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 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.
At the stage of “getting to know each other,” it is essential that you make every effort to listen carefully to the questions and comments of parents, and respond in a manner which addresses their unique concerns, interests and expectations. If you treat these issues as important when you first meet them, they will feel more confident that you will be sensitive to their needs as the child’s training progresses.
Questions asked by the parents vary in content. Some questions require straightforward, factual information in response. Here are some typical questions:
– What is your method of teaching? What about discipline for misbehavior in class?
– Are the classes large?
– What age groups comprise the classes?
– Are beginners taught in the same classes as advanced students?
– Do you teach the classes, or do you have other instructors?
The answers to other questions may be dependent upon a number of factors, including the predisposition of the child upon entering the class, the diligence with which they train, and a number of other variables, some unpredictable.
– Will my child learn to defend himself?
– Will he learn how to avoid a fight?
– Will he become more self-confident and disciplined?
– Will my child get hurt?
– When will he test?
– When will he get his black belt?
In response to these questions, it is important to keep in mind that what you teach, and what the child learns may not have as direct of a relationship as you, or the parents, would like. You face the same concerns as any instructor. A child may sit in a Spanish class with an excellent instructor for nine months, and learn to say nothing more than, “Adios” (“Good-bye”). If you begin to make lofty promises about what the child will learn, and this does not occur, “Adios” may be the message which you get from them.
You can more reliably talk about what you teach, and what you do to support each child in the learning process. If parents have specific goals for the child in martial arts training, you can suggest talking with them at appropriate intervals to discuss the child’s progress. In this way, you and the parents are agreeing to a working relationship which assists the child in meeting these goals.
It is important to understand that each question the parents ask gives you information about their expectations and concerns. They may be concerned that you are overly strict or inflexible in teaching methods, or in disciplining misbehavior. Possibly they fear that their child will get “lost” in a large class, or be intimidated by older, or more experienced students. They may be anxious about their child’s safety and want to know what they can expect from you in this regard. Listening carefully to the context in which the question is asked, the way in which it is phrased, and the parents’ response to what you say can reveal a great deal about such concerns and expectations.
Answers which respond clearly and concisely to the content of the questions are good.
Answers which respond to the content, as well as the fears, anxieties and expectations of the parents are better. The reason that these responses are better is that this establishes a working relationship which shows an interest in understanding their personal concerns and expectations related to having their child train in the martial arts. If indeed you want the parent to know that this training will help the child on a personal level, the better job you do at communicating at this level, the more effective you will be seen by the parents as being capable of meeting their needs.
This simply means that you allow parents to talk more personally about concerns and expectations, if they wish to do so. If the question about “defending himself” comes up, once you’ve related what you teach in terms of self-defense, you may say, “It’s important for kids to learn how to defend themselves in a variety of situations. Have there been some situations where you felt it would be good for your son to know more about defending himself?” If they choose to talk about the school bully picking on their child, you can begin to relate in a way that is more empathic and supportive of their needs.
Another example of responding at a more personal level may be if the parents ask about the size or make-up of the classes. Once you’ve talked about your class size and make-up, you may say, “We do our best to understand how each child responds to our group classes when they join, and give them the support that they need. What are your thoughts about having your son join in these group classes?” Again, you’ve opened the door for them to express any relevant personal concerns.
Parents of prospective students who ask, “When will my child test?” and particularly, “When will my child get his black belt?” may be communicating expectations which are best addressed at the outset of training. If you respond to such questions by talking about training and performance standards, you hope that the parents will be satisfied with this, and allow you to use your expert judgment as their child progresses at your school.
Parents who ask “when” something will occur, however, at times tend to be less concerned about “what” is required to make it occur. As these parents listen to your comments, they may make the assumption that their child will perform at the martial arts prodigy level, and most certainly receive their black belt within six months.
You can follow-up your response to this “when” question by saying to the parents, “I’d be interested in hearing some of what you might expect with regard to your child’s progress.” The goal of this comment is for you to become aware of their expectations, and to diplomatically clear, as needed, any misconceptions which could later become a point of conflict in the relationship.