Loyalty, Courtesy, and Professionalism

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Three Values That Can Make or Break Your Martial Art School

There are three moral and ethical values that can make or break you as a martial art school owner; loyalty, courtesy, and professionalism. Of course, every instructor realizes that your reputation is everything in business, and each of these three are closely related to your reputation as an instructor.

Trust definition close up

What we’re really talking about when we discuss loyalty, courtesy, and professionalism is how to build trust with our customers.

Protecting and/or promoting these values in your studio is vital to maintaining an atmosphere and culture that not only makes students feel welcome, but also will keep them coming back for years to come.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll examine each of these in turn and explain just how they figure into growing a successful school. Today, I’m starting this article series by examining loyalty.

Modeling Loyalty

When most instructors think about loyalty, they are thinking about it in terms of their students being loyal to them. But remember, your students will only copy what you have done yourself. So ask yourself, how have you demonstrated the value of loyalty to your students?

When viewed in this light, this can soon become a sticky topic for some instructors. Many of us have found that, as we progressed in our own martial arts instruction careers, remaining trapped within old paradigms did not suit our professional goals. Still others of us may have decided to leave an organization; perhaps it was due to philosophical issues, ethical issues, financial issues, or personal issues.

But no matter how good your reasons might be for “breaking away” from an instructor or organization, you must be able to absolutely have demonstrated the value of loyalty in your martial arts career… that is, if you expect your students to do the same.

That may mean loyalty to your base style or system, loyalty to your roots, or loyalty to an individual within an organization that you have carefully maintained a relationship with, despite any other political issues you may have with the organization overall. And, by demonstrating loyalty on a personal and on a professional level, you can confidently expect your students to emulate and express those same qualities toward you and your school as well.

By The Way, How Loyal Are Your Toward Your Students?

Now, let’s talk about the flip side of loyalty, that being how loyal are you to your students? The reason I bring this up is because I have seen so-called “master instructors” do some pretty sorry things to their students. Instructors can be the worst hypocrites, expecting their students to have absolute loyalty towards them, but not showing any loyalty in return at all.

For example, one instructor I know is quite fond of stripping his black belts of their rank for various petty and arbitrary reasons. In his eyes, this is a way of keeping order among his current students. However, this sort of behavior has only led to a mass exodus of black belts from his school, and has served to weaken his school and his organization as a whole. Sometimes loyalty means having patience and understanding for your students. After all, they’ve invested years into you and your school; don’t you think they deserve the benefit of having an instructor who shows the same loyalty back in kind?

I’ve also witnessed other instructors who play favorites with their students. These instructors like to treat students differently based on what the student does for their “master” (incidentally, I think that term gets bandied about all too often in the martial arts world; here’s a tip, master yourself first before you seek to become a master of others). They tend to have an “inner circle” of students who have been trained to suck up to them, feeding the instructor’s ego in exchange for special treatment. It’s petty, disgusting, self-serving, and completely unbecoming of a martial arts instructor of any merit at all.

In light of this sort of behavior, I encourage you to examine your own actions toward your students. Have you been fair with your students? Honest in your dealings with them? Patient and understanding, as a wise instructor should be?

Or, have you been petty and vengeful? Dishonest, vague or purposely ambiguous? Uncaring, or even downright ornery towards them at times? This sort of behavior is unbecoming of a seasoned martial arts instructor, and certainly is not what should be expected of an organizational leader either.

Finally, How Loyal Are You To Your Loved Ones?

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. An instructor spends all their time at their studio, spends every spare moment traveling to tournaments to compete or to coach their students, invests every spare moment traveling to or teaching at seminars, and generally spends more time with their martial arts students and instructors than they do with their own family…

And then they’re shocked to wake up one day and find that their marriage and family are falling apart.

Sound familiar? Maybe you’ve witnessed this yourself, or even see yourself falling into this pattern. Let me tell you, martial arts as religion and obsession can lead to a very unbalanced life. If you haven’t guessed, I’m speaking from experience here; thankfully I had some pretty serious events that occurred in my life that got me straightened out and focused on what really matters.

Sure, some instructors run their school as a family affair, and that’s all well and good. But, you can’t force that on your spouse and kids, and no matter how badly you want it to happen. If they don’t care for the martial arts there is nothing you can do to change them. Accept it and you’ll be much happier in the long run.

In addition, no student will ever truly respect you if they see you putting them before your own family. Besides, is that really the sort of behavior and lifestyle you want to model for your students; an obsessive and compulsive infatuation with a hobby or career that consumes your life?

Get your priorities straight and set clear boundaries between your dojo life and your home life. Model integrity in your relationships with those closest to you, and it will be reflected in the relationships you have with your students.

In other words, be the instructor you wish you’d had, and you’ll attract the sort of students you’ve always wanted.

Questions? Comments? Disagree With This Article?

I want to hear what you think, so feel free to comment on this article below.

Next week, I’ll tackle a topic that all of us talk about, courtesy… and I’ll examine how promoting courtesy and modeling it for your students can have a profound effect on your bottom line.


  1. Sifu Yuan on August 28, 2012 at 11:01 am

    This article strike a nerve as far as I’m concerned.
    I’ve been practicing since 1972, and start teaching around 1979. About 12 years ago I broke off from a big organization, that the head of this organization is a very well-known Master.
    Over the years I have seen my instructors and myself making these mistakes. You’re so correct and I like to thank you for putting this into words. Thank you!

  2. Mike Massie on August 30, 2012 at 9:15 am

    You’re welcome, Sifu Yuan. Thank you for stopping by the site.

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