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How Martial Arts Instructors Can Give More | Pacific Wave Jiu-jitsu

How Martial Arts Instructors Can Give More

wpid-shihan+beating-2011-11-9-14-56.jpg Martial arts instructors have the potential to make a huge difference in the lives of their students. They give students the opportunity to improve their coordination, endurance, strength, flexibility, etc, but they can also help instil confidence, discipline, and mental clarity, which can benefit all areas of their lives. Most instructors very much want to help their students improve their lives. They become instructors with the best of intentions. Then what happens? They pour all their efforts into running great classes, but find that students come and go very quickly and the majority don’t stay for the long haul. Even the very best instructors face these issues, no matter how much experience they have or how many accolades they’ve received. Naturally, instructors then try to figure out how to make their students more loyal.

Keeping the Carrot Dangling

Yes, many schools keep their students longer by keeping the proverbial carrot dangling, by either adding more belt levels or reducing what is expected for each belt level so that people go for their next belts more quickly. The feeling of progress keeps students motivated to keep training due to the sense of accomplishment. While this can be an effective strategy for many instructors, this is more about student retention than it is about loyalty.

What is Loyalty?

Loyalty is not simply about keeping your students training regularly and keeping the cheques coming. Loyalty means that your students actually like you and care about your well-being, as well as the prosperity of your school. They sometimes even become your friends. These are the kind of students that don’t think twice about offering help when they’re available to do so, and they often tell their family and friends about your school without expectation of reward. The difference between student retention and student loyalty is that…

Loyalty Must Be Earned

The only way to get loyal students is to be the kind of person that engenders loyalty. This can’t be faked. It’s not just a matter of being nice to your students. It’s about genuinely caring about their welfare. You can’t simply go through the motions of being what you think people want you to be. People see through these kinds of plastic attempts.

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ~ Maya Angelou, American Poet

To do this, you can’t just look at them as students, you have to see them as people. Like you, every person has their own set of needs, beliefs, goals, hopes and dreams. If you care about these for each person you meet as though they were your own, or those of a friend, you’ll act on them in whatever ways you can to help, whether it’s as an instructor or as a person. It’s not about about what you say specifically or what you do specifically. It’s about making people feel good, through your words and actions. And by being a sincere person, your words and actions have greater meaning.

Going the Extra Mile

Yes, there are a variety things you can say and do to help establish good relationships with your students. You can ask students about their jobs and families. You can offer to refer people to their businesses. You can take the time to help them work on specific troubles they’re having in their training. Everyone can go through the motions, but it’s not enough to do only that.

If you’re a martial arts instructor, ask yourself these questions:

  • Would you refer a potential student to a different martial arts school because you know that school is better suited to their needs? Or would you try to simply try to show them why your school is better?
  • Do you touch base with students that stopped training due to an injury (whether it happened at your dojo or not), even if it’s unrealistic that they’ll ever come back to train?
  • Do you try to reach out to students when they stop showing up for classes at your school, not because you know their membership is up for renewal but because you simply want to make sure they’re okay?

These are the kinds of things people do when they genuinely care about other people. I’m not saying you should do these things and you’ll magically make students more loyal. You have to be the kind of person who does these things because you really want to. Be a force of good in the world and the world responds in kind.

This is my vision of what an ideal martial arts instructor is like. It’s not a quick-fix solution for improving student retention. It is simply what I would like to see all martial arts instructors become so we can all collectively give to the world in ways that ripple positive effects throughout all our communities.

Over to you: Have you had good experiences in which instructors have gone the extra mile? What are some of the things your Sensei does that makes you feel good about your relationship?

Comments (2)

2 thoughts on “How Martial Arts Instructors Can Give More

  1. Every training night my sensei picks me up at the bus station so I don't have to walk an extra 20 minutes, when there's a seminar he stops by my place to pick me up. After training he drives me home, even though it's not exactly in his way. This both saves me time and money in the form of bus tickets. Since there's not a big age difference between us and we used to train together under the same sensei I consider him more of a friend than a mentor although I still learn from him of course.

    In turn I assist him whenever I can and I try to create an enviroment that is positive and fun for our students. It's always a good idea to make small talk with students before each class and to take an interest in them, a bit of humour now and then doesn't hurt either. During class we both try to keep our explanations as clear and concise as possible, correcting mistakes without being too hard on them or lessen their self-confidence. When people are sick or stay away longer than a few lessons I contact them if I have their data to ask how they're doing and let them know how classes were. Overall there's a pretty good atmosphere in the dojo which we hope is conductive to learning and encourages people to stick around and learn more, not so much out of self-interest but because we believe we have something valuable to offer and can influence our students' lives in a positive way. All in all it's satisfying to know you can make a difference and from me it's not just about my progress and quality of training anymore.

    As to the proverbial carrot: I do think it's good to make the first belt test relatively easy and program it early on since this does motivate students (they're no longer a beginner so to speak) and in the end it's in both their and your interest to keep them motivated so they'll continue learning, improving both the dojo and themselves.

    Obviously when people are looking for a sports martial art we're not going to pretend that's our main focus and we do tell them there are other options but at least after two free lessons they should have an idea what we're about and how self defence is different from what they'll learn at a more competition orientated school. Creating more belt levels is only useful and purposeful if the curriculum expands in such a way that it's impracticle to just add to the existing belts, creating belts just to make people advance faster and feed their ego is in my view not a good practice


  2. Lori,

    You've done an extremely good job of summing up the major points of being a great instructor. It is tough to accept that the majority of students don't stick with it, even with a good teacher.

    The hardest area to balance, in my mind, is keeping the appropriate balance between knowing and caring about your student's life without getting drawn into the issues. For example, it's good to know if your student is going through a touch divorce, but it's not appropriate to get into the intimate details, or to provide specific advice of what they should do in a legal battle.

    I do believe it's enough for most students to know that you genuinely care about their well being, but that the dojo can be a sanctuary, a safe place to put the rest of the world on hold.

    Great article.

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