Monday, July 21, 2014

Martial Art Teachers: How Inviting is Your School?


What is it with karate schools filling up their windows with trophies?  
 
Sure, I get the whole, “look at how successful our students are” theme that tournament trophies supposedly convey, but I’m not sure that helps the owner / instructor build a business, communicate core martial art themes, or attract new students.

I'm not even going to mention how overboard we go with the size of these things.  (OK, so maybe I will...) Every tournament I see children in their formative years of personal development carrying trophies that are literally taller than the kids.  Holy Mr. Rogers - are we carrying the "you are special" thing just a tad far?
 
Considering that a major theme of most martial arts is that confidence and humility are siblings, it seems counter-intuitive to over-dress the studio.  The trophies seem to scream, "You can tell how much humility is here by the counting the number of aluminium statues!"

I’ve been at this for 20 years and in all that time I don’t recall ever hearing someone say that the reason they chose one school over another was a result of the trophies.  And yet, if you look into almost any martial arts school, the first thing you’ll see - sometimes right in the front windows, is trophies, trophies, and more trophies.

These shiny bobbles distract, obfuscate, and sometimes obstruct a prospective student’s view of the real value of martial arts.  I’m not suggesting that trophies are bad, or should be hidden or eliminated.  I am saying that leading your message with trophy-laden windows does not help bring in more students and does not convey a sense of approachability.  

I would go so far as to equate trophies in the windows with translucent glass block windows used in the front of dive bars.  Both relay an illusion of club-i-ness for the already included and express the unintended message of exclusion to the outsider.  A sort of “You can come in if you’re already a member” kind of a venue.

Martial art training studios should be a welcoming, easy to enter, approachable respite from the troubled, stress-filled, sometimes dangerous outside world.  One shouldn’t have to know the secret handshake, be a member’s buddy, or have oodles of self confidence to walk in the door.

Again, for emphasis, trophies are not evil - I have a slew myself, and the school in which I teach displays our trophies prominently, but not in the windows.  With one exception, you have to be inside the school to really see them.

If you own a school (or are looking for one), stand across the street from your school (or one you are considering) and assess how inviting the place looks.  Are you encouraged by the non-verbal messages (a sign that says “Come in” won’t compensate for an unapproachable store front). Or does your school exude the “private club” motif?

Martial art training works - it really does improve the body and mind, self confidence, control, patience, and self esteem.  As owners  and instructors we should want as many people benefiting from our training as possible.  But the very people we want to reach are the same ones that are most likely to be put-off by cluttered windows and exclusionary non-verbals.

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