Teach “Intro” Classes

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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The New “Thing” in the Martial Arts

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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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