If You Don't Value What You Do as a How I Lost my Way as a Martial Arts Instructor, Not One Else Will


One time I had a guy come into my school with one of my flyers. The offer was three months and a uniform for $249. He said he stopped by another school by mistake. When he presented the flyer to the school’s owner, his comment was, “I can tell you one thing: he’s charging you too much.”

This guy was 10 years my senior and had made his living as a martial arts school owner for much longer than I had. Yet I had three times as many students at twice the tuition. He was a 10th degree black belt, and I was just a third or fourth at the time. What did he mean when he said I was charging too much? What is too much? Why did he place less value on martial arts than I did?

If I could pay you $10,000, would you sell me your black belt? Would you strip martial arts from your life for 10 grand, as though you never took that first class? How about 20? Deal? I didn’t think so. I’ve never met a black belt who would. If you could take a new student forward in time to give him or her the feeling of being a black belt, do you think they would miss classes? Do you think they would hesitate to join your school at twice the price you are currently charging? How are you reflecting that value in your school?

In a Western society, quality is always associated with higher price. I’m not just trying to get you to raise your prices; I really don’t care what you charge. But I do care that you recognize and Value What You Do. That sense of value is reflected in a number of ways, including tuition. In more than a decade of consulting with school owners, I find this is the Core Dynamic that stifles them the most. Yet it is the most common problem for school owners.

This is an especially important message for those of you teaching a traditional system. Many traditionalists place a high value on what they teach, but they don’t demonstrate or reflect that value. Their school is kind of ratty, the systems on how to enroll are unclear, and the efforts to create and keep students are haphazard at best. They may speak of the value of martial arts, but they don’t demonstrate it.

This could apply to any school, but traditionalists have taken the noble path of preserving our core martial arts styles. In order for that to happen– and I certainly hope it does – the value of what martial arts represent has to be reflected in every element of your black belt school.

At the core of Value What You Do is this attitude:

I am a highly skilled, unique martial arts professional in our community. There are very few, if any, people who can provide the service and benefits that I can. I am not going to spend my time, stress, and money teaching people who are not committed to earning a black belt with me.

If your response is, “That would never work in my area,” then the Core Dynamic of Value What You Do is exactly the issue for you to focus on. Again, this is the most common problem with martial arts schools.

Even though we have personally undergone an amazing transformation through the martial arts, and we speak about the high value of martial arts, many of us do not demonstrate it in how we run our business. This is not about tuition. This is about every aspect of your school, from logo design to black belt graduations.

Ask your local private school about the enrollment process. I guarantee you they have a specific step-by-step process to qualify the student and then enroll him or her. You can be sure they have a contract and that a child will fail for underperformance. However, the school has few failures, because they have a system to get students ready to pass.

When you have a clear, consistent process to enroll students and qualify them for black belt, you show them that you Value What You Do. If you fear setting your prices more than $10 higher than the competition, you do not Value What You Do. Price, contracts, or using a billing company are not deciding factors for joining a school.

If your enrollment process is to let whoever answers the phone do her best – without consistent training – to get the prospect to come in, you don’t Value What You Do. Like the private school – you show prospects the value of what you do by making sure the system for answering the phone and setting appointments is clear and consistently booking 8 out of every 10 phone calls into good appointments.

If your enrollment process is to teach an intro or just let them join the class, without a proven system for moving a prospect from stranger to student 8 out of 10 times, you don’t Value What You Do. You demonstrate to your prospects that you Value What You Do by having a trial lesson program that is well thought out and rehearsed so that 8 out of 10 students who take it enroll.

If you advertise that you are a month-to-month school and that students can cancel anytime, you don’t Value What You Do. You Value What You Do when you adopt the attitude that you are a skilled professional, and you will not pour your heart into teaching someone who is only going to drop out when football season starts.

Here is the truth. In every market, the school that sets the highest tuition and uses contracts and has a professional system from the logo to the black belt exam and beyond has the most students. Everything about their operation demonstrates that they place a high value on what they do. Smaller schools that offer no contracts and lower tuition usually surround the high-value schools, yet they struggle.

These Things Demonstrate That You Value What You Do:

1. Your Black Belt Club is only for students who have committed to earn their black belt.

2. Your black belt exam process includes extra classes and opportunities to train for black belt candidates.

3. You have a professionally designed logo and marketing materials.

4. You indoctrinate the student from day one on the value of earning a black belt.

5. You keep a very clean school and replace worn equipment.

6. You have systems for every aspect of your school.

7. You use agreements instead of a month-to-month option.

8. You fail students who do not perform to the standards of the rank.

9. You study and train like a student for life.

10. You realize you can’t be the best and the cheapest, so you commit to being the best.

The most successful school owners highly value what they do… and it shows in every aspect of their school.