Martial Arts High-Pressure Sales Whistleblower

Remember the saying, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch”? Similarly, you could say, “There’s no such thing as a free karate class.” Full disclosure: I’m writing this as an instructor at a dojo that is currently having a promo where we offer a free class this month to new students. But over the decades, I have sometimes felt that I’ve heard it all when it comes to training and schools. Including the various methods of martial arts high-pressure sales which often start out as a free class.

What Sets Our Dojo Apart

At our dojo, our policy is honest and open communication. We answer questions to the best of our professional ability. We post our pricing right on our website. And we give it out over the phone if an inquirer wants to take the time, even though we have been told (by martial arts high-pressure sales masters) not to.

We don’t constantly call and remind students that they need to go to class, because it is their family’s responsibility to navigate their own schedule. We are also the type of business that has confidence in the abilities of potential new dojo families. They can figure out if their budget and priorities allow them to afford class. That is, when we openly communicate the costs associated with training. Which we do. Our dojo does not apply the martial arts high-pressure sales seen in many schools.

instructors with martial arts high-pressure sales tactics can sound like used car salesmen

Blowing the Whistle on Martial Arts High-Pressure Sales

Some schools will quote you a price over the phone, but only after you’ve asked them three times in the conversation. Others will not tell you their tuition over the phone at all. You have to show up and listen to their sales pitch to find out the cost, which they hope gives them the ability to get you hooked and sign you up on the spot. What are the other martial arts high-pressure sales tactics that I have heard of?

Some schools offer a free trial for a week or a month. At the end of which, they expect you to sit in a martial arts high-pressure sales meeting (with your kid who feels like a part of their school now, “Don’t you want to do what’s best for your kid?”). They pressure you to commit to this or that term with a high registration fee as part of the deal. Of course the registration fee will be much higher at these schools, because it has to cover your free week or month, as well as a portion of the free training that other people took before they walked out. I’ve heard of registration fees for some schools being in the range of a family’s monthly mortgage payment.   

Upgrade Programs Encourage Consistent Martial Arts High-Pressure Sales

Then there are the dreaded upgrade programs. These play to the western desires to have the ego stoked and keep up with the Joneses. As well as the feeling that the more you pay, the better the thing you’re paying for. On the plus side, upgrade programs do fill the school’s need for overhead payments in high-rent retail suites.  

martial arts high-pressure sales can be to pay their bills

What is an Upgrade Program in Martial Arts?

Most upgrade programs start students out in a basic-punches-and-kicks-curriculum, at a reasonable rate. After little Johnny has done that for about a month, the teacher will say how good Johnny is doing and recommend him for a higher-level program where he’ll learn kata, and the dues are a little more expensive. And sometimes you have to commit to a longer term (e.g. six months instead of three).

Repeat the above process a few months later, except this time, the higher-level program includes sparring or self-defense. Then weapons. Then leadership training. When little Johnny is finally eligible to learn a full curriculum (which our school offers to all of our students), his parents can easily be paying more than double the tuition they started with. And they can be stuck doing so for two years.

The Most Egregious of Upgrade Programs

The most egregious martial arts high-pressure sales upgrade programs also include uniforms and gear. So each time you upgrade, you have to purchase a new uniform, new training equipment and even new sparring gear which is in line with the correct color/logo for your new program. (Sparring gear is the most expensive common equipment at our school. [And our students usually choose to wear it until they outgrow it or it wears out.]) I’ve only heard of one martial arts school that included all of those uniform and equipment requirements in their upgrade programs, and it wasn’t in Arizona. So perhaps, I hope, it was an anomaly.

Because martial arts is not about equipment. The purpose of sparring gear is to protect you and your sparring partners. Uniforms have their reason and their place, but they don’t need to be something you have to buy on credit. And if little Johnny is not learning self-defense, then why is he in a martial arts school?

martial arts high-pressure sales schools often lose sight of the reason they teach martial arts

Okay, I’m done. I’ve blown my whistle. And I hope I armed you with information. I trust you to make your own decisions about what’s best for you and your family. That is what we have always done at our dojo.

-Jenifer Tull-Gauger

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