Innocent Phrases

Innocent Remarks that can cause damage.


We have the most passionate, professional instructors and staff in the martial arts community.  I frequently travel within our industry, and I observe; there is no doubt we have the best.

As good as we are, we are still susceptible to making innocent mistakes.  Inadvertent comments that cause damage.  Most times we are unaware of these errors.

I’m talking about the innocent remarks made to old students who drop in to visit, asking students why they don’t participate in your class, or the recruiting of parents or friends at the school.

I know these comments are harmful because I have observed the uneasy reactions of people hearing these comments, the actual feedback from individuals who have experienced these remarks, and how I felt in the past when directed at me.  Don’t fall into the trap of thinking people are more sensitive today than in the past.  People have almost always reacted this way.

It is essential to understand why people take these comments negatively.

A student who has not trained for some time already comes into the school feeling uncomfortable.  Many of us have been there before and felt a sense of guilt, even though not grounded.  No one wants to hear comments such as “Where have you been” or “When are you going to start training?”  These innocent remarks, sometimes just conversation statements, make the person feel uncomfortable and forces them to justify their decisions.  These remarks can cause a person to resist revisiting our school.  Many have not returned.

The best thing to do when seeing an old student is to express your sincere excitement to see them.  Ask them how they are doing.  If they ask about training, discuss it.  If they start giving reasons why they haven’t been coming, quickly say no problem.  I like adding a philosophical response such as “training fluctuates through life.  Sometimes we can train, other times we can’t.”  This kind of reply puts the student at ease. The nice thing about this comment, it’s the truth.  Finally, ask yourself what you would like to hear if you were in their position?

When making the innocent remark of asking why someone hasn’t been attending your class, you are questioning the intent of their decision.   You are unintentionally forcing the student to give a reason or make an excuse, thus creating a feeling of indignity.

There is a reason the student is not participating in your class.  It could be because of schedule, time, or maybe they don’t enjoy your class.  Embarrassing them is not going to solve anything other than creating more negative feelings.  I have black belts who never attend my classes.  I never ask them why.  I know they are great people and there is a reason.  I don’t need to put them in an awkward position to justify their actions.  Shaming someone into attending your class is not the answer.

The final innocent mistake is in recruiting.  Yes, we are in the business of helping people and to encourage.  However, there is a fine line between motivating or creating a problem.  If a parent or friend shows an interest, of course, discuss the possibility.  But be careful of initiating the topic. You may not know the state of mind of the individual.  They could take your innocent suggestion wrong and think you are judging their physical condition or worse.  Training ideas need to come from our TVs, emails, or other marketing literature encouraging participation.  Passive marketing is the safest way.  Finally, none of us want to be sold or pushed into doing something we don’t want to do.  We do not want to look like those hard marketing schools. That is not who we are.


The following quotes influence me as I communicate daily.

“Be careful with your words.  Once they are said, they can be only forgiven, not forgotten.” -Unknown

 “Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate, and to humble.” -Yehuda Berg


In closing, we have all made these innocent mistakes.  When in discussions with others, always put yourself in their place. Think about what words and phrases motivate and what could possibly offend.


Choosing the correct word and phrases is another form of karate training.


Take care.

Ray Hughes