As martial arts teachers in a country that treats fighting skill as a children’s pastime, teachers often find themselves having to compete with soccer and basketball for a kid’s attention. This, for the traditional teacher, can be frustrating: After beginning classes, the student is just starting to develop some proficiency when Mom walks in to Guro’s office and withdraws him… cause it’s softball season. And whose fault is it?
It’s your fault, my friends–the martial arts teacher. This is why I say this:
Martial arts students and parent all come in with misconceptions about the art. Ideas about how long it should take, what classes are like, whether or not martial arts is a “fun” activity, blah blah blah. And the commercial dojo is to blame for them believing this. While up in the stands at Junior’s football games, Moms and Dads exchange stories about their kids’ other activities, including martial arts. They talk of teachers waiting too long to promote (“my kid had to wait FOUR months for his next belt! WTH??? He’s the best one down there!”), the time another boy popped Mikey in the head during sparring, how their talented 8 year old is about to test for his 2nd dan… Then parents come into your school and wonder why you’re so different from the shopping center McDojos their neighbors attend.
When a student comes into the school to inquire about lessons, by all means, sign them up. But make sure you explain the difference between your school and the rest of them. Let them know that you are not selling memberships; you are recruiting students who want to embark on the mission of becoming a martial artist. The real martial arts–the grown-up stuff–is really not for children. In fact, only about 5% of the children out there are tough enough for this kind of art, and that’s why there are far more sardines in the ocean than sharks. The commercial dojos are for the kids who want to feel like martial artists, but your school is there to train the real ones.
I have a short list of things you could relay to your new students to help with this issue:
- Unlike team sports, no one rides the bench in the martial arts. When we compete, we go as a team but that’s it. Each student must stand on his own feet and build his own reputation. Team sports only builds the self-esteem of athletic children. The rest of the kids usually know they’re bench warmers and then they go through life thinking like a bench warmer in every other aspect of their life. Think of the martial arts as the answer to the bench warmer. They will get individualized training here. If they are too tight, they become more flexible with us. If they are too weak, they’ll most certainly get stronger. If they are too timid, what other activity will help make them more assertive and aggressive than combat training?
- In the martial arts, there is no such thing as “injured reserves”. When a fighter pulls a hamstring, he must be reminded that he has three other limbs that he can use. The ultimate in the martial arts is self-defense. No bully out there or attacker cares that your leg is hurt. If he wants your kid’s bike he will take it. If he wants to hurt your son to impress his buddies he will do it. Martial arts teaches students that you are never handicapped; whatever situation you find yourself in, self-defense happens. So when his arms are sore, he doesn’t sit on the bench. He lets his teacher know and then works on footwork and kicking skill. Because what he is training for is far more serious than some silly trophy he gets at the end of the season–the martial arts could one day save his life.
- While aggression is necessary to excel in the martial arts, bullying, teasing and malice will not be tolerated in the dojo. Most kids come home from school and then go hang out in the neighborhood until you get home. During that time, they will meet gang-banger wannabes (even in the suburbs), bullies, learn how to curse, and have no adult supervision at all. But not in my dojo. Good character are more than required in our school; it is a tenet. With us, your kid will be in good company.
- The martial arts is also a vocation. Once she/he finishes his Black Belt, he will never go hungry. Ask any martial arts teacher, it is the perfect part time job if he needs additional income. In a few hours a week, he will be paid sharing what he enjoys. He may even decide to make it a career. It is certainly much cheaper than vocational school. The martial arts is a recession proof business also; within the industry you could go into fitness training, professional competition, personal training, bodyguard/security protection–aside from simply instruction. You are not just spending money on classes; you are investing in your kid’s future.
- The martial arts combats obesity, and provides a healthy alternative for children who have no interest in other sports.
- Teaches goal achievement, unlike sports that rely on the whole team’s performance to win tropies and titles. Each level of the martial arts student’s education brings a new skill and becomes progressively more difficult. Finally, there is no achievement quite like the fraternity of Black Belters. It is similar to completing Basic Training for a member of the Armed Forces–you do it once, when walk as a warrior for the rest of your life. And you will always be able to relax knowing that your child is never going to get bullied–ever–once he goes through my program.
- The martial arts puts a weapon in the hand of your kid that he can use to protect himself. No one could ever take it away from him, or use it against him. His character and judgment will be used to determine when to use it. Like I said, with this under his belt, he will always be safe. Something most grown men cannot even guarantee themselves.
Once this picture has been drawn in the minds of your students, they will not see your class as an off-season activity for soccer. At least, if they do, you have done your part in educating them. But recruit them in the same way Mickey Dojo’s place does–fun, safe, and anyone can do it–and your school will receive no more respect than his swim practice.
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