Burnout.. Who teaches the teachers?

I have had the pleasure of working with some very talented people over the years. These are people who are passionate about the world of martial arts. These are good, hardworking people who sometimes struggle every day to offer a quality service and keep the doors open. Many schools have a limited amount of equipment which often needs to be replaced. The struggle is real for those who are called to teach. This is a calling that can lead to burnout.

If you ask most instructors about the last time they took a vacation, they will often give you a sad tired laugh. Now mention a sabbatical and they will look at you like you grew an extra arm. In many teaching professions, such times away are set up well in advance. A way to refill the cup that so often is in desperate need of replenishment. But how do instructors do that when you have a small struggling school?


Seminars are a great way for instructors to play the role of student again. Weather it’s traveling to another school or bringing the guest teacher to their location. It also gives the schools teachers new ideas for things they want to pass along to their students.

Student Teachers

Teach to learn and learn to teach. Many schools have students that have been attending for some time and want to share their insights. It’s also a great way to fill in any staffing gaps in your roster. This will help develop the student and boost morale in the ranks. Plus, you might get a much needed break. Even if it’s for only one night a week.

Scheduled time off

You are going to have to do it at some point. Taking one scheduled day off per month may seem small but it’s really important. It gets instructors out of the frenzy and will help with some much-needed perspective.

Watching people shut down

As I walked into my bank, a young man in his early 20s was blocking the entrance. He stood with his back to me at a parade rest. His demeanor was strange, as if on something or mentally unstable. He had short brown hair and was sloppily  dressed in a gray shirt and blue jeans. He was holding an unlit cigarette. He was accompanied by a man who was standing in line to do his banking. This man was in his mid to late 50’s, had a gray beard and was dressed in a black baseball cap, white t-shirt, and black shorts.

I asked the man blocking the entrance “are you in line?”  In a confused state, he muttered something and stepped aside enough for me to pass. He then resumed his original position. His companion, who was standing about 15′ ahead of him in line, asked him to take a seat. He took a seat for about 30 seconds then stood and paced around the waiting area. He then proceeded to remove his shirt about 3/4 off his body revealing a tattoo that appeared to be gang related. He then lowered the shirt. As I scanned the room to analyze the reaction of emp[employees and customers, it appeared that people were mentally shutting down. Rather than being on alert and  preparing for a potentially hazardous situation, they tuned it out and continued on with their activity as if hoping the problem would resolve itself. They were drifting into compliance mode. Both men left the bank together but the one who had blocked the entrance tagged behind, staring back through the bank windows, scanning the room. I’m not sure if he was high or if it was something else.

When people face something they are not prepared for they tend to shut down.

Neutered Men

I went in to pay my rent today. It was a day like any other. The only real difference was that I forgot to remove my knife that I wear on my side. Its nothing special. A fixed blade single edge with a bone handle in a leather sheath. The women working there said their usual pleasantries. But I did notice their eyes as they caught a glimpse of the knife resting on my right hip.

I thought about this for some time afterwards and realized why they seemed shocked and uncomfortable. They were used to dealing with neutered men. Most men in the 21st century are not armed. If you look back at days gone by, You will see this to be a fairly modern trend. Men in most civilizations carried weapons. It was normally a knife or an axe but it could have also been a machete or sword. We knew that there were dangerous animals not far from our tribe and that it would be the man’s job to deal with such threats.In our modern age we have outsourced our duties as men to a group of strangers who aren’t even legally required to protect us.

In the news we hear of active shooters at our schools,churches, shopping centers and far too many other places to mention. These attacks have a very common theme. An armed bad guy or group of bad guys  attack a group of unarmed and unaware people who simply happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

A knife is not a gun but in certain circumstances it doesn’t have to be. A knife doesn’t run out of bullets. If you swing and miss your target you won’t risk killing the child across the street. As men it’s our role in the tribe to be protectors. That means carrying the tools needed to get the job done. No matter who it makes uncomfortable.

Active self-defense  vs passive self-defense.

Active self-defense consists:of the following skill sets:

  1. Your education on a particular subject or technique.
  • Weapons
  • Ground fighting
  • Striking
  • Fitness
  • Mentality

2. Tools and/or weapons used in a combative situation:These may be categorized as projectile or melee depending upon the intended use. Typically projectile tools are designed to leave the body towards its intended target while melee tools are intended to remain attached to the users body for use in close range situations.

Projectile include but are not limited to:

  • Gun (bullets)
  • Bow and arrow
  • Sling shot.

Melee  include but are not limited to:

  • Sword
  • Knife
  • Club
  • Bat


Passive self-defense doesn’t require any skill sets. It may include your clothing, footwear, and useful tools and structures. Passive self-defense may be used to defend against an attack or against environmental conditions or elements.

Defense against attacks may include but are not limited to::

  • Body armor
  • Structures between you and the danger
  • Protective clothing such as


  • If you are wearing flip flops shorts and a t-shirt, you may be lacking when it comes to dealing with a knife attack.
  • Are you caring cash? It is another useful tool should you need to buy your way out of a dangerous situation. .
  • Does your footwear allow you to run at a moment’s notice?
  • Pockets are great because they allow you to store self-dense tools
  • A flashlight can be used as a weapon, both to disoriented attacker by shining in the eyes or using as a blunt strike weapon.
  • Something as simple as a bandanna can be useful for adding a rock or coin and using as a flail or strangulation device.
  • A quality knife has self-evident qualities in a defensive situation. You don’t want the blade detaching from the handle when in a serious situation. You want it to fit comfortably in your hand and to have a good grip. This subject will be covered extensively in a separate article.

Defense against environmental elements may include but are not limited to:

  • Flashlight
  • Warm, dry clothing
  • Protective footwear,
  • Cell phone


  • If you are wearing flip flops shorts and a t-shirt, you may be lacking when it comes to dealing with unfavorable environmental conditions..
  • Are you caring cash? It is another useful tool should you need something and the stores card machine is down.
  • Does your footwear allow you to climb over obstacles
  • Pockets are great because they allow you to survival tools
  • A flashlight can come in handy on a daily bases. If you find yourself in an area with poor visibility. It will prove useful in safely navigating terrain and finding lost items.
  • Something as simple as a bandanna can be useful for providing first aid as a tourniquet, covering your face in a fire, and as a sling to support an injured limb.
  • A knife also makes for a great accessory. Besides the obvious fighting application, a knife has proven to be a useful tool in many situations. It can be used to cut yourself out of a seatbelt in a car accident, to make primitive tools. I may also be used in first aid to remove a foreign object from flesh, cauterize a would  or use as a tourniquet handle. Many knives now come with options such as a screw driver set attached.

Remember that when you need certain things like cash or the ability to cut someone out of there seatbelt. You don’t kind of need them you really need them. .

10 Reason people leave a martial arts school

In the three plus decades that I have had the opportunity to explore the world of martial arts. I have noticed a trend that many are familiar with. The student attrition rate is huge, to put it mildly. Most larger schools have the resources to separate beginning classes from the advanced classes. But for smaller schools with less resources, such as time, space, equipment, and instructors, this is a problem. For every current student of a year or more, there are between 80 to 99 who have left.

This means that the advanced students who are spending a good amount of money each month to learn, are held back in order to bring the new students up to speed. This has got to have an affect on the fighting readiness of the more experienced students being held back for theses reasons. This can lead to boredom and frustration for many and be a catalyst for their departure.

Though there will always be extenuating circumstances resulting in a students departure, a school administrator does have enough  control of the school environment to enticed students to stay. People tend to make time and be willing to sacrifice in order to partake in things they enjoy. Keeping this in mind, the following are 10 reasons students leave a martial arts school.

  1. Multi-level classes
  2. Not learning anything new.
  3. Not understanding the relevance of what they are learning. IE; the why.
  4. Not having a clear understanding of the schools vision and direction.
  5. Nothing changes in the school or lessons such as equipment,or decor.
  6. Lack of social events or functions
  7. Lack of merchandise to purchase
  8. Atmosphere that is not inviting
  9. Loss of faith in the staff
  10. The price

I speak from experience. These are issues I myself have been frustrated with while attending other schools  These are possible solutions in reference to the above numbered issues.

1. Multi-level classes: How does a school offer an environment that keeps their more advanced students learning, growing, and thrivings while offering their beginning students an environment where they can learn the basics and not be overwhelmed with more advanced techniques?  There are several options for those running small schools and lack the resources to expand.

  • The first option might be to choose an experienced student you can rely upon to assist with new students on one side of the  class while the instructor teaches the more advanced students on the other, assuming there are no other rooms available. This would be in exchange of partial or full fees the assistant normally pays to attend the school.
  • The second might be to offer them an instructor position in exchange for their tuition fees. These classes would be taught either in different rooms or at different times than the advanced classes.
  • The third is more old school. Offer an apprenticeship. Free long term training in exchange for their assistance in helping around the school as an instructor or whatever else you may need. They will be groomed to care for the master as he/she ages and to take over the school upon his/her departure. This could be a single apprenticeship or multiple apprenticeships.

2.  Not learning anything new.  A lazy teacher has bored students. Reach deep within the well. Continuing education for the teachers and instructors is crucial. You cannot teach what you do not learn.

3.   Not understanding the relevance of what they are learning. IE; the why. When a teacher does not give context, doubt will fill that void, as to relevancy of a topic. Explain why something is done a certain way and it will be easier for them to remember and relate.

4.  Not having a clear understanding of the schools vision and direction: People like to feel they are a part of something, but in order to do so, they must know what that something is. Give your students a 1, 5, and 10 year projection of what the teacher wants  to accomplish, what is needed to accomplish it and how it will benefit them. This will motivate the student and keep the teacher focused.

5.   Nothing changes in the school or lessons such as equipment,or decor: If the school looks and operates as it did 10 years ago, it indicates stagnation. This will bore and frustrate students and hurt staff morale.

6.  Lack of social events or functions: When building a tribe or community, it is important to have non-training events that encourage positive social interaction. This will bond the students with each other and the school.

7. Lack of merchandise to purchase: Having merchandise for students to purchase will not only increase sales but offers the students ways to support the school and advance their training. It also adds more depth and enhances the appearance of the school.

8. Atmosphere that is not inviting: This could involve cleanliness of both fellow students and the facility, social acceptance, comfort  level, safety such as a dark parking lot, and security of personal belongings. This would include having a way to secure personal belonging such as lockers. The school should have an atmosphere of trust and comradery. .

9.  Loss of faith in the staff: This could be do to staff partying at the school or showing up intoxicated, teacher hurting the students physically or emotionally, inconsistent class schedule, and not being open to new ideas. Image is everything. Professionalism is very important.

10. The price: Sell to the masses, eat with the classes. In other words, keep your price affordable to the general public. Someone making minimum wage should be able to afford to train.


Outside of home, the school should be a favorite place to be.

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