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Old-School Hazing vs. Modern-Day Communication

by Christopher Rappold


Not long ago, I was visiting with Don Rodrigues, one of my dearest martial arts friends for nearly 40 years. Although we speak on the phone often because of our roles with Team Paul Mitchell Karate, this was the first time in nearly eight months that I got to see him in person because of COVID concerns. We had lots to discuss, but for a good chunk of the time, we took a walk down memory lane.

This led to a discussion of how each of us had come to find the martial arts. Coach Rodrigues is my senior by 14 years, and he has deep roots and an almost computer-like memory of old-school karate from the 1960s and ’70s. We laughed the way most martial artists do when they look back in time and talk about things that would not be accepted today.

One of the topics we reminisced about was the sacrilege of asking your instructor when you would be ready for your next rank. If you did, your time was automatically doubled. Back then, we also witnessed instructors who were more than happy to show inquiring individuals just how far from being ready they were — sometimes painfully. And while old stories create bonds between the people who shared the experiences, today it’s important for instructors to ensure that such practices are no longer followed.

One of those old ways is the lack of communication that used to be the norm in martial arts schools. Over the years, we’ve learned that good communication may be the greatest key to success in the growth of a school. When I say communication, it includes communication with your team, students and families. This entails speaking to your students and families via email, text, phone calls and so on about what’s happening at your school. COVID has reminded us all what uncertainty can feel like. It creates unnecessary anxiety on the low end and paralyzing fear on the high end. Team members, students and families need to be kept in the loop so their energy can be conserved for growth and performance improvement.

How much communication is needed? The simple answer is … lots! For example, I took our organization’s monthly newsletter and converted it to a weekly communication tool. By the end of 2020, instead of hearing from me 12 times on this platform, our members will have received 45 communications.

While this is a step forward, it’s not enough. Do you know why? Newsletters and weekly announcements are you talking to your population. You also need to allow your group to communicate with you. An easy way to facilitate this is through surveys.

How much time have you spent thinking about what might work at your school instead of just asking the group you serve what they want? This is one of the benefits of conducting surveys. Another is they’re useful for reminding people that you care. Whether they take every survey or not, the fact that you cared enough to offer the opportunity is a consistent gesture that builds long-term goodwill.

Few of the schools I’ve worked with use surveys. There seems to be an unspoken fear of rejection and of seeing complaints pops up. This is unfortunate because in my experience, when you address a complaint or misunderstanding, usually you can keep a student from quitting.

As we continue to adapt to these changing times, let’s remember that healthy communication needs to flow both ways for it to be effective. And while it’s amusing to remember the days gone by, we’re all better when we keep those out-of-date practices where they belong — in the past.


To contact Chris Rappold, send an email to [email protected].


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