Tuesday, May 27, 2008

What does your demo say about your school?

Over the weekend, I managed to take a break from yardwork to briefly attend the Columbus Asian Festival. I had 2 simple goals for the afternoon:

1. Watch a few martial arts demos and get at least 1 good photo.
2. Drink a delicious Thai Iced Tea.

I managed to meet both goals, make a few networking contacts, and remind myself that I should learn to play sepak takraw.

I had the opportunity to watch 2 very different demonstrations. Both were Tae Kwon Do schools, but one was all TKD while the other was a mix of TKD, Haidong Gumdo and Hapkido.

The first demo, sorry to say, was an amalgamation of every TKD demo cliche in existence. There were the multiple breaks, flying kick breaks over people, kicking the apple off the sword, the backflip kick break. In other words, if you've seen the Korean Tigers demo team, you've seen this demo. Except the Korean Tigers are awesome, and these students were not.

The Tigers, they ain't.

I don't say that as an insult to the students, as I'm sure they worked very hard on the demo, and I've been in more than my fair share of stinker demos. The problem for me was that the demo evoked strong memories of a very good demonstration, and practically begged me to make the inevitable comparison. Of course, the demo was geared more to a general audience, as I am probably not in their recruitment demographic.

I couldn't help but think what sort of image this demo presented to the prospective student. What happens when the customer, wowed by the amazing - to them -- demo shows up for their trial class and learns how to perform a bow, ready stance and front stance, and maybe a block and punch thrown in for good measure. What happens when they get tired of waiting for the day when they start learning to kick the apple off a sword?

The second demo was very enjoyable, showing a good blend of basic skills, followed by some forms, breaking by several different ranks, followed by a demonstration of sword work by a student, a yudanja, and by the head master instructor.

This demo gave me a feeling of what training in their school was like, and the expectations I could have as a beginner.

When our school does a demonstration, we take a very similar approach. I stress 2 things at each demo:

1. Our students train for individual progress, but are committed to the improvement of all students. Senior rank works to inspire junior rank to improve and knows their progress relies on the progress of junior rank. Junior rank trains hard in an effort to catch up to senior rank and keep them training hard as well.

2. As the demo progresses, you can watch students who have been training anywhere from 1 month to 10 years performing similar skills, and see the improvement that happens over time.

If I spent the whole demo doing things, the Tom Marker Show if you will, it would tell you a lot about my ability and passion for the martial arts. But how much of that have I managed to pass on to my students? Can any of my black belts perform the same techniques? If not, perhaps I'm just a really lousy teacher, and you should take your money elsewhere.

I work hard to stress that my school is run on the concept of building a strong team, or an army if you prefer. When my students take the stage, I'm not sweating about missing a break or someone hurting themselves during a backflip. I'm watching them to see if they move in time, look organized and show strong spirit.

What does your demo say about your school?
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