Are We Overloading Our Adult Students?

By Dennis Lawson
Published on Feb 14th, 2016

Why do I have fewer adult students today than I had five years ago? I dealt with this question during a consulting call from a dojo owner. Like many martial artists running a traditional curriculum, he has expanded his teaching format to include groundwork, training students for amateur MMA bouts in his area, and he instituted separate women’s self-defense classes. After implementing these changes, he still has fewer adult students this year.

I asked some probing questions. What do you charge for classes? What’s your average contract total? What is your retention rate? A good businessman, he knew these answers. Finally, I asked, what do you require of your adult students for rank? He talked about students learning Japanese terms, counting in Japanese, and studying Japanese culture and history. We discussed the physical requirements for rank advancement – how many one step drills, katas, and sparring combinations students were expected to know. He also talked about the teaching requirements for his advanced students.

I can’t go into the details of his consultation. But, this work did generate some serious questions. Adults come to study the Martial Arts for many reasons – regular workouts, learning some self-defense; some come to share a healthy interest with other adults in an environment that isn’t related to their work. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) defines job stress “as the harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources, or needs of the worker.” Stress comes in two different forms. There’s constructive stress – the workout that pushes you, the challenge of learning new skills, the joy of pushing past your perceived limits. There’s also debilitating stress – physically pushing yourself to injury, feeling overwhelmed by how much you have to do, and dealing with demands you feel unable to meet. When I substituted the word – Studio for Job and Student for Worker in the NIOSH definition, the answers became clearer.

Most of our adult students have job challenges, besides being students; they are workers, business owners, parents, etc. Perhaps it’s time to look at our curriculum through our student’s eyes. Ray Jimenez, PhD of Vignettes for Training, Inc. talks about the “Dump Truck Syndrome”. That’s when the teacher presents so much information during a class; student’s get overloaded and fail to internalize the lessons. When so much information is presented in a short period of time students, especially stressed out adults, can reach a point where they can’t take in any more. This can lead to the experience of feeling overwhelmed. When this happens it’s easy to understand that a student might think, “I don’t need to deal with this kind of frustration, I get enough of this at work!”

Another issue increasing stress is when the teacher attempts a number of different corrections in the same class. If you correct the angle, hand position, stance etc. on a movement, how easily could any student make all those adjustments? The human (student’s) mind can only concentrate on its currently dominant thought, one single thing at a time. A better method would be to make a single adjustment and allow the student to train on it. This also allows the instructor to check on the other faulty areas during training to see if they mend with time and effort. 

Finally, we must remember that students, even advanced students, come to the studio to learn and have fun. If teaching other classes is a requirement to progress, the classes need to be scheduled in advance. Adults have many other responsibilities. We need to respect that our adult students have other concerns and their training time is limited.

Considers these ideas to retain your adult students:  

Give them less information to memorize and more training time

Make a correction and allow plenty of time to train and internalize that new information

Respect the students’ time constraints and remember their commitments outside the studio

Happy adult students train harder, stick around, and often, bring their friends. Start looking at your curriculum through their eyes.

Filed under Philosophy and Opinion

Author Bio :: Dennis Lawson

Dennis Lawson has trained for 4 decades in Ed Parker's Kenpo. During his varied career, Mr. Lawson has been an IKKA Regional Director for Region #3, has acted as Master of Ceremonies for the International Karate Championships, and has published numerous articles in publications for the International Kenpo Karate Association, The Martial Arts Learning Community (TheMALC), and Kenpo 2000.

Mr. Lawson has had the opportunity to study other Martial Arts and holds advanced rank in Aikido and Takemusu Aiki Budo. Dennis taught, competed in, and promoted events in the New Orleans area for 20 years. Among his list of favorite achievements is choreographing and performing Kenpo for the Dance Council of New Orleans. His academic background in psychology and love of music allow Dennis to offer a unique and entertaining approach to tailoring "the Art" to the individual. Dennis has taught seminars in Ireland, Jersey Channel Islands, The Netherlands, Portugal, and throughout the United States.

Dennis holds a Sixth Degree Black Belt in Ed Parker's Kenpo and was awarded the title “Professor” under the auspices of The Martial Arts Learning Community (TheMALC). Mr. Lawson was inducted into the International Black Belt Hall of Fame as Master Instructor of the Year for 2006.

Other Articles by Dennis Lawson

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