Disney World or the County Fair

Disney World or the County Fair

We had a dad who came in and asked about our programs a couple of years ago. My experience with him has been repeated dozens of times over my 35 years of teaching martial arts. I’ll tell his story, I just wish it was an isolated instance.

His son did the trial for a month and loved it. He was a hardworking, smiling and happy boy. We immediately saw him as a future Black Belt. Dad was one of those parents who didn’t stay to watch class during the trial. He would drop him off and leave, sometimes he would sit in the car, on his phone or he would wander down to the bar at the other end of the plaza for a beer.

When the trial was up the kid was excited to sign up and was looking forward to earning his Yellow Belt. Dad had other ideas. He said that we were too expensive. “There is another school in town that doesn’t charge as much and doesn’t require people to buy a program, you can just pay for the month as you go. I’d sign my kid here if you did that,” he told me. “He offers all students nunchuk training too.” We do too, but we it as a part of our upgrade program for students who want to train with weapons, do sparring, ground fighting and HYPER (acrobatic style of martial arts). It costs pennies per day more than our regular program. “Can you give me the same deal he is offering?” he asked.

So, I asked him, “Sir, you stated when you first came in that you wanted us to teach your son about respect, right?”

He said “Yes, the boy needs to be more respectful.”

I continued, “Martial Arts begins and ends with respect. Just like how we bow when we enter or leave the studio and to each other. How respectful would I be to all the other students, who pay what they pay, commit what they commit, if I were to give you a different deal?

“Well,” he continued, “You should lower your rates for all your students so you are cheaper than the other guy.”

Trying not to be insulted, but definitely fighting to not be sarcastic, I asked him, “Have you ever taken your son to Disney World?” He said he had. “Have you ever been to the county fair with your son?” He again, said he had. “Perhaps Disney should lower their prices to the same price as the county fair since the experience is the same.”

“Well, they aren’t the same thing. You can’t compare like that, your school and the other guy’s are just alike,” he replied.

I took a deep breath, remembering that he hasn’t been here to watch his son’s classes, to see how we teach and what his son is accomplishing. I decided if I were going to get anywhere, it was going to be best with letting him answer some more questions. I asked, “How big is the other school?” He didn’t know. I did. “It’s about 2000 square feet. Our school is over 6000 square feet. Small schools may charge less. Naturally, their rent is less than ours. But if they have great classes, they run the risk of having too crowded classes.”

“That doesn’t matter to me,” he said.

“What qualifications does the other instructor have?” I asked.

“Well, someone I talked to said he’s a Black Belt in multiple styles and a celebrated competitor, like you,” he replied. “but he’s in the Hall of Fame and has been on magazines.”

I smiled, knowing all those things can easily be gained in our industry, which is actually very small. Most of us are “world champions” within our own organizations and some of the “Hall of Fame” awards are purchased for a “donation” to their organization, like a “Who’s Who” book. But that’s ok, instead of bringing up any of that, I asked, “My college education makes me a child development specialist. Do any of those things you mentioned make him qualified as a child development specialist?”

“Well, no, probably not, but so what?” he said.

“Do you think it would be an advantage if your son’s martial arts instructor was a child development specialist?”

“What difference does that make? You guys are both just teaching people how to kick and punch," he said.

This made it clear, they aren't signing up, but I was going to at least try to plant a little education in there. I asked, "You mentioned competitions, do you think winning tournaments is the same as real fights?"

"Well no," he said, "but it's similar."

"So, you think a friendly, consensual competition, with rules, safety equipment, padded floor and a referee, with a single opponent is the same as my experience of working in a psychiatric hospital for years, where I had hundreds of real life altercations, often with multiple opponents, no rules and no referee?"

He just looked frustrated glanced around, leaned in and whispered, "Look I just want him to stop bugging me about doing Karate, ok?”

There it was. At this point it is obvious that he either had no clue the influence martial arts can have on a student’s life or he didn’t care. And he wasn’t going to be supportive when his son hits those plateaus where things get tough. He’s going to end up sabotaging his own son's chance of a great life experience. Sad really. At this point I told him that I was sorry, but if he wanted his son to train here, that this was the price and the programs were there to protect him from price increases. If he felt he could get the same quality training at the other school, I could only wish him and his son the best. They left.

There were other questions I could have asked, such as how many Black Belts trained there? We have over 30 actively attending and training Black Belts. This is a great indicator of how good a school’s retention is.

How many adults train there? It’s easy to fool kids, you just play some games and let them kick and yell. They don’t know any differently. Adults on the other hand, want quality training. Most schools today cater only to kids. Some don’t even take adult students since they make so much on the kid’s programs, they figure why should they bother. We have over 300 students and nearly half our demographic is adults.

How clean is their facility? The discipline your instructor is supposed to be teaching, should be illustrated by how clean and safe he keeps the training hall.

How nice and comfortable is the facility? In theory, it should take over 4 years to earn a Black Belt. During that time, we want to make sure the parents are comfortable and the students feel at home. A smelly, stinky studio with uncomfortable seats for parents is going to get old very quickly. Our leather couches and café area make it easy to feel comfortable.

I later heard from some friends of the little boy that he had begged his dad to bring him here. He told them that he didn’t like the other school and he quit before ever earning his yellow belt. We hoped the dad would bring him to us, and we even reached out with a postcard, but got no reply. Maybe when the boy is grown, he’ll end up in my adult class.

The boy knew, there is a difference between Disney World and the County Fair. 

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