COMMENTS FROM A DOJO
Prepared by Greg Scott, godan, Garden Grove Shotokan
At the SKA Convention a few years ago many issues were discussed regarding SKA membership. Since then myself and other SKA members have had many requests to put “something in writing.” SKA is so diverse it would be difficult to find information that would benefit all. So we. are left with opinions. These comments are not related to SKA’s Executive Board, Board of Directors, or Central Headquarters operations. They are my opinion and opinions of some of those I’ve had close contact with throughout my years of association with SKA and also results from approximately 20 dojos I have either opened or had a significant part in dojo operations. Additionally, throughout the last year or two, I have spoken with many dojo leaders as well as Black Belts in general. Many of the comments are related to those discussions as well as concerns of SKA that were addressed. This is a Garden Grove Shotokan. document (anyone wanting a copy may receive one.)
Suggestions range from common sense to addressing very individual situations depending on a given dojo’s unique needs and operations. Some dojos are running smoothly and desire no change. Some are struggling to remain active.
This is not a manual or a “how to”. It is only another bit of information with the goal of helping SKA maintain its membership, level of quality, and possibly benefit those starting new dojos.
Concepts have been presented under the following headings:
|APPROACHING GUESTS||How do we approach perspective walk-in members, phone calls, etc.|
|EVERYBODY QUITS||I’ve had conversations with hundreds of SKA members (and non SKA martial artists) who either quit or were having problems staying with a particular dojo. This section addresses this common issue.|
|PROMOTING YOUR DOJO||“Nobody ever calls or comes by.” (Depending on your individual goals.)|
|DOJO DUES||Some suggestions on their appropriateness and use.|
|TEACHING KIDS||General comments (some apply to adults as well.)|
A sincere and special thanks to Diana Lee, a Garden Grove Nidan, who spent hours with me trying to put abstract thoughts in some order on paper. Please forgive the editing, structure, and any grammatical errors as this is a “work in progress.”
Please keep in mind most of these comments would be in response to guests trying to decide on selecting a martial arts facility or questioning SKA’s program compared to others.
Ask (or listen to) what guests are looking for in a martial arts school. Chances are SKA accommodates their needs. Be aware that competitors spend thousands of dollars at seminars on how to “sell karate.” Knowledge of SKA as an organization is your best advantage.
Any guest coming to visit your dojo deserves a handshake, a smile, and an introduction. Those seeking a dojo are often aware of the seriousness of the environment and many are cautioned to look out for dojo leaders with “attitudes”.
Failure to briefly acknowledge a guest as they enter your facility (or to approach guests in a non social manner) does not represent an instructor they would want to trust with teaching them martial arts where they may spend a lifetime training.
Dojo members or instructors that greet guests at the door, during class or after class, represent SKA to that person. They should have reasonable PR skills and be somewhat familiar with SKA’s operation or let guests know when someone more qualified can help them
Being serious and, showing intent on the training floor should not keep dojo members (especially senior members) from maintaining a humanitarian and friendly attitude off the training floor.
If a guest is waiting to see a 6pm class and by 6:15 nothing has started, that means to them that an hour workout is 35 or 45 minutes. This sets a bad precedent and is unprofessional. Additionally, if they consider choosing your dojo because a class ends at 7pm (which is convenient for them) and at 7:30 it is still ongoing they mostly will train elsewhere. Dojo leaders should address this issue.
Don’t underestimate the importance of keeping a clean dojo:
Allow only members on the dojo floor and in gi’s. i.e. you and a buddy come in to do a hundred kata in sweat pants and T-shirts, it is not uncommon for a guest to think that this is. a normal class and this appearance is unprofessional. This of course would not apply to newer members or a facility where newer members do not have easy access to a gi.
Occasionally members (often senior members) who spend a lot of time working out on their own may use motivation (such as music) during their training away from class time. Clarify to guests that this is would not be the norm in a scheduled group class.
While we all recognize Ohshima Sensei’s qualities, most new members feel detached due to geography. Mentioning his history can be beneficial but most new members won’t have the enthusiasm that existing members do. Don’t forget to mention what you as an instructor have to offer. You are the one they will spend most of their time with not your senior or Ohshima Sensei.
Be aware of current martial art “fads”. For years, kung fu was popular due to the T. V. series. This was followed by a Hollywood Nina craze. The next was a huge promotion for tae kwon do due to their Olympic participation (The only reason being, the Olympics were held in Korea.). As of this writing, the current crazes are jujitsu as well as non-contact aerobic kick boxing. The last being promoted on many popular television sitcoms and mixed in with commercial product endorsement and tele-marketing.
How do we know what the current fads are? Because of the many guests visiting a dojo or calling requesting aerobic kick boxing instruction or jujitsu (which are the 2 most popular currently). .
Explain how each of the above became seasonally popular and were pushed aside by the next craze. Let guests know that many martial arts schools selling what is popular may lack the depth that is necessary or allow for the time that is needed for real understanding of a martial art. They change what they teach annually for economic gain and are influenced by popular media. PRESENTING THIS TO GUESTS HAS TO BE HANDLED DELICATELY. Guests may frown on negative criticism of competition. It is to their benefit to become part of an organization that has stability and who’s beginning was not motivated by popular media.
Many competitors boast 7th and 8th degree black belts and “master” rankings. If guests ask your rank, you may explain the variety of ranking systems that exist and the lack of correlation between martial arts systems. For example, “Why should I train with a second degree Black Belt when I can train with a sixth degree Black Belt.”
“Why Should I Choose SKA?”
I. Non profit
Shows a non commercial sincerity
Larger the business profile of the school, the more it can impose on the ethics of karate. Commercial schools have been known to allow money to affect belt testing and encourage false promises of what the dojo has to offer.
* I remember one non-SKA karate school where I was teaching Shotokan part-time. They encouraged all of the commissioned instructors that if somebody called on the phone requesting a particular martial art, “Tell the caller that is what we teach, they won’t know the difference.”
Being non profit allows us to keep karate first (many commercial schools shut down monthly if there is a poor profit margin).
Many guests are concerned with the “fly by night” syndrome with many martial arts schools.
SKA has been established in the USA for over 40 years, making it the oldest traditional martial arts organization. This insures stability to new members as well as a potential for life-long dedication to training.
First to teach Karate for credit at a university (Cal Tech – 1957).
SKA has the blessings of over 30 colleges and universities across US, some with over 40 years of commitment. (In California, such universities as: Cal Tech, Berkeley, Stanford, CalStateUniversity, Long Beach/Fullerton, UCLA, CSUN).
*dojo leaders mention the colleges and universities in your region.
Because of our diversification into the educational system, a vast number of our instructors are college graduates and professionals in the local community making for exceptional role models for members.
Nationally, SKA has been asked to introduce our program to YMCA’s, recreation centers, churches, and community centers.
Facilities such as these mentioned above, tend to draw & provide a high quality of members.
Approximately 140 SKA schools exist in the US and Canada, often allowing continued training with relocation.
Additionally, roughly 18 countries around the world offer affiliation through Ohshima Sensei, all with a similar training format and ranking system.
Having a direct lineage to our past and strong traditional ties allows SKA to pass on knowledge from a system that has had the strength to survive many years of karate evolution and tap generations of development.
III. Style of Training
SKA offers a training style which is high aerobic, (as much as any martial art or gym class taught throughout the US today) structured, mentally focused, and provides a full range of motion to all areas of the body.
It allows for social interaction for people with busy life styles as well as those looking for an escape from their daily routine.
Know which classes are best for guests to observe (if you have a choice). Quite often these would be sessions with your best instructors and most appropriate class sizes.
Keep an organized appearance to classes when appropriate. I.e.. straight and even lines during kihon, kata, and kumite when applicable. This not only prepares students for the dynamics of special training and group exchanges but creates the appearance of a structured and planned format which appeals to many perspective members.
Individual instructors need to know the importance of explaining specialty classes so guests do not think that kata, jiyu-kumite, etc. is all we do. For instance, kata night: a guest watching an entire class can leave with the impression that SKA only teaches kata. Or a guest watching a thousand kick practice, may feel that kata is not practiced or any form of matching. It is important to explain the full training concept to guests inquiring about membership.
A guest watching senior members during a rough jiyu kumite class may leave with the impression that this is what they will be exposed to the first night of practice. Additionally, watching an instructor or other black belts “beat up” other students during class may leave them with the impressions that they will be just a punching bag for senior members.
A common perception of many new members (or guests observing a class) is, “How can I join an ongoing program and learn the basic fundamentals without holding the class back.” This is one of the biggest obstacles that keeps members from joining an ongoing program. They may not mention it but it is often on their mind. Explain that, “Everyone of the members currently on the floor themselves came into a brand new environment much in the way that you would. The fact that they are all practicing together shows that the system works.” It is good to mention, that this initial struggle can be a very beneficial part of the learning experience.
The above process works because of the extreme repetition of practice that is necessary. `Many of the things we do in practice are done very slow initially allowing experienced members to work on form and newer members to receive hands on instruction. I.e.. the first 5 or 10 of each kihon are done slowly and then more reps at full speed. As the pace increases, senior members work at a higher intensity while junior members apply what has just been explained. In a very short time, newer members are able to handle the faster pace allowing instruction at a more advanced level. This process allows many levels of students to train in a similar environment at their particular ability.”
If your dojo has newer member classes, and/or assistants that help with the “break in process” make sure this is mentioned.
IV. Ranking System
Original Japan ranking system (this is especially pertinent for those looking for traditional Shotokan).
Many non SKA schools use a multiple belt system and make $50 to over $1,000 per belt change (we aren’t a black belt factory) leaving students feeling that they are just buying a belt not earning it.
Let guests know that some commercial schools charge this fee as often as every month or two. This quite often leaves dojo leaders hesitant to fail students because of the fees involved. It can also lead to premature testing for financial gain. As more and more belt colors are added from this incentive, personal growth and development are no longer the emphasis.
SKA recognizes that rank is a part of training but kept in perspective. “Having no fee does not minimize the actual grading process. Quite the contrary, it is a very formal interaction between senior black belts and junior members taking place separate from normal class time twice per year.” This eliminates many of the conflicts mentioned above and allows for non biased testing.
Many commercial organizations use a free month gimmick or “introductory lessons” which really just gives them a month to sell you into a long term contract rather than fully giving you an introduction to karate. Contracts can keep the people on the karate floor that don’t want to be there resulting in a potentially negative atmosphere.
Let guests know many competitors use contracts because with the rigors of training many unsure students may quit quickly. The contract allows them continued income regardless of the student’s intent. Strongly advising them against signing any form of contract wherever they may decide to train eliminates much of the competition.
As opposed to pushing fees and rates upward, many SKA dojos will accommodate people experiencing financial burden prior to joining or during their training career.
Many commercial schools charge extra for training more than one or two days a week. If your dojo allows training more often, make sure your guests are aware of that.
VI. Sport Karate
Emphasize to guests looking for sport karate, that tournaments are only a small part of training. That while offering some benefits, they can limit the training experience if not kept in perspective. Should guests be insistent, let them know that SKA offers some aspects of karate competition but if that is their sole purpose of training, they should look elsewhere. Tournament competition can be a part of training but not the reason for training.
Quite often guests express that they are looking for “traditional karate” (many times a Shotokan school is mentioned specifically).
Of the many Shotokan organizations worldwide, SKA uses the original ranking system developed by Master Funakoshi, the founder of the Shotokan system. (and we are most likely the only Shotokan system in the world that still does.)
Mr. Ohshima was given permission personally to teach Shotokan Karate in the U. S. by Master Funakoshi.
ONLY Mr. Ohshima was given permission to translate Master Funakoshi’s text (Karatedo Kyohan) into English by the Master’s family after his death.
• While not all Shotokan schools may be related, those under Ohshima Sensei are very tightly joined regarding aspects such as training, ranking, philosophy, etc.
VIII. Justification of Training Fees
Many people feel that you get what you pay for and if your dojo charges less than the competition, you can state qualities such as in this document to substantiate your lower fees so they do not conclude that this is due to inferior quality. Quite the opposite, those charging excessive fees often do so at the expense of quality.
SKA dojos abide by the non-profit status of our parent organization.
SKA instructors do not make their living through karate allowing a more pure relationship between student and instructor.
In regards to SKA’s annual fee, some organizations charge hundreds or as much as thousands of dollars. SKA charges a minimal fee to cover membership card, new members manual, newsletter, grading certificates, and all belt testing. These are all items that will benefit your training experience.
*On rare occasion I have encountered families with extreme financial hardship making it difficult to pay the SKA fee. By allowing them to pay the dojo a small percentage every few weeks or monthly, while training, resulted in the fee being turned into SKA, eventually, and seems to help in these few cases.
Occasionally, I have had newer members request refunds either due to not liking our style of training or deciding they could not fit training in due to obligations or geography. I have never hesitated to refund their dojo dues based on an amount related to their time training. Also, I would contact SKA headquarters and discuss a refund of their SKA dues. I let them know that the national membership fee may not be refundable but I will inquire about it. The amount of money is not worth the problems or negative word of mouth a denial might generate.
If we are to propagate traditional karate, SKA recognizes we must make it accessible to all potential members not just those in a specific income bracket.
The following are some ideas that may help accommodate this problem (not in any special order.) Many of the suggestions listed were presented to me from members who have had these experiences and left their particular dojo wanting to continue training in another SKA dojo or outside SKA all together. Additionally, many apply to “Approaching Guests” and were mentioned as such.
Most economic studies analyzing business success, show that 7 of 10 clients quit or change schools from poor service – not price or quality.
When students pay their SKA membership they receive materials that enhance their training and add to their sense of belonging. These dues should be collected (as required by SKA pertaining to your type of facility) and turned in as soon as possible so members may receive the benefit of the materials. Members not paying SKA dues or dojo leaders who delay turning them in (weeks and sometimes many months) results in members not receiving the guidebook or national newsletter which are both an adjunct to training. Members who have paid for these materials deserve to receive them promptly.
Students need to know they can approach senior instructors with dojo problems.
Instructors should know the names of all class members. If you see a new face, introduce yourself before class and REMEMBER THEIR NAME.
A caring manner, away from the training floor, towards’ those that choose to train at your facility can be all, that is needed to make current members feel welcome.
Both a great and a bad attitude are contagious. Be aware of how yours affects members.
Every effort should be made to keep the dojo as clean as possible (not just the dojo floor.) And members should sense a very friendly atmosphere when they are not training.
Dojo members, especially black belts, need to reinforce new members decision to join SKAi.e. reinforce the decision of new members regarding the quality of the association with which they have decided to become associated with. This helps them get through the first few awkward months of training.
If your dojo is having a difficult time keeping members, even a thank you card after their registration, can be a catalyst to help them maintain training through the first month or two. This is often the most difficult time.
The meaner and tougher you are on the floor the nicer and more sincere you must be off the floor especially black belts, to prevent “cliques”.
All black belts should say “hi” to new-comers and ask their name.
Many dojo leaders feel a “new member” holds up class. (As previously mentioned, a new member coming into an ongoing class may feel that they are imposing.) This makes it imperative that instructors let new members know of the repetition of our practice. In a typical class, each basic technique is done slow initially and then many repetitions at a harder pace. Let new members know that during the “slow set” this is their chance to watch, copy, and get a feel for what will be done fast. During faster sets, they will feel awkward initially but through repetition, will eventually flow with the class as did each and every experienced member currently training. There is nothing wrong with reinforcing this theory if members become frustrated early in training. If this is reinforced dojo leaders can be less concerned with this issue and maintain much of the desired training format while new members are adapting.
Explain that “push till you pass out” and similar phrases used to motivate increased intensity often doesn’t apply to newcomers. New members, especially those severely out of condition, need to be able to stand back and catch their breath as needed during class. Additionally, tell newer members not to expect too much too soon.
People come to training to learn how to be strong. This is a long process. Don’t expect them to have the strength already or express it too early in training.
Don’t push fund raisers on newcomers or junior members. They can be aware of fund raising projects but never ask them for money. If they want to support, they’ll bring it up.
Caution and restraint needs to be applied by all members when exchanging personal business ventures or exchange of services between members. Ie some SKA members have felt that if they don’t support a personal business project or buy a specific product or service from a dojo leader it will affect their kyu test or sense of belonging. Private business and dojo training seldom mix. There is nothing wrong with exchanging non-dojo professional services but be aware of the risk involved. Juniors feel obligated to support seniors but sense the inappropriateness of the approach and this creates conflict.
Don’t over-correct those with training experience outside SKA. Quite often we rush to tell them everything they are doing wrong. Allow a transition period based on their enthusiasm for our style of training.
Watch for “hot spots.” If you sense a problem in your dojo, correct it immediately. for example, injuries, bullies, elderly or out of condition pushing to hard initially.
While at times appreciated, occasionally juniors will correct juniors when it is inappropriate or they have not specifically been given that responsibility. For example, someone with 3 or 4 months of training may go through the lines in ippon-kumite correcting the rest of the members with possibly a little less training time. While some may appreciate this, most people find this irritating and distracting. Promptly, use discretion and politeness when dealing with this as obviously the student means well.
I remember one senior black belt saying, `White belts should be silent, brown belts can ask questions, black belts can answer questions.” You can decide on the degree of application but the intent is clear.
Derogatory, sexist, racial, cursing on the dojo floor is unprofessional.. (I remember one mother very upset because an instructor told her son, “You punch like an old lady.”)
Punctuality is a must to uphold the professionalism of the dojo. Always start on time. New comers may feel that they are not getting their moneys worth (45 minutes vs. 1 hour). If you as the instructor are occupied off the training floor, have an assistant or junior member proceed with the warm up until you can quickly join them. As mentioned previously, this also appears inappropriate to perspective members waiting to watch a class.
If ending late it could be inconvenient for members with obligations after class. Some SKA instructors will regularly extend class 30 minutes to an hour. This extra practice can be beneficial to members as long as those that may have time obligations, thinking the class was going to end on time, have the opportunity to leave. It has been my experience, those needing to get out on time will not return to the class in many cases.
Be aware of how you address your class. “I want you down in a horse stance” can be very insulting to mature adults. Consider, “Horse stance needs to be much lower.”
I remember one instructor yelling at a newer member to get in “kibadachi” without showing the member what it was. The student was doing back-flips trying to figure it out. The point is instructors must keep in mind the perspective of the student, especially new members, and have patience with their growth.
If you’re going to give commands in Japanese, make sure you explain their meaning.
• Don’t address entire class as “people”. “You people push harder.” Consider, “We need to express ourselves more strongly.” Mature adults, especially those with many life experiences, should be treated with respect. People must humble themselves in order to accept the criticism of instruction. Don’t abuse this with an “attitude.”
Dojo leaders need to watch instructors focusing on their own practice and not teaching what juniors should be working on. This must be approached immediately and addressed.
It can be very difficult criticizing an instructor who donates their time to teach. When the intervention is necessary for the growth of the dojo and current members, don’t put it off but handle it with care.
Instructors need to be consistent, punctual, and responsible for their individual class. Instructors constantly not showing up for a scheduled class (or showing up late) are unprofessional and set a bad precedent. Dojo leaders need to replace these instructors with someone more responsible if possible or have them change their behavior.
Use discretion when having white belts or junior members count during class. This can be done for small time periods. I. e. during something simple like oi-zuki to expose them to group counting. But if this is the norm and class flow suffers, it can be detrimental to group feeling if the counting is too inconsistent. The bulk of the class needs to move at a sharp crisp pace.
At some dojos, junior black belts have no say with dojo operations or at kyu tests. This can affect their sense of belonging.
Occasionally dojo instructors feel they have -a better grasp on what should be taught than the dojo leader, such as constantly deviating from the requested format. Dojo leaders must address this. If met with resistance a good solution is to meet with dojo seniors or black belts in general and discuss the situation and come up with a solution that best benefits the members.
Generally have a consistent method, order, & rhythm of skills being practiced. (Five or 10 up and back is best for keeping uniformity for most dojos.) Changing the number each trip breaks uniformity and may affect feeling. It is best to maintain a consistent pace for kihon. It may be beneficial to occasionally break rhythm but for this to be the norm makes it difficult for juniors to develop a strong sense of feeling. .
• Many members train 4-6 days per week to prepare for a Dan or kyu test. If your candidates train only 2 days a week, let them know that may need to allow more time to meet their goals. Explaining this may help with some of the frustration involved as candidates shouldn’t but do compare themselves with others.
If membership allows, have 2 kyu tests per year. Some dojo leaders feel kyu tests are just a status and not necessary. The ranking process creates a flow and Ohshima Sensei encourages it for a reason. Unreasonably delaying a kyu test can affect growth and the path we follow in training.
*Even in the Dan ranks members will seldom work on Bassai as they will preparing for a Shodan test. The same applies to such aspects of training as jiyu-ippon for the Nidan test, torite and leadership for the Sandan test, and nagewaza for the Yodan test. Members pushing aside the ranking process without reason may never have the benefit of the motivation our ranking systems offers or take advantage of higher levels of training. Additionally, with rank comes leadership, another part of our practice which is necessary for proper development.
Have standard kyu tests & guidelines. Junior members should know most of what is expected at kyu tests. for example, if it has been the norm at your dojo that a member can make brown belt without knowing bassai, do not suddenly make that a requirement during the grading.
Make it known that other black belts in your dojo should make every effort to attend kyu tests.
SKA supplied kyu certificates should be given to all participants as soon after grading as possible.
If students become bored with training it may help to reinforce positive aspects that our training offers aside from the actual karate practice: one maintains necessary aerobic conditioning, full range of motion in all joints, and social interaction which all have proven to support a healthy lifestyle and longevity.
If students become bored with the repetition of practice quite often instructors try to find something “new to work on.” Just as effective can be finding more depth in what we do and how each aspect of training applies to realistic situations. This can reinforce their motivation for training. If this process is not clear to you, talk to seniors in your area about suggestions.
Don’t chose instructors simply by seniority (If you have a choice.) Instructors need to have enthusiasm, some personality, and genuinely like people (especially those dealing with newer members). I find often that the instructors who deal with the public in their given professions have an advantage.
• Caution with having a senior instruct a class if a more junior black belt has committed to showing up regularly to instruct the class. In some situations this may be fitting, but if every time the junior shows up to teach his/her class, somebody senior shows up and takes the class, this can leave a junior instructor feeling that their sacrifice to be responsible and consistent is not necessary or appreciated. This also reduces the consistency of what members can expect from the class.
While this may or may not be the case in your dojo, having a consistent instructor at a given day and class time has been shown to be more beneficial than students being exposed to a different instructor each time for that particular class. Sometimes, however, this is not avoidable.
If you have kids and adults in the same class, during kumite, make sure at some point kids get to match with kids and adults match with adults. Make adjustments. I’ve heard many adults say, “I didn’t join karate to learn to fight little kids.”
If you are happy with the rate of growth at your dojo or are very content with the size of your membership, the suggestions listed below may not be necessary, and without being said, many would apply to only specific types of training facilities. Do not expect SKA National to be responsible for “marketing” your dojo. Because of cost, geography, and the diversity of our training facilities, the majority of promotions most be done at the dojo level.
I. General Information
(Some of this information may have been previously mentioned throughout this document as the suggestions can apply to more than one category.)
Let all guests know the best days to watch a class. For example, your best instructors (if there is a choice) and most appropriate class sizes.
Know what makes your dojo special. You might have a list or brochure with the important information highlighted for easy reference.
Listen to the person inquiring and find out what he or she is looking for in a martial arts school. Patiently listening helps the person inquiring realize your genuinely interested in them. This also shows that you are trying to understand their specific situation not just trying to sell them something. Explain how what you have may best fit their needs. If you don’t have it, suggest where they may find it elsewhere.
Be frank about price: monthly and SKA dues requirements.
SKA is a great organization. Show your enthusiasm and use information in this document to educate them on SKA.
Some SKA members feel it is inappropriate to answer the phone or greet guests during class time. Problem is, this is the time that guests are expected to come by. Any member familiar with SKA and your dojo’s operation can briefly acknowledge them and answer a few short questions. If you feel that this interrupts your program, just be aware it may affect your members} ip. It all depends on your priorities. If you walked into a business or any training facility and were ignored, would you feel that new members are welcome?
Many dojos do not take full advantage of word of mouth. I know one Sandan who refused to tell an acquaintance that he broke his hand practicing karate and made up a story instead. You would be surprised how many people who are looking for a quality martial arts organization and you have found one. If all your members keep it a secret you will not take advantage of SKA’s number one promotion, “word of mouth.”
One of the largest martial arts school in San Diego requires members to produce referrals. As part of their belt testing, they have a check off sheet that must be filled out prior to testing which includes having at least one referral “to support our dojo.” While this is highly inappropriate, it is good to know the extent to which competitors will go.
Put in another way, members of many of our competitors receive financial bonuses for bringing in new members and are very aggressive away from the dojo. In contrast, many of our members hesitate to even mention their training to close acquaintances. While I feel the former is inappropriate, the latter may be extreme in some situations. If membership is a concern, it needs to be discussed where we draw the line and satisfy our priorities.
* Again if membership is not an issue in your dojo, this does not have to be addressed. You don’t have to ask members to stand on street corners wearing sandwich signs, but you can encourage word of mouth to those feeling comfortable promoting SKA with specific face to face contacts.
Studies show first impression begins within 4 seconds and is formed within 2-3 minutes of initial contact. This may include face to face or phone contact.
Answering the phone with, “Hello” is very unprofessional to most people. If you were looking for any type of professional service, this would be your first indication they are inferior.
Answer the phone stating the name of your school, your name, and after a greeting exchange, state, “How can I help you?” not “May I help you?”
Get the callers name and use it. (Write it down if you have to.) This personalizes the call. You should also use their name when you greet them if they are going to come down and observe a class.
Have needed information in front of you. If you cannot answer specific questions, don’t fake it. Give them the opportunity to speak to someone who can answer their questions.
Many of SKA’s positive qualities mentioned in “Approaching Guests” applies to phone inquiries also:
Why our rates are lower. (Again, not because of inferior quality.)
If students can train more days a week than competing schools mention it. Advantages of joining an organization with stability and longevity.
No hidden costs (belt tests, required private lessons, increased rates after introductory courses, etc.)
Quality (blessings- of colleges, YMCA’s, recreational centers, and other community organizations across the US. and Canada).
SKA is a nonprofit organization (shows a sincere ethics code.)
No contracts (keeps only those on the training floor that want to be there.)
*Any of the qualities listed above, and more, may be used to address the questions phone inquiries may involve.
End the call with, “Thank you for calling. We look forward to seeing you.”
Eighty-two percent of business people state that the way the phone was answered influenced their opinion of the company (which of course could be your dojo) they had called.
Don’t let untrained or unprepared people answer the phone. Answer promptly and preferable before 3 rings.
Don’t underestimate using the basic rules of politeness when talking with potential members.
Your voice should convey confidence, enthusiasm, professionalism, and sincerity to potential members.
If inexperienced people answer your phone, train them not to say, “May I take a message?” but rather, “Let me have your name and number and I’ll have the dojo leader or responsible person (insert his/her name) return your call.” Additionally, get the best time for the call to be returned.
Surveys have shown that the following are bothersome phone habits:
|Not identifying yourself to the caller||11%|
In many cities, having a dojo in a safe location has effected membership. If your dojo has convenient parking and is a safe location, it may help to mention this on the phone.
III. Other Common Promotions
All dojos should have a small phone ad. Many people are looking for a Japanese martial arts system (Shotokan included) and by not finding a school in their area may settle for less.
Some dojos have had success advertising in local weekly or monthly publications.
* One of SKA’s more successful dojos was experiencing a rapidly falling membership. The dojo leader felt that this was due to heavy advertising by new competition over the years. His statement was, “I wish SKA would allow advertising in local publications.” Because of the possibility other dojo leaders may have this misconception, SKA has no policy against most forms of public advertisement.
If possible, have a dojo pamphlet available during both business and non-business hours. I keep a stack outside our dojo’s front door in a small pamphlet holder.
Some form of temporary or permanent signage.
Some dojos have had luck with demonstrations. Though I have not found this to be beneficial, some dojos have had very good success with public demonstrations. It might not hurt to host a demonstration in your area and see if your dojo can benefit from this form of exposure.
Some college clubs establish committees the semester prior to handle promotions for the coming semester. This would include school newspaper exposure, posters, flyers,, event booths, etc. These can be of tremendous benefit on campuses.
Following are a group of comments and ideas often addressed by SKA members and might be worth mentioning.
SKA has always supported the concept of : “Teach only those who ask to be taught.”
With this in mind, many dojo leaders (myself included) feel membership contests, 2 for the price of 1 (Family discounts excluded), freebies, pressure sales, and contracts all violate this maxim and may effect quality. This is quite different than helping guests become aware of all SKA has to offer in their decision to join a karate program. Possibly, if a new dojo is struggling to get started or keeping their doors open, the appropriateness of using a gimmick to survive may be a temporary asset. It might be discussed with dojo Black Belts or seniors in your area.
Because of the setting where some dojo leaders were introduced to SKA and also the variance of training facilities, charging and collecting monthly training dues are handled in many ways. Ohshima Sensei and many SKA seniors feel it is not in the best interest to allow students, not experiencing financial hardship, to train without paying some form of term or monthly fee. For example, getting something for nothing syndrome. One Utah dojo leader had to raise dues to stay open. Membership increased and students stayed longer. (Guess why?) Dojo leaders feeling guilty for “taking money” to teach karate can and should use the money to improve the quality of their students and training facility. This remedies many conflicts regarding this dilemma and most students appreciate the improved training environment.
You will find some of these suggestions also “promote” your dojo (and were mentioned as such) as well as help build SKA
Use the Money To:
- Buy striking bags and training equipment to aid students concept of focus and kime.
- Send yourself (or members with financial problems) to special training
- Travel more often to train with Ohshima Sensei if you are a distance from him.
- Buy mirrors (if allowed) for your facility.
- Run a simple ad in a local phone book or publication to let people know there’s a ShotokanSchool in the area.
- Create a brochure or pamphlet with dojo and SKA information for inquiring guest.
- Pay for increased senior visits.
- Signage, temporary or permanent.
- In some cases dues income has allowed for the relocation of a dojo to a safer or more accommodating area. Along with this often goes increased available training times.
- Buy video equipment to tape students.
- Buy gifts for those “always there when your dojo needs them.”
- In larger or private facilities add or upgrade changing rooms, shower, bathrooms, square footage, lighting security, etc.
- Attend international SKA events.
- Travel to support, or better yet, compete in SKA’s Nisei Week tournament.
- Send dojo Black Belts to the Nisei tournament. Every year many regions are under represented and often money is the cause. Most benefit tremendously from the preparation for and participation in this event.
- Donate all or part of the dues money to SKA’s Central Building Fund.
- Dues income may allow you to work less so you can have more interaction or training time with your students. It’s very difficult to learn a traditional martial art form training only 2 days a week.
- I have used dues money to pay a stipend to very high ranking seniors to teach one time a week on an on-going basis. Because this commitment removed them from other working opportunities, it was only appropriate to compensate their time. This has been beneficial for the dojo in many obvious ways and without dojo dues income the members would not have had exposure to their instruction.
Again, many of these things increase the quality of your membership and helps build SKA, passing on a strong tradition of karate. Most dedicated students gladly support growth or improved quality and understand the concept of paying for the time dojo leaders set aside to teach those wanting to learn.
A Quick Note Regarding Dojo Ownership:
For those considering opening a dojo, it can be very difficult without someone holding the title of “dojo leader.”
The same applies if more than I person holds this title. I’m sure some have had good success in spite of this but in many situations it has lead to conflict.
It’s amazing the problems that can develop regarding dues, covering classes, class operations, taxes (if any), liability, various forms of insurance, overhead, money for repairs and improvement, advertising, and signing up new members.
In addition to the above, conflicts also may develop in teaching philosophies passed on to students. There are many other related items not mentioned here but you get the idea.
Often if a single person is not responsible for many of these items, difficulties may and often do arise.
Please don’t think the assumption here is to negate the dojo leader using his members and especially black belts as a problem solving resource.
I remember that the same time I bought the new Garden Grove facility, I began my training with the Los Angeles City Fire Department. The time commitment between the two was creating many problems. I was borrowing money to pay the mortgage on the dojo as membership was so low. I told some close family members and friends I was considering selling the building and closing down the dojo because of the debt I was accumulating. Don DePree suggested calling a Garden Grove Black Belt meeting in an attempt to finding a solution. While I was hesitant to tell them of the problem, I went ahead with the suggestion. The support was tremendous. We raised money for a street sign (Duh?). This, along with other solutions produced at the meeting, led to solving the problem. The point is don’t overlook your resources.
While we’re on this topic, almost without exception, taking over an existing dojo or becoming the new “dojo leader,” will usually result in a drop in membership. This is normal as students adjust to the change. Allowing yourself an adjustment period emotionally as well as financially (if applicable) will help in the transitions.
*Many of the topics mentioned in the adult notes also apply to kids. I’ll try to keep repetition at a minimum.
Comments to Parents (in response to questions or general information)
The children’s program we have developed has been successful for many years and many continue training into adulthood.
Kids should understand that this is one place they go where their behavior resembles that of an adult. It is okay to be a “kid” most of the time but school age kids can face serious challenges, altercations, and peer pressure. Young people shouldn’t have to deal with these, but when they do, their best tools are confidence, a disciplined attitude, and positive role models.
Students must be able to distinguish the “fun times” from “serious times” on our training floor.
If a child genuinely likes karate and wants to be acknowledged, and at the same time wants to be in with the “in crowd” at the dojo, they must learn controlled behavior. In doing so, this lights the fire for self discipline and other skills that will carry over outside the dojo into school, daily activities, and through life.
Strength, self-esteem, balance, coordination, a sense of commitment, and respect for others are a few of the things your child may gain from training.
Even children 4 or 5 years old can begin to learn. commitment. Help the student and their parents pick a goal: to train for 3 months, 6 months, 1 year, attaining 5th kyu, brown belt, etc. After reaching this goal, the student may set a new goal or take a break from training and return at their own choosing.
This also prevents the common feeling of being a quitter if they discontinue at a certain time even after years of training. Karate is on-going and not seasonal like many sports.
Competition is kept in perspective. In many sporting activities kids are winners or losers. To be a winner in karate the tools of mental focus and effort are just as valuable as athletic prowess and less limiting.
• All of our instructors also have occupations away from their lifetime commitment to training. Many work with children in an environment outside the dojo (this is true with many of our dojos) and are working professionals. This makes excellent role modes for your children.
Occasionally all kids have the opportunity to count for the group and perform kata in front of the class. At an early age, this can begin the development of skills that deal with the fears of speaking and performing in front of groups.
A level of discipline is maintained which maximizes the training experience, yet keeps classes enjoyable. A child not willing to accept our reasonable guidelines or too young to begin assimilation of their meaning is not quite ready for the study of karate or to begin developing the disciplinary skills necessary to function in our group environment.
Before choosing any school please keep the following in mind:
- Observe a few classes to see if your expectations are met. Anyone not allowing you to view classes should be approached with caution.
- Be cautious of contracts, excessive belt test fees, and hidden costs.
- The facility should be clean and well cared for.
- Look at the neighborhood where the facility is located.
Keep an over all atmosphere of discipline in your dojo not only during class but especially before and after class. This exhibits to parents and other observers that this is a place children must have controlled behavior.
Keeping straight and even lines during mokuso, kihon, kata, and kumite where applicable all lead to the appearance of orderliness and structure.
Equipment can only be used properly and activities before class should be limited to conversation or individual karate practice. Anyone causing a disturbance before class will be asked to sit and wait until class starts.
Have a disciplinary process developed with kids knowing the limits of their behavior. For example, kids producing any kind of disturbance must be stopped immediately with a polite tone. Let new kids know inappropriate actions are not allowed. Any continuance and they must sit and watch for a few minutes. Use more warning with newer members, none with older members. Increase the sitting time as needed. The key. is to be very polite, tempered, direct, and consistent.
To soften this process I usually ask all the kids before or during class, “What should we do if someone tries to bug somebody else or play around?” Most kids will yell out, “Sit them down!” Don’t wait until there is a problem to state the rules of your dojo.
I also explain this process to parents so they understand why their child is not on the floor. Very soon the child learns the rules of the group.
If this results in a child spending excessive time away from the class, I tell the parents we can continue the process or have the child quit for a while and reevaluate their goals.
I also tell them, “However, I’ve had amazing success with this process but I know you are not paying dues to have your child watch all the time. It may take time and patience, talk it over with your child.”
It’s not necessary to tell the child they are “bad.” Just explain that the other kids are serious and want to learn. If the child doesn’t want to train right now it’s okay to sit and watch until he/she feels like joining the group.
Another suggestion: If a child is a continued problem, I’ve had good success pulling them aside before class begins and reinforcing our participation guidelines in a mutual discussion. Whenever they have a good class with improved effort, praise them afterwards and also tell the parents in front of the child how much better she or he did.
This praise often motivates the child to continue improving and parents will appreciate the positive pattern.
As an instructor you need to have more energy than the kids. Change basics and drills quickly as attention span wanders. No long-winded philosophical lectures.
Don’t stand in the corner with your hands out issuing commands. You must move about the class and stay on top of each individual with lots of “hands on.”
Many dojos have age restrictions and these are necessary at some locations. I have seen kids as young as 4, 5, or 6 years old with amazing learning skills. One 3 year old and some just a little older have continued to and through Shodan. Teaching kids this young is limited to unique facilities, situations, and not always successful. But don’t underestimate their young abilities.
Many non SKA schools have tests every month or two with large fees involved. The number of colored belts may increase also to create income.
In SKA belt tests are held 2 times per year during a formal presentation in front of the dojo’s Black Belts. No additional fee is required. It is a very formal process. Explain this so that guests don’t conclude that the lack of a fee makes it an inferior process compared to competitors who may charge large amounts. While a part of training, rank is kept in perspective.
As rank increases, class attitude should be a bigger factor at kyu test. Kids should know that good behavior and strong effort are rewarded.
Any kid receiving brown belt should be considered a class role model and seldom require disciplinary actions.
Brown Belts may have special privileges that helps them maintain training interests after 3rd kyu. It also helps them to develop leadership skills. These include holding bags for other kids and assisting with new kids for short periods of time. (ie. initiating Taikyoku Shodan while the rest of the class is doing… )
Letting parent know that with rank come privileges and responsibilities can be of benefit.
Some making first kyu after training for many years may still be quite a ways from a Shodan test. I often give them the choice to assist instructors for the full class or train and help as needed. This also aids in developing skills working toward Shodan.
As with adults, I feel the grading process should be fair. I have found no benefit to making the process more strict or lenient than necessary. The process for grading kids does not need to go to extremes.
To think every kid will train through Shodan is ludicrous. An extremely small percentage of adults reach this goal even without the age restrictions we place on kids. When dojo leaders withhold earned kyu ranks from a child who has met all expectations solely because he or she is young sends a poor message to parents and the child. Obviously kids may move through the ranks a little slower. While we may not make some of the exceptions or make borderline promotions as we do with adults, we still need to strive for fairness with kids.
I have found no benefit to keep a kid that trains serious, consistent, and very hard from an earned rank only because he/she is young.
It should be noted that some SKA dojos grade kids I time per year and seem to like this format as it applies to their particular environment. Many commercial schools grade kids up to 12 times per year. Therefore, I don’t think 2 times per year is excessive and feel most Shotokan kids are exceptional accepting our conservative ranking as it is.
After a child makes first kyu (in whatever time frame) and is still a ways from 16 years old, I’ve had good success with the following, “I hope you continue to train through Black Belt. If you need a break take one. Try to keep a foot in the door. If you discontinue and want Shodan some day, allow plenty of time to bring yourself back up to your current level and beyond. You’re an amazing kid to meet this goal and an excellent role model to continue training to 1st kyu.”
Lastly, some feel we need a separate ranking system for kids. I’ve had good luck without it. One just needs to know how rank is explained to kids and tell them how special they are compared to kids who need this crutch to continue training. If approached properly many Shotokan kids don’t need it , are happy without it, and pride themselves on being different. You just have to put it into perspective for them.
I am not so sure how it supports our system if the only way to keep kids from quitting is to give them more belt colors (or whatever). There are many other ways to motivate and reward kids.
Copyright (c) 2000-2003, J. Gregory Scott and Shotokan Karate of America, Inc. All rights reserved.