Periodically, I will supplement my income by teaching introductory classes. Not quite a seminar, these are one-day events; short classes that skim the surface of a subject that will hopefully generate some interest in full-time learning.
Chose a market that normally wouldn’t come in contact with your school. How about a nearby business district? Or office parks? Is there a major employer nearby? State agencies? Universities? I once had a student draft a letter and we sent this letter to doctor’s offices, law firms and clinics, and ended up doing intro classes for them, one class was in a conference room in the law firm and another at a real estate company. (Great idea too, realty agent are often alone with strangers in unoccupied homes, and often at night) You get the idea.
Also consider not holding the class at your school. I have done them at hotel meeting rooms, community centers, fitness centers, even in restaurants. Last year, we booked one at–get this–a Pizzeria for school teachers! I’ve even done them in churches and mosques. I think the school is a little intimidating for some people, and neutral, yet non-traditional grounds can be disarming for non-martial artists.
The idea is that we want to convince people to consider martial arts practice for things other than just putting on pajamas and getting belts. I teach mostly adults, so we focus on street self defense and fitness. However, I have taught tournament style sparring for schools that do not compete, and fitness for overweight kids (one of my best programs). One summer, I even did “Body-Building for Kids”! It was an 8 week program that promised introductory bodybuilding for preadolescent boys, and it was hit. One of those boys is now an adult in my sparring class. These classes need not have a martial arts theme, but they all introduce students to the benefits of martial arts practice. Be creative!
Treat the classes as special events and promote the heck out of them. Look at it as a small investment or business venture. You can send press releases to local media, like neighborhood newspapers and magazines, local fitness publications, and “calendar of events” with your local newspapers and magazines. You might even consider sending a press release to local TV and radio stations. Then, post flyers in nearby businesses–eateries, convenience stores, libraries, grocery stores… Put flyers on cars, on doors in apartment complexes, houses, put announcements on Craigslist. Set one date and focus on that one-time event.
Plan your class well. I know most of you have plenty of experience, but this is one time you don’t want to shoot from the hip and wing. Save that stuff for your regular students. The Intro class is really a live Infomercial. Although the attendees have paid a fee to be there, you are still trying to “sell” them the idea of furthering their martial education with you. Make sure your subject matter isn’t too deep; what you are really doing is not so much trying to teach them like you would in a normal class. In this class you are merely introducing them to the subject matter.
Speaking of which, consider the following, and see if you can come up with some interesting topics:
- How to Lose 50 Pounds in 6 Months, in YOUR Living Room
- The One-Day Anti Mugging Course
- How to Stop a Car-Jacking
- Kid’s Self-Defense Against Dogs
- How to Help Your Child End Bullying
- Develop a Killer Handshake in 30 Days
- Stop an Armed Attacker with Your Bare Hands (and this ain’t a disarming class… more on this subject in another article!)
- Turn Your Man-Boobs into Pecs by Next Summer (j/k)
Okay, don’t beat me up for that last one. 😉 I was just trying to make the point that all of us martial arts teachers are sitting on a mountain of knowledge beyond just weapons disarms and empty handed defense. Trust me, each of you could take any high school nerd for 6 months and turn him into a kid that would never be bullied again. Don’t you agree? How much do you think his mom would pay to make sure that this happens? Well, instead of a 3 minute phone conversation when she calls your Yellow Pages ad, imagine if you had the mom, the boy, and 10 other moms and boys in a room, for 2 hours, and they paid for you to tell them why he should join? It’s powerful stuff.
Now, turn off the laptop, and go to the men’s library/thinktank/the “potty”, and do some brainstorming. Your martial arts can be used for more than just kicking someone’s booty. You can get engaged couples looking good and ready for their wedding day. You can help 40-year old divorcees lose weight and get back in dating shape. I hope I don’t have to mention how a nice, fit body can replace a Viagra prescription. (Let me tell you, it’s a great closer when trying to sign up adult males to your martial arts class.) How about promising to arm college-bound girls against date-rape and unwanted advances? I think anyone with daughters would want their kids learning to protect themselves when preparing to leave the nest.
Just do us all a favor and skip certifying them when they come down. It is what it is: a one-day introductory course in blah, blah, blach (you fill in the blank). On top of that, it introduces you to potential new students, and gets them to consider martial arts when they normally would have looked in a completely different direction. You make a few extra bucks, and you now have a full hour or two to demonstrate and experience the reasons why they should join your school.
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Martial artists have this “thing”, that we always like chasing after the new “thing” in the martial arts. Every few years, the new fads come and go, leaving behind a wave of newly certified teachers of the arts and a few die-hard enthusiasts. While once touted as and extremely effective form of fighting, the old “new” art will now be scoffed, ridiculed and ignored. Years later, in discussions between martial artists, people will wonder, “what happened to ninjitsu?” A few of the certified ninjitsu “experts” will still be teaching in obscurity, but a majority of those who attended certfication seminars and took video tape correspondence courses will leave ninjitsu as nothing more than a bullet on their resume, and will be heavily promoting their new “thing”.
Boy, you martial artists kill me.
These arts are mostly good, legitmate fighting styles. They are worthy of having representation in every martial arts community. So why do they all but disappear after their 15 minutes of fame is over? What happened that made these arts come and go? I have a few opinions:
- Martial artists are mostly an impulsive lot. We like to jump into something, balls to the wall, but not for long. When something becomes popular, we want to read all about it. We just can’t get enough. But it’s like a beautiful woman who allows us to indulge in her beauty too much…. her beauty and mystique fades if we get too much of her and we’ll take her for granted. As long as an art is a secret and mysterious to us, we love it. But when we undress it and learn more about it, it’s no longer attractive.
- Most martial artists are also lazy. We will want to learn something, but not want to put too much effort, time or money out to learn it, and learn it well. It’s not that we are lazy people because we are martial artists; it’s that we really aren’t martial artists, and we are just regular people who lack the discipline and work ethic of a true martial artist. So how do we get this learning? Through introductory seminars, videotape, and easy classes that skim the surface of the art yet certify us to teach it. The result? Shallow knowledge of the subject, so we really don’t do these arts very well and cannot keep the attention of a serious student of the art. We also do not have enough information to properly teach the art, so we must tack the art on to other programs.
- The martial arts public is fickle. If we see movies about the art, or otherwise get the impression that other people are buzzing about the art, we will be interested in it. But if no one is talking about the art, than we won’t have much interest. So, the movie “Ninja Assassin” comes out, and everyone wants to learn the Kusarigama. But they can’t find anyone who really does the weapon well, barring a few tricks that impresses only the novice. So after a few lessons, the power of the movie has worn off, and interest wanes.
There is more, but I am not in the mood to get too deep with you guys right now. If you care, there is a solution to this issue in the martial arts.
- When you study an art, study that art. Don’t dabble. If you learn it, learn it well. If you find that your teacher has only limited knowledge in the art you are studying, learn all you can from him, then train rigorously, and then pursue more learning after you have plateaued with this teacher. You can control how much you learn, just by being committed.
- As a teacher, stay away from fads. In every section of the martial arts community, there is a dedicated group of students that will support you. One of the challenges of being a martial arts teacher is the revolving door of short-term students. We must constantly recruit new students to replace the ones that quit. You can alleviate this problem by focusing your effort on recuiting serious students and specializing in an art or two (or a subsection of the community) that is not relying on movies and popularity. A good example: Any art you have recently gotten involved with. If you have been training in an art for the last 20 years, and just started learning a new art 2 years ago, don’t make that new art your primary focus in your advertising. You aren’t really qualified to teach it, and most likely you are studying that new art for the same reason new students are coming to you to learn it… they saw that movie too.
- Talk to each prospective student about commitment and focus. You’d be surprised how your first conversation with a student will influence how they treat their training. Many teachers will talk mostly about price and why their school is a good school. Instead, turn that conversation into one about your student, and what he or she will need to do to become successful. By focusing on the student and his responsibility as a student, he will be more focused on the difficult task of learning the art instead of the excitement of learning an art he’s excited about.
- Plan a full schedule of learning all the way to the end of the program, and know how long you will be teaching the art to graduation. Many teachers do not think that far, and end up teaching in circles because they have no plan. Regardless of how much information you have to pass on, a good plan will help you teach effectively and retain a student’s interest.
- Demand excellence from yourself as well as your students. Development of skill (and realizing that one is developing) is an excellent motivator. Give your students something to strive for and they will push themselves. However, you will have to demand it of yourself. Do this, and your class will not suffer from a loss of interest like the “dabbler’s” class. Two things can cause a student to lose interest: boredom and frustration. When a student sees that he is improving, it excites him. When a student is “getting it” and understands what he is doing, it excites him.
The main point of this article is this: When you teach something, specialize in it. You’ll go a long way with it when you do.
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When I was 14, I dated a beautiful young girl named Violeta Alvarado. She was a Salvadoran immigrant who studied martial arts, and got in streetfights a lot. Tailor-made for me, we hung out almost every day, and she even joined my kung fu school. We went to arcades for hours a day, practiced martial arts…. It was the best 3 months of my life. Well, the best 3 months of the 9th grade.
Okay, the best three months of the winter of 1983. That is, until I met another girl at the boxing gym, Lisa. And then it was, like, Violeta who?
You see, your time with your students is like that. It was great, but like all teenaged relationships-of-the-month, all things come to an end. When the tears dry, you will probably forget that girl’s name, and will be focused on the new girl (who always seem prettier than the last one. shallow, I know…). You miss them, your income hurts a little. You feel like all that effort you poured into the student was wasted. Not to mention that you just gave up a valuable set of fighting skills from your art, and the student has become a nobody who has a piece of your style.
But don’t cry.
See, not everyone is suited to train for a long period of time, and that’s the challenge of being a teacher. Just as the student must find a good teacher, the teacher must find a good student. Not just a good match, but a compatible match. Sometimes, your school is not the right school for the student. And sometimes, the student is not the right student for your school. It’s more than just needing someone to pay tuition and fill up classes. You have a teaching style and philosophy, and there is a type of student that fits that style and philosophy. As a teacher you must teach the best classes you can in the best way you can, and as a businessman you must find as many candidates as you can to reach enough good students to pay your bills.
Aside from that aspect of the relationship, not all students want to stay with a program long term. I have had students who have medical problems and cannot take the training I give. I had a few students who had been victimized by spouses or anonymous attackers on the street who would not have undertaken martial arts had it not been for that attack. We’ve had students who came because of a school project, and others who wanted to lose a specific amount of weight. Everyone comes for various reasons, and not everyone wants a Black Belt. Understand this and you will understand the dynamics of the short term relationship you will have with most of your students.
It is a fling. You are a local living in the Bahamas, and most of your students are beautiful vacationers with another mission back at home. (Sorry for the reference) Enjoy your time with them, and try your best to give them the best experience while they are with you. Some will stay long term, some won’t. Even fewer will stay with you until you have nothing more to teach them. Accept it. Embrace it. This is one of the secrets of the Masters. It is the reason they say that if a Master is too eager to accept you as a student, and makes it more of a business arrangement (pay this amount, and I will teach you) than a serious relationship (why do you want to learn from me, if I accept you as a student, then you must….) then chances are, he ain’t no Master.
And this is the logic to why many Masters do not accept many students, and some would carry their arts to the grave. This is also the reason why contracts are not such a bad idea. Before you take on a student, there needs to be an understanding. What kind of student is he planning to be? Is he just here for 6 months to lose 30 pounds? Or is he interested in becoming a martial arts teacher? How long is he planning to study? 6 months? 3 years? All the way to graduation? Answer these questions and your relationship will become more meaningful. Let the student choose which “program” he or she will commit to. Not “sign up for”, but commit to.
Wait, you cannot “commit to” anything? Then I’m sorry, this is not the school for you. We are for serious students only. My school uses primarily two forms of commitment: month to month, which has a higher tuition, and the six-month commitment. See, if a student is not willing to commit to at least 6 months of training with me, I am not interested in him as a teacher. Period.
I have had many students come and go over the years–at least a thousand students–and only a small handful have stayed at least 5 years. And out of those students only a few of them have been a surprise when they quit. This is because I am very close to my students, and I know their goals. I recently encouraged a student to take some time off to focus on his career, because he was going nowhere with a dead-end job. He was a smart boy, but had no education, and had a lot of potential for greatness. Yes, he was a talented fighter, but he was not going to be a teacher of the art. He needed an education. Last thing he needed was to be 25 years old making $12 an hour and no future. But when he joined, we discussed his martial education and he had since fulfilled his commitment. It was time to move on.
Talk to your students, and find out their goals. Understand that most of your students will not be staying long. So give them the best martial arts experience you can while they are with you, and when their time is up, let them move on. It is then time to focus on the new students.
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This article is going to seem as if I am contradicting my own philosophy about specializing in the martial arts.
But let me clarify something first. Not all martial artists are created equal. There are some of us who do this full-time as teachers, some of use do this full-time as students/fighters, some do it part time as teachers, some are part time students, and some do it part time as fighters. And then on top of that, you have the casual “dabbler” in the martial artist, and the casual “serious” martial artist. They are not the same, and each of them have their own differences and unique needs and characteristics. This article is speaking to the full time teacher and the full time fighter.
There is a saying that the true warrior must master many weapons. The idea behind this is that we have different weapons that are most suitable for various situations, and sometimes, you cannot use a gun in a knife fight–just as you shouldn’t try to use a knife in a gun fight. While there are many times where your specialty should be modified or adapted to use against various weapons, opponents and situations, there are those times that your weapon is just not practical. For the casual or part time fighter, this is acceptable and reasonable. But for the full-time martial artist, we must be able to pull out another set of tricks from our bag.
(Darrin Cook’s Big Stick Blog has an article about this subject, btw)
There are many skills that can be applied to various weapons, but there are many weapons that require a completely different set of skills. As a full-time martial artist, you must be able to wield each of the weapons in your arsenal well. This is the mistake of many full-time martial artists who teach several weapons, but do only one or two of them well. You must strive for the goal of mastering most of what you teach. In my own school, I teach more than 10 weapons–Filipino as well as Chinese–and I can realistically claim expertise in all of them. Some teachers are satisfied with only some knowledge of their weapons, which is often limited to simply some demonstration technique, drills or forms. But you must have practiced for hundreds of hours with the things you teach until you have completely lost count. To the untrained eye, none of your weapons work should be easily identifiable as a strength or weakness. As fighters, you must strive to be able to fight, with confidence, using any of the weapons in your knowledge base.
There are too many reasons why this is true, and we will have to get into it another time. It’s late and I need to get to bed! I hope I have given you something valuable to think about!
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Several days ago I was talking with a student of the late Sensei Don Buck (sorry, I forgot his name already) and I listened to his stories of what training was like in the 80s for him, and how he views martial arts training today. This gentleman lamented the quick promotions we see so common today, and how the quality of students has declined so sharply that we no longer respect a Black Belter until we actually see his skills. It was a good conversation between two martial arts teachers, and I’d like to share some of the things I suggested as a solution to this problem. Hopefully, you will see some value in this small philosophy and can incorporate it into your own teaching style.
First, I have to emphasize that I do not agree with the 2 or 3 year Black Belt. But if you insist on promoting so quickly, there are some techniques you can use to improve the performance level of your students.
- Information should be taught in small, short lessons. This way, your students will have time to truly absorb what they have learned and will perfect the techniques or skills before learning more. You can still cover the same amount of material over time that you cover now; just break it up into shorter bites so that the students have only those things you covered to think about. Several days later, when you teach a few more skills, they would have had that time to develop only what you taught in the last class.
- During your classes, count the repetitions they execute. In the Filipino arts, teachers tend to use open practice, which allows the students to practice at their own pace. In some ways this is good, but they will usually get in fewer repetitions because of complacency, chatter, and comfort. It is much better to have them practice on your count. This will force them to keep up a faster pace, perform under at least some pressure, and the best part is that they will perform more reps. Remember, there is no guarantee that the students will practice at home, so make them practice during the class. They’ll thank you for it one day.
- When making corrections, adhere to this rule as well. I have seen teachers give 10, 15, 20 details about a technique when making a correction! Trust me, the student will not retain all of that information. If you must do it, give it to them in writing, and make the session more of a lecture than a review in passing. During class, you should only give them a few items to work on, and then the next time you see them you can zero in on a few more details.
- Also, when correcting, ask the student if they realize they are making the mistake. Often this will make the student more conscious of the habit and they will monitor themselves while practicing alone. Once they see the mistake, have that student practice for 10 – 15 minutes until the correction becomes natural. With some of my students, I have worked on one or two mistakes for a month–every time they come to class. These mistakes did not develop overnight, and you shouldn’t expect them to be fixed overnight.
- A good technique is to demonstrate the technique incorrectly–the same way your student is executing it– and then ask him to critique you. I do this when teaching children, and it works. I am terribly impatient with kids, and I have a habit of upsetting them when I critique with words, so this technique suits me perfectly. (Believe it or not, I learned this tip from a 20-something year old TKD teacher who worked in a commercial dojo! You can learn from anyone…)
- Have a set of key points for each technique, and they should be memorized. This way, your students will remember to self-police when practicing and will have a small guideline of details for each skill.
The main idea of this philosophy is to avoid overloading your students with information while they are attempting to learn. This way, they will absorb and retain more, and will be able to focus on parts of their skills, one detail at a time.
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A young Eskrimador was excited to meet a local champion, who was a hero of his. After meeting him, he jumped at the chance to ask him his opinion about which skill he should emphasize to improve his fighting performance.
To the young man’s disappointment, the champion simply told him, “learn to hold your stick”…
It took many years before this simple, but profound, lesson sank in and the young man finally matured with this tidbit of knowledge. First, he did not know if the master was brushing him off or unwilling to share technique with him. But after years of reflection and intense thought, he realized the wisdom in this piece of information.
Often, as martial artists, we worry too much about complicated drills and techniques and strategies while ignoring the most simple skills that can make or break one’s technique. At its most basic level, if one cannot hold tightly to a stick, no amount of strength or speed–not even the most well-thought out strategies–can make a difference. At the root of striking power in Eskrima is the grip. At the root of one’s effective speed with a stick or knife is the grip. We can twirl until our wrists swell and turn blue, play patty cake until our palms callous, dance around triangles until our feet chafe… and if we have a weak grip on our weapons, we will lose all effectiveness.
In my sparring classes, I have four basic skills that we train–the probe, the rear hand punch, the front leg kick, and the rear leg power kick–hundreds of times each class. Regardless of what skills I am teaching in a particular class session, we will always drill one of these for skills. And these four skills make up my “grip”: those basic skills that all other skills within my art spring from. At a minimum, a fighter in my school will have these skills trained to perfection. All other techniques are secondary. You may choose another set of skills to specialize; as long as you have developed a foundation in something that supports all other techniques in your arsenal you are staying true to this philosophy.
I would like to offer some basic pillars of skill you may want to incorporate into your training philosophy:
- advancing attacks
- retreating attacks
- simultaneous block and counter
- rear leg snap kick
- reverse punch
- hook punch (either front or rear hand)
- rear leg round kick
- front hand blocks
- front leg sweeps
- sidestep/evading techniques
- quick counters
- correct formation of the fist
Of all these skills, the final skill listed is your most important skill… the ONLY skill you absolutely must have. All the others are secondary. Like the champion in the story, I have just given you a very valuable gem. Reread this article and ponder over this advice.
Thanks for visiting my blog. Don’t forget to check out my book, Mustafa Gatdula’s How to Build a Dominant Fighter in 12 Months! (It’s on the “Offerings” page)