Things  managers do that drive your senseis crazy

Your senseis can be a tremendous asset, running all over your region, organising events, campaigning on your behalf, and actively working to grow your business. But if you treat them badly, they can be a real liability, undermining you, creating a negative atmosphere, deterring others from becoming part of the team, costing you money, and even leaving to set up rival clubs.

Like any group that is trained to consider itself superior (rarely a healthy mindset), managers all-too-often become emotionally detached from their senseis, losing empathy and considering that nomal societal rules of courtesy and reliability don't apply to them, when in fact, they are doubly relevant because you are role models.

You might rationalise that your time is better spent replicating yourself by recruiting SDCs, or that your recharge time, when you turn the phone off and restore your emotional batteries is more important than your sensei care, but you're wrong. Unequivocally wrong. Whilst you're recharging, your business is degrading. It's like stopping paddling as you approach a waterfall. You may not even see the danger yet, and by the time you do, the current may be too powerful to avoid.

Look at the two managers in the world with the best student retention, and they are both managers that devote a high effort to sensei care, arguably at the expense of building SDC teams. However, as our business model changes, and it becomes harder to recruit new members, our ability to hold them becomes ever more important. Loyalty may retain a student through a recession, but it won't recruit one.

The simple fact is, happy senseis, make happy dojos, and happy dojos retain students.

You have no off days - you have to perform well all day, every day. One poor interaction can damage relationships for literally years, and undermine your credibility with the entire sensei group.

Here are some of the things that managers do that sabotage their relationships with their senseis:

1. Not answering phone calls or texts

Just think how irritated you get when immature SDCs refuse to take phone calls because they are avoiding work or a dressing down. Why would your senseis feel any happier when you avoid or simply lack the courtesy to answer them?

I know that as business managers you are often busy, and you'll speak to your senseis or deal with business issues when you get around to it thank-you-very-much, but that's a policy guaranteed to provoke frustration and outright hostility. It's an issue that really angers a lot of senseis. We run your business for free, and in the course of doing so, we often have need to speak to you about ongoing issues. You simply MUST be available to your staff. Apart from anything else, being ignored makes us feel as though we are simply assets to be used but held at arm's length, not valued team-members to be engaged with.

If you are busy, then make it a policy never to leave a call unreturned for more than three hours.

I would go further and say that even if you are in a lesson yourself, NEVER ignore a call from a sensei during their lesson time. They are most likely to call you at such a time if they have emergencies that require immediate answering. If you are soooo busy that you can't spare the time to speak to your minions team, then clearly identify a period of EVERY day when you ARE available for calls. And sorry, but you don't get weekends off. You have a 7 day a week business, so you must be available 7 days a week.

If you have some senseis who love to turn each call into a social occasion (and I admit I'm the number one offender for this!), have the balls to say, "I'm sorry, but I have work I must get on with." And if you then say that, you can't start idle chit chatting about the things that interest you, only to cut the sensei off when they do likewise. It's just rude and shows that you are not busy: you are only interested in the chit-chat that you want to talk about.

By the way, I include not responding to dojo-related texts, emails and Facebook messages in this item.

2. Not being available by phone, then castigating your senseis for making decisions

Obvious really. If you decide to go AWOL when they have issues that need resolving with students or caretakers or parents, don't get annoyed at how they choose to resolve them if you are not available to provide guidance. We're the ones on the front line facing angry parents, upset or injured students, or stroppy caretakers. If you choose not to be available, don't get hostile with us when we decide upon solutions to the situations at hand. We're not paid to take crap from people, and we do the best we can.

3. Looong meetings

Your senseis are there to train. We understand that we need to go over SOME business things, but as the role models for the students, we consider the standard of our karate to be MORE important than that of the students. Meetings that go on for half and hour or more are a sure-fire way of building up resentment. We do karate because we are dedicated to karate - not meetings.

4. Neglecting your higher grades

I realise that your business model involves bringing new senseis onboard all the time, but if you teach sensei class on an endless cycle catering to the lower grades' needs, then you piss off the people you most depend upon - your senior grades. One black belt of proven experience and commitment is worth five orange belts of a year's experience. I don't say that from a point of ego, but a black belt can provide you with many more orange belts if they  feel happy and taken care of, but if they are resentful, or treated badly, they will actively keep potential new senseis away from you, to protect them from what they perceive to be a bad environment. Remember, you can't physically force your senseis to provide you with new candidates for the STP - you depend upon their good will to do so. And if you think that you can circumvent them by recruiting at gradings - guess again. Senseis have far more credibility than you with their own students, and will quickly undermine your recruitment efforts if they are motivated to do so.

There's no reason why the majority of your sensei class cannot be pitched at a black or at least brown belt level. If needs be, each week, assign one of your black belts to teach the lower grades. They are perfectly capable of teaching them on your behalf, and if not, why not?

5. Neglecting the basics

Higher graded senseis often rightly ask for more advanced karate, however, sensei gradings as well as sensei progression in terms of skill, requires them to stay on top of their basics as well. As we move up the grades, it can be tempting to try to turn every class into an action-packed Smörgåsbord. Variety and originality ARE vitally important in sensei class in order to keep your senseis stimulated, and for them to feel a sense of progression. But it's all too easy for our basics to fray as we move up the grades and start to prioritise effectiveness over form (sadly the two are often not the same thing).

Almost every class should have a bit of the basics in. Kancho's formula is not just for beginners. If he still goes out and punches a makiwara every day after 40+ years of training, what makes you think your senseis don't need to continue mastering their kihon?

6. Being casual about sensei gradings

I realise that many of you are two, three, four or more years apart in your gradings, and that the grading opportunities for you are few. This tends to give you an increasingly macho and casual attitude towards your sensei's gradings. A sense of progression for them is VITAL in keeping them engaged. If joining the sensei program means less attention paid to the things that help you grade, less opportunities to grade, and a higher grading standard, ensuring that for most senseis, their student peers overtake them, surely you can appreciate how unattractive that makes the role? You sell the role on the benefits, but if it quickly becomes clear that there are significant disadvantages in terms of martial progression, surely you can understand why many senseis; especially the lower grades who could ordinarily expect to grade twice a year, might quickly become disheartened or frustrated?

All too-often, I have seen senseis quit the STP citing "a desire to focus on their own karate". The two should not be mutually exclusive.

7. Breaking promises

You're as good as your actions, not your words. Your senseis look up to you, and most place you on a pedestal, simply because of your position. It's easy to make promises to your senseis, especially when you are doing so to deflect or resolve conflict, but you must understand that breaking those promises, either deliberately, or through forgetfulness, is a recipe for turning frustration into outright hostility or contempt. Once you've lost your senseis' respect, it will take you a long time and far more hard work, to earn it back; if you ever can. Meanwhile, your resentful senseis may be actively undermining you with their peers and potential new senseis.

8. Neglecting kumite

Whether your senseis like kumite or not, we are a martial art, and kumite is an essential aspect that provides increasing fitness, fight awareness, stamina, tactics, and conditioning. Some senseis are uncomfortable with kumite, especially if they are lower grades in a group containing higher grades. This is likely because they lack the tools and the experience to stand a chance (or perhaps because there is too much contact in your senior class). Every time you do kumite drills, you should follow up with some jiu kumite in which the senseis are instructed to try to incorporate the new skills. If you do not do that, the new skill is more or less lost because it lacks immediate reinforcement.

Kumite should not be something added into classes as an afterthought or reward once every few months or less - it is an integral part - it is the very essence of everything we train for, and you should never go more than a few weeks without it. Learning to deal with fear is a crucial aspect of self defence - arguably the MOST important aspect. If your senseis do not make progress in this area, they will feel like frauds in their own classes.

And apart from anything else, the endorphins released during kumite are a good way to ensure that your senseis go home feeling good!

9. Sensei classes that go on forever

Your entire life might be your business, but your senseis have lives away from karate. Sensei classes that start at 7.30pm routinely finish at 10pm or later might seem reasonable to you, but when your senseis have day jobs, families, and 30 minute drives home (or longer) it is not reasonable to them; especially when you spend 30 minutes on meetings that could have been conducted in 10. Remember senseis are not your empoyees.

10. Being casual about your senseis' time or finances

To you, the business "owner", it might seem perfectly reasonable to say to senseis, "just drop off the fees to so and so - it's only ten miles away", or "turn up to this event, or that seminar; it's only an afternoon" or "just give all your students a remider call, there are only 30 of them", but for those of us who don't make a living from karate, this is not reasonable. There's a reason why karate clubs are local - because that's how much effort most people are prepared to go to train. Your senseis already show additional commitment, don't take liberties with their time.

11. Being reckless about contact

Many of you have been around for a while, and have increased your power to the level that you can hurt people effortlessly. It is NOT a sensible behaviour for senseis to stand there whilst you punch them in the face or kick them across the dojo - it's a silly macho behaviour. GKR does not do conditioning, so why would you expect your senseis to be willing or happy to take that? I'm sure it is not maliciously meant for most of you, but if non-contact means anything, you should epitomise it, not be exceptions, who allow yourself to rise above such rules.
There ARE times for contact. It's impossible to do meaningful non-contact self-defence, and you may even want to do some occasional conditioning exercises, but these occasions should be clearly delineated.

The new GKR vinyl mitts suck. The old ones were poorly designed and didn't cover the knuckles, and the new ones are far too hard. They give the illusion of padding but are worse than the old, and they make it harder to judge distancing. Many people (especially managers), hit needlessly hard with these  mitts. Remember, water flows downhill, and the example you set is what your senseis will do away from you. Their standard of control does not improve out of your sight - it gets worse. You need to set an exceptional standard if you want them to set a reasonable standard.

12. Not giving enough notice of events

You are the first to complain if your events are poorly attended, as many are during the continuing recession, but if you only give your senseis the flyers one class before the event, you have absolutely NO right to moan if your events are unsuccessful! Moreover, you have no right to then start laying down the law that senseis should call every student to personally promote. If you don't treat your business professionally, why would your senseis?

13. Treating your senseis like employees or kids

Your senseis may be below you in the hierarchical structure of GKR, and they may even have a certain level of obedience to you due to the structure of etiquette and control inherent in karate in general, and GKR in particular, but never, ever start to patronise your senseis or treat them like naughty school children. In your role, you are treated by your zone directors as completely at their beck and call. They say jump and you are expected to ask how high, and to do so with a smile. This is not how normal people behave. This somewhat militaristic behaviour is a slightly cultish, business-based re-interpretation of Japanese budo clan structure. External enforcement of rigid discipline is how you treat children, not grown-ups. You may have to tolerate it because you depend upon GKR for a living, but giving senseis press ups for lateness, or making them stand at the side of the class for 15 minutes like naughty school children, or talking down to them, or lecturing and patronising them is a guaranteed formula for resentment, hostility and outright rebellion.

Many of your senseis are older, smarter, more successful and wiser than you. DON'T PATRONISE THEM!!!

14. Demanding standards from your senseis that you don't uphold or meet yourself

You set the standards in your region. If you don't turn up on time, demonstrate excellent sensei care, show excellent control, pay attention to sensei gradings, plan out events properly, return phone calls,  or take the time to interact with your senseis, in what world do you expect that they will go on to do that with THEIR students?

15. Weak leadership dealing with absentee senseis

Whilst many of the things in this tip have been about RMs treating senseis too harshly, this one is about them not being harsh enough. In a position where you depend upon the goodwill and voluntary efforts of adults, it can be tempting to pussyfoot around your senseis, avoiding confrontation at all costs, and fearing ever put your foot down. Whilst it is NEVER appropriate to patronise your senseis, if you are too soft, you will lose the respect of the other senseis.

It is perfectly reasonable in class to put your foot down, and say, "Ok, enough talk, let's train."

But almost certainly, one of the areas where weak leadership will have disastrous repercussions, is in dealing with absentee senseis. Most senseis will have injuries or other commitments from time to time during their careers, and of course you will want to be understanding and tolerant of these (although you may wish to make a show of the fact that you know the reason for certain senseis' absence from senior class, without necessarily revealing those reasons). However, there is definitely a line that you will not want to cross, no matter what the reason. A junior graded sensei who needs to stay away for six months or a year for whatever reason, should not be permitted to continue running a class if s/he cannot attend sensei class occasionally - it's not fair on his/her students, and it sets a terrible example to the other senseis.

Trust me when I tell you that once you allow them to get away with this, the regularity of your other senseis WILL drop notably, and they'll be less conerned about turning up on time. Moreover, if you then want to pull them back into better training habits, it will cause friction and resentment.

Obviously, the more experienced the sensei at the time of the absence, the more leeway you may wish to give them (or not). Likewise, if they fulfill a sempai role in a class, you may be more forgiving, but there simply MUST be a bottom line for every sensei. Even the highest graded sensei, with the most menial role in class, MUST attend senior class occasionally.

All-too-often I have seen senseis who are out of touch with changed kata performance or grading syllabus, misteaching students, leading to frustration and even causing students to fail gradings.

16. Being afraid to fail people at gradings

Which leads to my next point - being afraid to fail students or senseis in gradings. Whilst you don't want to be a hard-case just for the sake of coming over tough to your senseis, one of the things that earns clubs the reputation of being a McDojo is gradings run for financial reasons, rather than to measure the progress of students. Although parents are sympathetic for students who fail gradings, when they see clearly sub-standard students failing gradings, it reassures them about the value of their own kids' pass. Conversely, when visibly substandard students pass, for whatever reason, it massively decreases the value of the grading, and the faith that students and spectators alike have in a GKR grading.

Saying "no" may be one of the hardest things that you have to do as a sensei, but it is also the most valuable. A grading that is impossible to fail, is no grading at all. A grade well-earned (no matter how many tries it took) is a thing that its recipient can take justifiable pride in.

17. Too many seminar style classes

You may be tempted to run every sensei class like seminar, focussing on a single aspect of karate, or a single technique or stance for 2 or 3 hours. Many of you, especially those who have trained in Japan, may in some way perceive this way of teaching to be more effective, more hardcore, or even more "authentic". These training methodologies DO NOT translate well into western dojos, any more than chopsticks are the best choice for eating Western food - heck, they're not even the best choice for eating oriental food! Just because something is more authentic, doesn't make it better. We have a different culture, with different expectations. Kancho's syllabus, combining a mixture of elements in EVERY class is a perfect strategy, ensuring that if students are not motivated by one thing, then they will soon move onto something different.

The main reason for running seminars, is that the host doesn't get to see the students very often - such as when Kancho or Shihan visit, so they have a lot to cover. You see your senseis every week! Seminar style classes are great for your ego, making you feel like you are really sharing the depth of your knowledge, but you can't ram concepts down your senseis' throats simply by talking about them for a long time. People's learning capacity is surprisingly small, and their boredom threshold very short. Small and often is a far better policy than force-feeding skills in large, undigestible lumps.

18. Captive audience

Just because your senseis have to attend senior class, does not mean that you can use the opportunity to eulogise, chit-chat, or otherwise preach. Of course your role is one of leadership, but remember that you are dealing with adults, who are primarily there for the karate.


19. Not following up on leads

Now, more than ever, every student is precious. If your senseis take the trouble to phone or text you with leads, then you never get around to calling or chasing them up, you lose the opportunity to gain new students (and you never know which student will be the one that brings 10 more). But far more importantly, senseis stop making the effort on your behalf. It only takes one "Couldn't get around to it" response from you, and you can lose the support of a sensei FOREVER!


In conclusion, I have seen many regions destroyed by disgruntled or bad managers. You may well have a perfectly good reason to feel like that, but address the issue with whomever is the cause of the problem - DO NOT undermine your region and its students and senseis. Destroying the karate journey of dozens or hundreds of students is selfish and it's immoral. Those students may depend on skills that they WOULD have learned. If you're not man enough to deal with the realities of your job, and you're too weak to challenge those realities, then go. You won't be remembered fondly if you ruin things for everyone else because you're unhappy.