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Your Martial Arts Curriculum–Inadvertent Deception?

by | Instructor Certification and Training, 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.

Have you ever had a prospect come to you and ask, “Do you teach [your style]? Me neither, with the exception of people who had trained before. Most students know nothing about styles. They especially don’t know the complexity that most styles pride themselves in. People don’t know about styles because people don’t care about styles. They only care about their experience and the benefits of that experience.

Was the ONLY reason that you were raised in your style is simply that the school was the closest that you could afford? That certainly was the case for me and my brothers. Had we been raised in a different style, I’m sure we would have thought it was the best as well.

Have you ever told your students that your style is the best because of of…? I did too. We have to convince students that all the extra baggage we’re about to unload on them is worth it because “our style is the best.”

Here’s the kicker. If my style is the best, how can your style be the best? It can’t be because no style is the best.

The BEST thing I ever did for my school was to throw out the style. I mean everything. I stopped teaching front, back, crane, cat, and every other stance but fighting and horse. I focused on footwork rather than mastering these rigid, clunky kata stances.

I stopped teaching all traditional blocks and replaced them with the blocks that we used in sparring and self-defense. Instead of a rigid upright position with our chin up ala’ kata, we focused on head movement by slipping and weaving. I always felt like my head was being teed up like a golf ball during kata. Have you ever seen a self-defense situation where the defender takes a full step forward to execute a block? Me neither.

I kept all of the kicks but stopped requiring the difficult ones for rank. We did them in class, but it was no longer a belt requirement to do a jump spinning back kick for blue belt. This way, the less athletic 40-year old was not at a disadvantage compared to a 16-year old hotshot. The difficult kicks became a fun, athletic challenge more than an embarrassing belt exam exhibition.

I replaced traditional kata (which I loved) with fighting forms. They accomplished everything a kata did but were far more fluid and fun. Rather than “hiding the self-defense” secrets in the complex movement of a kata, the fighting forms were direct and clear. By the way, why would anyone teach “hidden self-defense?”

For the record, I was the 1984 US Open Korean Forms Champion and Center Judge for the first WAKO World Kata Championship in Munich. I loved kata, but it’s not about me. It’s about my students.

Overall, the effect of the change was congruency. It makes no sense to me to spend the first half of a class teaching students to pull their hands back to their hip and keep their head up and then when it comes time to do pad work and spar, we tell them to, “Keep your hands up! Move!”

The result of the change was 50+ students in white belt class. Our school exploded with much higher retention and enrollments.

We could integrate a new student into the class in less than four minutes. There was no more of this, “You wouldn’t actually use this stance and block, but in a few years, you’ll understand how to apply it. It just takes practice and discipline.”


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