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Thursday, July 30, 2009

"How to frustrate your Martial Arts students"

In a previous blog post, I took a tongue-in-cheek look at how martial arts students can frustrate their to frustrate your martial arts coach
Let's turn the tables and look at it the other way around....

Now granted, most Martial Arts teachers will indeed put their student's goals and progress on their priority lists...but unfortunately there are those few that make martial Arts training very unsavory, leaving a bad taste in student's mouths, and maybe affecting a person's outlook on martial arts training as a whole. If you're a martial arts coach or teacher and you're looking to rile your students, this guide is for you.

1) Charge exorbitant fees, make contracts impossible to get out of, or drop a 'bait and switch':
--- As professional teachers, we know we should charge what we are worth....after all, we are sharing our life's study with people that (most times) join our classes without any martial arts experience whatsoever, right? While I believe its fair to charge class fee based on the quality of our classes, let's not get unrealistic. I mean, unless you are a well known Master, $200 per month for 1 class a week, sounds a little steep to first timers. Why, that's $50 per class!...I charge that for *private* lessons! Anywhere from $65 to $95 per month for once a week attendance sounds fair (depending on subject matter and class length), as does $85 to $140 for twice a week(again, depending of subject and class length). Family discounts, cross training discounts, and referral discounts are good ways to make it affordable for students, families and friends to gain the benefits of martial arts training.

Contracts are great tools, but to make it fair, do include a way to break the contract, and if you do include clauses for students to cancel the contract, honor it and note it in writing, for gosh sakes. Some contracts will require and early termination fee, and that's fine so long as you honor the termination of contract. It doesn't look good when your automatic draft service keeps charging a student who quit 2 months ago, and it also doesn't look good if you use the non-modified contract as an excuse to keep withdrawing fees from a former student.

Students, stay away from "bait and switch" tactics. I've heard horror stories of people that join clubs, then 1 week later, being told that the school's Headmaster thinks you have great potential (although you've never seen the Headmaster yet), and that you've received special invitation to the "black belt intern's club", whatever else its called. Nevermind that the club is a separate fee from your regular class, and that you will be required to attend monthly mandatory workshops at high prices...don't attend the workshops, and you're disrespecting the school and headmaster. Next thing you know, your automatic bank payment for classes is hovering over $300 per month, not including workshops.

There's nothing wrong with teacher's seeing potential in you and offering the suggestion that you join a special class, but in the end, its your decision...don't let the claim "we need your answer in 2 days, or headmaster will revoke the invitation because you'll appear indecisive...and our black belts are better than that, we need an answer now", be the determining factor.

2) Keep classes the same, day after day...students won't understand anything about your art if you do fun, interesting and novel activities. Stick to predictable rote exercises.

---While I think its important that students observe the traditional aspects, drills, and ceremony (for traditional arts), I believe its important to keep classes unpredictable, interesting, and to include activities that are fun. Bring in a guest teacher from another art to teach something interesting or different. Invent fun ways to use your equipment. Invent games that allow the practice of your required techniques but are fun and promotes classmate comraderie. Keep things fresh, Keep it interesting!

3)Dole out punishments to new students for minor infractions
-- I'm a supporter of discipline in my classes, however I will not give a 1st day student 50 pushups for not saluting at the door properly. Nor would I have a senior student show a new student just how tough we are by having the senior smack the student really hard at self defense drills. Yelling at new students to move faster at a technique they learned 5 minutes ago probably isn't going to endear me to them. Show patience in teaching the rules and regulations of your school, and have your senior students show the same patience while showing newbies the ropes.

4) Refuse to answer questions, or not help students if they ask for assistance.... because they should be practicing not asking questions! Weren't they paying attention while I was teaching??
-- "Sifu, can you help me with this technique? I feel like its not working right, can you help me?"

"What? You don't get it? Keep practicing, you'll figure it out"

-- The quickest way to get students to quit, is to not help them. Most people don't come into class already knowing martial arts. Even if they have previous experience in another art, chances are their techniques might be a little different than yours. Explain the differences, point out the similarities....let the student of prior experience know that their experience is helpful in their learning. Let new students ask questions. Of course, if you're a teacher, keep a handle on the atmosphere....if students think they can talk and discuss and ask questions all day, they won't practice anything. Part of discipline is to have students practice to see if they answer their own questions....if still confused, then they should not be afraid to ask you for help.

Many people in the USA, are used to question/answer, and academic information....some people want the "who-what-when-where-how" right NOW....a difference from many Asian arts, where you practice and practice until you feel the technique mature and start to work for you. The teacher will help you, but not hold your hand and coddle you.

The key to mastery, I believe, is in self discovery, self research, and most importantly, self practice. However, it IS indeed helpful to have your teacher answer a few of the obvious questions. The other fine points, you'll discover if you trust your training and teacher. Don't disrespect them by asking "too" many'll miss out on the self discovery if the teacher hands you everything on a silver platter. Besides, even if they answered every question for you, you'd never understand the answers until your put in the practice!

5) Make classes too long.
-- Not everyone can attend a 3 hour class. Its one thing if a student stays for one 90 minute class, then decides he/she has the time and energy to attend the next 90 minute class, but regular classes being 3 hours? Come on....leave those kind of classes to high intermediate and advanced students. Keep class times age appropriate.......a 90 minute class for 7 year olds just won't cut it. An adult's attention span does fine in 60 minute or 90 minute classes, and 2 hours is almost pushing it....anything more than 2 1/2 or 3 hours on a regular basis results in mere imitation of techniqe or brain drain. Have you ever attended an all day seminar? After lunch, what happens? You're still excited about the seminar but your mind is getting tired, you're not retaining information, and you're hoping to remember just enough to write in your notebook when you get home.

6) Don't teach according to rank levels.
-- If your intermediate or advanced students are doing lower level routines or techniques all the time with the beginners, their interest will wane. In mixed classes, it can be sort of difficult to get all ranks their appropriate routines and rank requirements, but it can be done with proper planning and with senior student assistants or black belt assistants. Periodic "intermediate only" or "advance only" sessions are helpful, if you don't already have those as regular classes.

7) Treat students as income, not as people.
-- You've worked hard to do your hobby and passion as a income generating job, but don't sacrifice customer service and human interaction for the dollar signs. Marketing your business is good, but don't make it so much of a priority that you forget about your students.

Many schools use martial arts billing companies for this reason....the billing companies take care of collecting monthly tuition, and the teachers can concentrate on what matters most...teaching good classes and focusing on the student's progress. Remember birthdays, kid's parent's names, even pet's names and what foods or things they're allergic too. I make it a point to remember people's food allergies, so that if I hold a special event for kids or adults, there's always something available safe to eat or drink, and labeled clearly if it has allergens.

Give students a pat on the back if you notice them trying hard in class. Congratulate them on getting that elusive self defense technique down pat. Genuine concern for your students progress, and speaking to them as people, as well as students, will result in long standing students. This, in turn, will help grow your business.

8)Be serious all the time. Smiling is an infraction worthy of the bamboo spikes torture.

-- Each martial arts instructor has their own ways of balancing discipline, hard work, and fun into their classes. Many colleagues of mine, say that if the class doesn't smile at least once during class, they wonder what they've done wrong in teaching that class. Personally, I love hard grueling workouts, but I also enjoyed it when my teachers and classmates would be able to put in a lighthearted fun comment or two. Laughter or a smile breaks tension, it frees the mind from "I gotta do this right or Sensei will give me pushups", and it allows corrections to be taken and retained more readily.

So....if you really want to frustrate your students, or if you want students to quit, charge outrageous fees, don't have fun, and force them to attend 5 hour classes. Its the "tough love", right? Or, if you want to be a "wimp", grow your business, have loyal longstanding students and strong black belts, just wimp out and have fun, teach them accordingly, be patient but with a firm hand, and be fair in your monetary practices.

I was a toughie at one time early in my career....but I "got soft", and now I have strong, loyal students that have been around for years, if not decades. I'm not saying that we should dumb down our art or be too lenient just so students don't quit...what I'm saying is that too much punishment, too much hard discipline, and too little carring, will result in the student not learning the art you so love and value. If you value your art, value your students.

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