Over the years I have been a part of Bearsden Martial Arts Club, there have been many members who have come and gone. I don't believe there is one reason for this. Life can take us in different directions and further afield. There is so much competition for people's time and money, be that work, entertainment or exercise and as a result, there have been times when the club membership has been rather sparse.
However over the last couple of years we have definitely noticed an upturn in interest. Currently we have 27 adult members. Our junior's class is even stronger, with 32 members on a Tuesday night and 30 on a Wednesday.
Why they increase? Parents want their children to have an exercise, and often the appeal of martial arts is the discipline, confidence and self defence ability that it helps develop. We have seen many of our junior members rise through the grades, achieving their junior black belt and then going on to train with the adult class.
A lot of the kids are fans of WWE wrestling (nothing wrong with that, I used to have a poster of the Road Warriors on my wall when I was growing up!) so they are inspired by the combat they see on television. Occasionally we do have to explain why you can't hit your training partner with a chair.
The explosion in popularity of the Ultimate Fighting Championship has no doubt helped to raise the awareness of martial arts to the general public. The UFC has debunked a lot of the mythology around the unbeatable martial art, and now competitors train as genuine mixed martial artists rather than specifically karatekas, judokas or boxers. Whilst we are not a competitive MMA organisation, we share a lot of similar ground so this popularity of the UFC clearly influences our membership.
We are also eligible for the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme and have seen many members join us as part of this. Participating in the club can help with the sport, volunteering and leadership elements of the award.
The increase in numbers is key to the health of our club. As we all progress in grades, seeing how you compare with someone of a lower grade can be a good barometer of your own development. There's a chance to learn from and coach others. From a public relations perspective, it looks great if further new members come along, they can see they are joining a thriving organisation.
Contrast that with training if there are six people in the hall. Regardless of their skill level, it looks a lot less appealing to a new comer. In fact, a small class of all black belts is likely to be very intimidating to potential new members. It would probably still intimidate me. With our current membership, we have a spread from white belt, through all the kyu grades, first, second, third Dan black belts, and Hugh as a ninth Dan so that a new comer can see a progression path and not feel they are entering at a level far below everyone else.
Having said all of that, we cannot take the membership for granted. UFC, WWE or the Duke of Edinburgh award could all fall out of fashion and that may impact the number of new members. As mentioned at the start of this piece, there will always be
a churn on members but the hope is that we can retain as many as possible, by making the club as welcoming, enjoyable and inclusive as possible. 89 members in total shows our club is in robust health. Now, can we make it to 100?
Scott has been training in Shoto Budo since 2007 and is a 1st Dan Black Belt. He is working towards his 2nd Dan grading.