Before opening your club you need to think about the kind of club you are starting. There are many different styles and within each style many variations and then each club has its own particular way of doing things. Here are some things to consider;
Traditional vs Modern
Are you going for a traditional martial art steeped in history and tradition such as Shotokan or Tang Soo Do are you looking at a newer sport based art such as Tae Kwon Do or MMA? In many ways the style you are teaching will dictate a lot of the way you do things. Traditional styles are often more formal than the newer counterparts with students expected to bow to instructors and call senior grades Sir or Ma’am. You need to decide if you want students to call you by your first name or for them to use your surname and title i.e. Mr or Mrs when talking to you. I think it sets a level of respect to have the students using Mr or Mrs but this may not be appropriate for less formal sport based arts.
What do you expect the make up of your class to be? The type of class you run will be influenced by the types of students that you are teaching. Do you want to teach children only, adults only or mixed family groups? Are you expecting to teach both men and women?
If teaching children you need to think about the minimum age that you will take them from. I would suggest any younger than 5 years old would be difficult to teach due to lack of concentration and coordination etc. There are also implications of teaching younger children. You need to decide if you require parents to remain in the room while the class is on or whether parents can drop the kids off and pick them up later leaving you in charge of their offspring. Younger children are likely to need frequent toilet breaks during a class, for example, and they may need an adult to accompany them. You may require helpers to be able to do this while you run the rest of the class if parents are not around. You should seek parental consent if they are not going to be present for things such as applying basic first aid. You never know if you are going to have to put a plaster on a child and if they are allergic to the adhesive you need to know. In fact you need to know about any allergies or medical conditions for both children and adults and have things like inhalers on hand for asthmatics, for example. You should also be CRB checked before working with children. I write more on this subject in one of my other posts.
Children have a shorter attention span and so classes should be kept fairly short and serious training should be interspersed with fun activities. You should be looking at an hour to an hour and a half maximum class time for younger children. You may decide to have a separate class for younger children outside of the main class so you can tailor it specifically for that age group. Some associations have Little Dragons or Tiny Tigers programs which have a modified training program for youngsters so that is something to think about.
Adults and mixed Family Classes
If you have an adults only class they may expect a completely different style of training to a mixed family class. Some people come to martial arts as a hobby, to keep fit, to socialise etc. these are all good motivations. Others are coming to learn how to fight and defend themselves and expect hard techniques and semi or full contact. Most are looking for a nice balance between all of these things but your class can go to either extreme. You need to decide what your class is going to be and make this known to students when they join. If you have a family class with light contact and friendly atmosphere you don’t want students joining that are expecting full contact sparring and teaching of lethal techniques. Similarly if you are running a class for adults that give and receive full contact strikes you don’t want to bring young children into that atmosphere as it will dilute the training for the existing members and could be dangerous for the children.
Don’t be afraid to split your classes up into different groups if you find it difficult training across family groups. Many clubs have a children’s class, an adults and older children’s mixed class and a senior grades advanced class. Some clubs even run female-only classes for ladies that are not comfortable training in a male atmosphere. Split it in a way that works for you.
Do you plan to cater for physically disabled or learning disability students? This may not be something that you feel equipped to deal with; on the other hand, it may be that you are actually planning to specialise in teaching these students.Either way you need to know what to say and do if you are approached by a potential student with these issues. Talk to your instructor about this to find out if they have dealt with this before and find out any special considerations.
Do you have a maximum age limit? You may plan to run a class aimed specifically at over 60’s and be geared up for that but if not you need to know any considerations to put in place for older students. In theory there shouldn’t be an upper age limit and, in practice, it is the fitness of the student that counts and not how many candles they had on their last birthday cake; however you need to be aware of limitations for more mature students.
Competition and unique selling point
There are thousands of martial arts clubs across the country with probably at least one or two already in your village or town. When starting a club look at the competition to see what else is being taught in the local area. I also mention this in my post about studio location but you need to see what is out there and what you can do to differentiate yourself from the others so that students beat a path to your studios door rather than going elsewhere. As a new instructor you are already at a disadvantage to every other club because all of the others are established and have experienced instructors while you are the newbie. Don’t let this put you off, just think what you can offer that the others are not or cannot. You can differentiate on many of the points raised above; for instance, by offering a kids only class, a ladies self-defence class or an older persons class. You can offer your classes for cheaper prices than the competition until you are established. You can offer classes at a more convenient time than other groups. A children’s class run as an after school club may do well, for example, whereas a weekend class for adults might be more successful for working men and women. For my club we push the fact that we are a family friendly club as our USP and this seems to be working well for our area. I like to think that as martial artists we all respect each other’s arts so I would not suggest making your USP that your art is better than the one currently being taught in your local area. It is better to say what is good and different about your club than bad mouthing the other club.
If you are offering a different style to all of the other local clubs and as long as the area is not saturated with martial arts clubs then you should be alright to open your club in that area. You could even open in the same venue as other clubs. However I would not suggest opening a club right on another clubs doorstep if you are both practising the same style. In fact I would suggest looking for a venue that is around 10 miles away from the nearest club practising the same style. This may be hard to do in practise but if you manage it you will have your very own catchment area for students and are not encroaching on somebody else’s established area. It would be beneficial for you to get in touch with local clubs practising the same style and form a loose alliance especially if you are part of the same governing association. By doing this you can share knowledge, provide cover for each other’s classes for holidays, illness or emergencies and even think about inter club competitions.
If you want to be professional you should know exactly what type of club you are going for. In business companies often create what they call a mission statement to outline the ethos, philosophy and direction of the company. I think that it is a good idea to write out a mission statement for your club. It doesn’t have to be a work of Shakespeare. A couple of lines should do it but it should clearly outline the vision you have for your new club. Here are some examples;
- “We are a family club with a friendly atmosphere training a mixture of children and adults in the traditional art of xxx to give them the benefits achievable by following this art”.
- “We are an adults only club that train hard to get the very best results for our students so that they can compete to the very highest level”.
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