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A friend of mine was walking into a convenience store when a group of young kids recognized him. “Hey, you’re that martial arts teacher! Show us something!”

My friend replied, “OK. I’m going to show you the most important skill I teach.” He then bowed to them.

Of course, the kids wanted to see a flying-spinning hook kick or something visually exciting. Instead, he showed them the outward expression of discipline and respect, two skills that would take them a lot farther in life than the fanciest flying-spinning kick.

To me, that story sums up the challenge (and the benefit) of martial arts student retention. We enjoy the benefit of the tangible, visually exciting skills that require the intangible, internal improvements to achieve.

Make no mistake: Martial arts student retention depends on perceived benefits. As long as students see and feel benefits, they will continue to train. When they stop seeing and feeling any benefits, they will quit.

It is our job as instructors to lead them along the path of benefits. Like the young boys who recognized my friend, most beginning students want to see tangible benefits. Because two out of three people in this country are overweight, that means that two out of three of your new students will perceive an immediate benefit of taking your martial arts classes if they lose weight. Weight loss is tangible and measurable. Better yet, it is visible. If your new student loses twenty pounds, she is not the only one who will notice. All her friends will notice, and she will become a walking, talking billboard advertising your school, and eternally grateful for the change you made in her life.

Students also can see great gains in flexibility that can be measured in various stretching positions and by the height of their kicks. Other students can make great gains in strength and endurance that can be measured in push-ups and sit-ups.

At the enrollment conference, set some specific measurable goals with each new student. Remember to work on those goals in class and after class with the students. Help them achieve the tangible goals by developing the intangible skills and habits that cause these effects.

As they achieve their goals, help them move their attention inward. They were able to achieve the external weight loss, flexibility, or strength gains because of internal self-discipline and perseverance. Their loss of physical fat is a result losing mental fat. Their gain of physical strength and skills is a result of gaining mental strength and confidence.

As time goes by, the physical changes will appear smaller and smaller, but if you have done your job right, they will be more aware of the mental and emotional changes they are making and maintaining.

The important goals of the martial arts are the internal, intangible changes we make, but the means of attaining them are the external goals we present to bring about those changes. If you can effectively communicate those benefits to your students, your martial arts student retention rates will soar, and you will keep your students forever.

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