What You Can Do to Make 25% More Income Next Year

Study and Master Student Retention
This is a subject I have been studying for years. I have not fully learned it, or learned it well, but I would like to share with you what I’ve discovered (rather than claim to “teach” you what I know… Man’s gotta know his limits!) in my few years of teaching.
See, as businessmen we are told to accept certain things that I don’t think we should have to accept:  that 90% of us will fail in a year or less, that most of our students will stink at the martial arts, that 95% of our students will not make it to the instructor level, that only the gifted will excel at this art, that Black Belt first degree is the beginning….
Blah, blah, blah.
We all search for the next new thing that will add to our bottom line so that we can have the school we really want, or teach the way that we really want to teach, or choose the students we want–you know the deal. So I figured that over the year, most of us will lose 75% of the students who sign up in our schools. So I also figure that we are spending a disproportionate (or not) amount of our time trying to replace the guys who quit. So I figured… what if?
What if we could slash that figure, and actually keep most of the students who join our schools?
Wouldn’t that be something? By my guess, if we could cut by 2/3 the number of students who who quit over the year (and I’m no mathmetician), next year this time–hypothetically–we’d have 25% more enrollment next year, and that number should grow year after year after year! Man, we’d all have McDojos without actually adding “After School Karate”. Imagine that!
So, the next question is, why do we lose people? Is all about contracts? Or students not being “serious enough”? I don’t think so. I think there is something in the way we run our schools that causes people to lose interest. It can’t be plain old fickleness. Many of these people have stuck with other activities they completed for years, like high school, marriages (okay, not that many!), beauty school… We just have to find out why students have lose interest.
I have a theory.
I believe that most of these people who quit do so for several reasons.
  1. they aren’t seeing results
  2. they’re bored
  3. it’s too expensive
  4. they’re bored (no, this isn’t a typo)
  5. classes are too hard
  6. classes are too easy (see #’s 2 and 4)
  7. they don’t see the end of their journey on the horizon
  8. maybe… they’re bored
When a student feels his body getting stronger, he feels more and more like he can take on 10 men, he is going to keep going. When he looks in the mirror and sees himself getting slimmer and more muscular, he will keep going. When he experiences an increase in sparring ability (what? you mean you DON’T spar???) he will keep going. When he doesn’t see his fighting ability (not drills ability, but fighting ability) improve, it will discourage him and he will quit. When he doesn’t see himself progressing–in skill and in rank–closer to that day that he will become an “expert” or whatever the pie is in the sky at your school, he will feel like he isn’t getting anywhere and quit. And if he’s (get this) bored, he will quit.
None of us want to admit this, but boredom is perhaps the number one reason people quit. Trust me it ain’t the money. How many men with a beautiful wife will say one day, “Baby, you’re getting too expensive for me to keep, I’m breaking up with you”? Only the guys on “Unsolved Mysteries”… And the mystery is, not that he killed her, but why this idiot didn’t work harder to keep this beautiful prize he has. A man will take on an extra job to keep his sports car or to support a gambling habit, or something else exciting. But he will cancel a gym membership if he’s still fat/skinny after 12 months.
Does that make sense?
We will work hard for what excites us and makes us happy, and will leave what bores us.  Money is never an issue. It is why people allow their lights to get cut off, but will still buy chrome wheels for their cars and eat out. It’s why they bring peanut butter sandwiches to work, but will still get their nails done every pay day. We finance what we want, and scrape for what we need. Even in this recession, the cigarette shops and liquor stores are flourishing.
Your job is to find out what you can do to make your school more exciting and encouraging so that your students absolutely can’t wait to get to class again. When you can figure that out, you will keep more students and ultimately grow your school every year.
Thanks for visiting my blog.

Making Sense of Kung Fu “Animals”

Over the years, I’ve read with amusement some articles about martial arts “animals”. First it was Kung Fu people who really did not have a good grasp of the animal styles within their own systems. Then it was the Kung Fu people who learns styles with no animals, trying to add “hidden” animal styles to their arts. Then it was Kenpo folks trying to make their arts appear more “Chinese”, by adding animals. Then it was Silat people. Now, it’s Burmese/Filipino/Southeast Asian/other exotic styles.

Somebody’s been watching too much “Black Belt Theater” on TV Land.

I would like to share with you readers a true secret of the martial arts. And once I share this with you, many of you will change your stories (because you’ve probably been pushing the same B.S.) or be embarassed. But the good thing is that you will be more educated than you were five minutes ago, and that’s the purpose of this blog.

The “animals” of most Kung Fu styles is not evident in the hand positions, or the way the fighter imitates the way each animal fights–but the characteristics and attributes of the animal. Some animal styles are in fact true animal arts, for example Eagle Claw style Kung Fu. Yet most Kung Fu styles are only borrowing the general strength and character of their mascot, not necessarily the way that animal fights.

We really can’t teach this on a blog, but let’s take a look at some generic info about each style.

  • Tiger Style – Powerful upper body techniques; forward movement when attacked; stressing counter attacking over defense; powerful fingers, wrists and forearms; crouching stance to reserve power for initiating attacks
  • Crane Style – Quick footwork; evasiveness; emphasizing defense and counterattacks over initial attacks; expert use of the front foot in fighting
  • Leopard Style – Attacking the opponent’s low line; fast and far-reaching footwork; ability to chase and attack simultaneously
  • Snake Style – Attack the opponent as the opponent attacks, but with narrow angles; evading with body movement rather than footwork (unlike the crane, which emphasizes footwork); specializing in attacking pressure points; emphasis on accuracy, speed, and making the opponent miss by inches
  • Dragon Style – Superior strategy and knowledge of how to destroy the body; emphasis on inflicting permanent injury
  • Praying Mantis Style – Specialty is Chin Na, the art of seizing and joint manipulation; powerful grip and knowledge of the skeletal and muscular systems

Even if you have never studied an animal style, one could actually arrange his personal combat system by using these arts as a model. As always, I recommend finding a qualified teacher if this interests you. (You could always come to Sacramento and study with thekuntawman!) If not, at least drop the gang-like hand signs for these styles. That stuff is only for forms competitors and movies.

Thanks for visiting my blog. Make sure to get over to the “Offerings” page and check out my new book, Mustafa Gatdula’s How to Build a Dominant Fighter in 12 Months!  We have three new books coming soon… Check them out!

Producing Good FMA Instructors, pt VI

Learn the different learner types and teach them accordingly

As martial arts teachers we should learn student types, just as one would study fighter types. Each martial arts student has a preferred method of learning, and many of these students find it difficult to learn in any other form of learning than the one that suits them best. The teacher must observe how a new student reacts to various teaching styles (assuming that you utilize several forms of teaching in your classes), and once that student has been categorized, tailor the training to suit his personality.

I cannot go into detail with each type of learner (that is going to be saved for the book, Filipino Fighting Secrets Live:  Teaching Philosophy… Keep checking back with me for updates!), but I would like to introduce them to you to get your juices flowing:

  • The Intellectual–these students must make logic of everything they do. Sometimes, you can just do something because you’ve been told and eventually it begins to make sense. Take for example Chi Sao. Some students will simply do it, and months down the road realize that there is an application for it in real fighting. Yet others must see the logic in how it works, once you learn it, before they can understand how to play Chi Sao. With these students you will have to explain everything in detail and answer questions. It’s not that the student is being a smart aleck; he just doesn’t understand many techniques and skills unless you explain it in simple terms.
  • The Feeler–these students cannot watch a technique and know how to apply it well. For them, they must have hands-on experience with close supervision. Have you had a student who puts his right hand out when you say go left? Or twists the opponent’s wrist the wrong way when you showed him the correct method? He is not uncoordinated, he just is not a good imitator. This type of student must do it himself in order to “get it”. Many of these students will require you to be hands-on as well:  you will have to grab his hand and turn it for him, or get very close to have him mimic your movement while he is doing it.
  • The Imitator–this is the student who learns well by watching. You don’t even have to explain what you’re doing because this student sees what you did and can replicate it immediately. But don’t be content when he is “doing it” right, because there is a difference between performance and understanding, and one can be an Imitator and an Intellect at the same time.
  • The Challenger–this is the kind of student I am. Most techniques I see, I think “won’t work on me”. This is not a wise guy, he is simply a student who sees the counter to every technique he learns. The best way to make the Challenger learn? Put him with The Brawler and let them work it out.  Speaking of The Brawler…
  • The Brawler–this is the student who learns “moves” and not “techniques and strategies”. He is the kind of student who takes exactly what you taught him, and uses it on his classmates exactly as you taught him. While this seems like a good thing, it does have some shortcomings:  he is often very heavy handed and aggressive, and prone to accidents. On the good side, this student makes everything you teach him practical.
  • The Dreamer–this student must do the techniques in his mind before being able to perform it. This is the guy who is waving his hands around while you are teaching, and each time you demo a technique, he hits “replay” in his mind and tries it out while registering it in his memory. I am this type of student in a way, and I can tell you from experience, that even if he does not practice a skill much, he can improve the skill by performing it in his mind. In Kung Fu, I have learned over 50 forms, and I remember them because I’ve “performed” them in my mind. Some students need a hand-on experience, where this type of learner can just watch it, replay, and then “get it”.

Well, Mrs. thekuntawman wants me to cut the grass. Thank you for visiting my blog!

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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.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

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.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

When a Student Quits

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.

Thanks for visiting my blog.