Big schools, small standards

AIKIKENJITSU

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So lately (past month or two) I have been communicating with and traveling to other martial arts schools that also run as a full time business trying to get some insight into ways to run a business without sacrificing standards and I noticed an unsettling trend. Every school bragged about how they had high standards and every school had between 250-450 students. All but maybe a dozen students per school, to put it bluntly, sucked. They had their floors full but nobody on the floor, not even some of the instructors, had any semblance of good technique. The schools had 6 year old black belts, some with 2 stripes on their belt, they had 3rd dan and 4th dan black belts that couldn't throw a basic round kick without loosing balance, none of them had any focus or semblance of discipline, no effort or power in their forms, their sparring was sloppy and low effort, and many of them didn't have an understanding or ability beyond what I expect from my yellow belts. Conversely there is a Shorin Ryu school in my town that has maybe 80 students at most for all programs (kids, adults, and fitness classes) and they are GOOD! They have white belts that after a month are more skilled than many black belts at these bigger schools. They have way more discipline and focus after a week than the black belts of the larger schools.
So, Million dollar question: Is it possible to run a school with 300+ students at any given time without actually sacrificing high standards? Can I have a school with 300+ students and still have the same or higher standards as the small schools tend to? These big school owners keep telling me it's possible but it is clear that their idea of "high standards" are less than mediocre.
I have been teaching for fifty years. I had a school in Santa Maria Cal. which was a converted double car garage. It was always jabbed packed with men and women students. I now teach privately at my home studio.
It's difficult to keep high standards wilth 300 plus students. The only way to do that is to have an instructor for each fifty students. Then you must have weekly meetings with them, to see how things are going and that they are teaching the way you want.
I've taught for Al Tracy and other studios. People are taught and they stay, when you make them feel special. To do that, you have to give private lessons to the student. Groups are only for practice.
Sifu
Puyallup, WA
 

Xue Sheng

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Unless they are your friends, in which case they can kick him in the head.
I don't know... Years ago a friend of mine told me he was pretty tired, but we all still went out. He also told me that if he gets to sleepy I should hit him in the back of the head.... I did ask him if he remembered who he was talking to...he said yes..... he got tired, told me to hit him in the back of the head...so I did....and then he had the audacity to get mad at me....just because I possibly knocked a few fillings loose
 

Gerry Seymour

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My opinion is this: The smaller the class/school, the better learning experience and higher standard. I have a 6th grade student (on a 10 grade scale with 10 being white belt) who can best many black belts from other schools in the area. I teach no more than a 5 students at a time. Obviously, I do not make a living doing this. But I prefer quality of teaching/coaching over quantity of students.
I think there's a lower limit to this. There's a lot of advantage in having a variety of training partners. I have done a lot of 1-1 teaching, and I don't think that's anywhere near the best learning environment. As both student and instructor, I've always preferred classes with 10-20 people.
 

Damien

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So lately (past month or two) I have been communicating with and traveling to other martial arts schools that also run as a full time business trying to get some insight into ways to run a business without sacrificing standards and I noticed an unsettling trend. Every school bragged about how they had high standards and every school had between 250-450 students. All but maybe a dozen students per school, to put it bluntly, sucked. They had their floors full but nobody on the floor, not even some of the instructors, had any semblance of good technique. The schools had 6 year old black belts, some with 2 stripes on their belt, they had 3rd dan and 4th dan black belts that couldn't throw a basic round kick without loosing balance, none of them had any focus or semblance of discipline, no effort or power in their forms, their sparring was sloppy and low effort, and many of them didn't have an understanding or ability beyond what I expect from my yellow belts. Conversely there is a Shorin Ryu school in my town that has maybe 80 students at most for all programs (kids, adults, and fitness classes) and they are GOOD! They have white belts that after a month are more skilled than many black belts at these bigger schools. They have way more discipline and focus after a week than the black belts of the larger schools.
So, Million dollar question: Is it possible to run a school with 300+ students at any given time without actually sacrificing high standards? Can I have a school with 300+ students and still have the same or higher standards as the small schools tend to? These big school owners keep telling me it's possible but it is clear that their idea of "high standards" are less than mediocre.
Is it possible? Yes. Easy? Probably not.

It depends on your definition of standards, but let us assume we're talking quality instruction and apply some maths to it. I think it is fair to say than in an hour long class you could teach 20 people and give them all quality instruction and plenty of attention. I did it for years even with grumpy hung over university students!

If you are running your club full time and offering different class times for different schedules you could do 8 classes in a day (2 early morning, 2 at lunch, 4 across the afternoon and evening). That get's you a mix of kids after school, professionals before work or at lunch, and anyone in the evening. Plus anyone else that happens to be available at the other times due to their schedule.

8*20=160 students per day. Most people won't train every day, maybe twice a week. So let's say across 5 days only 20% train every day, the rest just twice. That gives us 32 training every day. The other 128 from each day appear one other day, so across 5 days, times that by 2.5 and we have 320. That give you 360 students, each getting the level of attention as a 20 person class.

Now the difficulty here isn't in keeping up the teaching standards, it is in getting enough students who want to train at each of these different times and having the space for them. Obviously there will be variation around the average for each day, time etc., but it should still be possible to keep up good quality teaching in a class of 30 or more, especially if you have senior students assisting with basics or another instructor. If you're getting too far beyond that you are probably better off having two classes running at once; hence the issue of space.

Online training can free up some of these limitations. It introduces others of course, it's always a balancing act and depends on your and your students aims. Grappling arts will never work online, "art based" martial arts can. Striking arts can teach the basics online, as long as there is also in person contact to pressure test.

So it is possible to have a lot of students and high teaching standards, but you need the right structure and you need to have enough students. Frankly I'm always amazed by the huge class numbers you see in US martial arts schools!

If you're talking standards of students, then it is variable. Not everyone will be a super star. Some people will never get even relatively simple stuff right no matter how many times and how many different ways you explain it. Some people just never develop the body awareness, and that's fine. We should always be catering to a range of abilities and talents. If none of the students are any good, then of course you might want to ask some questions.

A lack of quality is not something that is exclusive to big schools, it happens plenty in small ones too. I guess it is just more noticeable if the school is so big you can't help but know about it. If they are pushing class numbers ever higher and not increasing the number of teachers to match, then you run into a problem.
 

WaterGal

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It's difficult to keep high standards wilth 300 plus students. The only way to do that is to have an instructor for each fifty students. Then you must have weekly meetings with them, to see how things are going and that they are teaching the way you want.

Yeah, the way you maintain high standards with a lot of students is by maintaining high standards with your staff, which I think is what you're getting at here.

You need to have a well-organized curriculum. You need to have instructors who you've trained in both what and how to teach, and then you need to make sure that they're actually doing that. And you need to be organized in your communication with the students, as well, so they know what they need to work on to be successful. All of that gets harder as the school gets bigger.
 

Gerry Seymour

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Yeah, the way you maintain high standards with a lot of students is by maintaining high standards with your staff, which I think is what you're getting at here.

You need to have a well-organized curriculum. You need to have instructors who you've trained in both what and how to teach, and then you need to make sure that they're actually doing that. And you need to be organized in your communication with the students, as well, so they know what they need to work on to be successful. All of that gets harder as the school gets bigger.
I would also argue that one component of having a good staff of instructors is NOT trying to get them to all be copies of the chief instructor. Helping each become best at their own style of teaching is more productive, and has the bonus of fitting a wider range of students' needs.

Of course, there's some grey area in this. You don't want things all willy-nilly, so the overall approach should probably be led mostly by the CI, so things don't get too confusing for students.
 

super saiyan 4

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So lately (past month or two) I have been communicating with and traveling to other martial arts schools that also run as a full time business trying to get some insight into ways to run a business without sacrificing standards and I noticed an unsettling trend. Every school bragged about how they had high standards and every school had between 250-450 students. All but maybe a dozen students per school, to put it bluntly, sucked. They had their floors full but nobody on the floor, not even some of the instructors, had any semblance of good technique. The schools had 6 year old black belts, some with 2 stripes on their belt, they had 3rd dan and 4th dan black belts that couldn't throw a basic round kick without loosing balance, none of them had any focus or semblance of discipline, no effort or power in their forms, their sparring was sloppy and low effort, and many of them didn't have an understanding or ability beyond what I expect from my yellow belts. Conversely there is a Shorin Ryu school in my town that has maybe 80 students at most for all programs (kids, adults, and fitness classes) and they are GOOD! They have white belts that after a month are more skilled than many black belts at these bigger schools. They have way more discipline and focus after a week than the black belts of the larger schools.
So, Million dollar question: Is it possible to run a school with 300+ students at any given time without actually sacrificing high standards? Can I have a school with 300+ students and still have the same or higher standards as the small schools tend to? These big school owners keep telling me it's possible but it is clear that their idea of "high standards" are less than mediocre.
Just started buisness wide so I cannot say
 

dvcochran

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Yeah, the way you maintain high standards with a lot of students is by maintaining high standards with your staff, which I think is what you're getting at here.

You need to have a well-organized curriculum. You need to have instructors who you've trained in both what and how to teach, and then you need to make sure that they're actually doing that. And you need to be organized in your communication with the students, as well, so they know what they need to work on to be successful. All of that gets harder as the school gets bigger.
A school of size has to reach a critical mass; having enough BB's or high-ranking students and/or instructors is a necessary first step. From a startup point of view, this can come in two forms; build the body of trainers through time and promotion or hire BB's from outside your school/system. I hear the latter is done on a regular basis these days, but it just seems weird to me on several levels. On average, the former is going to take +/- 3-years. A reality a startup needs to fully understand. The principal owner must invest some serious time and sweat equity to get the ball rolling. But this is the perfect time to establish the standards and imprint them as the mass grows.

If there is another way to do this, I would love to hear about it.

After the critical mass of instructors is created, things can get into a rhythm more like you are describing.
 

Gerry Seymour

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A school of size has to reach a critical mass; having enough BB's or high-ranking students and/or instructors is a necessary first step. From a startup point of view, this can come in two forms; build the body of trainers through time and promotion or hire BB's from outside your school/system. I hear the latter is done on a regular basis these days, but it just seems weird to me on several levels. On average, the former is going to take +/- 3-years. A reality a startup needs to fully understand. The principal owner must invest some serious time and sweat equity to get the ball rolling. But this is the perfect time to establish the standards and imprint them as the mass grows.

If there is another way to do this, I would love to hear about it.

After the critical mass of instructors is created, things can get into a rhythm more like you are describing.
I really think this is part of what kept my primary art so small. It takes most folks about 7-9 years to get to what we consider instructor level (technically possible in under 4 years, but I've never seen a good instructor candidate develop that fast). And we started with a tiny base of students (at two times in our art's history, there has been a single instructor in the world), so nobody to be hired or invited to join the school to help. And it's expensive - need good mats for the falls we take, and a substantial amount of room.
 

Ji Yuu

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I think there's a lower limit to this. There's a lot of advantage in having a variety of training partners. I have done a lot of 1-1 teaching, and I don't think that's anywhere near the best learning environment. As both student and instructor, I've always preferred classes with 10-20 people.
I agree with there being a lower limit. I personally would not want more than 10 students unless I have an assistant instructor.
 
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