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The Ugliest Fitness Apparel

by | Planning Your Martial Arts School

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.

Do you think the gi hurts or helps to promote martial arts to adults?

Play to listen. This was heard by approximately 14-million listeners.

The Gi is not an issue with kids as much as adults.

One of my schools was next to an aerobics studio. I was at lunch with the owner when she said, “Some of my students walked over and watched your class. One said, ‘That looks interesting.’ Another woman said, ‘Yeah, but look at what we’d have to wear.'”

That is not the only time that I’ve heard complaints about the gi.

I coined the term “black belt eyes” as the natural tendency for school owners to look at their school through the eyes of a veteran black belt instead of a potential student.

Many women WILL NEVER put a gi on and/or take a class in their bare feet.

That has NOTHING to do with “lack of discipline or tradition.” It’s pure black belt eyes. You came up wearing a gi and you like it. It’s what you’ve always worn to class.

Here are two of the latest examples of why the gi needs to go.

Video 1. Watch a nice BBC profile on a very pretty girl in a very ugly outfit.

Video 2. Listen to a short audio clip from Sean Hannity as he describes his MMA training to Bill O’Reilly, who teases him about his “little white outfit.”

Question: What do you think? Should the gi go?

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  1. Dan

    Love the white Gi of course. England is still a much more traditional and reserved country and Japanese Karate the most popular Martial Art over here, but almost all martial art are taught over here.

  2. Rebekah Nutter

    Most kids in our program – and those who come in to talk to us – are over the moon happy to have a traditional white uniform. It’s what they associate with martial arts, and for them the uniform helps them see themselves as a martial artist. Occasionally we have a child with sensory issues, a child who can’t bear the feel of a uniform, and in those cases of course we try to accommodate so that the student feels comfortable. In any case, we have a provision that allows students to wear karate pants and a school t-shirt for most classes, only needing the white dobak for testing and special events. Works for us. But the question is worth asking, and different schools may have different conditions.

  3. Chicken Recipes

    I have to disagree that the GI would be a reason to not take martial arts – perhaps a symptom of a mindset about many things however. Our program has about 5% Adult Women in it – our Kickboxing program is all barefooted (but regular clothes) – 85% women.

    If the Gi and bare feet is what is in the way of an adult female taking karate, well then taking away the Gi and allowing shoes just leads to the next issue – My breaking nails, messing my hair, or sweating off my makeup….

    Karate is a sport in this country – obviously mostly focused on kids – but for the same percentage of adults who play soccer, softball, volleyball, karate is an option…

  4. Matt Frey

    The gi stays! What is the alternative? Letting them wear their skin tight leotards or stretch pants from aerobics? They’re okay wearing those, but a gi is unreasonable? Students have enough distractions as it is and it’s getting harder to keep their attention where it belongs. Gi pants and a t-shirt have typically been reserved for really hot summer days. If you go back far enough, the gi was just the Samurai’s underwear. But isn’t it a more modern tradition to wear the gi in order to temper the ego? Don’t the Buddhist monks all shave their heads to rid themselves of ego and vanity? I would think the practice similar so you’re focusing on training and not distracting other students.

    • John Graden

      Hi Matt,
      The gi was the samurai’s underwear? I didn’t know that. I would think the training is far too important to let samurai underwear to get in the way. :0)

      Would you have been as excited and devoted to training as you have been (for a long time :0), if the apparel was different? I imagine you would be, but only you would know.

      In my school, gi pants, belt, and a school t-shirt were the option that virtually 100% of the students took. Only on belt exams would a full uniform be required.

      It’s the gi top that puts 10-lbs on and looks unattractive.

      • Matt Frey

        I read this on Wikipedia. Maybe I’m misinterpreting what they mean by underpants.

        The top part of the keikogi is called the uwagi (上着 uwa means “upper”). The pants of the keikogi are called shitabaki (下穿き), which literally means underpants (or zubon (ズボン), which means pants or trousers).

        • Matt Frey

          I always thought of them as undergarments of some sort, because they usually wear a heavier or more colorful kimono and the hakama over them.

  5. Douglas Nybell

    Well, you certainly got my attention. If that is supposed to be a legitimate ad, that person or agency should be fired. I agree it is ugly. It looks like two models were given random gis and obis and told to put them on (without instruction). If I saw someone wearing a black belt like that I’d certainly questions their legitimacy. This looks like a Jim Carrey parody. The obi should be worn over the hara (center) and in our system the ends only extend about halfway to the knees. I wore gis like this in the 60’s when we had to get them from India or Japan and they didn’t make them to fit Americans. We mix and match pant and top so they fit right and our students feel proud to wear them. In over 50 years I’ve heard very few (I can’t recall any) complaints about wearing gis. Our new students are very anxious to get their first gi and are very proud of it. I think it helps set the mindset that they are there to train. I agree with Matt Frey non-traditional dress would create too many distractions. In the summer school t-shirts are optional and only a few students wear them.