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.

Thank you for visiting my blog, and please leave comments!

Author: thekuntawman

full time martial arts teacher, full time martial arts philosopher, and full time martial arts critic

3 thoughts on “Shopping Center Karate Is Right About Something!”

  1. Yeah! Brother! that is the raw deal, keep giving those fake can’t teach low down lying stealing punks the truth about what harm they do to people who love martial arts, and get blinded sited by there greed.

  2. Another very good article! 🙂 Thought I’d write to share my thoughts and see what you think. I’ve always been back and forth on this subject, as it’s been a hot topic on a lot of MA boards as you know. Like any tool, it can be used the wrong way. Any thing that you do that requires your involvement, in anyway, and you collect a fee, in any shape or form, that is a business. Just like some of the other examples you mention, one I think of all the time is a Gym. People have no problems signing up for a gym, and not going, for months on end to! A Gym is a business, just as a Martial Arts school is a business. They both provide services that can be beneficial to your life, but neither are life essential. So why is it so bad to have a contract at a Martial Arts school? Ok I can see that joining the gym for $29.99/month is different than $70, $90, even $150 a month is a bit more to commit to. Here’s where the “tool” really works, as I like to refer to as “the weed whacker”. If a potential student doesn’t feel like it’s for them, you just “weeded out” the non-committal student.

    On the flip side, what if this is someone just looking to get started and they aren’t sure, committing to something long term can be scary especially if they aren’t sure, not necessarily in the art, but in themselves and their own expectations. We had my son signed up for a Karate class at one point, and I liked the way he did it. Now I’m not sure if this applied to his youth program or not, but its’ what we did, and this guy has been in business for a LONG TIME! Each new student had to sign up for a 3 month contract. His youth classes are $50/month, so that was $150 to sign up, $50 registration fee, and a free Gi. (The registration fee is another topic for discussion! 🙂 ) If the $200 was too hard to pay all at once, he would do 3 payments, of $75/$75/$50 to be paid full in about a month in a half’s time. After the 3 months, it was simply month to month no contract. I have to say I thought this was an ingenious way to make sure the business had revenue stream; to not scare away any potential students; and if a student wasn’t committed after a 3 month commitment, then chances are they weren’t going to be a committed student for much longer after that. It made it a nice compromise. It was structured in a way that both parties benefited.

    Now as for as the registration fee, people have these for different reasons. Some feel it’s to suck more money out of the student. Some use this as “Administrative Fee’s”, basically the time it takes to sign up a new student and file their information away. Or it can be used as membership fees into a global organization (see IPMAF in Kombatan, or IMAFP or MARPPIO in Modern Arnis, United Self Defense Studios, etc…). You can even say you have one (but not really have one), but use it as a marketing ploy, and every month “waive the enrollment fee for the first 20 students”. Everyone likes a deal, everyone likes FREE things, especially in this economy.

    But I feel a lot depends on your location. If you are in an affluent area, people won’t think a thing about signing contracts, or paying $120/month or more for tuition (oh yeah, what do you use, tuition or fee’s when talking about payment method???). In an area where you have more blue-collar working class, long term commitments where money is involved may scare more people away.

    Anyways, just my 2 cents!

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