The Powerful Influence of Authority as a Martial Arts Instructor

The Powerful Influence of Authority as a Martial Arts Instructor

The block that convinced me to stop teaching it.

Please read this objectively as you can. Some martial artists are easily insulted, which is not the purpose of this article. The goal is to stimulate thought and discussion. 

As martial arts professionals, most of us fell in love with the arts from our first class. 

You, like me, were probably hooked from that first class. 

Travel back in your mental time machine to the earliest moments you can recall learning martial arts. 

Here are seven predictions about that class. My experiences are in bold italics.

1. You started by learning the rituals of bowing in and out of class. Yes.

2. You were told to address the instructors as Mr., Mrs, Ms, Master, Sensei, Sifu, or some similar title? Yes.

3. The instructors were in full uniform. Yes.

4. The origin of the style explained to you as coming from the East and developed by martial arts masters. Yes. “Taekwondo was developed in Korea where they develop strong legs from climbing the hills.”

5. You were told the advantage of your martial arts style over others. Yes. “TKD is a kicking style. That’s best because the leg is a much longer and stronger weapon than the arm. 

6. You learned the horse stance from which you were taught to block and punch while squaring off to your opponent and pulling your hand to your hip and holding your punch out in the air. 

Yes, along with front and back stance.

7. Your instructor demonstrated a kata and explained, “This is a fight against multiple opponents.” Yes.

Now, imagine this…

The same exact skills are being taught, but what is the effect of eliminating the East from the class?

1. The class did fist bumps instead of bowing?

2. The instructor said, “Call me Joey.”

3. The instructor was in sweat pants and a t-shirt?

4. The instructor said, “I created this in the Bronx. I had to climb a lot of stairs as a kid, so I developed strong legs.”

5. The instructor explained the advantage of the style is that “It’s a kicking style. That’s best because the leg is a much longer and stronger weapon than the arm.”

6. The instructor taught the same horse stance from which you were taught to execute blocks and punches while squaring off to your imaginary opponent and pulling your hand to your hip, aiming and holding your punch still in the air. 

7. The instructor demonstrated a kata and explained, “This is a fight against multiple opponents.” 

If the skills Instructor Joey taught and the reasoning behind them were the exact same as we experienced in our actual first lessons, would anyone watching have readily accepted what was being taught as we did?

 

Suspending our Disbelief–East and West

Suspension of disbelief is the voluntary avoidance of critical thought and logic.

When you watch a Superman movie and accept that Superman can fly, that is the suspension of disbelief.

Do we suspend our disbelief about what is presented as self-defense and practical skills because it has Eastern origins?


Two Quick Stories

When I was a new 14-year old orange belt, my dad asked me to show his buddy what I learned. They were drinking beer and smoking at our dining room table.

I did the new orange belt kata, Tan Gun and I explained each step as I had been taught. 

When I got close to the end, I executed a square block while explaining, “This is how you block two guys at once. One overhead and the other to the side.”

At that point, Dad’s friend said, “That sounds like a bunch of bulls*** to me.” 

20-years later, and I’m at the Cooper Institute in Dallas, where I’m going to teach the inaugural ACMA Certification Program (now the MATA Certification). 

I was on a stair master in the gym when an adult karate class started on the basketball court. The instructor started teaching Tan Gun. 

When he got to the square block, he explained it exactly as I learned it. 

I thought, “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard! How can those students keep a straight face?” 

Blocking two guys? I can’t believe I teach this stuff.” 

I never taught a kata or basics again. 


Masters Talk A Lot About Kaizen

How have you improved and progressed over the past few decades, or are you perpetuating square blocks?

Have you ever questioned the sheer logic of what you teach your students? 

Have you always been taught that the secrets of fighting and self-defense are hidden in the bunkai?

Now that we have multiple videos of the Asian masters executing bunkai, you can see why the root word is bunk.

Have you ever seen a horse stance, square block, or a lunge punch in a real street fight or self-defense situation?

I have nothing against teaching kata it’s great for cardio and coordination.

But I object when it’s taught in anyway as related to fighting, sparring, and certainly not self-defense.

I was a US Open Kata Champion. I was the first center judge at the WAKO World Champions in Munich when they introduced kata as a division.

I also consider myself a life-long student of the martial arts, not a master. 

Given the choice in a 50-minute class, I personally would not spend any time on basic blocks, lunge punches or kata. There are way too many fun skills and applications are actually rooted in the reality rather than buried in bunkai.

 

How to Recruit Parents to Help with Your Martial Arts Student Retention

How to Recruit Parents to Help with Your Martial Arts Student Retention

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

 

3 Steps to Improve Martial Arts Student Retention-PT 2

3 Steps to Improve Martial Arts Student Retention-PT 2

Preventative Measures to Improve
Martial Arts Student Retention Early

Last week, I shared three common retention strategies schools use that can be useless if not used carefully. A quick review.

1. Student Surveys only work to the level of participation. Your most enthused students will provide great feedback. You’re less than enthused usually won’t. They are the ones you want to hear from.

2. 2-4-6 Calls work best when you speak to the parent honestly and ask real questions rather than gushing how “great” the child is doing.

3. Praise ONLY works if it is SINCERE and EARNED. Some instructors are more afraid of students’ mothers than Bas Rutten. Somehow this notion of feeding parents and students false praise has now permeated the martial arts school business. It’s not helping.

This week, I’m offering two and a half rock solid retention boosts for your classes. 

1. When you enroll the child, set clear expectations with the parents present.

“Joey, do you want to join our school?” “Yes sir!”

“Great we’d love to have you. Your parents are going to pay for this and we are going to teach you. Do you understand that? “Yes sir!”

“That’s important. Good. Now, here’ your part. Class is on Monday and Wednesday at 4:30pm. That means that you have to be ready to come to class at 4pm. If you’re playing a game, watching TV whatever, you have to stop that and get ready by 4pm. Will you do that?”  “Yes sir!”

“Alright. That’s what we want to hear. On the days that you do not have class, we want you to practice for 15-minutes at least two days a week. We have videos on our website to show you how. It’s not hard, but it’s going to help you get really good fast. Will you do that?”
“Yes sir!”

TIP from the MATA Certification Course: Tell the parent in private that if the child is doing something they don’t enjoy, they are far more enthusiastic about stopping it and going to class than if they are doing something they enjoy. Kids are all about the moment, so this is something to consider in the time leading up to getting ready for class. 

2. Be consistent in what you teach.

If you’re like me, I always started class with a review of our tae kwon do basics and then the basic kata that class knew. During the basics and the kata my corrections were always:

a. Aim your punch!

b. Hold your punch out in the center!

c. Pull your hand back to your hip.

d. Square your shoulders and keep your chin up.

In the second half of the class during pad work or sparring, my corrections were always:

a. Don’t telegraph your punches! (Aiming a punch is a telegraph)

b. Snap that hand back to guard. Don’t leave it out! (Holding your punch out in the center is dangerous)

c. Snap your hand back to your face. Protect yourself! (Your hip doesn’t need protection. Your face does.)

d. Turn your body sideways and tuck your chin down! (Squaring your shoulders and keeping your chin up destroys your defense.)

That is a complete contridiction from the first half of class. Well, which is it?

Lack of consistency leads to confusion. Confusion leads to boredom. Boredom leads to drop outs.

 

2.5 I say this a half point because I did a video on this, but it bears repeating so it’s at the bottom of this page.

A far too common segment of class is where kids line up and the instructor stands in front of the line holding a target. Each kid gets one shot at the target and then runs to the back of the line to wait for their next turn. What is the comment made 97% of the time? “Good job!” “Awesome!” What you don’t hear is, “Try that again. This time, pull your knee up a little higher….” 

Translation? You don’t hear any teaching. All you hear is vapid praise.

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
Escape the Jail Cell of Style

Escape the Jail Cell of Style

Escape the Jail Cell of Style

 

I recently posted this “Fighting Form” from our Empower Kickboxing program on Facebook. I designed the forms in the late 1990s to replace the traditional TKD forms I practiced and taught since 1974.

While the video didn’t quite go “viral,” it did stimulate over 100 comments and a number of “debates.”

I loved kata. I won more trophies in kata than fighting. I was the first center judge for the WAKO World Kata Championships in Berlin in 1986-ish. I was the US Open Korean Forms Champion in 1982. Just like my instructor Walt Bone, I was a kata guy.

However, after opening and running my school for a few years, I had a few revelations that I’d like to share with you.

Traditional kata creates confusion and contradiction.

1. It makes zero sense to teach my students to pull their hand to their hip during basics and kata in the first half of the class only to yell at them to put their hands up during mitt work and sparring. 

2. It makes zero sense to make students memorize and perform a clunky series of skills in stances that are way too deep and static only to yell at them to keep their legs under them and move during mitt work and sparring.

3. Each form and skill has an Asian name that students had to remember. For instance, one brown belt form was named Kwan Gae after the 15th Empower of some Korean dynasty. What do I care?

Why was I teaching Korean history in class? If I was going to teach history it would be American history. Remember, we won the war.

I wanted forms that taught the skills of sparring and self-defense.

Today, we can see what really works in self-defense because YouTube has hundreds of thousands of security and iPhone videos of real self-defense. 

Do you know what I’ve never seen in a real self-defense video? I’ve never seen an attacker in a deep stance holding his arm out with his other hand on his hip.

Why on earth would I spend time teaching what is clearly decades old impractical theory? 

Some will argue that the deadly skills of self-defense are hidden in the kata. Maybe they are, but people do not pay tuition to learn tedious forms in the hopes that one day they might figure out how it really works or, even worse, doesn’t work.

Think about it. Of all the skills that can be taught in a martial arts class, why would you pigeon hole yourself into the limiting jail cell of a style? 

How often have you had a prospect contact you can say, “I want to learn traditional kata.” Never.

When I replaced my TKD forms with these fighting forms, the students loved it and retention skyrocketed. I replaced basic TKD blocks and lunge punches with dynamic boxing and martial arts based combinations that they could apply that night in sparring.

The reason that most of us are so emotionally attached to a style is only because that’s what the school nearest taught. If the school taught a different style, you’d be just as attached. 

Attachment to any style is limiting. It’s limiting in what you learn and what you teach. Style attachment is like a brainwashing experiment reminiscent of The Manchurian Candidate. 

In my first white belt class, my 14-year old brain was ripe for influence when my instructor Walt Bone said, “We teach Tae Kwon Do. It’s the best style because it emphasizes kicking. Your leg is a much longer and stronger weapon than your arm. An attacker has to get past our kicks and then our punches in order to get to us.”

Three years later, a dad of one of the students didn’t think karate worked so he challenged Mr. Bone. Bone put sparring gear on the guy and bowed him in. After an initial clash, the guy tackled Bone. It was not pretty. 

So much for the power of the style. Walt Bone is facing the camera in the dark grey gi. 

Grab a copy of The Dark Side of the Martial Arts at WaltBone.com

Your Student Loss Ratio

Your Student Loss Ratio

Your Martial Arts Student Loss Ratio

 

Now that the first quarter is in the books, let’s find out what percentage of your student body that you lost from January 1st to March 31st.

1.  Start with the total number of active students as of January 1.

2.  Add to that the total number of new students who have enrolled year-to-date. 

3. Count the number of active students you currently have. An active student has attended class in the past two weeks.

Divide #3 above by the sum of #1 & #2. That is your retention rate as a percentage. For example, if you were to do this in April:

1. January 1 starts with 150 students

2.  New students January 1 to March 30 = 40

3.  150 + 40 = 190 students (this is 100-percent retention and zero loss)

4. Current active count = 165 students

5. 165 ÷ 190 = .86 or 86-percent retention or a 14% loss rate.

The shorter the period of time, the higher the percentage. Don’t be fooled into thinking you have an 86-percent retention rate year round. Most schools end up with around 50 percent for the year. You, of course, want to push it as high as you can but it has to be more than 50 percent to grow.