by Antonio Fournier
I had a message from a Martial Arts Industry Association (MAIA) member asking if it is was still beneficial to conduct a Mat Chat in her situation. She had transitioned from a one-hour to a 45-minute children’s-class format, and she was having a hard time fitting it in.
My response was, “It’s not only beneficial, it is a must.”
Her thoughts were that taking five minutes to do it shortened the amount of punching and kicking time.
I used the analogy of a river that is one mile wide and a foot deep, or one that’s one foot wide and a mile deep. It isn’t the width of the message that’s important, it’s the depth of the message that is.
So, why is the Mat Chat so important? It’s a start — and only a start — at connecting life skills to your martial arts program.
First, you’ve made lots of promises in your ads and websites that mere punching, kicking and grappling aren’t going to solve. Second, if you want to teach martial arts as your primary source of income, you have to separate yourself from other schools, sports and recreation centers that take your potential students from you.
Life skills and mental benefits are that mechanism. Martial arts is supposed to be holistic. As such, you’re developing the mind, body and philosophy as one, and in harmony with each other. Your life skills and mental benefits, then, should be able to connect to all of them.
Now, what makes a great Mat Chat? It has to be relevant to today’s challenges that both the child and their parents encounter. Bullying, confidence, self-worth, work ethic, mindfulness, self-esteem, pride in their work, self defense, and friendship are all important themes. So are finding their voice in turbulent times, suffering disappointment and pain; and building self-discipline and self-control.
I gave the MAIA member 13 lessons to use that can be done monthly or weekly. If weekly, repeat four times a year. For example, let’s take “self defense” and how you can make that a life skill or mental benefit.
Ask a student, “Which self do you want to defend?” The one who’s always late? Can’t get their work done on time? Screams and fights with parents or siblings? I can tell you that you won’t defend that person. So, we need to fix those challenges so that you can defend the person we think you can be.”
Next, the Mat Chats have to relate to your audience. The wording, the tonality, have to be different for each group. In a teen’s class, my wording would be a little more colorful related to how they talk — sprinkled with humor but not sarcasm. Teens need to know that they will be all right. The world won’t end tomorrow, and they are loved and have significance.
With the kids, I’m more parental, using a more grandfatherly approach with Lil’ Ninjas and Tiny Tigers. My Mat Chats include lessons that make life a little easier for the parent.
If you’re a younger teacher teaching older adults and feel a little awkward, try using these words to start the Mat Chat. “I talked to the children about this today and I thought I’d bring it up to you.”
The next part has to be the hardest. You must use stories that relate to the Mat Chat, and then ask, “How did this Mat Chat make you feel?” You must have an emotional side to this talk.
Motivational speaker Jim Rohn said it the best. “The words are the rod, the emotion is the pin that pierces your heart.”
Relate some pain that you have experienced and how they can avoid it, or how they can correct the pain they have suffered. Second, share the emotion to the parent or grandparent who’s in the audience.
For example, I am Mat-Chatting about gratitude. I tell my students that I used to say, “I’d give 10 years off my life to have my grandparents back for one day!” Now that my parents are gone, I’d say, “I’d give 10 years off my life to have my parents back for one day, just to hear their voices one more time and tell them ‘I love you.’”
“So, if you have your grandparents, give thanks for them and tell them you love them before it’s too late. Same for your parents. Tell them you love them and thank them for the life you have.”
The world needs us to do this and make a difference in our communities. So, conduct those Mat Chats and make them strong enough to turn them into “Sensei Sermons.”
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