Improving Communication Inside Martial Arts Academies

By Elisabeth Clay

So, let’s start with a common ground. When entering an academy, we usually go there for a reason. We have a goal, whether that is fitness, health, weight loss, self defense, or a high drive to become your very best self. Because we have a goal, it’s important to discuss it and know that where you are training is a good fit that will help you reach that goal. It also needs to be a place where you, as a teammate, can be helped and how you can help others.

The Thing We All Know: Communication is a Vital Tool

Some of the key communication skills for each person to develop include:

  • Active listening
  • Understanding non-verbal signals
  • Maintaining eye contact
  • Assertiveness
  • Being mindful of people’s individual space
  • Using positive body language
  • Dealing with different points of view

Active Listening

What is active listening? Is it hearing the words someone says and then responding? It is when we listen and concentrate not only on the words people use but the meaning behind what they are saying? This type of listening is used in counseling, training and dispute resolution. It requires you to be open to what is being said.

Understanding Non-Verbal Signals

How do we understand and interpret non-verbal signals and body posture? We would look at posture, facial expressions, hand gestures, leg positioning, etc. A tightly gripped fist can indicate anger, frustration, nervousness while open hands and a relaxed chest usually represent a calm demeanor. When communicating, be sure to watch the posture and movements as it may tell you even more than words.

Maintaining Eye Contact

Eye contact tends to comment that the communicators are in open communication or engaged.


It is easier to communicate with someone who is involved, assertive and has thoughts and speaks them rather than being quiet and passive. When a person is passive it can mean they agree or disagree, and therefore it is difficult to work with.

Being Mindful of People’s Individual Space

Personal or individual space varies from person to person, and cultural influence can also be a significant factor.

Using Positive Body Language

Know who you are talking to and watch their body language to know if they are comfortable or not, with particular respect to one’s personal space.

Dealing With Different Points of View

How is it easiest to deal with different viewpoints? We are each individuals and so we have inherently different viewpoints. We can learn from different cultures, thought processes, experiences, political views, etc. All of this shapes who we are and how we think. With that being the case, we will have different points of view. We can grow by listening and trying to understand and, even if we never agree, we can learn respect and tolerance of differences.

What About Personal Awareness?

Some personal awareness skills that help with communication include understanding the benefits of a positive attitude. A positive attitude helps us communicate better and fosters empathy and compassion. A positive attitude also helps us to tackle the challenges in front of us, from communication, to goals and trials.


  • Brings people together
  • Is an important management function
  • Bridges the gap between individuals
  • Allows for the flow of information from individuals to groups and back

How is All of This Beneficial?

Owners and Coaches

If there is more than one owner, they likely will have different opinions and it’s important to be on the same page (i.e. where to agree and then agree to disagree). This is critical because the coaches and students follow your lead. Consistency in how the gym runs is very important to keeping students and the flow of classes. Things as simple as how class is started, warmups, greeting protocols, acceptable attire for classes, line up procedures, where people watching sit and who leads warm-ups are important. Other important things include who is allowed to participate in different classes, how is money/payment taken, check in, etc.

The layout and flow of the gym is also important to facilitate smooth operating. So are who is covering what class, when the academy is open for extra hours, private lessons and who belongs in what class. But that’s not all. Important questions to ask yourself include what is the curriculum, are we following a theme in class or the same move, do we teach variants, who do we pay to cover classes in the event of an absence, who are we teaching to coach as well as the endless list of things you need to be in agreement on.

Coaches to Students and Vice Versa

How do coaches communicate with students and why is it important? Coaches communicate what they expect of their students through body language and words (verbal and written). It is important to know what class is most beneficial for students and what they can contribute to the class. Some schools do not want students helping each other, while some encourage collaboration. Others encourage facilitated collaboration, meaning students collaborate with each other with a coach or upper belt overseeing them.

This part of communication is so important. Beyond what classes are taught, this is where the individual needs and desires are met OR where you learn that this school is not the right fit for you. Not every individual and school are a good fit for each other. It is critical for students and coaches to be on the same page philosophically. Not every need will never be met, but the majority or at least the most important ones should be met. At the same time, if a student is not a good fit for the gym, coaches and owners can facilitate the student in finding the right school. Bear in mind that due to life changes this “fit” can change over time.

Dealing With Change

Constant changes — when the times and intensity and classes are in constant flux, it makes it difficult to attain your goals and difficult to plan. Goals are most easily reached through consistency and planning. Without communication or with poor communication, it is difficult to know how to achieve success.

Communication between students is vital. Because even though it is an individual sport, it requires training in pairs. The training is what helps you achieve your goals. So yes, you need a professor to teach you the techniques, but it is critical to have partners and communicate what it is you need and what you can provide to your training partners. That open dialog is how you are able to succeed. Sometimes it may be difficult to understand what your partners are asking for or why they need it, but this is why communication is so important. Sometimes their body language, which shows that they just need you to be present, is more important than rolling.

At the end of the day, communication is how we work together, feel each other out and know what one another are doing. All relationships are built and based on communication in one form or another. Good, positive communication will facilitate all the many things we all looking to achieve.

Become your lioness.

Follow me on Social Media:

Instagram: ElisabethClayBJJ Facebook: Elisabeth Clay YouTube: ElisabethClayBJJ Website: