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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