What You See, What They See…

image and perception in martial arts marketing

Perception, Image and Their Relation To Your Bottom Line

Many martial arts school owners are oblivious to the fact that the public’s perception of a business can be drastically different from that of the owner.

Saying that this can be problematic is an understatement, because image is what makes a first impression on your potential clients. Make the wrong one, and you’ll lose them forever.

In light of this, I’ve prepared a different, slightly tongue-in-cheek post for you today. In it, I poke a little fun at the many ways we’ve all been known to, shall we say, not put our best foot forward.

And yes, I’ve been guilty of every single one at one time or another – mostly in my early days of teaching, but occasionally I’ve been known to slip in an area or two when things got really busy.

But, even allowing a tiny slip in your business image can have huge consequences in your bottom line. One lost student can represent an overall loss of thousands of dollars in potential revenues over the life of your relationship with that client.

So, have a good laugh at the following scenarios about the public’s perception of our schools… but also think about whether you’ve been slipping in any of these areas in your own school as well.

What You See, What They See…

Your School: What You See… What They See…
Your Advertisements… A very impressive picture of someone doing a flying side kick, or a flying armbar, or flying through the air in the midst of an impressive throw… “I’ll never be able to do that. Yoga looks safer. Maybe I’ll just stick with golf.”
Your Website… A list of your many accomplishments, trophies and awards you and your students have won, your umpteenth “Hall of Fame” award, you doing a really impressive move on your student, and pictures of you with every martial arts luminary you ever met for 2 minutes at a seminar… “What’s in it for me? This guy looks intimidating. Am I going to get beat up like that? Who are all these people this guy is posing with? I don’t recognize any of them. I still can’t figure out what I would be doing in their classes…”
The Front Entry To Your School… Trophies, awards, certificates, a spartan seating arrangement (to discourage parents from sticking around, of course)… and that’s about it. “This place is filthy – no way I’m letting my kid take classes here.
This place is kind of dark and creepy. What’s with all the trophies – I don’t want my kids to be pushed into competing – is that all they do? Lawn chairs… are they getting ready for a picnic?”
The Training Floor… Mats to fall on, pads and bags to hit, and mirrors to check on your form… what else do you need? “The mats are filthier than the floor in the waiting area. What’s that smell? Those pads are all torn up – looks dangerous. When’s the last time they cleaned those mirrors? Awful dark in here – must be a ‘ninja’ school…”
Your Bathroom… (Honestly, when’s the last time you really paid attention?) “This is the most disgusting bathroom I’ve seen since that rest area outside of Tulsa. Where are the paper towels? Bar soap in a public restroom – gross! What’s that sticking to my shoe… never mind, I don’t want to think about it. My kid is going to be barefoot in here – and then they walk back out on the mats and roll around on them? Ugh!”
Your Office… Those certificates sure are impressive. “With all the stuff scattered all over, where do the rats sleep?”
Your Classes… My instructors, classes, and students are the toughest around. “Yeah, I think I’ll pass on the getting yelled at, the bloody nose, and the endless push-ups. What was that golf pro’s number again?”
You… I’ve got this one wrapped up, for sure. What an end to a great day of hard training! “He sure doesn’t look like a martial arts instructor… I thought they were supposed to be in shape. Looks like someone forgot to use a napkin at lunch, to wear a clean uniform, to shave, to shower, to comb their hair, and to use deodorant this morning. I wonder if he’ll take a breath mint if I offer it? I’ll just tell him I have to speak with my husband about it…”

Yeah, I know – funny in a slightly painful sort of way. The moral of today’s article is, always consider how things look from the customer’s perspective – because doing so can increase your enrollments drastically.

Want More Info On How To Enroll More Students?

Click here to find out how to enroll up to 70% of your leads on long-term memberships…


  1. Kurt Schulenburg on July 29, 2009 at 2:01 pm

    “With all the stuff scattered all over, where do the rats sleep?” OMG! HAHAHAHA!
    We’ve recently instituted a NO BARE FEET IN BATHROOM rule – even though we keep the bathrooms spotless. We really work hard at keeping our place clean – between Carolyn’s nursing background and my own childhood with the Champion Germ Killer of All Time (hi Mom!), we manage pretty well. With the brief Swine Flu scare (and it IS coming back!), we bought literally gallons of hand cleaner and put pump bottles all over the studio. For a while it was part of the ritual: approach the mat, wash you hands, bow… And I’m sure we’ll start that again this fall!

  2. Darrin Walton on July 29, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    Yeeeah Massie, The Tabata are the gig man our school just started using them about a month ago and they are it.

    Regards and grind those Tabatas
    Darrin Walton

  3. Scott Ward on July 29, 2009 at 2:47 pm

    Nice Mike. I just opened my school in June. From the front it looks like a cross between and store front and a warehouse. We have a glass entry door. Large windows all the way across the front and a garage door in front. It really is a warehouse facility – open ceiling and all. For the money I got really lucky. I could of had a dark back alley type place. But instead we have a beautiful tile entry, bright and colorful walls, and I have tried to put in nice furniture for the parents and guests. Even though the training and lounge area is all painted concrete I’ve tried to make the lounge fell like a comfortable waiting room you might find in any business you frequented. Couches, chairs, end tables, magazines, and a play table and toys for the little ones.

    Our bathroom while only a one seater is equally well decorated. (Wow, that comment about the floor makes me want to go run a mop over it as soon as I can).

    I am starting to see more dirt marks showing up on the mats, especially the light colored ones. I’m not sure that is going to come off and that’s starting to bother me! (funny the things you notice when it’s your school)

    I like what Dawn Barns says. Pay attention to what the parents of the students see and think. They will care more than the kids do and they pay the bills.

    Now I had better reread that list and see what else I need to fix.


  4. Mike Massie on July 29, 2009 at 3:18 pm


    Clean school = client trust.

    It’s true, and it’s not weird at all.

    I seem to remember reading about a Southwest Airlines executive equating coffee stains on chairback trays with plane wrecks (in the passengers’ eyes).

    I think swine flu is a big overblown hoax, by the way… thousands of people die of the flu every year – there’s nothing new about that. Just wait though – we’ll have a “Flu Czar” soon. :)

  5. Mike Massie on July 29, 2009 at 3:19 pm

    Tabatas rock, Darrin.

    Nothing better for conditioning the body to do what we do…

    and you can do just about anything when you’re doing them.

  6. Mike Massie on July 29, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    Yep, Ms. Barnes is right.

    By the way, congrats on your new school!


  7. Jason C. Brown on July 29, 2009 at 4:32 pm

    Hey Mike,

    I always look forward to your words of wisdom.This is a great post and teh nice thing is that you can tell that it’s written from experience.

    BTW, we do a ton of kettlebell tabatas..next time you’re in the Philly area they’ll be my treat.

    The flu tsar,


  8. Mike Massie on July 29, 2009 at 4:43 pm


    A kick-butt tabata workout from the master kettlebell coach – you bet!

    (flu czar – lol)

  9. Sharon S. on July 29, 2009 at 7:09 pm

    We often are surprised when new (or potential new) students walk through the doors to our bright, sunny dojang… almost everyone who walks in immediately notices first off that our school doesn’t smell like old shoes or dirty feet! We (as 2 moms who consider all of the students our kids) treat the students like family and the dojang like home…. if we wouldn’t want our house to look/smell that way, it better not be that way at Big Dog! And our bathrooms are the cleanest around! We have found the best way to clean the mats to be a Swiffer Wet Jet with antibacterial spray…. cleans them well, kills the germs, and leaves a lovely citrus scent! :)

  10. Mike Massie on July 29, 2009 at 7:29 pm

    Yep – the Swiffer is my friend.

    If it’s good enough for Kenny Florian (see page 2 of this article) then it’s good enough for me.

  11. stuart on July 30, 2009 at 12:08 am

    Wow its the good bad and the ugly great artical as always, perception is indeed king.

  12. Mike Massie on July 30, 2009 at 7:17 am

    “the good, the bad, and the ugly”

    I can’t help but hear the old Clint Eastwood/Sergio Leone soundtrack when I read that.

    Or, maybe it’s the high lonesome sound of some school owner’s empty school. :)

    Glad you liked the article, Stuart!

  13. Brent on July 30, 2009 at 8:26 pm

    Great article Mike!

  14. Richard Holdstock on July 31, 2009 at 1:32 am

    Mike I have seen that Dojo many times in many places ~ one point you did miss was the Dojo with scattered equipment and objects all over the training areas ~ and they can’t figure out why they are failing ~ Good blog as always Mike.
    Richard Holdstock Sensei
    Goju Ryu Bushido Karate Academy
    Blacktown City NSW Australia

  15. Mike Massie on July 31, 2009 at 5:25 am

    A cluttered training area…

    That’s my pet peeve.

    MAJOR liability.

    Thanks for commenting, Richard.

  16. Mike Massie on July 31, 2009 at 5:27 am

    Good to hear from you, Brent.

    This one seemed to strike a chord with a lot of instructors.

  17. Scott Ward on August 5, 2009 at 11:57 am

    The comments are as helpful as the article:
    Hand Sanitizer at the mat for everyone – with school starting up and the Flu comming back around. I like this idea. I have it in the bathroom and my office. But what a great statement to the parents if we make sure the kids use it where everyone can see. (need a trip to the dollar store).
    Swifter wet jet – Sounds like it would make mat cleaning quick and easy, and I dig the citrus smell. I bet that would work good on the tile floors too (You can tell I have not had a lot of cleaning experiance).

    Great stuff folks keep it coming.

    Scott Ward
    Ward’s Family Karate,
    Colorado Springs, Colorado

  18. Mike Massie on August 5, 2009 at 1:46 pm

    But what a great statement to the parents if we make sure the kids use it where everyone can see.

    Yes… we may be doing all the right things, but if we never give our clients the opportunity to “catch us” doing them it will have less of an impact on our bottom line.

  19. Tom C on May 22, 2011 at 12:11 am

    Hey, I have found these to be very helpful, so I thank you all a lot. However, I need to know what you mean by Spartan Seating Arrangement? What is that?

    Thank you.

  20. Mike Massie on May 24, 2011 at 11:29 am

    Hi Tom,

    Spartan = spare, minimalist, rough, etc.

  21. Geoff on January 8, 2014 at 9:06 am

    In the mid-90s I proudly showed my brother the school where I trained four or five days a week. His response, “Dude, it kind of stinks like socks.” My response, “That’s the smell of hard work!” The training WAS good, but today I don’t think I’d let my son train in an environment like that. A dank training gym for a bunch of guys in their 20s is not going to attract a diverse student body and there’s nothing that prevents hard training in a clean area.

  22. Mike Massie on January 13, 2014 at 6:59 am

    Geoff: “…there’s nothing that prevents hard training in a clean area.” YES! I just wish more school owners would understand that “professional” doesn’t = “McDojo”. Thanks for commenting.

  23. Johanna Belloch on November 26, 2018 at 7:31 pm

    Great advice! We have a cleaning staff who weekly sanitize the whole place from top to bottom, we use a robot vacuum every night to keep the mess on the mats to a minimum. We also wash mats a couple of more times per week ourselves. One day a customer asked why I was cleaning when I came in if I was the boss, I said I’m cleaning because I’m the boss. He thought it was pretty funny. We have a reasonable seating area for parents with comfortable chairs. We also offer a free fitness class for parents a few times per week so that they don’t have to just sit around waiting for classes to be over. This also frees up some of the chairs!

  24. Mike Massie on January 6, 2019 at 9:12 am

    Hah, that’s awesome. I’m going to use that Roomba idea for sweeping the mats. Easier to disinfect mats when there’s no dirt and dust on them.

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