Subject: Continuing Our Series On Martial Arts Student Retention...


Alright, time to get back to our series on martial arts student retention. Previously I discussed how your personality and leadership traits impact your ability to retain students.

This week I'm going to wrap up this discussion on student retention by covering several more commonly known retention strategies. Hopefully at the end of this week you'll have gained a new perspective on how they can help increase your retention rates.

Today, we're going to start with...


Ah, the beloved or hated contract. While some school owners say you can't run a profitable dojo without them, others say they're the bane of running a successful school.

So who's right?

Fact is, both camps are right in their own way. Personally, I prefer using contracts, for reasons I will explain shortly. However, I've known a few school owners who have been successful in running martial art schools without using contracts.

The fact remains that contracts help stabilize your enrollment and cash flow, and even though they aren't necessary to running a successful dojo, they are helpful. And the reason they're helpful is because they are a mechanism for eliciting a psychological commitment from your students.


I have touched on this briefly in previous emails in this series, but today I'm going to elaborate on it more fully. The "culture of commitment" is a term I coined to describe the culture and atmosphere instructors need to promote in their dojos in order to increase retention.

As I said, using contracts is a mechanism for increasing the psychological commitment your students make to training. However, it's not the only way to increase a student's level of commitment... not by a long shot.

In fact, there are several other ways you can promote a culture of commitment in your dojo, and I'm going to explain a few in this email.


Getting students emotionally committed to your school involves nothing more than getting them to enjoy the time they spend at the dojo. This means maintaining an atmosphere of positivity and fun at all times in your school.

Too often, I find that martial artists have bought into this image of the dojo as a mystical place of self-reflection and seriousness. Because of the Asian origin of most of the martial arts we teach, and because of the media we've been exposed to, we assume that austerity and stoicism is what our students expect of us and our dojo.

However, what we fail to take into account when we make that assumption is that for the most part we're teaching Westerners. Let's face it - our culture is different, and therefore expectations are going to be different among our students as well.

To a certain extent, students will accept a bit of that old-school mentality when they are first introduced to martial arts training. However, if at some point they realize that what they thought was going to be fun and enjoyable has actually turned out to be drudgery, they're going to make up any excuse possible to drop out of your dojo.

So, if you want to get an emotional commitment from your students, lighten up! You can still have discipline in class while making it a positive and fun learning environment. Smile more in class, practice complimenting your students and being a "good finder", and also offer opportunities for your students to mingle and bond outside of class.

By doing so, your students will develop a much greater emotional bond to your school, and that in turn will result in higher retention rates as well.


If you want to have students who stick around for the long haul, you have to make them aware of what they'll be losing if they drop out.

That means you have to set goals for students, and create a definitive path for them to achieve those goals, as well as make the benefits of achieving those goals clear to each student.

Much of this comes from creating a culture in your school that reveres progress in rank, whether it be the next belt, sash, or certificate. This means you have to make it a big deal when students progress to the next level, which is why it's important to have promotion ceremonies, even for students who are getting their first ranks.

Also, students must be aware that there are consequences for leaving training. These don't necessarily have to be written policies, but students should be aware that your curriculum follows a set schedule, and that if they "take a break" from classes, they'll be behind on what the rest of the class has learned, and this in turn will impede their progress toward their next rank.

Of course, you don't necessarily want to create an environment where everyone is just chasing their next rank. On the other hand, you don't want to be so blasé about rank that no one cares about making progress, either.

I suggest you find a happy medium where achieving rank is a big deal in your school, but also where students understand it's the knowledge and skill that's important, and that rank is merely an indication of their learning progress. That's the sweet spot where you'll get the best results in improving your retention.


Of all the mechanical methods of increasing retention, this is the one that is most well-known and least-utilized. However, it's also the one that will result in the greatest increase in retention over the shortest period of time.

Simply by tracking attendance accurately and following up with students who miss class, you'll be letting your students know that you actually care about whether or not they come to class. It seems silly and inconsequential, but students want to know that you care about them and that you are invested in their progress.

The quickest way to lose students is to be indifferent to them. Indifference breeds the same, and as I mentioned in previous emails, you're better off having some students that hate you than having a lot of students who are indifferent toward you.

So, track attendance and get in contact with those students who miss class to let them know you're concerned and that you want them in class. It's a very simple thing, but it can have dramatic results in increasing your retention.

Now, tomorrow we're going to talk more about developing relationships with your students, without crossing the line of professionalism. I'm going to share some mistakes I made in the past with my own students, and share some insights I've gained on the topic over the last few decades.

But for now, simply consider what we've covered in this email, and think about how you can implement these ideas to improve your student retention in 2016.

Until next time,

Mike Massie

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