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To Retain the Best, You Have to Give Your Best!

by Chris Rappold


It is always exciting to enroll new students. In most cases, it’s a fresh start with no history, only the promise of a bright martial arts future. The students enter your school and take their first class, receive their first promotions and win their first trophies. Everything is new and exciting.

Through continued hard work — both yours and the students’ — they continue to advance. At first, you may have just one advanced student, but in what seems like no time, you have a class full of brown and black belts. It’s a dream come true.

Then, without warning, one of those advanced students, perhaps even one you had mentally tagged as an assistant instructor, discontinues training. You feel like you got punched in the stomach. Why would the person suddenly stop training? Isn’t this what he or she always wanted? Why would the student come so far, only to quit? These questions and others race through your mind.

While you’ll never be able to prevent everyone from leaving — because of external factors like moving, illness/injury, a job change and so on — it’s good to focus on the things you can and should do to keep dropouts to a minimum.

The three areas you have a tremendous amount of control over are relationship, continuous learning and example. First is relationship. Have you ever frequented a restaurant, even something as basic as a greasy spoon diner, and found that over time, the people serving the food became as much a part of the experience as the toast and eggs? In also happens in activities that are even closer to what we do in the dojo: physical therapy, sports classes, dance and gymnastics lessons, to name a few. When you participate in these pursuits, the people you’re involved with make as much of an impact on your enjoyment as does the activity you’re doing. People maintain their participation because of the how the person delivering the service makes them feel when they are together.

Action Point: Be as enamored with your advanced students when you see them today as you were the first time they walked into your school. Shake their hands, talk with them, ask about their progress, send them notes, etc. The more society speeds up, the more this kind of personal touch means. This is your secret weapon. Over time, it creates a loyalty that no amount of money can buy.

Continuous learning is vital to long-term martial arts relationships, as well. Students continue to train because they see improvement. They feel the connection of the relationship, but progress is what really keeps their motivation high. Expecting your advanced students to stick around out of loyalty alone will not create the win/win situation both of you want. It would be akin to your eighth-grade teacher expecting you to stay in eighth grade after you’ve completed that year of learning.

Action Point: One of the ways you can help keep your advanced students interested in training is to continue to learn and grow yourself. That way, you always have more to offer them.

Finally, there’s the all-important example that you set for our students. Have you ever been skeptical about taking advice from someone who doesn’t follow his or her own rules? Think of the stock advisor who is broke, the doctor who is unhealthy, the personal trainer who doesn’t exercise, or the parent who has spent 15 years of a child’s life setting a bad example but is telling a teenager to act responsibly. Make sure that person is never you!

Action Point: Imagine how your students would feel if they got to inspect your daily habits. Would that inspire them to want to be better or would they be disappointed? As a martial arts teacher, what you sell is the example you set, so walk the talk as you talk the talk. Enjoy the daily benefits of the lifestyle you preach.

Having students who’ve been with you for 10, 15 or 20 years is a privilege. Having advanced students is also a responsibility. Pay attention to the three steps outlined here, and you’ll be well on your way to creating students for life.


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

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