I love the martial arts. I really do. They are my favorite thing in the world. That being said…
A martial arts business, just like any other business, is still a business. As such, they use certain strategies to get people in the door and keep them training. That’s called ‘marketing’ and there is nothing wrong with it. If they don’t use it, then chances are they won’t be around for very long.
The martial arts business is a tough business to be in. It’s so hard to make a living from martial arts that those who do are few and far between. Even more so, those who refuse to compromise on quality and deliver genuine, authentic training and don’t turn into ‘belt factories.’ But how can you know which is which? Well, if you are just starting out, then you can read this article. It will explain some things that will help you find the right school for you.
But there are other things to look for in addition to the article highlighted above. There are certain phrases that get thrown around a lot in the marketing jargon in martial arts, or in certain dojos. Those phrases should immediately raise a red flag in your mind. So what are these phrases?
Before I go on, I’d like to say something I feel is important.
I am not preaching from the seat of someone who makes no mistakes; rather, I’m hoping that others will not fall into the same traps that I did. I have made pretty much every stupid training mistake one can make. I’ve paid thousands of dollars in fees for something I realised had hardly any value. I ended up in emergency surgery because I was too stubborn to quit. And everything in between. More importantly, I sat at home and thought about what I had learned from every single one of those mistakes. I hope that by sharing this, you will not make the same ones.
Below is a list of some of the ones I have heard over the years, mostly in places I realised later on were not right for me:
1. “Learn the secret reality-based techniques that have previously only been taught to Special Forces”
The last time I saw an ad that phrased something like that, the video showed snippets of those secret techniques. Guess what… it was a front kick and jab-cross. Simple, basic, good old front kick, jab-cross. Maybe it was the torque of the hip that was secret and they cut it out of the video. Maybe it was the point of contact on the bottom of the foot… Or maybe it was just marketing speak targeted at those who wouldn’t know any better. Not through any fault of their own, simply because of lack of experience.
We see this in Krav Maga all the time. “Come and learn the secret techniques of the Israeli Special Forces!” They are not secret. Everyone in Israel serves in the army – it’s the law. And everyone in Israel does some basic Krav Maga training as part of his or her military service. And everyone has access to Krav Maga training. If a whole country knows it, it doesn’t make a great secret, does it?
There is no secret technique. The human body only moves in a set number of ways. All of those ways have been explored thousands and thousands of years ago. Most of the time when someone says something like this, it’s in order to keep some mystique and strengthen his or her brand. This will keep the student training for longer because everyone wants to know what the secret is!
2. “We are the original MMA, we started doing it before everyone else”
Much like the previous point, there is no such thing. Some styles focus on grappling and others focus on striking. But people have been mixing them for thousands of years.
Somewhere in the evolutionary chain, a monkey tried to hit another monkey, missed and ended up rolling with that other monkey on the ground. And there you have it – we are the original MMA! As the name suggests, mixed martial arts simply means mixing different martial arts. If you were training in a school that did karate on Tuesdays and Judo on Thursdays, you are doing MMA. Stylistically, things have changed now. MMA has become a distinct fighting style, but that’s not to say that it’s new per se. It’s just a set of techniques modified and put together to suit the rules that work in modern MMA. But saying that you are the innovator is a great way of keeping people interested. This is done by using a buzz word that, while may be technically correct, is different to what most people expect.
Thoughts on the First Two Statements
The two phrases above are fairly commonplace. The reason they raise suspicion in my mind is that they make unverifiable statements with regards to current industry buzzwords. In other words, they take words that are known to draw people in and make claims that are hard to authenticate. While this is not necessarily indicative of bad training, they are used to get you in the door and often lead to the following two kinds of statements.
3. “Pay X to do your grading, and you’ll get a free re-try if you fail”
There are a thousand other variations and similar statements, and they all lead to the same message. That message is that you can, for all intents and purposes, buy rank. This topic has been discussed to death so I won’t go into too much detail, but just share a couple of thoughts. Firstly, my experience has been that buying rank is often associated with poor training. Secondly, regardless of the quality of the training, it instills the notion that achievements can be bought, rather than earned. You can find out why that’s dangerous here.
4. “You can only train with people from our organisation”
I am an emphatically apolitical martial arts practitioner. Politics in training is something I feel strongly about. It’s also something that has been discussed to death so I won’t go into too much detail.
I understand the need to belong to an organisation, association or group. It adds credibility, strengthens the brand name and can also create great training opportunities with people from around the world. At the same time, it can also stifle growth and development if the organisation imposes too many limitations on how to train and who with. I often think of martial arts as puzzle solving (you can read about this here). The problem is that when you solve the same puzzle over and over again, you stop growing and can become complacent. You may grow more and more confident, but in terms of skill, you are probably not improving very much anymore. You may also be aware of what you don’t know, simply because you are not allowed to explore outside of your current puzzle.
Thoughts on the Latter Two Statements
The first two statements are meant to get you in the door. The latter two statements are meant to lock the door behind you so you can’t leave. By getting you to fork out your hard earned cash in exchange for rank and association, your switching costs have skyrocketed. Even if you want to leave, it may be simpler, easier and cheaper to stay where you are… even if you are not actually getting what you need anymore.
Again, my usual disclaimers; this is not to say that every school who says these things is a bad place to train. Nor am I saying that belonging to an organisation is a bad thing.
So what am I saying? Watch out for true intent (here’s how). Go into things with both eyes open. Question hard and often. Trust your gut if it says something is not right. And, most importantly, be careful of anything that stifles your own growth and development in the long run.
Stay safe, stay tuned.
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