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MATA Annual Martial Arts School Business Report: 2017 Where Did 5,432 Martial Arts Schools Go?

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.

How Billy Joel Can Help Your Retention

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This is an update to the article at the bottom of this page.

I know a guy, Steve Harrison, who is a huge Billy Joel fan. He wanted to learn how to play the piano just so he could play along with The Piano Man.

Steve went to a music school and told the instructor that he wanted to learn how to play piano like Billy Joel. The instructor told him, “No problem. Just enroll and we’ll get started.” For the next four weeks, the instructor tutored this guy on the classical piano. It was hard. It was not fun. Most of all, it was not Billy Joel. Steve figured that learning piano was just too hard, so he quit.

Almost three years later, he was speaking with a client of his when he noticed a keyboard in his office. Steve told the client about his frustrating experience with the piano school. The client laughed and said, “Steve, Billy Joel is super easy to play. It’s just three chords. Watch…” Steve said his jaw dropped and within 60-seconds he was playing Billy Joel.

This is the experience for too many students in martial arts schools. There is a tight set of benefits they are seeking yet, like the piano instructor, we create all kinds of hoops for the students to jump through in order to reach them.

Though we’ve taught this way for decades, it’s failing. People are more educated about what’s involved in martial arts than ever before and they are choosing other activities.

When I start working with a new coaching client, one of the first places I go is to their curriculum. Your curriculum is like the recipe book for your restaurant. Do your recipes have your students asking for more? Or, are they choking them down for a few months before excusing themselves from the table?

Take a good look at your curriculum. Odds are it is bloated and boring. There are way too many requirements and most of them only remotely related to the benefits a student is seeking when enrolling in a martial arts school.

If you’d like some help, email me and/or join MATA, which has a ton of curriculum content.

NOTE: Below is the annual State of the Schools article that this is a follow up to.

MATA Annual Martial Arts School Business Report: 2017
Where did 5,342 Martial Arts Schools Go?

December 30, 2017, post

Though it seems like there is a martial arts school on every corner, according to, the number of martial arts school businesses in the USA continues to decline:

2013: 20,234
2016: 15,896
2017: 14,901

These are businesses under Karate & Other Martial Arts Instruction (7999-44) and Martial Arts Instruction (7999-45.) That’s about a 27% decline in four years. Where did 5,342 schools go since 2013?

Based upon the number of new schools that join MATA each month, we know schools are opening. The problem is that more are closing than opening.

The question is: Why? We’ll post our thoughts next week. In the meantime, please share yours below in the comment box.

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  1. Sifu Rick Ostrander

    I believe there are many factors, first, the economy has to be looked at. Then we have the culture mindset of an instant gratification society, then we have dysfunctional adults today called parents who have a hard time buying into principles HONEST, COURTESY, PERSEVERANCE, INDOMITABLE SPIRIT, MODESTY, ECT,

    • John Graden

      That’s an interesting angle Rick. Instant gratification is not found in most traditional styles, but the desire is here to stay. That’s why programs have to provide instant value for the student instead of…”do it this way for a couple of years and then I’ll show you how to really make it work.”

  2. Leon Myburgh

    Outdated traditions & curriculums that are not relevant to modern self-defense and the ways of modern society does not have mass market appeal. If the owner in addition does not have business skills/knowledge and aim to stick to the traditional “honor” of being able to teach but not make a decent profit, the school is sure to fail or at best remain a part time hobby partially funded by the owner. Think about it, it takes many years of study to become a lawyer or doctor and they charge premium rates for products that nobody wants, except when they desperately need it. Martial arts instructors also have specialist knowledge and study many years to perfect their art, yet many insist on offering their hard earned specialist product by teaching for free or at minimal rates. This is not sustainable = school closes down.

    • John Graden

      I totally agree Leon. I also think that many martial artists are raised to see money as “the root of evil” rather than as a tool. Many times the toughest black belt in the room can’t get the courage to ask for the check.

  3. Paul Miller

    Paul Miller, Shigung Penna.
    The biggest problem that I see is that school owners are treating their schools like a hobby. Like it or not this is a business that needs critical business skills to stay in business. We can make all the excuses we want, however let’s look inside and see we are lacking and get the skills we need to continue. The only way to survive this business is to teach great classes, charge enough for our time, and run a great business.

    • John Graden

      Great point. Central to that is developing solid systems for every aspect of your business.

  4. মজাদার রেসিপি

    Running a school takes a lot of time work and effort, especially if you don’t have a staff to help you. Also, dealing with disfunctional students and parents adds to the stress. Many leave after earning their Black belt leaving a school owner without the needed help for lower color belt classes. Even with two people (husband and wife) its very taxing especially if your still teaching well past 55 years old.

    • John Graden

      We are all getting there Phil. If I were to open a school today, at age 57, I would run it 100% as an after-school program. Open at 2pm and leave at 6pm after teaching just 1 class. MATA is rolling this out in January. It will be a life changer for many of you.

  5. Michael Read

    I think some of the problem is once you get your black belt you can teach and some schools push for them to start there own schools. There’s a big step to trying to impart knowledge to others and keep training and motivated yourself. Plus the maturity to teach other without ego problems. Martial arts schools need to have training for teaching others. Not just in the arts but in the running of dojos . Also teaching is not for everyone. Many a student has stopped training because they have had to teach. I have been in martial arts fo 37years been teaching my own club for 20. Sometimes itshard going but the benifits are great. Not financially but in the people you meet and the friend’s you make.

    • John Graden

      Good point Michael. That’s why the MATA Certification is important. There has to be a universal language and training beyond the skills of a style.

  6. Griffin Martial Arts Private Martial Arts Program

    Old school recruiting methods and mindset of the instructors had great talent but in today’s terms lose marketing social media advertising sales leverage upgrades because in the old days it was no upgrade program it was just work and tired until you get your black belt and then work hard if you want to be a tournament competitor work hard if you want to be an instructor nowadays patches certificates trophies other tanglement of an encouragement or dangle and people in America have a short turn microwave mentality they want it now they want a quick they wanted fast don’t really care about the quality of the belt of the person behind the belt but just that they have the belt not that they earn the belt and put in Thai time and work outside of the classes but being able to say they earned a black belt is different than saying that they am a black belt Grandmaster Griffin Griffin martial arts

  7. Griffin Martial Arts Private Martial Arts Program

    Old school instructors knew that one marketing method would gain 20 new student of Bruce Lee movie Ninja Turtle movie Power Ranger movie Karate Kid movie now you have to have 20 methods to gain one new student through Twitter Facebook YouTube Vimeo blogs online marketing being Yahoo AOL if that’s still a thing Myspace if that’s the only thing live streaming through Periscope LinkedIn using social contacts and context with four referrals possibly Angie’s List possibly Thumbtack possibly Groupon being able to leverage those assets is what a lot of old school instructors old school owners are lacking the under 30 kids use it every week every day every hour for some of those and they are on the pulse of how people shop and how people buy old school methods can work but they’re outdated and it’s a small small percentage of the new business opportunities that are available the reason that schools fail is because school owners fail if they take it as a job that’s fine but you need to take it more than a job because of business owner Works harder than an employee a job is different than a Hobby Lobby you spend money to do like golf fly fishing skiing tennis if it’s a hobby you spend the money most of the karate schools are Hobbies 80% and then another 10% are jobbies meaning it’s a job parading as a hobby

  8. Ernest Rothrock

    There is a host of reasons. Let’s look back at the Bruce Lee days. Schools were packed and everyone wanted to learn martial arts. Then came the PIF Black Belt Club era, where schools didn’t care about keeping students as much as getting those PIF’s. They know students would quit after so many months, but they still got all their money. People got a sore taste in their mouth about the martial arts and contacts started to decrease. Then came the era of the internet and new marketing strategies. Most people could do their research online and read reviews about different schools. In 2013, the economy started to tank and people were scared to spend money on anything but essentials. Then the amount of time that people have for martial arts per week declined because everyone is busy with 100 different things. Top that off with all the confusion of MMA, Kickboxing, etc. In addition, many instructors insist on doing things the old way. This is prevalent in Kung Fu… everyone is stuck in the 70’s. What most schools failed to realize was that they needed new sales procedures, a beefed-up website to encourage and entice people to visit, a change in curriculum to meet today’s busy lifestyles, and a comprehensive database to track student’s payments, promotions, and sales stats.

  9. Thomas Gordon

    Problem doesn’t seem to be limited to martial arts. From what I can tell there are several factors. Some apply to some schools and some don’t.
    1 – This generation isn’t joiners.
    2 – Seems many hide behind their social media accounts and are introverts in real life.
    3 – It’s so easy to join and gain rank fast – no wow factor and doesn’t feel earned.
    4 – The marketing & advertising world has changed dramatically in the last 5 years. Most school owners haven’t kept up
    5 – The curriculum is tired and the classes are boring. As with above, many instructors simply haven’t kept up. Social media and Youtube exposes this very quickly. We must keep training ourselves in martial arts AND business.

    • John Graden

      I couldn’t have said it better.

  10. Robert Duzoglou

    The market is finding its own level. There is the rush of the new, saturation, and leveling off. This happens in many businesses. In addition there is a attrition rate, stats show business failing as stated by Business Employment Dynamics: “the number of businesses surviving past the first year has dropped from 569,419 in 1994 to 106,789 in 2016.” As we become more mature, educated and experience we start to notice these trends that travers across all industries. I am glad that you are bringing these points to the attention of the Industry. Besides these trends the maturity of the industry is requiring a more professional quality product to be delivered. If you are not growing or improving you are slow becoming irrelevant. Stay informed, improve your service and persevere.