Shopping Center Karate Is Right About Something!

When I first decided it was time to open a school, I had gotten a job at Kim’s Karate (a DC/MD/VA chain) and was learning the operational side of running a martial arts school. Luckily, I was young and naive and HONEST and admitted to Mr. Kim and the managers over me that I wanted to one day open a school, and they still taught me. I liked most of what I learned, but one thing I was not fond of was the idea of “making a student sign a contract”. As I got older I began to understand the reason schools use them, although everyone’s motivation may be different.

Some schools do not have a curriculum interesting or challenging enough to maintain a serious student’s interest, and have high turnover. Some schools have a workout so fierce that most students can’t take it. Some programs were not thought out well enough to keep students motivated. Whatever the reason, most schools use them to keep the flow of income steady. I completely understand, although I do not really agree with “locking in” students. However, there is some merit to demanding that students commit to some degree. These are my reasons for agreeing:

  • the truth is, most students–most people for that matter–are fickle. Our job as teachers is to make sure that students benefit from the training we give them. If we do not stress to them the importance of commitment and training to at least some level of proficiency, we have missed an opportunity to show them the benefits of martial arts training.
  • we value what we do. Is it too much to require that students give us back what we are giving them? It’s not just a “pay me, I provide a service” arrangement. What benefit is it to our schools to have hundreds of students with weak knowledge in our systems representing us? I wouldn’t want to have a lot of poorly-skilled guys out there saying they use to study with me. If a student trained for at least 6 months with me, I’m positive he would have a solid set of basics.
  • do you like to waste time? I don’t. And if some guy wasn’t willing to commit to at least 6 months of training with me–if he couldn’t say that he was interested enough to train for half a year–I don’t want him as a student. That’s the damned truth. I won’t waste your time if you joined; please don’t waste my time.

You don’t have to use a “contract” to get a commitment. In my school, I offer memberships by the course, rather than by the month. A course is 6 months old, and the only way to join is to either pay for 6 months of lessons, or split that amount up into payments. I do not refund unused portions of a course, either. Can you walk into Georgetown University and pay for one week of a class? How about if you fail to complete a semester? Can you get a refund for that? Mr. Manager, I couldn’t finish my Big Mac, please give me back $1.25 for the unused hamburger patty… You get it.

You are the teacher, and you decide how your service is “served”. You also decide who gets to study, and what the terms are. Just as you have the option to allow students to pay by the class, or by the month, you can determine whether they join by the month or by the course, or by the year! Colleges and universities do it by the semester, and either you want to go to school, or you don’t. There is no “trial” registration. Either you buy the car, or you don’t. Either you lease the apartment, or you stay in a motel… You get it.

I think the older I get the more understanding I am. I think of all those missed opportunities to build my enrollment and hold on to good students. I hope you learn from my mistakes and utilize this little lesson from the guys who are doing what we all want to do:  feed our families and support our households with our martial arts. “Contracts” are not always such a bad thing.

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