Persuasion in the Martial Arts World

One of the things I hear a lot from beginners who are thinking about joining martial arts is that they aren’t ready for fit enough for class. I caught myself in that kind of thinking today when I saw an email come in at work for a new boot camp company offering free trial classes to all employees in the same building. Part of the advertisement stated that we would be on the treadmill for a good part of the class, which instantly made me want to run (ironically) in the opposite direction. While I consider myself a fit person, cardio has not been one of my strong suits due to getting a set of exercise hives (yes, I’m allergic to exercise). Thankfully with a bit of consistent practice the histamines in my system settle down and I’m able to run on the treadmill without slashing myself across the thighs in an orchestrated cheese-grater motion.

I’m at the time in my life when I’ve gotten back on the treadmill (mentally and physically) and am at the stage that if I keep it up the running won’t be so bad. So I can understand and recognize the reluctance of people who don’t quite always feel prepared or up to the challenge when it comes to trying out new or unfamiliar experiences. A lot of life we’ve been conditioned to think that we should be fully ready to do something–think about a child who wants to drive or go out late at night or get married–and there are certain limits to what is appropriate from the child and parental perspective as to what to do. When we get older, that same kind of fragility is carried with us, and I feel like it does affect our lives’ more than what we would like to believe.

So exercise, and specifically martial arts, is an area that is particularly thorny for people. Add that with the uniforms that most places wear and you’ve got yourself a marketing problem. The status quo bias infects almost every part of our lives, so I don’t blame anyone for people’s unwillingness to put themselves in situations where they feel uncomfortable. But I do think that businesses in martial arts can do more to encourage people in the process to get through the door and also to make them feel more comfortable once they are within the academy walls, to the extent that they haven’t considered it before from a rigorous point of view. I only say this because I suspect at least for the schools that were established “in the old times” and pride themselves on the “traditional” way of doing things may not realize or care (and I love that) in the way in which people coming in may not be willing to embrace or engage in a different manner of interaction. Even at my old Karate school, the old approach of training by fire (“trim the fat” as one of the old captains used to say) has been replaced by a kindler, gentler approach, at least initially when it comes to recruiting and retaining the newer students.

This is, of course, not about babying people. Frankly, I think to do that is to believe with your ego that you can control what they think at all. Rather, I am advocating for an approach that is more heart-based and less about instilling fear (intentionally or not) and about the protocol in a place. Certain rules may be there to create order, but it seems to me that it makes more sense to deliver them to the student verbally or after a few classes, rather than presenting them as a barrier of entry of sorts.

Maybe I think every place should have those “before” and “after” photos posted on their websites so everyone understands that you gotta come from somewhere.

When not everyone has the personality of trying something new without all the details, it can be intimidating to figure out how to start. Better yet is a checklist, perhaps, of a few items in which they would need to be comfortable–things like water, type of workout clothes, etc. (Fun note, the gym that I was thinking about running away from stated that you need good running shoes, so there is admittedly a cost/benefit analysis to providing certain information.) It also behooves an organization to ask someone why they did not come back, as it is perhaps better to take account those who haven’t fully committed in an attempt to do better next time.

If I sound bitter in any way, trust me I’m not. I simply and observe and write and this week I’ve set out to do more about martial arts. It strikes me that as we tell stories, people form impressions of us, and we learn how it is received and not. Of course any organization can choose to represent themselves how they wish, but it can stand to learn from the audience as well.


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