Empty Mats and No Shows:
How to Get Cops to Show Up to Jiu Jitsu Class
by Ari Knazan-Invictus Leo Jiu Jitsu Collective
Aug 27 2021
Disclaimer: This article details the steps in avoiding the “empty mats and no shows” that many instructors face when offering classes for Law Enforcement. While you may have differing opinions, this is what has worked for me and continues to be a resounding success. This article focuses on both the cop who has yet to step on the mats and the ones who seem to fade away after just a few sessions.
You can’t really browse social media today without finding some post about use of force training for police. There are more police officers training Jiu Jitsu than ever before and there are police departments that have actually implemented mandatory Jiu Jitsu training for their officers (Marietta GA PD for example). We are moving in the right direction for sure but we have a long way to go.
Statistically, less than 3% of police officers are training use of force (like Jiu Jitsu) outside of their departmental mandated training. Some officers literally get ZERO use of force training once they leave the academy. Others may get less than 10 hours a year for recertification (which is typically antiquated use of force techniques that are ineffective). Less training equals higher injury rates (for officers and suspects) and an over reliance of tools such as tazers, batons, OC spray and firearms. This article isn’t to address these stats (we have several others already written). This article is how to ACTUALLY get cops to show up to the mats.
STEP 1: VALUE
a) If you decide to charge down the road (or have to because of rental space etc), the people who got teaching for free will be less inclined to pay as they were used to getting training for nothing.
b) But FREE is great PR and good for your marketing strategy, no? Yep-in the short term. Once you’ve exhausted the people who are taking advantage of your free teaching, you’ve come to the end of the line. When the FREE PR train runs out and you are simply devaluing your product further with no gain in membership.
c) The research into free products and services has been conducted thousands of times. Customers are actually less likely to engage with what you are offering in the long term if there is no investment on their part. How often have you seen a person join your “Free Open Mat” only to disappear a few sessions later? Yep-thought so.
d) You don’t have to over charge your police clients. I would suggest making it really reasonable in fact. Because we are all cops, I would make it much cheaper that normal gym prices if you can. Example, I charge a 75% less that the local gyms in my area (this will depend on a ton of factors such as rent, home gym, full time gym with other clients etc). My tuition is by far the best value in my city and the students recognize that.
One of the stipulations I have at my dojo is that I absolutely require commitment to remain a member. My students must attend a minimum number of classes per week to remain in good standing. I audit the attendance every month and send messages to the students telling them where they are at with their minimum commitment. As an instructor, you need to invest yourself in this ‘administrative’ area in order to let your students know that you ARE WATCHING their commitment. Some places have a limited amount of space so students who sign up but don’t show (more on this below) are taking up valuable space for those who want to learn. Some tips to get commitment:
a) Application Process: I literally have an application that I require prospective students to fill out and send back to me. I use this application for 3 reasons. One, I get all the information that I need about their history and why they are wanting to learn Jiu Jitsu. Two, I place applications in my waiting list pool so I can see who is next on the list. Three, the application has the rules of the dojo including my expectations on attendance. In no uncertain terms, every student knows what they must do to remain active.
b) As mentioned, you need to require your students to attend classes a minimum amount. For example, lets say you teach police only classes 2 times a week. You should require ALL students to attend at least ONE class a week to maintain their membership (extenuating circumstances not included in this: Ie: Sick)
c) Skill: as my buddy Chad Lyman says, you need to train a little a lot. If students do not regularly train, they won’t retain what they learned and their body won’t remember the moves. It is a proven fact that showing up consistently in whatever you do, will build muscle memory.
d) Avoid the “I just want to be part of something cool but never show up” person. These people exist. They want to be part of a Jiu Jitsu gym because it ‘seems cool”. We aren’t in this for the cool factor. We are doing this to stay safe, keep in shape, manage PTSD and learn skills that will save your life. The last thing you need is the person who just wants a participation trophy.
STEP 3: PLAN AHEAD
You may be an officer who teaches Jiu Jitsu but you are working shift work. That means the days/nights you teach will change weekly. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t have a schedule that is set months in advance. As part of getting students to show, take away the whimsical “I’ll show up if I feel like it” attitude. That may work for the majority of people out there but when you work shift work (even if you don’t), you need a long-term SET plan in place.
a) Set your schedule in advance. I post my schedule for classes a couple months in advance so students can see when classes are. This allows them to plan ahead and write down their classes.
b) Require your students to sign up for all classes 1 month ahead-no exceptions. This allows you to see who will be in your classes and not wonder if anyone will show up. “Forcing” someone to commit actually is beneficial for both you and them. This isn’t a “last minute thing”- this is a commitment and they student needs to me on board with that.
c) The booking system I use reminds the students 24 hrs ahead of time via email and 3 hours ahead via text. These little reminders show that they matter and that the instructor is expecting them to show.
c) Cancelling classes: My current booking program and system does not allow the student to cancel their own classes. They have to contact me directly to do so. This lets me know who can’t come to class and I can keep track how often I am getting these from particular students.
Implement a three-month semester system to your program. Require the students to make a commitment for three months in order to train with you-no exceptions. This is particularly good as it isn’t a crazy long time but it its long enough to get people snagged on the art. At the end of that semester, start a new one and those who want to continue will let you know. They will simply carry on to the next cycle. Do not worry or waste energy on people who don’t want to commit to training (come on- 3 months is not long at all). If a student isn’t showing up, they are not actually wanting to train. Concentrate your energy on those who WANT to be there and let goes those who don't.
STEP 5: CURRICULUM
Avoid using the terms like “Open Mat for Cops”. This gives the perception that it’s a free for all with no structure or just rolling. I absolutely without hesitation would say that schools that don’t have a curriculum for cops are doing a massive disservice to them. You need a plan. You need a structure technique list that cops can SEE and DO so they know what to tackle. I’ve done Jiu Jitsu for many decades now an I’ve seen both sides of the coin when it comes to curriculum. Cops, by their very nature, are use to OPS planning, structure and details. When your students know what they will be learning in your classes, that will help them set goals.
While there is absolutely nothing wrong with open mats, rolling or getting a belt from your professor when you win competitions etc, don’t have the student show up to class without them knowing what the expectations are for progression. Which leads to the next topic…
STEP 6: BELTS
I would say belts and promotions (testing) are super important for law enforcement. If we are going to be completely honest, belts are a general indication of skill but not the end all be all. Yes, a person can train submission grappling for 10 years and be a black belt level but not actually have a belt. Belts (or pins or levels or whatever you use) is very important for beginners. It helps them with goal setting. As you get further along the Jiu Jitsu road, your understanding and care about belts changes but it doesn’t make it any less important for newer students.
Many cops do competitions. I would suggest everyone needs to do at least one in their career but it isn’t the stick that you should be measuring the noobie cop by. Students should need three things to show progression under your care: a formalized test so they can demonstrate the moves, attendance (otherwise known as MAT HOURS), and their ability to apply the techniques (live rolling) against resisting opponents). Honestly, It doesn’t matter what you do for your stuents but they need goal posts and you need to set those for them.
You don’t need a massive marketing machine to attract students but I would encourage on having a website that tells what you do (mine is www.invictushq.ca) . I have a members only side to my site where students can access belt curriculum, videos and read details and specifics about the dojo. Create business cards and give them out to your students if they ask. Make sure your website or contact is on there so new prospective students have a way to contact you or read what you offer.
Also, create a chat group (Signal for example) that ALL the students are part of. This serves a few purposes.
a) It allows communication to everyone in your group at one time
b) It promotes discussion and ways to share news and information
c) Its literally the fastest and easiest “real time” way to keep everyone in the loop
STEP 8: FOCUS ON THOSE WHO WANT TO TRAIN
STEP 9: THIS WORKS
I ran my commercial academy for 18 years and implemented some of these during that time. I loved running my school but it was a struggle in many ways. I literally spent months after its closure going through the reasons some areas failed. When I closed up shop and opened my “private law enforcement” dojo, I used all the steps above. The results were in all honesty, immediate. I maxed our my student base with a very large wait list. The word of mouth alone has blown me away. Things are ‘better now” than they have been in the previous 2 decades.
Why the change?
a) I identified my clientele and have small classes (max 6 per class).
b) I use a curriculum
c) I created a mandate for the people who train with me (basically the BJJMAKEITMANDATORY movement that we use for Invictus).
d) I require commitment, minimum attendance, and advanced sign-ups for all students
e) I have investment and value attached to my program
f) My dojo is a safe environment where cops can freely talk and share experiences and ideas.
g) There are no politics in my dojo. It doesn’t matter where you trained before. The goal is to learn Jiu Jitsu and get better.
There you go. These are real world solutions to help you retain and get committed LEOs on your mats. If you are taking the time to teach cops Jiu Jitsu, you need to have cops actually show up so you can do it. I’ve outlined a step-by-step system that has worked and worked well me. Please reach out if you need any more specifics or have questions.
Invictus Leo Jiu Jitsu Collective