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What’s The Best Martial Art For Self-Defense?

by | Offline Marketing & Sales

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.

Imagine getting a call to be an expert guest on a national TV show to help viewers deal with their fear of being attacked by criminals taking advantage of the Defund the Police movement. 

The reporter says, “Gun sales are at an all-time high, but you don’t always have a gun with you when you need it. As a martial arts expert, what’s the best martial art for self-defense?” What would your response be? 

I think the answer is a little easier when you look at it from the prism of what styles NOT to choose for self-defense.

My response, I hope, would say to:

  1. Avoid any style that is not updated throughout each year as the instructors learn more about self-defense by studying current events rather than trying to mimic ancient traditions.
  2. Avoid any style that takes 3-5 years to get to the black belt level of martial arts expertise. Expertise in self-defense takes a few months, not years. 
  3. Avoid any style that spends time teaching complex movements that are at best theoretically related to self-defense. 
  4. Avoid any style that has you train in your bare feet and a gi because the odds are you will be in street clothes and shoes if attacked. 
  5. Avoid any style that demands you learn moves and skills that break every principle of smart self-defense. Examples include:
    1. Pulling your hand to your hip instead of your jaw to guard your head.
    2. Squaring your body towards the attacker exposing your center line instead of turning it away.
    3. Aiming your punches and then holding them in the air for good form. 
    4. Advancing with clunky steps and blocks against an imaginary attacker who must be punching at you while moving backward.
    5. Keeping your chin up for good form instead of down for protection.

Styles vs Systems

As far as what style is good for martial arts, there is no such thing. The best self-defense instructors teach systems, not styles. 

For instance, Empower Kickboxing is a Student Centric curriculum, not Style Centric.

Systems are constantly upgraded. Styles never change. That’s why it’s called a style. Any modifications have to be within the confines of the style. 

Given the choice of attending a martial arts school that takes years to learn self-defense vs signing up for a ten-week self-defense course taught by an expert with law enforcement training, the choice is easy. You will learn faster from a self-defense expert than a martial arts instructor.

Market interest for bare feet martial arts is dwindling vs the market for straight-forward self-defense training. That’s also why we’re seeing an increase in martial arts school owners who are either rebranding themselves as a self-defense school or closing the school and becoming a full-time self-defense instructor.

What do you think? How would you answer the question,

“What’s the best martial art for self-defense?”








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