After many years as a martial arts academy manager and instructor, I've reached this conclusion: the basic cause of student absenteeism and attrition, as well as most other related problems is a lack of respect by instructors and club owner/managers for their students.
If you're an instructor and/or club owner/manager, you won't like reading that statement. It doesn't sit well. However, read it again, because it's true. Students in many cases are not afforded the same respect as one does a sword, a time-faded black belt or an ornately framed photograph of a long-dead grandmaster.
Here's a short story about a young fellow I know who's doing wonderfully well in his club. Lets call him Owen.
Owen's club isn't large by most standards, but it's clean and tidy and tastefully decorated. There are no pictures of past champions on the walls, and no picture of a past grandmaster to bow to at the front. Rather, he has framed pictures of his students lining the dojo, and a picture of his own parents at the front. Owen likes to remind his students that to him they are the champions, and that his parents are displayed only as a reminder that all parents are to be revered. You can imagine how this makes his student's parents, the ones controlling the checkbook, feel. Not only is it a wonderful principle to teach young people but also it's also good for business. Think about it.
Owen wears exactly the same uniform his students wear, not some decoratively embroidered piece of art with his name emblazoned across it that makes him look like Elvis. As well, he goes through the entire warm up process with his students, regardless of rank, stopping only to help those in need. He doesn't stand over them, strutting back and forth like a raging Marine drill Sergeant, shouting commands that the students might construe as “do as I say, not as I do.” He doesn't demand respect. He's always first to light the fire, and waits for the heat to come back.
Punctuality is important, and Owen sets an example by being first on the dojo floor. At the end of the class, he's also the last to leave the floor, not unlike a sea captain allowing everyone to go before him. He knows everyone's first name, and looks directly into his or her eyes when spoken to. The club is Owen's business, his livelihood. He knows that without his students, he wouldn't be where he is today, exercising his life-long dream of teaching martial arts. He makes his students feel like they're the most important things in life. They feel it, and the feeling is mutual.
Like most clubs, Owen has clean-up days. But rather than pick volunteers to do all the work while the instructors sit in the office chitchatting and drinking beer, Owen pitches in. As well, he pays each volunteer club-funny-money he made on his computer for his or her time. They then can spend this money toward a belt grading or tuition. After all, Owen contends, his club is a business, and he should pay like any other business for services rendered. It's just a simple way for everyone to gain something.
When you join his club, Owen sends a thank you card. It's not much, but it's a token of his appreciation for your business. Once a month each student can pick up the club newsletter at the front desk for free. Printed on nice, clean stock, the newsletter informs the reader of upcoming events, outcomes of past events, who had a baby brother or sister, birthday greetings, special announcements of any kind, and small business card ads soliciting business for those students who own businesses and are in a position to do so, keeping it all in the family so to speak. As well, there are martial arts related articles written by students of all ranks wanting to be published.
Owen has obviously learned that life is a reflection. What you give out, you get back. Demand respect of your students, and they will demand you respect them first. It's only human nature. Give respect to your students, they will give their respect to you. You're the instructor. So teach. Be first.
I could go on and on, but I'm confident you get the point. People will do things, and go to places that make them feel good. It's only natural. Make them feel good, about themselves and you, and they won't avoid your class. Make them feel great, and they won't quit. As a matter of fact, I would venture to bet they'd talk you up so much; you'll probably have to turn prospective students away, or move to a bigger place.
Till next time, stay sharp…
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