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Systems and Personality: Your Two Keys to Success

retention sparring Jul 15, 2019

By Christopher Rappold


As martial arts instructors continue to get better and better at teaching large populations in efficient ways, the temptation is to move towards total classroom systemization. And while systems do enable us to do certain things more efficiently than we have in the past, there are some decisions you need to make about what to systemize and what should be personalized.

Let’s break this down and look at it in two separate pieces.

First, let’s explore systems. Think about a favorite restaurant you frequent. Behind the scenes, there are probably a myriad of systems that help to ensure the experience is first-class: a setup of warming lights to ensure food arrives at the table hot, a dishwasher that ensures the silverware, glasses and plates sparkle, and an extensive food-preparation effort that probably started late morning or early afternoon that ensures there’s enough of the right kinds of food. Desserts are all premade and ready to be served. There is probably even a timing system so that breads, salads, dinners, drinks and desserts all arrive at the table at just the right time.

Systems allow you to consistently deliver a predictable experience that people can depend on.

Now, keeping the restaurant example, let’s look at personalization and the value of human interaction.

Imagine you arrive at the restaurant and you and your guests are welcomed and greeted by name. You are made to feel that the hostess is sincerely glad to see you and happy you have chosen to return.

You are escorted to your table and introduced to your server. The server, then, over the course of the next hour, seems to magically anticipate every need you have a minute before you realize you even have a need.

You are cared for as if you are a valued family member, not a customer. The guests you brought with you for the first time comment to you, “Now I know why you love coming here so much!” You are filled with the perfect experience of delicious food and personalized attention. Why would you go anywhere else?

Now, let’s transition into a martial arts classroom.

The systems that create the foundation for a great class are a well-designed curriculum that matches the experience of the student to the skill-based activities presented, consistent time frames so students know the routine and flow of a class, favorable instructor-student ratios (10 students to one instructor), and a theme that reinforces the protocol and culture of the art you teach.

These are the mechanical systems of the class that reinforce retention.

Now we come to the human experience that really creates the glue that holds people to your school: the instructor interaction.

The care and personalization of the lesson to the individual is as much a difference-maker to a school as the waiter or waitress is to your dining experience. Great instructors take the time to understand the student’s needs, preferences, learning styles and goals.

The classroom lessons may be the same, but, depending on who is in class, the presentation and personal interaction should always be different. This protects you from the student feeling he or she could go anywhere and learn martial arts. While there are more options than ever for students, the right kind of personalized caring and professional relationship keeps students training years longer than they would if it was just the mechanical systems.

Systems are imperative to the smooth operation of a martial arts school, but beware they work in conjunction not in place of human connection. Remember, never teach a class – always teach the individuals in the class.  


Chris Rappold can be reached for questions or comments at [email protected]

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