question?

Both are common techniques and have their place, but each has a different strategic significance. When you call out a student to answer, the rest of the class will often relax because they think they are off the hook. For instance, “Chad, why do we pivot on a sidekick?” Some of the students will be relieved that Chad was called and not them.

However, when you ask a question to the class, “Who can tell me why we pivot on a sidekick?” Every student will be thinking of the answer. The key here is to pause after asking the question. The longer the pause, more importance is placed on the question and answer and the more time students think it through. Pause and look in the eyes of each student. Sure, the smart girl will have her hands up, but you want the entire class to know any of them could be called upon at any time.

Cold Calling

You also do not have to wait for a student to raise her hand (smart girl again) when you ask a question. This allows other students to quietly wait for the smart girl to answer. Don’t let them get away with that. Instead, make a cold call. “Chad, why do we pivot on a sidekick?” If Chad knows, he answers. If he doesn’t, it gives you an indication that you may have some work to do.

One of the goals of cold calling is to make it normal for all the students to answer questions. Another is that it speeds the pace of the class up. Rather than asking the class the question and getting the same hands raised as always, you target a student and ask them directly with a cold call.

You want to create a balance between raising hands for questions and no hands cold calling. Both have their place, but cold calling speeds the pace and engages all of the students.

Cold calling also puts all the students on alert that they be called at any time. You care about their understanding of what you teach and you want to confirm that they get it.

The key is to not embarrass the student. If the student is unsure, just say, “Chad is not quite sure, Joey, why do we pivot on sidekicks?” When/if Joey answers, go back to Chad and repeat the question, “Chad, why do we pivot on side kick?” This is a powerful and positive way to pull students into the lesson and lessons. It’s a way of you letting them know that you are always holding them accountable.

Cold calling puts you in charge of the classroom. It promotes engagement in your class. It helps students that are shy or unsure realize that they are as on track as anyone in the class. 

Students know that what you are saying may come back to them in front of their peers so it helps them they stay focused. Just resist the urge to fall back on the old sensei role and play “Gotcha! Give me 20.”

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