For at least 20 years now the martial arts industry has been in a constant argument in regards to membership agreements and if they are great, good, bad or wrong. When I began running my dojo in 1991 I never used them, always trusting a student to pay me on time and commit to training for at least a year or two. I learned very quickly that neither of those things are something I can trust people to do. When it comes to using contracts in a martial arts school there are several arguments for them and against them. I often read posts on Facebook where these arguments can get heated between supporters and non-supporters of using a contract in one’s school. Sometimes they can get down right funny too.
A contract is a legally binding document where the martial art school offers a student the right to train for a length of time at a set price. They can run anywhere from 3 months to 36 months in length. If a school says they do not use contracts, allow you to pay month to month but you have to give them 30 days cancellation notice then you are still in a contract regardless of their sales pitch. Contracts are found in every service business out there including health clubs, YMCA, fitness centers and more. You go in, they sign you up, you agree to pay for a length of time at a set price and this paper legally binds you to doing so.
In my dojo I offer contracts now. I began this practice after I was tired of getting stiffed by people who gave me their word of honor they would pay. It was from that experience that I decided to use a contract and enforce them. Contracts in my dojo run 30 day note, 90 day, 12 months and 24 months. The longer the agreement the less you pay per month. Why? Because you are committing to train for that long and will pay for lessons that length so I give you a break on prices. If you want to do the 30 day note it will be the most expensive because I can’t depend on your dues as part of my income to pay bills for the dojo. Funny thing is that even my 30 day is often less than many of the lesser qualified martial arts schools in my area.
Personally I would love it if I never had to use a contract but that is why I have watched many schools close up shop and die off. They bragged about not requiring one and then a year or so later they are closed because they didn’t understand that, in business, contracts make both parties agree on services. If people could be trusted to keep their word then we would have no reasons to use contracts but this is not how society is today. My grandfather, who ran his own business for decades, always told me how a handshake was a firm deal. That handshake meant your word and you always made it right. Today, in the court system, when a person owes you money that handshake means nothing. Contracts are required to protect your business and, believe it or not, they protect the student’s interests too. A contract states that a martial arts school will provide a place for lessons, a schedule for lessons and must teach you martial arts…and you will pay them for it. That is, in essence, what a contract does. We don’t live in the 50’s, 60’s and even 70’s any longer. Back then it was not uncommon for a student to pay for a month of Karate, show up for class and find it was cancelled or the instructor just opened the doors and you would train on your own without them. That occurred quite often back then but these days contracts make it so instructors must provide the lessons they promised you.
I have heard every single argument against using contracts in existence today. Every time I hear someone say they don’t require a contract but do require you to give 30 days cancellation notice I just laugh. That is a contact no matter how they spin it. Then you have the ones that truly don’t have a contract at all but they open and close schools left and right or just simply go out of business after a year or so with no warning. Another argument is that contracts scare people off from training. Sorry but that is not true because these same people sign contracts for health clubs, Yoga, personal training and more…what scares them off is the fact they want all the benefits of martial arts but aren’t willing to commit to training to get them. Martial arts training will improve anyone’s life who studies it but not if you want to come and go from the dojo.
The way I look at it is this…I run a business. I am highly qualified to run the business I am in. I have dedicated over 38 years of my life to learning from the best and now will offer what I have gained to others. This will cost you money as it has cost me money. It is called and investment. I spend 50+ hours a week running my business and teach almost every single day. You want to learn from me you will agree to length of classes, you will agree to pay for them for that length and you will do so regardless of the excuses you make up to not attend classes. No I will not take your word for it. No I will not negotiate my prices (as I charge far less than the lessons are worth). No I will not let you out of your contract because you promised to pay me for the length of it. If a person doesn’t understand that then it is their failure to see how the world truly works, not mine.
The reason why we, martial arts school owners, need to use to contracts is because of people that didn’t live up to their promises. If a person wants to complain about a contract then they need to think about that. Trust is built through relationships and we do not know the new student so a contract protects both of us. That is why we use them and why I will continue to do so.