How to keep your martial arts students interested & engaged

A common problem for UK martial arts clubs, and indeed sports clubs in general, is participant retention. Tim Hallaran gives us his take on this, along with some tips to help keep your sports hall full...

People drop out of martial arts for all kinds of reasons. Perhaps your class doesn't offer what someone is looking for in a martial art. A student might have a hectic social life which is starting to take more of a priority. People change jobs and have to move cities.

There's always going to be a natural drop off rate for any school. What you need to know though is what elements of your school can you change in order to increase your retention rate, and decrease your drop out rate.

Gradings & Syllabus

Although gradings are not essential for a school to thrive, they are something a lot of students want in a school. People always ask what belt someone is when they talk about martial arts, even if they have no idea what it means. The 'black belt' is the much desired focus of achievement. Some schools hand these out too easily whereas others are more prudent.

Gradings also offer people a focus of achievement and a means to measure themselves against others. The syllabus gives your class a structure and also makes it easier to develop classes, knowing where you are going.


Training students is also about structuring your classes to cater for everyone. If your drop out rate is usually around a certain level of development, such as immediately after the black belt, for instance, you know that is where you have a problem. Perhaps you need to offer more development for your senior grades. Often when a student reaches the black belt level, things change for them.

They are expected to teach more and this can cause some conflict. Perhaps they want their own class too and this can bring about a conflict of interests. More people want to feel like they are progressing and you need to make sure you can do this in your classes.

Your Ability

If your students believe they can continue to learn from you then will stick around. Are you still learning and progressing or simply resting on your laurels? Once a student believes they have overtaken your skill they are unlikely to stick around. Even your most loyal students won't stick around if you ave nothing more to offer them but to teach your students and help you build your school.


Of course marketing is important when building a martial arts school. If you rely solely on word of mouth advertising you are not actively building your school. This might work if you have a huge reputation and are the only school in your area. However, to build a school and retain your students you will need a school people want to be in. Nobody wants to be in a tiny struggling school with no students. After a while people will go elsewhere. Even your senior students need a full school for people to train with. Marketing your school with all forms of advertising is a good way to also retain your students.

Your Beliefs/Mindset

When I opened a school I thought everyone would come running. Just because I thought what I had put years of my life into something, I thought other people knew it was worthwhile too. This wasn't the case! Until I came to a new perception of things I didn't advertise much at all. I just thought word would spread and it would work all by itself. How little did I know!

Every other (false) perception of yourself and your school will also come to bear its fruit: your attitudes and beliefs will also filter down to your students, your beliefs about advertising, gradings, syllabus, school events and your place in the larger martial arts community. Becoming more aware of how you think towards your school is well worth your time. If some aspects of your school annoy you, you can probably guess they are the areas which you need to work on. Insurance, gradings, senior students, class trips, camps and other events all have a part in the successful running of your school. What areas might you be uncomfortable about?

Class Tempo/Personality

Not everyone will agree on what is the best tempo for a class. Some people want high -octane classes with plenty of cardio, others want more focus on technique and a slower pace. Equally your personality will please some students and displease others. A long as you a being honest with your students and keeping the classes upbeat, interesting and fun, people will continue to come to your classes.

Access Martial Arts Marketing 101 and learn how to build your martial arts school with new mindsets, advertising techniques and by using the internet to reach your target audience:

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