Student Retention: 10 Reasons to Consider Replacing Kata with Combinations

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I won far more trophies for kata than for fighting. I taught kata as the main requirement for belt progress just like I had been taught. That all stopped about 15 years after this test. That story is here.  

Student Retention:

10 Reasons Why You may want to Consider Replacing Kata with Combinations

Since 2005, Empower Kickboxing has had tremendous success with a curriculum that replaces Kata with combinations. 

No school that we know of has gone back to Kata. It’s not that Kata lacks benefits. It’s like a moving meditation that is also a great form of exercise. It’s just not that interesting to learn or teach.

In the world of martial arts, the traditional practice of Kata has long been the cornerstone of training. However, there is a compelling argument to be made for replacing Kata with a focus on combinations. 

1. Learning to React vs Robotic Steps

Combinations help you to think on your feet and react to your opponent, rather than simply going through the motions of a pre-determined sequence.

2. Learn to Defend Against Multiple Types of Real Fighters

Combinations help you to adjust to different types of fighters such as a counter-fighter, a lead-off fighter, a runner etc… Kata fights the same imaginary opponents every time.

3. Combos are Short and Flexible

Combinations are generally more fun and interesting than traditional Kata.

4. Combos Can Calibrate

Kata is highly regimented and fixed by tradition, leaving little room for calibrating to an opponent. 

In contrast, combinations are naturally flexible as they involve the calibration of technique, distance, and alignment to a real opponent, not a pretend opponent. 

5. Combos are Short and Sweet

Practicing repetition-heavy, extended Kata routines can become monotonous.

6. Developmental Considerations

Combos are better for kids who are still developing their motor skills, balance, and coordination. Simple combinations are easier for children to understand and practice. 

7. Pre-rehearsed Pretending vs Practical Application

Kata is a solitary set of movements. Students are told to “imagine” multiple opponents. Are these opponents bigger or smaller than the student? Are they faster or slower? Are they aggressive or defensive? Who knows?

8. Feedback Loop

With simple combinations, instructors and partners can provide immediate feedback and practical application in real time. 

This feedback loop helps students understand and internalize the proper mechanics and how each movement really works. 

In contrast, Kata is longer and is often unclear on the practical use of the movements.

9. Progression and Motivation

Children thrive when they experience a sense of achievement and progress. 

Simple combinations are easy to execute. Kata is complex and difficult to learn.

10. Competence Leads to Confidence

According to most instructors, Kata can never be mastered in just a few years. That is not a motivator.

With the right curriculum, combinations can be learned in weeks. That is a huge motivator that jump-starts a student’s confidence.


Teaching combos is far more enjoyable for everyone involved including the instructors. They are easier to understand and learn than traditional Kata.


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Table of Contents

  1. Definitions used in this Policy
  2. Data protection principles we follow
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  5. How we use your Personal Data
  6. Who else has access to your Personal Data
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Personal Data – any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person.
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Child – a natural person under 16 years of age.
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Data Protection Principles

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Data Subject’s rights

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Publicly available information
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As long as you have not informed us otherwise, we consider offering you products/services that are similar or same to your purchasing history/browsing behavior to be our legitimate interest.

With your consent we Process your Personal Data for the following purposes:

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martial arts curriculum

How to Leverage the Enrollment Conference to Motivate Family to Keep Coming to Class


Authority is highly influenced by emotion.

While your staff and students may intellectually understand that you are the boss and master instructor, they have to feel it, not think it.

It’s the emotional connection that anchors your authority on a deep level.

If there is one powerful moment in your role as a professional martial arts instructor, it’s in the enrollment conference. 

While the parents may see you as the master black belt, they usually don’t have an authoritative reverence at this early stage.

The enrollment conference is a seminal moment for you to establish your authority and gain the respect and gratitude of the family you’re dealing with.

Presenting the programs and their cost to parents can be tense at times. Some parents want to negotiate.

Others might object to the agreement. Some want a safety net in case their child wants to quit.

While you must be prepared to overcome any objections, it’s when the bottom line is signed and the initial investment is completed that you have a critical window to demonstrate your authority.

Many owners complete the transaction and gush with statements like, “Awesome. It’s great to have you on board. Johnny, you did an awesome job tonight. High five! Thanks, Mrs. Jones it’s great to have Johnny as part of our family. Let me know if I can help with anything.”


Who has the role of authority here? Mrs. Jones and her credit card. That was a missed opportunity.

Let’s try again. You would adjust this script to the age and circumstance, but here is an authority template for the enrollment conference.

Mom has just enrolled Johnny into the program.

You, “Johnny. You want to learn Empower Kickboxing, right?”

“Yes sir.”

“Good. I want you to understand that your mom just enrolled you in a six-month program. You are going to learn a lot of great skills and lessons. It’s going to be fun and sometimes it’s going to be hard. That’s the good part because that means you’re learning. So you have to pay attention and practice at home for 20 minutes a day when you don’t have class. 

Are you going to work hard and practice?”

“Yes sir.”

“I’m glad. Your classes are on Monday and Wednesday at 5pm. When are your classes?”

“Monday and Wednesday at 5pm.”

“Good. You’re a smart guy. That means that you have to be ready to come to class by 4:30 on Mondays and Wednesdays so that you’re not late. Will you do that?”

“Yes sir.”

“No matter what you are doing, you will be ready by 4:30, right?”

“Yes sir.”

“Good. The first lesson is integrity. Integrity means that you do what you say you are going to do. You keep your promises. You promise to work hard and be ready for class, right?”

“Yes sir.”

“No matter what you’re doing. Right?”

“Yes sir.”

“Great. We’re going to be so proud of you. Your mom just enrolled you, so please turn to her and say ‘Thank you, Mom.”

“Thank you, Mom.”

“Alright. When someone does something good for you, you always say thank you. That’s called gratitude. What’s it called?”


“Correct. So you’ve learned two important lessons today. Integrity and gratitude. What does integrity mean?

“Keeping your promises.”

“Yes. What does gratitude mean?”

“Saying thank you.”

“You got it! You are going to do great, I can tell already.”

“Remember, your class is…”

“Monday and Wednesday at 5pm.”

“When will you be ready to come to class?”


“You have a good head on your shoulders, Johnny. You’re going to be good at this.”

“Because you’ve shown your mom gratitude and you’re going to keep your promises, here is a school t-shirt for you to wear. Every time you put it on, I want you to think of integrity and gratitude. Will you do that?”

“Yes sir.”

“I just gave you a shirt. How do you show gratitude?”

“Thank you, sir.”

As taught in the MATA Certification program, it’s also a good idea to let mom know that it’s important that she control what Johnny is doing around 4:30 which is the agreed upon to be ready for class.

If Johnny is playing with his friends or deep in a video game, it’s going to be harder to get him to get ready than if he is cleaning his bedroom or something he’d like to leave to go to class.

Keep in mind that Mom is watching this happen before her eyes. What have you done to establish your authority?

  1. You’ve provided her with a language pattern that both her and Johnny understand. This is huge.
  2. You’ve given Mom the “integrity” framework to deal with any reluctance to go to class.
  3. You’ve provided her with a strategy to engage Johnny in less fun activities so that going to class is an easy decision.
  4. You’ve laid out when Johnny should get ready for class without complaint.
  5. Before her eyes, you taught her son important lessons with real-world examples. No doubt, your authority sky-rocketed in her eyes and in her heart.

Look for places where you can make these kinds of strong emotional connections. 

Demonstrate true authority and leadership. That will last much longer than trite, shallow compliments like “Awesome! Good job.”

This will help your students to understand how and why they are training with the best school.

With the sudden mass of new members attracted by our custom website and Empower Kickboxing curriculum, one of the common questions is “Should I charge for a trial program?”

(Check out the Trial Course Page from our websites.)

Before answering that, here is a simple question:

If I could pay you $50,000, would you strip martial arts from your life for 50 grand, as though you never took that first class?

I’ve never met a black belt who would. 

If you could take a new student forward in time to give him or her the feeling of being a black belt, do you think they would miss classes?

Do you think they would hesitate to join your school at twice the price you are currently charging?

How are you reflecting that value in your school?

Quality is always associated with higher prices. I’m not just trying to get you to raise your prices; I really don’t care what you charge.

But I do care that you recognize and Value What You Do.

That sense of value is reflected in a number of ways, including tuition.

In three decades of coaching school owners, I find this is the most common mindset issue for school owners.

At the core of Value What You Do is this attitude:

I am a highly-skilled, unique martial arts professional in our community. There are very few, if any, people who can provide the service and benefits that I can. I am not going to spend my time, stress, and money teaching people who are not committed to earning a black belt with me.

If your response is, “That would never work in my area,” then this is exactly the issue for you to focus on.

This is the most common problem with martial arts schools.

Even though we have personally undergone an amazing transformation through the martial arts, many of us do not demonstrate it in how we run our business.

This is not about tuition. This is about every aspect of your school, from logo design to black belt graduations.

I was always the most expensive school in the Tampa Bay area. Someone had to be. Why not me? I worked very hard to become the best teacher I could.

How about you? When was the last time you took a course on teaching like the course?

When was the last time you hired a coach to watch you teach and help you get your school on track?

When was the last time you taught your staff how to do what they are supposed to do?

You’re a black belt. So what? So is every competitor in your area. What makes you better?

It starts with placing and demonstrating that you place a High Value on What You Do. If you don’t no one else will either..

Charge for your trial lessons. Show that you value what you do from the start.

I’m not going to tie up an instructor for an hour with people who are not willing to pay $20.
In sales, this is known as a qualifier. Someone who is looking for what you offer expects to pay for it.
They are “qualified” financially to enroll. Someone who can’t or won’t pay $20 for two lessons and a school t-shirt is not going to enroll. They are “not qualified.”
The Two-Class Course Strategy
You can either enroll them into your Trial Program or invite them to come in and watch a class first and then enroll in the Trial Program.
Trial Progam Class 1 ends and then you present your membership options and tell them to “think about it” because you have class 2 already set.
If they show up, they have already “thought about it” and are ready to enroll.
If they don’t show, you don’t have to teach people who are not going to enroll.


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