Pro Shop Profits

Reduce Liability & Increase Revenue with Safety Gear

Your students need as much equipment as you tell them they need. By telling students to have a backup uniform or two so they never miss class because their main uniform is dirty you help a student and increase sales.

A student who owns a heavy bag, bag gloves and a kicking shield is more likely to practice at home. Also, that investment in equipment helps keep them committed to their training. Padded weapons classes like nunchukas, sword and kamas keep training fun and interesting, which helps retention.

Students can use hand-wraps, bag gloves, gear bags, t-shirts, journals, books, postcards, toys, nutritional products, water and any number of other items you can provide in your pro-shop.

Many retail items can become essential parts of your curriculum. For example, different styles and colors of uniforms can denote advancement or levels of membership, such as the Black Belt Club. A level of curriculum that includes grappling could require a judo uniform.

The implementation of Muay Thai kickboxing drills creates the opportunity for students to wear Thai shorts and t-shirts. Your curriculum can include bag work, which then requires safety gear, like hand wraps, gloves, shin and instep pads and footgear for protection.

Weapons practice at intermediate and advanced belt levels creates the need for those products. Your school’s educational and motivational philosophy can point your students to the pro shop as well.

You can emphasize the importance of keeping a journal, and your pro shop can sell training journals. You can promote the idea of reading over watching TV, and sell books.

Emphasize the importance of letter writing and provide postcards. Classroom reminders of the importance of nutrition can sell vitamins and nutritional beverages. Safety chats about the importance of proper hydration can sell bottled water and personal water bottles.

The best thing about linking your curriculum with retail items is that all of the items offer your student an improvement in the quality of their training and education.

The people who attend your school are going to be spending their disposable income on things like video rentals, fast food, cable TV, magazines and any number of other unessential items.

If you can instead sell them things that enhance their enjoyment of the martial arts and at the same time improve the quality of their lives, then you’re doing them a service –while helping your school to establish a healthy income.

Training Exercise

Take from 10 to 20 minutes to brainstorm on all of the items you could feature in your pro-shop that could be linked to your school’s curriculum.

Who Buys Equipment?

There are three groups of shoppers who will frequent your Pro Shop – students, family members and the general public. The ideal location for your Pro Shop is in the entrance area of your school.

You want every student and parent to pass by or through the Pro Shop area every time they come to your school. Also, keep in mind that a well stocked Pro Shop will also attract students from other area schools if their schools do not have a Pro Shop or if those schools fail to maintain enough mer- chandise in stock.

When locating your Pro Shop in the entrance area be sure that there is a free flow of traffic. If there is congestion in the area shoppers might not wait or they may feel rushed when shopping. A highly congested area will also make viewing items in your showcase difficult.

Your Biggest Retail Day of the Year

Professional merchandising should play an important role in the overall success of your school. With the Christmas/Holiday season, you have the best opportunity of the year to sell merchandise.

Your students, their friends and families are going to spend many thousands of dollars during the holiday season. You need to position yourself and your school(s) to be able to provide as many opportunities for these people as possible to purchases products and services from you.

It is during this time of year that you need to have the widest variety of materials available for your students to choose from. Remember that you have a relatively captive audience in your students.

They are not usually able to go anywhere else to purchase the products that you have available through your school. Keep this in mind when your are developing your fall and winter lines of products that you will make available to your students.

Try to provide as much apparel and products with your name and logo on them as possible. If it comes with your name and logo on it, then your school is the only place that the item will be available. Also remember, when an item has your name and logo on it, it becomes a specialty item and then it has a greater potential value to the student.

Many retail stores make between 70 and 90% of their total annual profits during the Christmas holiday season. During much of this season, people are looking for opportunities to spend their money.

They will be much more open to suggestions than any other time of the year. You should be able to do three to five times your normal monthly merchandise volume during the holiday season. But, to do this you must start planning NOW!

You must begin planning now to make the holiday season a successful and highly profitable one. If you follow the guidelines for running a “Friends and Family Shopping Day” you should be able to have your most successful holiday season ever!

Decide today everything that you are going to make available to your students that will come with your logo on it. This includes shirts, hats, coats, watches, mugs, pens, clocks, backpacks, uniforms, safety equipment, etc.

Next, you need to decide what other items you want to make available. Some of the items you may want to stock a sample and others you may just want to have available through catalogue order. If you are going to do catalogue ordering, be sure that you order plenty of catalogues well in advance.

Once you have decided what you want to sell this season, you now need to decide what and how much of each item you are going to stock. In some cases you will only stock one sample or a sample of each size. In other cases you may want to stock a good number of certain items.

This would especially be true of some smaller items that you could use as ‘up sell’ items to fill out their buying list. Plus your shoppers could take these items with them immediately. Many times these smaller items will be impulse buy items. Example: mugs, water bottles, hand targets, pens, watches, etc.

Besides your regular stock of items that you have available, you should have a few items that are only available at the special shopping day. These can be purchased as special surprise gifts. You may also want to have a couple of unannounced specials available on that day to encourage additional purchases.

Don’t hesitate to come up with additional ideas to stimulate the desire to buy. Example: How about offering an additional special FREE gift if someone buys a big ticket item, like a stretching machine.

It is essential that you begin promoting your Christmas/Holiday items as early as possible. Remember, children begin planning what they want already in September and October. That is when you need to begin promoting the products that you have available and what they need to do get them.

If you are going to use catalogues, you need to get them out in early October. This will give the students an opportunity to put martial arts related items at the top of their list. Your pro-shop should be at its fullest by the beginning of October as well. Try to get all your samples in by the end of September and ready to be displayed by the beginning of October.

Try to be especially creative with your displays during this time of the year. You may also want to put up a special display in your front window for passersby. You will be amazed by the number of people who are drawn in by an exciting display, people who otherwise may have spent their money elsewhere.

We recommend that you give or send out copies of the “My Martial Arts Wish List” during the month of October.

You need to choose a day or evening in November to be your actual “Friends and Family Shopping Day.” We recommend a date between November 13th and the 22nd.

Remember, the day after Thanksgiving, the 24th, is typically the busiest shopping day of the season. You want togive the friends and families an opportunity to do their shopping at your school before

they do the rest of their shopping . On the evening or day that you choose to have the event, you may want to cancel classes on that day to emphasize the importance of the event for the students and their friends and families.

Try to make the shopping day/night a very special event by providing beverages and snacks for everyone that attends. Be sure to have enough staff on hand to help everyone. If you promote the event correctly, you should have an excellent response and you will need all the help you can get.

Also, don’t forget about selling upgrade and private lesson programs during this time.

Creating a Profitable Pro-Shop

A private golf club with a pro-shop and around 300 members will gross around $300,000 in merchandise sales in a single year. While that may not be a realistic figure for any martial arts school it does show just how much income can be generated from a small captive audience.

You have a small captive audience eager to buy. The question is do you have anything to sell? And if so does anyone in your school Know?

The main reason that merchandise sales in martial arts schools are so poor in comparison to lesson income is simply that the merchandise is usually not made available to customers. If it is it is seldom presented in such a way as to create a desire which is essential for any type of sale to happen.

Where to put the pro-shop?

The best place to locate your pro-shop is just inside the door of your school. If the office is on the left then locate your pro-shop on the right. In this way, the window display becomes a part of the pro-shop much like a mall store.

You want to put it here so that students, parents, and passers-by can easily see the merchandise that you offer. If they can see it easily and get to it easily then they can buy easily.

How to set up the pro-shop

If you need help in how to set up a pro-shop or what yours ought to look like go to the mall and look at stores like the Limited or the Gap. Better still find a Tennis pro-shop, they are very similar to what a martial arts pro-shop could be like.

They sell mainly shirts, shorts, and caps. Along with rackets, balls, books, and videos and yet despite having a smaller clientele than a successful martial arts school they sell well over $100,000 of merchandise a year. Golf shops are a more sophisticated example but the principles are the same.

The most effective way to sell merchandise is to put it on display. A good display rack is an excellent way to display uniforms and equipment. Buy a glass showcase and put it in the lobby.

Keep your eyes open in the local classified ads for stores selling their display racks. Stores go out of business all the time, so it’s not expensive to pick up some used racks or displays.

Display t-shirts and patches in your lobby walls at eye level. Use a grid to hang clothes on. Set your pro-shop up with walls or grid work on three sides and the front open so that people can walk in and see and feel the merchandise.

Change your displays on a regular basis, at least every couple of months. Even if you don’t change the actual merchandise, rearrange it.

You will be surprised just how many people who have gotten used to seeing a piece of merchandise in one place for two months, will suddenly notice it as a brand new item when its location is changed.

Change creates interest. Take some merchandise off the display and rotate it so that it never appears to be the same old stuff

You can have the best stock of merchandise in your state but if people don’t know you have it, don’t see it or can’t touch it, it’s not going to sell.

When is the Best Time to Sell Merchandise?

You will find that certain times will offer the opportunity for a quick and easy sale of a t-shirt or stretch rack. because of a students heightened state of emotion. Remember that people always buy out of emotion backed up by logic.

When the student first enrolls his interest is at a peak. Give him a few days to get into the program and recover from his initial investment in your lessons. By then he should already be expressing interest in one or two products and is almost certainly open to “cross-selling.”

The first major “high” in a student’s experience in your school is after they pass their first rank test. This is another period of time when their emotions are high and therefore a prime time to sell them products. Books, videos and equipment related to the new material they are going to learn would clearly be well received at this stage.

One time a student really appreciates some suggestive selling is if they get hurt. A barefooted student who has just stubbed his toe will be very receptive and appreciate a suggestion of martial arts shoes.

When someone gets a bruised shin, forearm or bone, let them know that protective pads are available. Consider also, carrying dit dat jow, a Chinese herbal preparation of some repute. It significantly enhances the healing of bruises. Stretching machines and books and videos on stretching can be sold as a preventative measure to strained muscles.

Keep your eyes and ears open at all times. Opportunities to serve your students will present themselves on a daily basis. When you order and stock your merchandise, pay attention to other factors that influence spending habits. For instance, don’t load up with t-shirts in January unless you live in a warm weather climate. Instead, buy school logo sweatshirts and warm-up suits.

The same is true when approaching summer; sell off all those heavy sweats at a pre-summer sale using the money to get your new line of t-shirts on display. Remove any leftover winter stock until next season so as not to clutter up your display. This also will serve to keep seasonal merchandise from getting old.

Sparring equipment will traditionally sell better in the winter than in the summer. One reason is because people tend to workout much harder when it’s colder and also because you normally will have more students in the winter than in the summer.

Books and videos sell best around Christmas and well into the New Year. This is partly because they make good gifts but there also is another reason. Just as the New Year is a great time for new student enrollments, it’s a great time to sell. When people engage in a new activity, they are hungry for information.

Feed that desire with a good selection of related books and videos. This hunger for information can actually be helped by severe winter weather. There is a lot of time to read and watch a video on a new form or other subject of interest.

Halloween is a good time to display uniforms in your front window. Depending on the latest fad, some years you may sell a lot of uniforms for one time costume use only. Of course with each person who comes in off the street to purchase a Halloween costume, you will give a guest pass and offer them a free trial lesson.

You may get several students a year from this type of approach. It may even pay to take out a small ad in your local paper advertising that your carry such uniforms.

Prospective students will come to you in a variety of ways; capitalize on this in any way you can.

Look at your own school and try to see how trends develop. Some things will just sell better at one time of the year than another. This may vary from area to area. Analyze these trends and order your merchandise with these in mind. With attention to detail in this area you should be able to keep your inventory under control and at the same time enjoy increased sales and profitability.

Children’s Curriculum – Sample Belt Exam

Outline of a Level 1 Rank Test

Prior to the Physical Exam
Parents are required to turn in parent permission slips with the box marked, “Yes, my child is behaving at home and at school in a way that I feel qualifies him or her to test for their next belt rank.” Students should arrive for the exam in clean and pressed uniforms with their belts properly tied and school patches in place. Students also have gym bags containing their personal items such as clothes, shoes, water bottles and any materials instructor requires for their participation in regular classes.

Physical Exam Requirements

Students must be able to quickly and efficiently line up in straight lines and properly utilize the available floor space. Students must be able to perform the procedures for beginning a class as a unit (bow in and other formalities) with unity, confidence and enthusiasm.

Students must be able to then recite the “Three Rules of Concentration” and demonstrate to members of the audience and or to each other the “polite greeting.” The instructor then chooses one child to role play the polite greeting to emphasize its importance and to point out to the audience the benefits and value of refined social skills. Students then perform the step-by-step the exercise of Form #1.

Next, the instructor calls two or more children out of the testing group to “compete” against each other in intensity, speed and precision. The instructor briefly addresses the children and audience about the power and value of healthy competition.

Students move into lines for a line drill where assistant instructors challenge students to defend themselves against padded “blockers” using the four-corner blocking technique. The instructor then asks at least two students to demonstrate the same skill in a “spotlight performance.”

Next, the instructor inquires whether each participant’s bedroom is clean (if the student’s room isn’t clean, they can get their new belt, but they can’t wear it until they’ve cleaned their room thoroughly). The instructor congratulates the students, awards their belts and dismisses the group.

Approximate Test Timeline

5 Minutes Students line up, bow in, and recite the “Three Rules of Concentration.”

3 Minutes Polite Greeting

5 Minutes Form #1

5 Minutes Line Drills and Highlights

2 Minutes Wrap up

Total time: 20 Minutes.

The Use and Maintenance of Safety Equipment


By Scot A. Conway, Esq.

Martial arts are innately dangerous, and over the years many students have been hurt learning the arts. Punching makiwara boards or hard heavy bags with bare knuckles had bloodied many hands, and the damage done to the bones and nervous system has made some types of work difficult for old-school martial artists.

Working with sharp weapons has cut many of us, and training without proper sparring gear has gotten noses broken, legs fractures and, in more cases than any of us would like, debilitating head injuries. Even simple but incorrect stretching methods have have resulted in serious injuries in the past.

Ballistic stretching, universally condemned today, has led to an industry-wide epidemic of torn knee ligaments among veteran black belts who started their training back in the 1960s and ‘70s.

Modern martial arts training is not like that. A litigious society, ready to sue even for the seemingly stupidest reasons, should motivate us to make things much safer than they once were.

Not only are modern teaching methods better for business (with an apology to traditionalists who feel the art should never be about business), they are safer (same apology to those who feel “safe” and “martial arts” ought to be a contradiction in terms). Safer means “less risk to the student,” and less risk to the student means less legal risk to the instructors and owners of schools.

With so many training aids and an incredible array of safety equipment, a Court of Law might find it unforgivable if you don’t use them.

Imagine the presentation to a jury of safety pad after safety pad, of safe heavy bags, gloves and kicking shields presented to them, and catalogs from two or three major martial arts suppliers handed out to each juror. Imagine the blistering accusation of recklessly endangering students by refusing to use any of them.

What defense could your attorney make? “It’s martial arts. It’s tradition.” What do you think a jury of ordinary citizens will think about tradition when faced with a former student seriously injured or permanently disabled, because tradition was more important than safety?

Use of Training Aids and Safety Equipment

Most martial arts studios have some training aids and safety equipment. These must be used, and used properly, to minimize risk. The responsibility falls to the instructor to make certain that the students are properly trained in the use of equipment. The instructor should also make certain that students are appropriately matched when practicing sparring and even self-defense techniques.

Do the students know how to hold the body shields? A frequent problem is students holding the shields away from their bodies, then the impact drives their arm and shield into them. Another problem is holding it at improper angles for certain moves, such as roundhouse kicks, and getting kicked in the hand or arm.)

Do the students know how to hold focus mitts? Shoulder injuries are common if focus mitts are held to the side, and if a student holds one in front of his face, he/she may get hit by his/her own hand.

Is the skill of the students equal to the drill? Practicing roundhouse kicks on a small shield may lead to kicks to the knees or other body parts not protected if the students don’t have the necessary skill.

Is the piece of equipment the proper training aid for the drill? Using a small shield for a drill that should have a large shield may result in serious injuries.

Are the student pairs or groups suitable? If a child is hurt holding a shield being kicked by an adult, you may be liable because of the danger in which you placed the child. If mismatched pairs are unavoidable, the child should practice power techniques while the adult practices control.

Has anyone been hurt in the drill before? If someone gets hurt in a drill, the drill should not be used again until the instructor staff has carefully evaluated the drill to see if there are innate dangers in the drill, and those dangers should be eliminated before the drill is used again.

Safety Measures for Unsafe Lessons

When the class is practicing any kind of training drill, proper safety equipment should be used to minimize the risk of injury. Anything done that is potentially hazardous should be clearly related to the skill being taught or practiced, and students should have the right to excuse themselves. Whenever possible, however, some measures should be taken to make unsafe lessons as safe as possible.

Some martial arts practices do not lend themselves to excessive safety, such as breaking. However, even in that endeavor, rather than having students pound concrete on the first day they learn breaking, have them practice on easy rebreakable boards, or let them put substantial padding on the bricks (a folded up towel, for instance) so they cannot hurt themselves while they learn how to break. Then steadily reduce their padding until they are breaking the way you would like them to break.

Also, never permit students to attempt breaking feats beyond their level of skill. A white belt, for an exaggerated example, should not be trying to break boards with an advanced kicking technique. Likewise, the degree of difficulty created by the number and composition of the material to be broken should always be closely monitored.

Do not allow unqualified students — no matter how big and strong they are — to attempt to break too many boards or dense objects like bricks, cinder blocks and ice. And permitting any student to break objects with his/her head could be a shortcut to disaster, legally and otherwise.

Once, at a tournament, a competitor nearly knocked himself unconscious by smashing his head into a pile of bricks that didn’t break. If such advanced breaks will be attempted, then instructors had best know what they are doing and be prepared for the consequences.

On other lessons, start safely and build from there. If students are learning rolls, for example, start simply, on the ground, and then work steadily to kneeling, standing then jumping rolls. If students are learning breakfalls, start them practicing from a roll, then a trip, then a dive roll, then a hip throw, and finally a shoulder throw.

Many of the skills and teaching techniques discussed in other chapters throughout this book are also excellent for risk management. They help introduce students to skills slowly, guiding them to greater skill, helping them grow as martial artists. As so many of them help students learn safely, they also help to reduce the risk of liability as well.

Maintenance of Safety Equipment

Most of us have seen an old kicking shield, battered by years of use, wrapped with duct tape that is separating. Some of us may even have them in our schools. If you kick them wrong, you could catch a toe and break it. Even if you hit it right, you could hit the soft spot and really hurt your partner.

If it’s old, if it is no longer serviceable, get rid of it. Keep it as a souvenir if you like, but when it becomes easy for you to imagine a first-day student hurting him/herself on it because of it’s condition, it’s time to retire it.

Likewise, torn mats can be dangerous. Replacing them can get expensive, and taping them may add a few years to its life, but at some point, the benefit is not worth the danger and the mat must be addressed.

At one school, the original mat covering the floor was brand new — a decade ago. The tarp covering the mat had torn in some areas and separated in others. From time to time, a student would catch his feet and stumble or fall.

The instructor, as wise as he hoped his student would become, saw that the mat was now more of a danger than a training aid, and he got rid of it. Soon, double-padded athletic carpet replaced the mat.

Keep up on your equipment. When you see a problem, fix it. When a student or a parent brings a problem to your attention, fix it. If you address problems when they are small, the repair can be simple. Other problems might be more difficult to fix, and you should try to maintain a fund for those, or parents and fundraisers can often be a tremendous help when something big needs to be done.


A young man was sparring in a martial art in which the groin is a primary target. He had forgotten to wear his cup, but neglected to mention that to anyone. Then, wham! He got hit in the groin and landed on the ground. As far as anyone knows, he recovered completely.

A cup cannot protect you if you’re not wearing it. Neither can chest pads, head gear, gloves, shin pads or anything else. Equipment must be used to be effective. Students should have sparring equipment with which to spar, whether provided by the school or purchased by the students. If the school owns the gear, the school is responsible for keeping the equipment in good condition and disposing of it when it is no longer effective.

Instructors should maintain a policy of requiring students to inform their partners when they are missing important pieces of equipment that are not obvious, such as groin cups. The time for discovery is not when the kick lands.

Likewise, students should be required to inform others of any physical limitations or injuries they may have, such as a headache, shin splints, sore shoulder, etc., that might affect the techniques used. Students should also be required to tend to their own limitations, by wearing knee braces, wrist wraps, bandages, etc., as their condition warrants.

An instructor that maintains a “No excuses!” policy might generate tough students, but he is just as likely to generate seriously-injured, sometimes permanently-disabled students.

It is better to forbid a student to spar without proper equipment than it is to allow a student to go ahead and fight without an important piece of protective gear and get hurt.

Adult students can be granted more flexibility in what safety gear they use, especially in extra-curricular sparring (before and after class), if they have the experience and skill to take care of themselves. Anyone, though, who injures another, must be severely limited in what he is allowed to do.

Allowing someone with a known track record of hurting others to fight without gear, may be construed as negligence on the part of the instructor. If the sparring partner did not know about the tendency in his/her partner to hurt people, and the instructor did, then the instructor could be held responsible.

Safety Equipment is an important aspect of modern martial arts instruction. From a risk-management perspective, it is critical to have safety equipment for any exercise that may be dangerous without it. 

Tradition will not be an excuse in Court if a student is seriously injured.  It is likewise important to remember that equipment must be in serviceable condition, and, finally, that safety equipment must be used to protect the students from harm, and to protect the instructors and school from lawsuits.

Increasing Shoe Sales

Of course, most schools don’t allow shoes in the classroom. That doesn’t mean the school doesn’t allow show SALES though. Shoes are one of the best selling products in any martial arts pro-shop that offers them. Light, athletic, sharp looking martial arts shoes are very popular with students and parents of all ages and rank.

  1. Martial arts shoes have an almost signature look about them. They say “martial arts” without screaming it. They are subtle in their appeal and connection to the arts.
  1. If you have certain classes or nights where shoes are not only allowed, but encouraged your will see shoe sales jump. Why have such a class? Most of us don’t get attacked in our bare feet. Plus, training with shoes as a dimension of change to a form or a drill that makes it interesting and exciting for the students. The result is higher sales and happier students.
  1. We hate to say this, but when students wear shoes in class, the schools smell better! There are few things worse than going into a martial arts school that stinks of sweaty feet. It is a major turn off to everyone but the school owner, because he can’t smell it. He’s too used to it!

Sell each student a pair of shoes that cost $39.95 which you bought for $19.95 and you make $20 over the course of the year with 200 students that’s a net profit of $4,000. When it comes to martial arts shoes, sell only the high end shoes.

Not only is there more profit dollars for you, but people are used to spending much more than the most expensive martial arts shoes cost anyway.

Besides, Nike and Reebok won’t miss the sales you get from them with a good shoe program.

How to Sell Sparring Equipment

Sparring equipment is the easiest sale in your school since it is mandatory for all students who are involved in any type of sparring.

Most schools seem to introduce some kind of sparring at the gold belt level 4-6 weeks into the program. Not only might that be too late, but you can sell the gear much earlier than that. Just don’t get them sparring that early. You can get them doing drills instead.

Not only is this a safer way to teach and keep students, but the equipment is built into the class content, so if you don’t have it, you can’t participate.

White belts work defensive blocking and punching drills with headgear, mouthpiece and hand pads.

When they make their gold belt in about eight weeks, they need shins, foot pads and a cup because the drills will begin to include kicking.

At the orange belt level after about three months, they need a rib protector because they will begin to make body contact during light sparring.

At the green belt level, after six months of training will they finally actually free spar and make head contact. As much as this flies in the face of the way many of us were taught and continue to teach, it is proven for creating better fighters and much, much higher retention. Plus the gear sells itself.

Safety Gear is the Right Gear for Any School Regardless of Style

  1. If your students are protected with a full complement of protective equipment, there is far less chance that they will sustain injuries. Injuries keep them out of the school, decrease their motivation and can cause them to quit coming back.
  1. Should a properly supervised student get injured while wearing a set of protective equipment, your liability should be lessened.
  1. Most school insurance policies require that students wear such equipment in order to obtain the insurance.

Many schools keep sparring equipment lying around for students to use. This not only hurts sales but it’s very not very safe, hygienic or dignified. A headgear is not like a baseball bat.

To make the selling of the sparring package easy, you can group the items together selling them at full retail but throwing in a free sport bag to keep their gear in. The bag and the sparring equipment, of course, has your logo and website url clearly imprinted on the bag.

How to Sell Products for 10-20 Times Cost

The Gillette Company turned itself around when it made the marketing decision or, came to the realization, depending on how you look at it, that the real money was not made in selling a blade holder and razor.

The real money was made with the repeat sales of the razors. The money in cleaning teeth is not in tooth brushes, it’s the tooth paste that people use and have to replace that creates huge cash flow.

The in-house seminar business can take a lesson or two from these examples. Your students will receive a free product/weapon/training aid for enrolling in the class. The item is presented as a freebie that is included in the price of the class, but in reality, you are selling the item for 10 to 20 times your cost in exchange for taking an hour to teach a group of people about it.

If you charge $25 for a padded nunchaku seminar and have 20 people enroll, that’s $500 gross. They each get a pair of chucks which cost you $2 each for a total investment of $40. That’s a $460 profit for a one-hour class that you’ll have fun teaching. A class like that once a month will add nearly $6,000 to your profits.

At Christmas time, you can sell packages of seminars, three for $60 so the student can pick which classes he attends throughout the year.

  1. Run a padded nunchaku seminar at $25 for the class. Each person who signs up gets a free pair of padded nunchaku.
  1. Run a self-defense class and charge $35 for the class. Each person signing up receives a free My Defense Tool®.
  1. Run a bo stick class for $25 and include one of the several available books on the subject “absolutely free”
  1. Pick the weapon or creative form and you can build a seminar around it. You don’t have to be an expert in the weapon to teach a group of beginners. Pick up a video or call one of your buddies who will show you a solid one hour step-by-step class you can teach.

Think about it. History, how the weapon was created, common misconceptions, etc… will take the first 15 minutes. Then, the basic blocks and strikes for 20 minutes. Then some two person drills such as blocks and counters followed by actual target practice on focus mitts will take another 15-minutes leaving 10-minutes for a short form followed by Q n A and a review.

The possibilities are endless! Check our downloads area for sample flyers for these classes. They are easy to teach and great profit makers.

Despite the fact that you are, in a roundabout way, selling merchandise, your students will perceive added value because you are advertising the actual merchandise as free.

Another excellent way to increase merchandise sales is by simply incorporating a particular training item into your regular class. For example, teach a class on speed and timing utilizing focus mitts.

Tell students they should practice this drill at home with a friend on a regular basis. One will invariably ask ” But how do we get the focus mitts?” This gives you the perfect opportunity to tell him “Right here!”.

Over a period of time you can do the same thing with a speed bag, heavy bag, kicking shield, stretching machine, video or almost anything else. A

s you teach, simply continue to state the benefits of training with that particular piece of equipment. With this method, you need say or do nothing different from what you might normally say in class.

Note: Because many schools do not offer weapons training or offer it only to a select few, weapons seminars may offer you an opportunity to pull in students from outside of your school.

These may be students or people who have no time or inclination to participate in a full course of study, yet have a specialized interest in the particular seminar topic that you are offering.

How to Sell More Merchandise The Power of Suggestive Selling.

The Power of Suggestion

It is actually easy to sell someone merchandise without even asking them for a sale. It’s called suggestive selling. You simply recommend an item either verbally or on paper and most of your students will come back to you and request the item in the near future.

This, of course, starts with you, your staff and your black belts. Make sure that you and your staff are always wearing the golf shirts, T-shirts and other item that you want the students to buy.

Your students look up to you, they respect you and they want to be like you. If you are always wearing a school T-shirt of golf shirt then they to will soon want to be wearing one. Never allow your staff to wear anything in the way of shirts expect your school ones.

For years, is was a badge of honor to have a worn out uniform, gear and belt. It showed you had been around for a while. Think about that as an example.

The last thing you want is your students thinking they should use their gear until it falls apart. They’ll never buy anything! Make sure your staff is always using new, clean and sharp looking uniforms and gear.

How to Sell More Books

Books and videos are the perfect items to sell in your shop. Students are studying your art and study typically involves reading. But, here is another example where you can’t just put the books on the shelf and expect them to sell by themselves.

You have to create a scenario where the students buy the books as a matter of course.

Each time a new student enrolls, hand them a simple photo copied sheet of paper with a list of recommended reading. On it list the 10 books you think will be most useful to your students.

The recommended reading list along, with a simple suggestion that they would find these books of great help in their training will boost sales big time.

Video Sales

The idea can be taken further by adding a few video titles to the list of recommended material. Videos offer an excellent source of income since most sell at a 40 to 50% mark up. Some schools have curriculum videos included in the exam fee.

When a student tests and passes a green belt exam, he pays a $40 exam fee which includes the next level video. The video won’t cost more than $5 with production and duplication. Just make sure you do a good job in producing the video. Make it something to be proud of as it reflects directly on you.

Sell Merchandise to Everyone

Students aren’t the only prospects for pro-shop sales. Here is a “check list” of potential sales in a student’s first year. How many of these sales are you getting?

Student Year-One

  • Headgear
  • Hand pads
  • Feet pads
  • Mouthpiece
  • Rib guard
  • Shin pads
  • Cup for guys
  • 2nd uniform
  • School patch
  • Three-five different T-shirts with your school name and logo
  • Martial arts shoes
  • Sweat shirt
  • Logo school bag
  • Baseball cap
  • Misc. Books and videos applicable to your system

How did you do? If you got them all, good for you. Now, here’s the real test.

Parent Year-One

  • Logo school golf shirt
  • Logo school T-shirt
  • Sweat shirt
  • Baseball cap
  • Coffee mug
  • Kicking shield for practice with child


As you can see, the key to good merchandising is to get an idea of what you want to accomplish. When you look at these two lists, and multiply those products by your entire student body, and their families, you can see how a good pro-shop can add up to a serious profit center.

Sample Display Ideas

January/February Strategy

Theme: Start the New Year Right!

Background: Get in shape theme. 
Sell: Sweatshirts, shoes, headbands, fitness videos and books. Heavy bags and other home training equipment

March /April

Theme: Kids in the Martial Arts.

Background: Paintings by children from your school, and good report cards.
Sell: Patches, children’s books, videos


Theme: The Tradition of the Martial Arts.

Background: Bamboo, a bonsai tree, sand and pebbles.
Sell: Uniforms, practice weapons


Theme: Patriotism

Background: Two large flags of your country, toy soldiers. 
Front: Uniform with flag colors stretched on wire. 
Sell: Equipment with flag colors plus, headbands, flag patches, T-shirts, etc

August/ September

Theme: Martial Arts Movies.

Background: Movie posters 
Sell: Everything! Posters, DVDs and videos of the films are great choices


Theme: Halloween.

Background: Orange paper and two large pumpkins. You can also use Halloween props.
Front: Ninja suits stretched on wire

November /December

Theme: Holidays.

Background: Small Christmas tree surrounded by gift-wrapped ‘presents’ and Christmas stockings.
Christmas items: Books, Videos, and Shoes.
Stocking stuffers: Patches, key chains.

Christmas Shopping Day!

The Power of a Good Logo on Apparel Sales

The first step to increasing your product sales is to logo everything in sight. Harely Davidson now makes more money selling t-shirts and jackets than they make selling motor-bikes. That’s the power of a recognizable logo and a good line of merchandise.

Disney, Warner Brothers and Coke-a-Cola make huge sums of money selling their logo merchandise. If it works for sugar water, it will work for us. Of course, you have to have an attractive logo that people won’t be embarrassed to wear. Be sure to read the report on how to create a good logo.

Logo-wear works on a number of levels:

  1. People like to show they are an accepted member of a group. The more prestigious and “cool” the group, the better. Given a choice, most people might prefer to show the world they belong to the Harvard Athletic Club than the South Emerald City Community College Athletic Club.
  1. Provided you do a good job, students and parents will be proud of their association with you and your school. When someone is proud of their association they typically want others to know.
  1. A “School Logo Only” policy helps to reduce the temptation for students to purchase items outside the school. When a student or parent buys product through the mail or at your local sports discount store this cuts you out of the profit loop.

Logo your uniforms, sparring equipment and t-shirts but don’t stop there. Logo hats, sweat shirts, pens and anything else you plan to sell or give away.

What Items Can You Sell in Your Pro-shop?

  • Sparring equipment
  • A full line of Logo t-shirts, tanks and sweats
  • Caps, headbands and visors
  • Polo style embroidered shirts
  • Warm up suits
  • Martial arts shoes
  • Regular gi’s, colored gi’s and custom gi’s all screen printed with logo
  • Black belt club specialty items
  • Books and videos pursuant to your style
  • Kicking and punching pads 

Selling Training Aids

Training aids are not just for use in the school. Their purchase and use at home could be encouraged by you and all your staff since this not only helps profits but also aids in retention.

Few schools that I know of make much of an effort to sell training aids for use outside the school. This is usually simply because they have not created a system to do this.

If you enroll 20 students per month, let’s create a plan to sell 20 kicking shields to them. Kicking shields are used extensively in the school but do all of your young students have a kicking shield at home?No, but they have a baseball bat a ball and a glove. They have a soccer ball to play with. You can be sure mom or dad enjoys throwing or kicking the ball as well!

Think about it! What is the best way to show a parent that the child is really interested in martial arts?

What is the best way to get the parent emotionally bonded to their child’s success in his martial arts program? Get the parent involved. While you may not get every parent to enroll you can at least encourage the parents to buy a kicking shield and work out with their child on a weekend for ten or twenty minutes.

What if you had a five page booklet with photos of you showing the parent how to hold the target, what techniques to practice and how, plus tips on what to remind the child to focus on? What would that cost you to produce? With a digital camera, a computer and a printer, next to nothing but the time to put it together.

Heavy bags, blockers and focus mitts are also idea for encouraging practice at home and interaction with another member of the family. Each time a parent sees his child practicing at home it reinforces that child’s commitment to martial arts and re-enforces the parents resolve to continue investing in lessons.

Other training aids such as stretching machines are more adult in their appeal but should also be promoted for home use especially around Christmas time.

Zero Risk Logo Products

Wouldn’t it be great to be able produce and sell t-shirts for your school and events that would make you money with zero risk? Here is the answer.

Teespring allows you to design your own shirt, offer a variety of styles and colors, PROFIT from each one sold and handles everything from shipping to customer service.

There is a low threshold of shirts that have to be sold. Typically that level is 5 shirts have to be sold before any are shipped. If they don’t sell, you have zero cost or risk. Create shirts for your school, style, special teams, events, intra-school tournaments and so on. You could even have t-shirt design contests for your students.

How to Conduct a Used Equipment Sale

If you school uses kicking pads, focus mitts, freestanding bags, stretch racks, heavy bags, and other tools of the trade, here is a great way to keep them in brand new condition and at the same time, creating extra income off the product.

Every six months or so, sell your existing equipment to your students. Then, use the funds your receive from them to purchase another supply of brand new equipment. Six months later, do it again. You keep repeating this cycle every six months or so.

In time, your students will make you offers for the equipment they are using in the class. If you are not ready to sell the used item, up-sell them to a new one.

Let’s look at the numbers for this. A high end shield might cost $50 brand new. As a wholesale customer, your cost is about $25 (50%). You purchase it for $25, use it in class.

You tell your students that you are going to upgrade the equipment and will be selling the shields on a first come first served basis. The price is $35. That’s $15 off retail and $10 profit for you.

The Martial Arts Masters on Change

Here are some quotations regarding styles from three of the most influential martial artists in history:

“The art does not make the man. The man makes the art.” – Gichin Funakoshi

“You limit a style by labeling it.” – Bruce Lee

“The style serves the student. The student doesn’t serve the style.” – Joe Lewis

Despite my roots in tae kwon do, my responsibility is to my students, not tae kwon do, kickboxing, Joe Lewis Fighting Systems, or any other source of information. My job is to create the best black belts possible in a school that authentically represents what I believe in. In large part, that responsibility is expressed through my curriculum.

When Does a System Freeze?

The history of the arts, however, is the tendency to freeze a curriculum and then resist any change or suggestion of change. I love Shotokan and know that the reason I did so well in forms division was my adaptation of the core elements of Shotokan, which is deeper balance and more powerful and crisp blocks and punches than my root system of tae kwon do.

We have the great system of Shotokan because of the work of Gichin Funakoshi. In fact, the genesis of Shotokan is in the massive change Funakoshi’s made to Okinawan karate. He radically changed the recipe book, yet for the most part the book has not changed since.

It’s also entertaining to me to see modern Jeet Kune Do teachers argue over what is real JKD. If anyone didn’t want his system to freeze, it was Bruce Lee. He was way ahead of his time in his approach to creating a practical martial art that was not confined or restricted by history.

Joe Lewis is someone who has continually updated his material. Recently we trained one-on-one for the first time in over a decade. He had me fire some of the excellent Joe Lewis Fighting Systems’ combinations on the bag in my garage. He stopped me and started to show me how to throw a straight right hand. My mouth kind of dropped, my eyes got wide, and I shook my head in disbelief. He said, “What?” I said, “That is the exact opposite of what you taught me in the 80s!” He said, “What? I’m not supposed to evolve?” It was the perfect response.

Here was a 60-year-old black belt who was in his fourth decade as a worldwide recognized pioneer and superstar, but in his mind, he is in his fourth decade of evolution. While I’m on the subject of Joe Lewis, let me also mention this. Joe is a very traditional martial artist. I am, too.

We don’t express our traditions by holding on to techniques or rituals. We express them by making sure our students: execute with proper form, can defend themselves and develop the tenacity to never quit.

The Core Dynamics of a Martial Arts Instructor

I was lucky that my instructors never abused my loyalty. Every instructor I worked with – Hank Farrah, Walt Bone, and Joe Lewis – took me under his wing and made me a protégé.

But, as the head of the world’s largest martial arts professional association (Then NAPMA. Now MATA.), I’ve heard countless horror stories of master instructors abusing the loyalty of their top students. Guess who tend to be the top students? Guys and girls like you and me. 

Who are we? We are probably the only students in our white belt class that actually made black belt. My first night in karate class, Mr. Bone explained that less than four percent of us would make brown belt and that less than two percent of us would make black belt. I understood that he was challenging us to overcome the odds.

I too feel black belt shouldn’t be easy, and I am a firm believer that pain is part of the training. I don’t dispute that. I am more curious about why we endured while others dropped out. What relation is there between our endurance and running a martial arts school as a business? 

We Have Similar Backgrounds. 

Regardless of our style or where we began to train, we martial arts school owners have similar backgrounds and motivations. I’ve discussed this with hundreds of black belts and a number of psychologists. Herein lies the genesis of the Core Dynamics. 

Why did we first join a martial arts school? Chuck Norris tells how having an alcoholic father was a major motivator for him to get into martial arts, and I think most career black belts have had a similar experience.

Most of us joined a martial arts school because we had been bullied, beaten, or in some way intimidated or powerless for a long time, typically in our youth. This common denominator has a massive effect on our industry, not as much from a marketing standpoint as from a causation standpoint. 

An industry run by people out of oppressed, intimidating situations but who now see themselves as powerful “masters of the martial arts” is unique. It’s convoluted. As beneficial as it is for the individual, the transition from powerless to powerful in the martial arts often creates a new set of baggage. 

Most of us got into the martial arts because we were personally bullied, beaten, intimidated, and/or mistreated, or we were in an environment of tension, violence and/or abuse, particularly as kids. 

Interestingly, if you study successful people, a common theme is either mental or physical hardship or abuse as a child. Bill Clinton’s dad too was a raging alcoholic. Ted Turner’s dad arranged to blow his own brains out at a time he knew Ted would be the first to find him, so he could clean up the mess before his mom got home. 

Maybe your dad hit your mom, or your brother beat you, or you were the target of bullies. Whatever the situation, the end result was that you found yourself in a threatened place for an extended period of time. It was not your fault. You were just a kid. According to the doctors I’ve talked with, this creates a feeling of powerlessness because the scary things that are happening to you are out of your control. If you’re in such a situation for an extended period of time, the martial arts present an escape and a way to gain power and respect. 

If you joined a martial arts school in the 1970s like me, odds are your school was a dungeon dojo: a smelly place where students were “tortured” in the name of discipline. In these schools we discovered a world where beatings happened, but with a kind of perverse logic. 

There were clear rules and boundaries. Rather than a lack of control, the martial arts are all about control. If you took the beatings, followed the rules, and practiced your techniques, your rank within the organization would rise. With each step up the rank ladder, you moved closer to the inner circle of the school, which translates to the big R word: Respect. 

Respect is the word in the martial arts. Because a kid gets little of it, especially in the kind of environment described above, respect is very attractive. One of the first lessons you’re taught in martial arts school is respect. It is also clear that respect is related to rank. That’s a natural and necessary hierarchy in the martial arts, but boy is it appealing to a person who has been beaten down one way or another.

Finding Your Unique Voice

In an advice column, a 15-year-old boy wrote, “I am 15, I have zits, my voice is still high, and no girl wants anything to do with me. What should I do?” The answer was really good. 

It’s not just you. Most 15-year-old boys are gawky and awkward and have zits. Girls your age are more interested in older boys. The question isn’t what can you do now to improve your odds with girls, because there is really very little you can do now. The real question to focus on is: what kind of 18 year-old do you want to be?

What can you do over the next three years to redefine yourself and create the person you think will have more success? Can you start lifting weights? Take martial arts and get a black belt? Get really good at some activity, other than video games or web surfing, so you have something going for you? 

Many of us have experienced or observed a metamorphosis from the classic 98-pound weakling getting sand kicked in his face to a respected martial arts Master. Martial arts is truly a great way to redefine yourself. 

By embracing the martial arts to the degree you and I did, we took major steps to redefine who we are and how we fit in the world. I thank the heavens for putting me in proximity to Walt Bone and Hank Farrah so that on February 12, 1974, I could take my first karate class. 

I can’t imagine what kind of life I would have led or what kind of person I would be had my life not taken that turn. I love having a career in the martial arts, being a black belt and a teacher. Even before training, I used to read biographies of all of my sports heroes. My goal was to become an athlete or a teacher. A career in the Martial arts provided me the opportunity to do both, and I am forever grateful. My goal now is to simply leave the martial arts in a better place than where I found it. That’s a goal that motivates and rewards me daily. 

When we learn from a specific instructor, it’s natural for us to mimic somewhat his or her teaching methods, processes of control, and attitudes about teaching and the martial arts. Walt Bone taught me to teach through negative reinforcement. Never compliment a student. Always tell them what they are doing wrong. That’s what I did for years. I became such an expert at pointing out things that could be improved upon that I did the same thing outside of school until a friend said I was hypercritical. 

When Mr. Bone said it was an unwritten rule that no one should open a school within five miles, I took that as the law. When Mr. Farrah explained that the purpose of the square block is to block one attacker in front of you with a modified side block and, at the same time, block another attacker from the side with a rising block, that is exactly what I believed. 

And, that’s how I taught the square block for almost two decades, until the day I was on a StairMaster® in a gym at the Cooper Institute, watching a karate class in front of me on the basketball court.

The instructor was very good, and the 10 or so green belt adults were very attentive as he taught them the square block exactly as I was taught it and as I still taught it. But as I watched, I couldn’t help but think: that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. I wondered how any of us could keep a straight face while explaining this fantasy block. 

Finding Your Own Voice is the process of questioning everything you teach, and all the systems within your school, to make sure they represent you and how you want to treat people. You want to make sure your program authentically reflects your beliefs… that it doesn’t simply regurgitate what your instructor perpetuated on you. Just as an abused boy tends to become an abusive adult, abusive teaching practices, insane rituals, faulty reasoning, and myths can be passed on generation to generation until someone breaks the cycle and “finds his voice.” 

Finding Your Own Voice simply means you work to have a deeper understanding of the system, so that you don’t keep explaining the square block as I did. You make the style serve your students, rather than the other way around. Just because your beloved martial arts instructor said it doesn’t mean it’s true. Just because some guy said it in the 1920s doesn’t mean it’s right for today.

Don’t strive to become a clone of your instructor or the masters in your system. Strive to be authentic as a person who uses martial arts as a way of expressing himself or herself. 

Black Belt Scandals

Here in the Tampa Bay area – the 12th largest TV market in the U.S. – the local CBS TV affiliate did a three-part series called “Black Belt Scandals.” The series exposed a local instructor who had White-Out® on his rank certificate. You could see a 3 was replaced with a 7. He even had a fake chiropractor’s certificate on the wall. 

Though this guy was giving neck and back adjustments to students, including children, the chiropractic college reported he had never attended the school. Next, the reporter contacted his martial arts association. They had no record of him. Mind you, I’m less than confident of martial arts associations’ record keeping, but it looked very bad. 

As a demonstration, the reporter applied to another martial arts organization for a black belt certificate, which was promptly mailed to her. She made it clear that all she had to do was send in $25 and she was recognized as a black belt, without ever having taken a martial arts lesson in her life. 

She then purchased a black belt at a local martial arts supply store and took the certificate and belt to the business licensing office. When asked what was needed to open a black belt school, the lady behind the counter said, “Pay $35 for a business license. That’s it.” 

The reporter looked into the camera and remarked that, though she had the belt and the certificate, they were useless because she didn’t need them to open a school. She dumped them both in the trash. 

I was on a 10-day tour of Italy with the WAKO USA Team when this happened. When I got back, it was the talk of Tampa Bay. 

Beyond exposing a lack of ethics in the martial arts industry, the story illustrated that there are no educational or, for the most part, licensing prerequisites to open a martial arts school in the United States. In the United Kingdom, Canada, and other countries there are some rudimentary licensing requirements, usually having to do with CPR and general safety. There is very little required that is specific to the martial arts. 

To be clear, I am not calling for any type of government regulation. I created the American Council On Martial Arts (now the Martial Arts Teachers Association Instructor Certification Program) as a way of educating instructors on teaching methods that are accepted and proven universally by the highest academic standards worldwide. My goal has always been that we raise our own standards of performance and teaching. That is a tough road in this industry, and we will explore why in this section. 

There is little question that the martial arts industry has a very low barrier to entry. The range of people opening martial arts schools is vast. Some people open schools after graduating college with an MBA, while others have just been released from prison. The good side is that martial artists are as diverse a group as you can find in any field. The most colorful, interesting people I’ve met in my life have been martial arts instructors. The downside is obvious: like any profession, the indiscretions made by a minority of unethical instructors make it harder for all of us to be taken seriously as professionals. 

When researching why some owners take the material and apply it while others let it stack up in their office, my first thought was that owners with higher education probably did better growing a school. However, in the next moment I realized that couldn’t be true. I certainly didn’t have a business background when I opened my school, and my GED didn’t exactly speak to high education. Yet I earned a six-figure income as a school owner in the early 1990s. The fact there are no educational prerequisites allowed me to get started in the first place. 

I believe the difference lies in our collective background as martial artists. Keep in mind that the Core Dynamics are unique to those of us who have embraced the rigors of training far beyond those of our classmates. We didn’t just train hard; we made the martial arts our life. Many of us endured beatings, mental abuse, and insane requirements to move up the rank ladder to our black belt and beyond. We stuck it out while our classmates struck out. In appreciation for all that hard work, our instructors often found ways to abuse our loyalty. Who the heck puts up with that? We did. 

The Enemy of Success for a Martial Arts Instructor

After the trail lesson, your goal is to convince any potential students to sign up at your school.  It’s all about trial and error and as an experienced martial arts school owner, here are three closes I have used that I would not recommend.

When all else fails, go to a third party to help the prospect make a decision – in this case, I chose Benjamin Franklin, of all people:

“I can see you are having a hard time making a decision. Here’s a technique Ben Franklin used to use. He would draw a line down the middle of a piece of paper and list all the positives to moving forward, and then he would list any negatives. Let’s do the positives first. You will get in better shape, like you said you wanted to. You will have more confidence.

You said stress relief was really important to you, and you felt your health was not what it should be. When I asked you if you ever thought about being a black belt, you said it has been on your “wish list” for years. Of course, learning self defense ties right in with that. Let’s see, that’s one-two-three-four-five-six major positives if you enroll. Now tell me, what are the negatives?”

How about this for a hard close? I call it the “Back to the Future” close:

“Joe, I want you to close your eyes for a moment and just imagine what your future life will be like if you earn your black belt. You are in great shape. You’re flexible. You’re powerful, and you are getting high levels of respect and admiration from your friends and family. You have become a leader in their eyes. Now Joe, isn’t that what you really want?”

Then there is the take-away close. I used this for years. You make the financial presentation and then add some artificial inflation:

“As a first-visit incentive, we will reduce the registration by $50 for enrolling today to make it easier for you to get started. So which program works best for you?”

I told you they were rough. Don’t write those down. I know they are good, but only for parties. Don’t use them…

If you have to use these 1980s closes, you didn’t do your job in the trial lesson. This type of hard close often leads to buyer’s remorse. No one likes to be sold, but everyone likes to buy. Trial programs take a lot of the buyer’s remorse out of the process, because the prospect feels in control of the decision and has a clearer understanding of what that decision entails. It’s more comfortable for him or her and a lot easier than drawing lines down the middle of papers or taking people on a contrived time machine. They surely know that any artificial $50 incentive will be available the next day as well as today. Wouldn’t you?

After a good trial program, the paper work should be pretty easy. Imagine your prospect on his tiptoes at the precipice of enrolling, and you are behind him. With the most gentle, soft nudge in the back he or she takes the step. The closes above are more like a bulldozer trying to move a building. There is too much resistance, or you wouldn’t have to resort to such nonsense. Promise me that if you use closes like those you will first put on a polyester suit with wide lapels.

Rather than a tug-of-war, collaborative selling is more like two of you on the same side of a huge rock, pushing it towards enrollment. If one stops pushing, the process is suspended until you both are at it again. This takes longer than a 15-minute sales pitch.

Martial arts instruction is a relationship business. Getting to know what your student really needs and how he can benefit from your school is an important building block of that relationship. At the same time, to be an effective instructor, you have to build the trust of your student so he will not just believe you but believe in you. The trial lesson is a big first step in accomplishing these important goals.

Twelve-month New Student Agreements collected by a good third-party billing company are best sold with a trial-lesson strategy. With good instruction and student service, a school following this plan should be able to build a solid receivable base that will make the cash flow more consistent and help the owner sleep at night.

A School Full of Pooh Bears

As stated in one of my previous articles, I don’t feel that the movement towards character development has been bad for martial arts schools.  Actually, it’s been great. On the other hand, when schools drift away from their core values, they become little more than motivational day care centers.

The life-skills programs in schools too often are there for one reason; to overcome the concerns of the mothers of the kids in class. Most dads want their kid to be honest and respectful, but dads tend to understand the value of being able to deal with bullies and life’s physical threats more than most moms.

There are many students who come to us from bad situations where they have few if any role models of good behavior, and this is where the martial arts school can shine. Still, I think that child will be influenced more by a powerful black belt conducting himself or herself in a respectful manner and not abusing his power than the reciting of a sterile end-of-class story about the tortoise and the hare.

In traditional martial arts, respect is a word that is emphasized from day one. The belts work as a great goal-setting program and, certainly, developing a never-quit attitude is key to moving through the ranks.

To be clear, I see nothing wrong with organizing the lessons of martial arts into life skills to make sure they are articulated and apparent to the students and their families. That is like spice on the meal; it is not the meal.

Today it seems that instructors are focused more on their ability to get kids to recite pledges of good behavior and scream “YES SIR” than on their students’ capacity to “knock someone on their duffs” if they need to.

I know an excellent black belt who has transformed his school from adults to kids and now back to adults again. Like me, he had marketed to kids and cloned what the “Big Schools” were doing for character development. He began to pass kids for their “effort” in order to save their “self esteem.” More and more he found his school had become a kids’ center with hundreds of children yelling “YES, SIR!” at all the right moments during a speech.

Never mind that many of the kids really didn’t know what they were responding to. They just knew at the end of a question to scream “YES, SIR!” He also noticed that his upper-ranks began to look pretty weak. His exams became celebrations of mediocrity with lots of smiles, high fives, and weak technical skills. While passing every kid in exams may be good for retention, that very fact means eventually you are going to have a school full of Pooh Bears. Kids who are soft and nice, but easy targets, despite the color of the belt.

In time, my friend began to dislike his own school. He didn’t want to be there. He missed the camaraderie and pride of creating black belts to whom he could teach fighting, without upsetting the student’s mommy.

Then one day, a threshold event occurred that left him disgusted and ready to make some serious changes. One of his 11-year-old Pooh Bears came running into the school, bleeding and crying. It seems another kid, who was no bigger or older, had popped him in the nose. The student had been standing in front of his karate school, wearing his uniform and his BLACK BELT while waiting for his parents. Somehow he got into an exchange of words with a neighborhood kid who punched or slapped him in the nose.

My friend was sickened. Not only had an unfortunate incident happened in front of his school, but one of his black belts was crying and bleeding. To paraphrase Tom Hanks in the movie A League of Their Own, “there’s no crying as a black belt!”

My friend was humiliated. That’s not supposed to happen. When we were students, stories of our school’s black belts defending themselves always ended with the bad guy in the hospital. That event was the catalyst for the end of the student creed and passing exams for merely making the effort to show up. It has taken him two years, but he now is back to nearly as many active students, with only 20 percent under the age of 12 – a complete reversal of where he had been when the kid got popped.

He looks forward to going to his school each night and is enjoying running the school with a healthy mixture of personal development and realistic training and expectations.

My friend is one of the best black belts I know. He and I have talked about this new dynamic in the industry dozens of times. The conclusion that I’ve come to is that the introduction into the classroom of positive character development is a good “undercurrent” for a school. It’s the perfect counter-balance to good physical training and self defense.

But many schools are out of balance. The line that, “We don’t just teach punching and kicking…” has become a cop out for not teaching strong core self defense and technical skills. Don’t apologize for teaching punching and kicking (or grappling).

Technical execution and self defense have become an afterthought to personal development. Why? It’s a heck of a lot easier to teach a kid to act like a Boy Scout with a belt than to take the time, effort, and honesty required to produce a black belt who can defend himself or herself.

But, as many people have discovered, in time you may be teaching at a school you hardly recognize. You will have students who stand up straight when shaking hands during their “polite greetings” but who have rubber backbones.

It’s important to be OK with the fact that martial arts can’t be all things to all people. The very term martial means military. Military relates to matters of war. This doesn’t mean each class is devoted to killing or war tactics; it means that our foundation is one of peace through superior firepower. It’s a program of self worth that starts with the concept that:

‘I am worth protecting. No one will touch me without my permission.’

In a good program, as your skills improve, your sense of contribution, respect, and responsibility increases as well. Today, we’re seeing hybrid black belts awarded for blindfolding themselves so they can know what it’s like to be blind or spending a day in a wheelchair. This seems more like a high school sociology class than a study in the martial arts. To me, the ultimate black belt is a noble warrior who uses the martial arts as a method of personal and physical growth. It is a very individual pursuit that is better taken eyes wide open than blindfolded.

These are core attitudes and benefits that were inherent in the arts long before any student creed or message of the week.

The Golden Child of Martial Arts

In time, like me, many of you became the “golden child” of your martial arts school. You trained harder than anyone, and you were the best or one of the best students in the school.

By the time I was a first-degree brown belt, I rarely lost a sparring match against anyone other than my instructors. In fact, I refused to test for black belt, because it didn’t mean anything to me at the time. Keep in mind, this was a time of massive change in the martial arts industry.

Full contact had begun, and many of the myths of the “deadly black belt” were being exposed as nothing more than fable. Forms were being questioned as useless, as many black belts were shown to be only average fighters reduced to desperate, wild swinging in the full-contact arena.

After Mr. Farrah left the school, I stopped coming to my brown belt class. I would show up at the end of the class when they were getting ready to spar. I would walk out onto the floor, spar, and then leave. My instructor, Walt Bone, who was an excellent black belt and teacher, finally expelled me from the school.

Nine months later, he let me back in, and I returned to the arts with a deeper appreciation of what they were. I have worked hard ever since to honor them. I became Mr. Bone’s highest-ranking black belt until his death in a plane crash on December 16, 1982 (in a strange twist, I took him to the airport when he flew home to Dallas to visit his mom over the holidays. When I got home, I told my roommate, “I will never see him again.” Just a week later he died in a small plane crash in Texas).

These stories illustrate the path that many of us have traveled. It typically starts with an extended state of being powerless and out of control. That’s our motivation to join the martial arts school.

Though intimidation and violence existed within the martial arts school, the traditions and rules made it more meaningful, and we endured the pain to move into the inner circle. In the martial arts that inner circle is earned by gaining rank, which wins you Respect.

How to Gain Clarity of Purpose as a Martial Arts Instructor

The martial arts business is much like show business. There is confusion and internal conflict about money. “Serious” artists are concerned that they not sell out or become commercial. I saw an obese martial arts “master” on an A&E special. He said, “Martial arts is about changing lives. It’s not about making money.” Master Po has spoken. 

That kind of easy-to-spew rhetoric creates confusion in the martial arts industry. The history of martial arts is rife with stories of master instructors teaching the arts altruistically. When you hear one of those stories, it’s usually from someone who thinks charging for martial arts is wrong. Just keep in mind that: 

There is a big difference between you and the story teller or the kind master – they don’t have to pay your bills. You do! 

Like sex, money is seldom discussed, other than to complain about the lack of it. If you were raised in a family that struggled financially, you may have certain beliefs drilled into your head: such as, “The rich get richer, while the poor get poorer.” “We can’t afford that!” “I’d rather be happy than rich.” “Money is the root of all evil.” “The rich put their pants on one leg at a time.” Or, my favorite of all time, “If money was so important, look at who God gave it to.” 

The message is that not only will you not have money but also that people who have money have sold their soul. The truth is that money is like a hammer: it’s just a tool. Money is also blind; it doesn’t care who has it or uses it. If you save your money, your wealth grows. If you spend it, your wealth shrinks. Money doesn’t care one way or the other. 

When you combine that kind of negative association with money – which is very common, by the way – and throw in the so-called spiritual underpinnings of the martial arts, you get idiotic statements like the one from the chubby master guy. 

Because the martial arts can be a power for good, many of us convince ourselves that we teach to help people. We feel we should sacrifice our own well-being to “help the children.” We charge too little, and we let people train for free and, when they get good enough, we hire them to teach. When they underperform we keep them on, because, well, Sally has been with me for six years. If I fire her, I don’t know what she would do. 

Many of us worked hard to make all our students happy, and I don’t mean only from a student service standpoint. Our reward is that smile on little Johnny’s face, or Cindy’s improved grades, or Joe’s raise at work because we gave him the confidence to ask for it. Most professions don’t offer those rewards. In fact, that is all the reward we need, right? Wrong. Very, very wrong. Beware this dangerous trap of rationalization. 

When your well-being depends on how happy your students are, doctors call that co-dependency, and it will eat you alive. There is no way you can keep all of your students happy. This approach will wear you down and burn you out, because the human experience is a balance of good and bad for all of us, including our students.