Psychology of Success!

In the Big Dream, an employment agency, ran a series of commercials that I thought were great. These spots portrayed children describing their future. Most kids dream of jobs like doctor, fireman, or astronaut when they grow up. They dream big dreams.

In the ads however, these kids would say things like, “I want to lay tar, all day long!” the next child would say, “ I want to be mired in middle management forever.” another would say, “I want to be a brown nose.” 

The effect was both amusing and chilling. While the shock value of seeing a 10-year claim to aspire to be a brown nose was funny, it was also sad to consider that a young person would make their dream so, well, pedestrian.

The power of the word potential is in direct proportion to the age of the person you are describing. A ten-year old seems to have endless potential. An 80-year old would, by most accounts, have less potential. 

In seeing this spot over the months, I began to wonder what happens between the time a child dreams of being a rocket scientist and when he ends up nailing shingles on a roof all day long.

My dream as a kid was always to be either an athlete or a teacher. As a sports crazed kid, I read all the sports heroes biographies from Jim Thorpe to Babe Ruth. There was something very appealing about becoming famous for playing a kid’s game.

I think the interest in teaching had to do with power and a feeling of significance. Either way, martial arts certainly helped me fulfill those two aspects of my childhood fantasies. I’m sure the same applies to you. 

One of the most common questions I received over the course of the NAPMA 2001 World Conference was, “Did you ever imagine it would get this big?”  The first time the question was asked, I had to take a moment to pause and think about it.

It was actually a flattering question that threw me off for a second. While not trying to sound cocky or brash, my answer was honestly, “Yes.” This was a lesson I learned from Brian Tracy years ago. Dream big dreams.

Brian taught me to focus on prosperity, not poverty. Rather than focus on what I don’t have, focus on what I wanted to achieve and then to throw myself into that work with abandon. I did and it worked.

Dreaming big dreams only makes sense to me. What’s the alternative? Dreaming of being a brown nose? Dreaming of being a roofer? As Brian also says, “Anything less than a commitment to excellence is an acceptance of mediocrity.” I never forgot that.

Prosperity thinking means you don’t say to yourself, “I can’t afford that.” Instead, you teach yourself to say, “How can I afford that?” The difference is huge. To use a tired phrase, one question empowers you while the other disempowers you. 

One of the techniques I used to help keep me motivated was to visit luxury homes for sale. Typically, on a Sunday afternoon you could visit these homes under the pretense of being a potential buyer. I would walk in the house, and just visualize that I was coming home at night after classes. I could see myself throwing my black belt on the hook and heading for the hot tub.  This exercise worked as sort of a time machine for me. If I worked hard, stayed the course, did what needed to be done when it needed to be done whether I liked it or not, this was my future. It also showed me that, if I fall back into old habits and comfort zones, this is what I would be missing.

You have to understand that this was shortly after being so broke that I couldn’t afford to pay for my car insurance. I would run two miles to the school each day for six months because I didn’t dare drive. I’d tell the students it was my warmup. 

In order to break out of this place, I had to “fake it ‘til I make it.” Part of dreaming big dreams is to expose yourself to the lifestyle you want to achieve. That’s why I always visit a five-star hotel each year to do my goal setting. Even if I couldn’t afford to spend a night there, I still wanted to put myself in an atmosphere of success and opulence as I reviewed the previous year and planned for the next.

I’m a very future-oriented person. While I certainly “stop and smell the roses,” I’m confident the best is yet to come. That’s the beauty of a dream, especially the big ones. The martial arts can be a great career choice and it’s getting better all the time. Like many things today, your career in the arts is what you make it. Let us know how we can help your big dreams come true.


What If a Kid Wants to Join But Can’t Afford It?

When my dad took us to watch a class at the Florida Karate Academy in 1974, the instructor explained to dad that tuition was $25 a month with a 12-month contract. He stormed out of the school. He said that I had quit football and that I would probably quite karate and he would be stuck with the bills.

My karate dreams seemed dead until about a month later when I was shooting baskets outside and the phone rang. It was Debbie Bone,  the wife of the school owner. She asked if I was still interested in training. I said,  “YES! But my dad won’t sign a contract.” She replied with life-changing words, “You sound really interested. Tell you what. You can clean the dojo for your lessons.” I was estatic and showed up the next day and every day after.

I am so grateful they had a program set up for kids like me.

As we all know, coming up with the money to let your child join a school or to go on a three- or five-day camp can be challenging. However, with a dash of resourcefulness, a pinch of hard work, and a couple of handfuls of persistence, your students may be able to reduce their cost to a more reasonable amount. The recipe for success is called “fundraising.”

Before you begin, you’ll need to form a strategic fundraising plan. Set a monetary goal that you would like to reach. For instance, if you’d like to get the cost per student down to $50 each, you’ll have to raise $13,375. That’s $107 that each student will need to raise.

Choose three or four fundraising methods you think would go over well in your area, and time them in such a way that it doesn’t seem like you’re pestering folks to buy something every other week. Here are some fundraising ideas that, hopefully, can help raise enough money to offset student expenses.

School yard sale

This can be held in your school parking lot. Students and their families donate items to sell. And, aside from the cost of advertising the sale in the local paper, there are no other expenses to this venture.

Pot Luck Dinner Party
Put on your chef’s hat for this one. This has great potential, however, it requires extensive planning and coordination for it to be successful. Your first step will be to find a facility that can accommodate this particular activity. A local church may be willing to help out. Once you find the facility, you’ll need to begin ticket sales. Advance ticket sales are important, as they will help you to determine how much food to prepare.

Parents may want to get together to donate the meals, drinks, and desserts. They may even donate the paper plates, cups, napkins, etc. You can play a fun martial arts movie like The Three Ninjas after dinner. Everyone knows it’s a party to raise money for the camp. You might even auction off some private lesson with you.

Cooking and cleaning would be all that is really required of the students.

Have a little brainstorming session with your staff and students, and you’re bound to come up with even more great ideas.

Curriculum Design: The Recipe Book for Your Martial Arts School

I had lunch recently with a fourth dan in Uechi Ryu. We talked about how the Eastern mind-set is so different from the Western, and the confusion that creates for many instructors. Culturally, the East is more about conformity, or as I call it, cloning, than the West, where rugged individualism and innovation are instilled.

This prompted him to tell me a story of the greatest fighter in his system. This was a Japanese fellow who, as a young man, went to his uncle to learn karate. The uncle turned him away, but the guy kept returning. Finally, the uncle took him but made him clean the school, wash the toilets, and generally play the role of school janitor for a year or so before teaching him any karate.

When he felt the student was ready, he took him to other schools where he would get the heck beat out of him. Sometimes American GIs would come into the school to spar, and the uncle would have them fight his nephew, who got pounded. This lasted years, until finally the nephew began to win some of the fights. Eventually, he won them all.

The guy told me this with pride and added you just don’t see that level of dedication anymore. I said, “Of course not. That’s a stupid way to teach.” He was shocked. That is one of those stories instructors tell students to inspire them. And, as usual, the student doesn’t question it. I can’t help but be curious as to why someone would teach that way.

My comment to him was here you had someone with this kind of talent and potential, and you risked losing him by making him clean toilets for a year and then have him get beat up. That’s just dumb. That guy could have been a great martial artist years before he finally reached his potential. Luckily, he stuck it out, but who knows how many others with similar potential dropped out due to such an insane program? The instructor may have been a great master, but his curriculum was nuts, even if it does make a nice story.

If there is any area of your program you will want to scrutinize mercilessly, it should be your curriculum. Your curriculum is like a restaurants’ recipe book. Do your recipes have your students asking for more? Or are they choking down your offerings for a few months before giving it up and excusing themselves from the table?

Most of us either inherit the curriculum we came up in or we join an organization and adopt their curriculum. Because of our Eastern roots, there is an inherent bias towards conforming to existing methods. This, in time, leads to a one-size-fits-all approach to martial arts.

10 Ways for You to Value What You Do

One time I had a guy come into my school with one of my flyers. The offer was three months and a uniform for $249. He said he stopped by another school by mistake. When he presented the flyer to the school’s owner, his comment was, “I can tell you one thing: he’s charging you too much.”

This guy was 10 years my senior and had made his living as a martial arts school owner for much longer than I had. Yet I had three times as many students at twice the tuition. He was a 10th degree black belt, and I was just a third or fourth at the time. What did he mean when he said I was charging too much? What is too much? Why did he place less value on martial arts than I did?

If I could pay you $10,000, would you sell me your black belt? Would you strip martial arts from your life for 10 grand, as though you never took that first class? How about 20? Deal? I didn’t think so. I’ve never met a black belt who would. If you could take a new student forward in time to give him or her the feeling of being a black belt, do you think they would miss classes? Do you think they would hesitate to join your school at twice the price you are currently charging? How are you reflecting that value in your school?

In a Western society, quality is always associated with higher price. I’m not just trying to get you to raise your prices; I really don’t care what you charge. But I do care that you recognize and Value What You Do. That sense of value is reflected in a number of ways, including tuition. In more than a decade of consulting with school owners, I find this is the Core Dynamic that stifles them the most. Yet it is the most common problem for school owners.

This is an especially important message for those of you teaching a traditional system. Many traditionalists place a high value on what they teach, but they don’t demonstrate or reflect that value. Their school is kind of ratty, the systems on how to enroll are unclear, and the efforts to create and keep students are haphazard at best. They may speak of the value of martial arts, but they don’t demonstrate it.

This could apply to any school, but traditionalists have taken the noble path of preserving our core martial arts styles. In order for that to happen– and I certainly hope it does – the value of what martial arts represent has to be reflected in every element of your black belt school.

At the core of Value What You Do is this attitude:

I am a highly skilled, unique martial arts professional in our community. There are very few, if any, people who can provide the service and benefits that I can. I am not going to spend my time, stress, and money teaching people who are not committed to earning a black belt with me.

If your response is, “That would never work in my area,” then the Core Dynamic of Value What You Do is exactly the issue for you to focus on. Again, this is the most common problem with martial arts schools.

Even though we have personally undergone an amazing transformation through the martial arts, and we speak about the high value of martial arts, many of us do not demonstrate it in how we run our business. This is not about tuition. This is about every aspect of your school, from logo design to black belt graduations.

Ask your local private school about the enrollment process. I guarantee you they have a specific step-by-step process to qualify the student and then enroll him or her. You can be sure they have a contract and that a child will fail for underperformance. However, the school has few failures, because they have a system to get students ready to pass.

When you have a clear, consistent process to enroll students and qualify them for black belt, you show them that you Value What You Do. If you fear setting your prices more than $10 higher than the competition, you do not Value What You Do. Price, contracts, or using a billing company are not deciding factors for joining a school.

If your enrollment process is to let whoever answers the phone do her best – without consistent training – to get the prospect to come in, you don’t Value What You Do. Like the private school – you show prospects the value of what you do by making sure the system for answering the phone and setting appointments is clear and consistently booking 8 out of every 10 phone calls into good appointments.

If your enrollment process is to teach an intro or just let them join the class, without a proven system for moving a prospect from stranger to student 8 out of 10 times, you don’t Value What You Do. You demonstrate to your prospects that you Value What You Do by having a trial lesson program that is well thought out and rehearsed so that 8 out of 10 students who take it enroll.

If you advertise that you are a month-to-month school and that students can cancel anytime, you don’t Value What You Do. You Value What You Do when you adopt the attitude that you are a skilled professional, and you will not pour your heart into teaching someone who is only going to drop out when football season starts.

Here is the truth. In every market, the school that sets the highest tuition and uses contracts and has a professional system from the logo to the black belt exam and beyond has the most students. Everything about their operation demonstrates that they place a high value on what they do. Smaller schools that offer no contracts and lower tuition usually surround the high-value schools, yet they struggle.

These Things Demonstrate That You Value What You Do:

1. Your Black Belt Club is only for students who have committed to earn their black belt.

2. Your black belt exam process includes extra classes and opportunities to train for black belt candidates.

3. You have a professionally designed logo and marketing materials.

4. You indoctrinate the student from day one on the value of earning a black belt.

5. You keep a very clean school and replace worn equipment.

6. You have systems for every aspect of your school.

7. You use agreements instead of a month-to-month option.

8. You fail students who do not perform to the standards of the rank.

9. You study and train like a student for life.

10. You realize you can’t be the best and the cheapest, so you commit to being the best.

The most successful school owners highly value what they do… and it shows in every aspect of their school.

Black Belt Eyes

In the early months of NAPMA, my art director Scott Kelby and I created a black-and-white ad of a student throwing a perfect jump sidekick under a great headline, “Kids Don’t Seem to Mind Our Summer School.”

The ad was a big hit. Schools reported 40 to 60 phone calls, more than they had ever received. Some members, though, wanted to cancel because they didn’t do that technique. Others complained because they wore white uniforms, but the kid in the ad was in a white gi. This is a classic example of Black Belt Eyes.

Black Belt Eyes illustrate how the Core Dynamics are reflected in what we do. In most cases, Black Belt Eyes are based upon false assumptions. For instance, with the jump sidekick ad, the guys who canceled may have feared that a mom would bring the ad in and say, “I want to enroll my child, but first show me this kick.” Or, “Do you have that uniform in white, like this ad?” Of course, that never happens, but we are so deeply connected to our systems that our Black Belt Eyes often get in the way of our more useful Market Eyes.

Black Belt Eyes assumed people would see they wore a different color uniform or wouldn’t recognize the technique. Market Eyes are the eyes of your potential students, who don’t know a jump sidekick from a jumping jack.

When Black Belt Eyes see an ad with a jump sidekick, they are drawn to the most important aspect of the ad for black belts. It’s not the headline, the copy, or the offer. Black Belt Eyes will check to make sure the kid has his foot bladed and the other foot is tucked. That’s not a bad thing. It reflects your standards as a black belt.

But if you choose not to run that ad because you don’t do jump kicks, then your Black Belt Eyes may have cost you 40 to 60 phone calls which should have converted to 20 to 30 new students.

Black Belt Eyes work against you when you assume that a person with little or no martial arts experience will feel the same about it as you do.

A Black Belt Eyes ad will have someone getting kicked in the head. The owner knows that one of life’s simple pleasures is wrapping your foot around someone’s head with a hook kick or round kick.

The readers, however, with their Market Eyes, may translate that image into what will happen to them at that school. They can’t even imagine getting their leg up that high, so they are not identifying with the kicker.

Black Belt Eyes tell the market what it needs, rather than listening to the market and giving it what it wants. Black Belt Eyes show that we care about what we do. They are not bad, but you have to be aware of them. Most of all, recognize when they get in your way.

Has a spouse or significant other made a suggestion about your school or how you teach? What was your reaction? I know mine was essentially ‘Who the heck are you to tell me, the black belt, about martial arts?’ The key, though, is they don’t care about martial arts; they care about you. They usually represent Market Eyes, and they are almost always right.

Other examples of Black Belt Eyes are:

Using your style name as a headline, or worse, a school name. This is a huge assumption that the reader knows how your style translates to benefits for them.

Using a logo that looks like martial arts hieroglyphics. If your logo contains a fist, a yin/yang, a circle, a triangle, Asian lettering, or a bug, you may have Black Belt Eyes. As quickly as you can, seek professional help with the MATA Logo Design service at

Listing techniques in your marketing, rather than benefits. This may disappoint you, but the odds are miniscule that someone seeing an ad that touts Hun Gar 3 Step Waza will exclaim to his wife, “Honey! Hun Gar 3 Step Waza! Just what I’ve always wanted!” Only your Black Belt Eyes will know what that means.

Listing your tournament wins, hall of fame inductions, or that you trained the military police. Black Belt Eyes assume people want to know that you are an accomplished black belt. No one cares. Truthfully.

Mike Tyson is a great boxer, but I don’t want him teaching my kids. Study the ads for private schools. They don’t list the teachers’ résumés. Market Eyes want to know what you can do for them or their children.

Having long classes. The assumption is that more is better. The truth is that better is better. If more were better, a four-hour class would be better than a two-hour class. People are busy, and it’s presumptuous to assume that your class is so important it has to take two hours of their day.

Most people have 16 waking hours per day. Two hours is over 10 percent of that day. Good instructors can teach a great class and produce outstanding black belts using one-hour classes. If your classes are longer than, reduce them to one hour. Your students will not complain. They will thank you.

Keeping archaic exam requirements that are important to you, not the student. When I was a student, you had to break two boards with a reverse punch, round kick two boards, and running jump side kick over two people to break three boards. This was for the blue belt to 4th degree (kyu or kup) brown belt and usually occurred about a year into training. 

I opened my school with the same requirements. I have great video of my black belts like Kathy Marlor breaking and bouncing off boards during these marathon exams. When the children’s invasion began in the mid-1980s, those requirements became a real problem. Eight- and ten-year-olds have no business doing those types of breaks. So I dropped board breaking as a requirement and added board-breaking seminars that the students could pay to attend. I turned a negative element of the exam process into a fun profit center. To do that, I had to overcome my Black Belt Eyes.

Conducting marathon exams. During the days of my marathon Saturday exams, it seemed as though we measured the quality of an exam by the number of ambulance calls. I thought it was important for students to deal with the stress of the high-pressure, marathon exams, because it would help them deal with the stress of self-defense—which is just dumb. I also waited until enough people were ready before I held the exam. This is classic Black Belt Eyes combined with the Control Factor.

In time, I switched to monthly exams (stripes and belts) that were held in class. This greatly increased retention and student progress, and reduced stress.

Displaying weapons on the wall or in the office. You may love weapons, but to the market, a wall full of knives, swords, and spears looks like a weapons cache. Mothers, in particular, do not respond well to the prospects of their darling child being exposed to these instruments of death.

Displaying photos of yourself hitting, getting hit, or breaking. One school had a photo of the instructor being front kicked, full power, in the groin. His Black Belt Eyes felt that the photo showed he could withstand any blow. My Market Eyes made me wince and turn away.

There is nothing interesting, appealing, or tasteful about such a photo. Take down the 1989 photos of you, and replace them with pictures of your happy students. It’s OK to have a shot of yourself; just make sure it’s tasteful and professionally shot.

Media coverage, such as magazine covers or newspaper articles, are also fine. Tip: If you are on a TV show, have someone take a photo that includes the cameras. This is a good way to get mileage out of a TV appearance. You can’t post a video on your wall, but this type of photo shows you were on a TV show. Media appearances build confidence in students and prospects. Photos of you breaking flaming bricks don’t.

Having a smelly school. This could be called Black Belt Nose. When prospects walked into my school, their eyes watered and their faces contorted from the sweaty stench soaked into our carpet. I used to tell them with pride, “We earned that smell . . .” Not good.

Sparring too soon. Black Belt Eyes say, “Sparring prepares you for self-defense.” Market Eyes say, “That’s scary, and it hurts.” Few things lead to high dropouts faster than sparring. Sparring is important, and I love it. But the smartest curriculum adjustment I ever made was to push back the time when students had to spar.

Rather than after three months, which was how I was raised, it became eight months. During those eight months, we work on limited sparring drills and defense and prepare the students how to spar before they are thrown in the ring.

I made the change after years of having the following scenario played out too often. Typically, a female student would enroll and soon become an A student. She was in every class. She was at every function. She volunteered to help. She changed her work hours or made changes in her life to make sure she could do karate.

This lasted for three months until she reached the rank where sparring was required. Then I wouldn’t see her again until running into her at the mall or a restaurant. “Sally! Great to see you. We sure miss you in class.” “Oh, um, hi, Mr. Graden . . . Yeah, I’ve been really busy lately. Gotta go.”

If I had a Truth Translator the real message would be, “I trusted you. I really trusted you and embraced your school into my life. Then you put me up against that guy, and I had no idea what to do. He hit me on my nose, and it hurt. I will not trust you again.” When I tell this story in seminars, the classic Black Belt Eyes vs Market Eyes exchange reveals itself, as the owners’ wives and girlfriends elbow them in the ribs. “I told you!”

Some guys argue that sparring is important. I agree. However, how can you teach sparring to someone who drops out?

Today people, especially women, are taught never to hit someone. We have to be patient and help them get comfortable with the idea of hitting and getting hit. We have to give them strategies to get out of the way of a bigger, faster opponent and, most of all, we have to drill them over and over so they are ready to spar when they reach that level.

Setting heavy traditional requirements in the first year. If your white-belt class consists of traditional stances, blocks, and forms, you are going to have a tough time keeping students. Give your students material they can use right away.

We pushed all of our traditional tae kwon do techniques back to green belt. White, gold, and orange belt were spent on working on pad drills, practical self-defense, sparring, and footwork drills. The students loved it. They felt a sense of competence right away. 

As important as they are, the traditional martial arts are very hard to learn. By front-loading your curriculum with your core traditional material, you put some of the most difficult techniques to learn with your most inexperienced students.

This is especially true for children. Forms were created by highly disciplined adults to be taught to other highly disciplined adults. They were not designed to be taught to eight-year-olds with ADHD.

Teaching a new student a front stance and then trying to layer on a down block-lunge punch is not only hard, but you almost have to apologize for the lack of practicality. We say things like, “You would never really block this way, but this is a block against a kick to the groin.” That, my friend, are Black Belt Eyes in action.

Having too many “shoulds” in your curriculum. It’s natural for a new school owner to have dreams of creating a great martial arts school. He dreams that his black belts will be the best, and people will flock to his school. When this enterprising black belt sits down to design the ultimate curriculum, he thinks to himself, “Hmmm.

My students should learn the traditional basics. They should be able to do a form or two each belt. They should know the basic traditional stances and blocks. They should be able to do all the kicks and punches. They should learn some self-defense. They should be able to do one-steps and spar as well.”

There are two consequences to this line of thinking.

a. Each requirement will have to be covered in class to prepare students for their exams. 

b. With so many requirements, students will have less time to work on each, so quality will be difficult to obtain and maintain.

When you have too many requirements for each belt, you are strapping yourself to covering those techniques in each class. If you don’t cover them, students will not be ready for exams, and it won’t be their fault. If you have 20 requirements for an orange-belt exam, you have to spend a large amount of class covering these 20 techniques.

With that many requirements being covered each class, your creativity is hindered. Your classes will tend to be the same. This level of repetition is good only to the degree you don’t lose students to boredom.

The key is to require only the base skills on exams. You’ll have to decide what those base skills are. You can still teach the other 100 techniques you think students “should” learn, but you don’t box yourself in as a teacher. For instance, I can teach spin hook kick to a class of blue belts but not require it on an exam. It’s not a core technique, but it is fun.

Self-defense escapes can also fall into this category, though it depends. Self-defense is at the core of most programs, but typically, it’s not taught very well, and it’s hard to practice. There is a lot of speculation, “I do this, which will make him do that . . .” in self-defense that is style based. Realistically, a headlock escape practiced at 50 percent speed and power works 100 percent of the time. A headlock escape practiced at 75 percent speed and power works less. But how well does it work when both students are going at it 100 percent? Most of us never do that, so who knows?

Students have a finite amount of time to practice your curriculum. If they have 20 techniques to master in order to pass your orange-belt exam, they will spend half the amount of time on each technique than if they only had 10 techniques. For example, in a 12-week testing cycle you expect students to attend class twice a week. This is a total of 24 hours in class. In each class, you devote 20 minutes to requirements. That is total of 8 hours working on test requirements. Some requirements, like forms, take much more time to master, while others, like a ridge hand, take less time.

It only makes sense that a student who has 10 requirements to learn in 8 hours will spend twice as much time on each one as a student who has 20 to learn. Conversely, an instructor will have twice as much time on each of 10 requirements in 8 hours than one who has to cover 20. Odds are, the students with 10 requirements will have a higher competence level than those with 20.

Our Black Belt Eyes lead us to believe that our students will be good because they know more, but again, more is not better. Better is better. Fewer requirements make better students and aid retention, because students who feel they are doing well are happy students and stay in the school. Competence leads to confidence.

Just remember that Market Eyes pay the bills. The next time your spouse or significant other makes the suggestion that tying students together with a belt and having them spar may not be a good move, take a deep breath, listen, and say, “Thank you.”

Your life is defined by your patterns of behavior and thought. Actions do speak louder than words. The Core Dynamics are five crucial areas of our professional life. The top schools owners manage the Control Factor; they have Found Their Own Voice; they Value What They Do; they have Clarity of Purpose; and they balance their Black Belt Eyes with educated Market Eyes.

Your Conflicting Goals

When you finally open your own martial arts school, the control factor continues to be an influence. It is important to make follow-up calls to people who have inquired about your school but never joined.  In order to make these important calls, you need to get motivated.

Three o’clock rolls around, and you stare at that telephone, knowing it’s time to start. What do you do? You decide to drive to the printer’s to pick up your martial arts flyers and then shop for business supplies.

By the end of the week, you realize you have not made a single call. You figure, “Hmmm. Maybe I need a time management course or to join National Association Of Professional Martial Artists Squared.” So you take your 10th time management course, although time management has nothing to do with it and stacking more boxes on your desk or shelves will certainly not change the outcome. The problem is the control factor.

Think about where you came from and where you are now. You have your martial arts business. People respect you. People bow to you and refer to you with a respectful title like Master.

If you make the telephone calls about joining your school, the distinct prospect is that someone will just say no, and you can’t control that. So what do you do? Anything but make that call.

The control factor creates conflicting goals, and it paralyzes you. One positive goal that will improve your life is to grow your martial arts school, and making those calls is an important part of that growth. The other goal to have absolute control of your life prevents you from making those calls. Your goals conflict and cancel each other out.

Guess what? This happens to every one of us. It is the human experience. The key is to recognize it and then overcome the conflicting goals that are causing you to hesitate.

Remember, The Core Dynamics refer to the underlying forces that control the patterns of thought and behaviors that determine who we are. In this case, the underlying force, or Core Dynamic, is the control factor. How you handle the control factor is illustrated by your patterns of thought and behavior.

This is a key point. The most successful school owners have learned to manage the control factor and have overcome their conflicting goals. They realize and embrace the idea of short-term pain for long-term gain. The long-term gain of growing their school is a stronger goal that overcomes the short-term pain of making the phone calls. The reverse is to take the short-term gain of not making the calls and suffer the long-term pain of a struggling school.

The conflict that arises out of the control factor paralyzes most school owners. In a sense, they are now controlled by the control factor, which in truth puts him or her out of control (again). I call it protecting your puddle. I say puddle because that’s as big as your school will get as long as it stays in the comfort zone of control.

The owner has done a good job of using the martial arts to grow as a person but is now in a new arena and, instead of breaking through the conflicting goals to continue to grow, he or she hides inside a new box.

Many owners will avoid making those calls by checking their email 20 times or “networking” with another owner who is also avoiding making follow-up calls. The truth is that success only comes from action. While you are taking your 10th time management course, the successful owners are busy making those marketing phone calls.

While you are doing what you can to avoid doing what you need to do, the successful owners are doing it. They are executing rather than planning or studying. Is studying important? Of course it is, but not during business hours or as an excuse to put off executing.

In the classic comic strip Doonesbury, the character Zonker Harris was a “professional student.” He stayed in school as long as possible to avoid entering the real world. I am a lifelong student myself, but I also know it’s easy to justify studying to avoid the real world of execution (here is a helpful rule: Spend at least five times as much time doing as studying).

The most successful school owners have learned to delegate, let go of control and try new ideas without fear of failure. They are not held back by their conflicting goals. They attack every day.

The Guru Story by Nick Cokinos

The story is about two chaps who happen to meet. They were very good friends. One of them was highly successful, he was very upbeat, his business was going well, he looked marvelous and everything was just great.

The other poor fellow was demoralized, he was down in the dumps, nothing was going well so he said to him “Michael, what in the world are you doing. You look great. Obviously your business is going well, you have a magnificent attitude. What is it all about? He said “I went to see the guru.”

He said “Are you serious?. He said “Yes, I went to see the guru.” He said “Well, where is the guru?” and he said “The guru is way up in the mountains in Tibet.” He said “Holy Mackerel, you went all the way there.?”. He said “yes, I did.”. “Well what did he tell you.”

He said “he gave me three words that have totally changed my life.”.   “Well, for Pete’s sake, Michael. Tell me what the three words are.” Michael said “it doesn’t work that way.”

“What do you mean?” “Well,” he said, “You’re going to have to get some transportation and go up to see the guru yourself. But I can tell you this, it’ll change your life and it’s well worth going to do it.”

Well, out of sheer desperation, the despondent friend said he’d do it. He got on an airplane, he got on a boat, he got on a bus, he got on a truck, and he got on a mule. He went way up into the mountains of Tibet and he was met by a monk.   And the monk said “I’m going to take you into meet the guru.

You have to promise to be totally quiet and silent and I will let you know what you should do next.” He ushered him into the temple and sure enough there was the guru sitting there surrounded by beautiful flowers. Total serenity. He sat there quietly in front of the guru for what seemed to be long, endless moments and finally the guru said “Humility”.

So our friend sat there and finally he felt a little tap on his shoulder. There was a monk who asked him to come outside. He went outside and he said “Thank you so much for coming.” He said “Wait a minute. Is that it.” “Yes”. “But all he said was ‘humility’.   What am I supposed to do?” He said, “you should take that word and contemplate and think about it.” So off he went back home on this very long trip and of course, he started to think about humility and he thought to himself “well, humility means that you have to be humble and that you have to be meek”.

He started to think for long hours about this and he learned that being meek didn’t mean being weak and being humble didn’t mean that everyone stepped on you or anything like that. As he delved into the meaning of the word, he recognized that humility and being humble had to do with being more gracious, being more receptive, being more kind, being more patient, being more open-minded, being more loving, being more considerate of others and has he learned about some of the ramifications of that word, his character truly began to go through some metamorphosis.

Then on top of it, he learned that humility meant putting your pride aside. It mean getting rid of your ego. It meant putting your self will aside and being, if you will, more interested in the divine will. He was so excited because he began to feel the deep significance of that word “humility” and he could feel it start invigorating his life.

As a matter of fact, several very exciting things began to happen. One of them was, people started coming to him. He seemed to be attracting people to him. There seemed to be a more harmonious relationship with others because of this metamorphosis and his whole approach as he was making this quality of humility part of himself and a very exciting thing happened at school.

Mrs. Murphy came to see him and she said in a very angry voice “my son Eric is very upset. He’s ten years old. He’s been coming for six months. He does not want to come anymore and I want to cancel my contract.” Now, normally, our friend would be on his high horse. He would say “well, I don’t understand that. We give very good classes here and frankly, your son is a little bit spoiled and as a matter of fact, you can’t cancel your contract anyway.”   But he didn’t do that. You know what he did?

He said “Mrs. Murphy. First of all, I want to thank you sincerely for coming to see me about Eric. You know, we’re both very fond of Eric. I’m very fond of Eric. He’s a terrific guy. Obviously we have let him down somewhere along the line and Mrs. Murphy, I want you to do me a very special favor. Would you allow me to take Eric in several private lessons and let me work with him. Will you let me do that? I’d be deeply grateful if you did.”

Well, Mrs. Murphy recognized this grace, recognized this humility, this kindness and so on and she said “Fine.”. Well, my friend took Eric in for several lessons, he worked with him very kindly, very warmly, very hospitably. He began to work with Eric in building his self-confidence up and his self-awareness.

He made Eric aware of the fact that he, as the instructor, was genuinely interested in the progress of this child. He became a true friend and needless to say, Eric again began to get excited about his Martial Arts instruction because of this wonderful, personal, deep-seeded genuine attention.

The mother called my friend up a couple of weeks later and she said “Listen, I don’t know what you’ve said to Eric. I don’t know what you’ve done. All I can tell you he is the most amazing little boy and he is the sweetest guy. Tonight he offered to help do the dishes and right now he’s upstairs studying.

His teacher called me and she said he is doing beautifully and needless to say, I want Eric to continue doing what he’s doing.” Well, my friend was elated. He said “I just couldn’t believe my eyes on what’s happening to me” and he said “you know what? I think it’s time for me to go back and find out what the second word is.”

So he got on a plane and he got on a ship and he got on a bus and he got on a truck and he got on a mule, went right back into the mountains and the monk met him again and he said “Don’t forget. You are very quiet when you meet the guru.”

And in they went and he sat down in front of the guru. He sat there very quietly with great anticipation and finally the guru said “gratitude”. Well, my friend knew at this point that it was all he needed to hear and here again was his assignment, his study.

To take the word “gratitude” and determine what it meant to him so out he went back home and in that long trip and for the weeks that followed, he studied and studied and thought and contemplated about “gratitude”. Well, that wasn’t so hard. Gratitude means appreciation and it means saying “thanks” and he thought to himself though, it’s got to be something deeper than that. I mean, these seem sort of surface things, a little bit superfluous. It’s got to be more than that and he looked up “gratitude” and he thought about “gratitude” and as he did, he began to realize that what it meant was giving deep thanks.

Not only expressing your appreciation, but doing something about it. He began to recognize that he has to stop and smell the flowers. For a while there, he felt what do I have to express gratitude about.

My business wasn’t going too well, I’ve been having hard times with finances and it’s one thing or the other. He said “wait a minute. I have a lot to express my gratitude for. First of all, I’ve got my health. Secondly, I have a wonderful home life.

Thirdly, I’m in a business that I deeply love. And then as a matter of fact, I know I’m something I’m totally grateful about and that is that I have all these students who come to see me and put themselves into my hands for direction and instruction and an education in the martial arts. Not only that, guess what else? I’ve got several terrific staff members who have been very loyal to me and very supportive and I have been sometimes breaking at these guys for being late and not being enthusiastic enough but you know what? I am deeply grateful for these people, for they’ve been very, very loyal and more than just friends.

They’ve been helping me in my school and for Pete’s sake, I know what I’m going to do. I’m going to start expressing this gratitude because gratitude unexpressed is zero. Love unexpressed is zero. It has to be expressed. It has to have a recipient and so one of the first things he did was very interesting.

He got a staff member with whom he had not been getting along with too well. He thought about this chap and he said to him. I wanted to tell you something. I want to express my gratitude for you for being a staff member and being as loyal as you’ve been to me and being a real good representative of the martial arts.

The staff member said “Wait a minute. Last week you just chewed my butt. You were griping at me for being late and you thought I should have more enthusiasm.” He said “I know I did that, but I have to apologize for that. I got knocked off balance. Yeah, you were late a couple of times and who knows, maybe your enthusiasm can pick up but your virtues and my association with you and your contribution to the school have been so overwhelming on the positive side it far exceeds your being late a couple of times.

So I want you to know that I’m very grateful to have you on my staff. I appreciate the good work you do.” Well, can I tell you something? Not only was this fellow never late again, not only did his enthusiasm pick up and so on, but he was so anxious to please in any way he could. He deeply appreciated this expression of gratitude. The whole staff began to respond. Every student, he began to talk to, every parent. There was an aura of gratitude, of appreciation, of wanting to service.

Remember that wonderful expression “he who leads must serve”. And he began to feel that and he began to express it. That was the important thing. He began to express it.   And then the real important thing about gratitude that grew up in his thinking was that instead of doting on the problems, instead of thinking about the shortcomings of some of the people, instead of griping about some of the grasping things that the students wanted or one thing or the other, he began to think instead about the wonderful, the positive side of the ledger.

He began to recognize that he had so much to be grateful about that the other stuff just seemed like nothing. Well, needless to say, I don’t need to tell you, you know it’s coming.

This new found humility, which means that kindness and that receptivity with getting the ego out of the way. His desire and learning to express gratitude, to generally do it by actions, some startling things began to happen. His whole life began to open up. His business began to improve, his staff members were coming on board. Everything positive was happening. He said “This is marvelous. I got to go back and see the guru and find out what the third word is.”

So he got on the plane, he got on the ship and he got on the bus and he got on the mule and went way up into the temple in the mountains to see the guru. He sat there with great anticipation and incidentally with great humility and incidentally with deep gratitude with what he had received so far and he sat quietly waiting and listening. The guru said “How do you feel”. He said “I feel wonderful.” The guru said “what else?”. He said, “well I feel very happy.” And he said, “what else?”. He said, “I feel positive and I feel progress.”. He said, “what else?”. He said “I feel joy” and the guru said “that’s it. You have at last arrived. If you deeply and continuously feel joy, you now have the essence of life and you must express that joy and you must go forward in demonstrating your humility and your gratitude and always be joyous. Be a force of joy. Express that in your business. Express that in your personal life and most of all, express it with your personnel who love working with you and look forward to your support.”

Now everyone, please forgive me if I got a little heavy there but I got to tell you, in the many years that I’ve watched successful people work with their personnel, these are the qualities that I spotted. Each and every one of the successful persons that gathered a terrific staff and had a great business as a result. These are the qualities that I saw in these very successful people,   I thought to myself, “ I don’t know if these people have been to see the guru or not but I could tell you one thing. They sure have got what it takes.

Positioning Your School for Success

One rule of design that most guys don’t know is that, when you hang a picture, you want the picture to complement the frame and the frame to complement the room.

Though this article is not about school design, this example illustrates the three elements that must work together to make a picture work.

The three parallel dynamics that must work together for a martial arts school to have a chance in any location are the area, the rent, and the space. 

If you are in the wrong area or in the wrong part of a good area, you will not generate the traffic you need regardless of your space. If you are paying way too much rent, you will start each month scrambling to survive the next one. This kills cash flow. 

Too often, new owners build their school as the over-large and over-built Fantasy School they’ve always dreamed of. This is a classic case of Black Belt Eyes. We are building the school for our black belt buddies and ourselves, instead of our target market. 

The area you choose for your martial arts business must match the market you want to reach. There is a big difference between the most appropriate areas for an adult kickboxing school, a kids’ school, and a school that caters to wealthy executives. The kickboxing school would do best surrounded by condos and apartments. 

The kids’ school wants to be triangulated by public schools in single-family home neighborhoods. The guy teaching wealthy executives might need only a room in a health club in the downtown business district, provided there are enough potential executives to support the idea. 

Let’s look at some markets and what kind of school best matches that market. Keep in mind that there are exceptions to every rule, and these are general rules of thumb. 

The Small Town 

Small towns are about 50,000 in population or less. If you are good at developing a name, it’s much easier to do so in a smaller town like these than in larger, more competitive areas. In some rural areas, there is not as much for kids, families, and adults to do as in larger cities, so your school can become a recreational and social center of the town. 

Also, martial arts schools in smaller towns don’t have much competition. There may be a class at the YMCA or a part-time school, but often these are run like hobbies by black belts who enjoy teaching but have no immediate prospect as a full-time professional. 

Some areas, like the town where I live in Florida, are small towns as defined here, but they are surrounded by more densely populated small cities, which expand the potential market considerably. In these areas, the rent is usually affordable – even in more affluent towns, which is great news for your cash flow. 

Cost of living tends to be significantly less too, so you can live comfortably on far less. In fact, in comparison to large cities, what might buy you a high standard of living in a small town might not even get you a small apartment in a large city. 

The Small City 

The city with a 50,000-100,000 population range is a sweet spot for many schools. These areas can be gold mines for a well-positioned school. These are often predominately middle-income areas with pockets of high and low income. 

Because they share many of the advantages of the smaller town, it’s easier to build your name and less expensive to market to, and rents are lower than those in the bigger cities. Also, because the area is larger, you will have more potential locations from which to choose. 

The Medium City 

The city with a 100,000-250,000 population may be more expensive and not as easy to penetrate as the smaller markets. But the increased population density and the larger number of potential locations make these great markets for an organized school. 

Competition will be more plentiful but, odds are, if you are a MATA member, you will have what it takes to be top dog within a couple of years. Even if you don’t make it to number one, there is plenty of business to go around. 

The Large City 

To paraphrase the song, “If you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere….” Large cities have their own set of advantages and disadvantages. Competition will be stiff and rent high. If you can find the right space at the right rent, and you are a good teacher with a strong business system, the high population density can work as an advantage to get you profitable. 

The biggest I’ve seen is the Tiger Shulmann school in downtown Manhattan. It is a 20,000¬square-foot prime location with three training floors and a café. Neither Billy Blanks’ school in Ventura, California nor the main Krav Maga school in Los Angeles, California, are nearly as big as Tiger’s, but both have great locations and are packed with students. 

Billy has to have a valet parking system because he is busy all day. A couple of years ago, I took a Tae Bo class there at 10 a.m. with 67 other people, mostly women. The class after ours was taught by Billy and had more than 100 students lined up for it. This was all before lunch! 

I use these examples not to imply that you have to have a location and school like any of them. I just want you to know what the highest level of competition is in the biggest metro areas, Los Angeles and New York City. 

How Your Views Change Over Time

There is a great line attributed to Winston Churchill that ‘if you are in your 20s and are not a Liberal, you don’t have a heart. If you are in your 40s and not a Conservative, you don’t have a brain.’

His message relates clearly to how your belief system can change at different stages of your life and career.

Many of us went from the dungeon dojo to a more motivational school with a big emphasis on personal development. This attracted a huge kids’ market, but did it create better martial artists? I don’t think so. It’s pretty clear I’m not the only one, because we are seeing a return to a more adult-oriented and intense school, but not a return to the dungeon days of past.

The first time I visited New York City, I got into an argument with a black belt who was my host for the weekend in his small townhouse outside the Bronx.

It was 1992, and I was in the midst of a transition for my school from a school of adult fighters to a school of kids, with an emphasis on positive development.

The argument rose from a conversation we had concerning his three-year-old son. I asked if he planned to have his kid take martial arts lessons. He made it clear that his son would learn to defend himself.

I added that the martial arts are also really good for character development. The line had been drawn in the sand. He said he didn’t care about his kid “helping old ladies across the road.” He wanted his kid to be able to “knock someone on their ass” if needed.

I regurgitated a line that I had heard at a seminar that, “The world didn’t need more fighters, it needed more respect and courtesy.” He scoffed at the notion. He said his kid gets plenty of good messages from his favorite TV shows like Sesame Street.

The boy attended church each Sunday with his mom and attended a good school. All of them taught him to be respectful and polite. What they didn’t teach him was how to get out of a fight. He wanted his boy to be able to handle himself. I told him his approach to martial arts was “old-school thinking.” He laughed, and we agreed to disagree.

Now, over a decade later, not only am I a dad, but I’ve also watched the martial arts evolve from a unique, cross-style vantage point. The more I think about it, the more I believe that my foul-mouthed friend had a point.

I certainly don’t feel that the movement towards character development has been bad for schools; it has been great. However, when schools strays away from our core services and values, they become little more than motivational day care centers.

How a Kid Straight Out of College can Steal Your Market

“There is no way the iPhone will gain market share. No way.”

— Steve, Balmer,
Microsoft President in a 2007 
USA Today interview

I read an article years ago about how some people viewed the invention of the telephone as an unnecessary expense and a blight of society. They lamented that the phone would be the end of the letter and they resisted getting phones for years. The same happened with horse riders and the advent of the car.

What amazes me is that most small business and private practice owners have the same attitude towards web marketing and creating an Internet presence.

After nearly 40 years of the web’s existence, too many business owners still seem to take pride in their lack of web savvy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this phrase, “Computer? I don’t even know how to turn one on.” Mind you, the one consistency of the comment is that invariably, the person making the comment is over age 50.

Think about it. Why would you leave your business vulnerable to some web-savvy kid, fresh out of college who just got his black belt to dominate your business in the most powerful marketing medium in history?

When the media looks for someone to interview, they search online. Are they going to find you or the kid?

You may have high rank in belts, but the kid knows how to get high rank on Google, and that means the kid gets to your prospects and the media before you do.

If your school does not have a PROFESSIONALLY DESIGNED, mobile friendly website, then you are making it harder for the media (and your potential clients) to find you. That is simply bad business.

When I owned martial arts schools, I dominated the media in Tampa Bay. I was known as “Mr. Karate.” I had my own TV show and it made all the difference in the success of my business. Today, the web is the medium and I’m at it every day.

For instance, Google “John Graden.” You’ll see a huge presence on the web, video, and images.

Go to and search for martial arts. I am rarely out of the top ten. YouTube is the SECOND LARGEST SEARCH ENGINE! Why is this important? Because it expands my influence just like it will yours. I get emails and phone calls from around the world including many from the media because I was everywhere they looked on the subject.

In the chapter on social media sites, I’ll share the story of how one video that I placed on resulted in my wife and I flying to New York City for me to guest on the Dr. Oz Show.

There are two important issues here: the web and the media. More and more, they are converging into one. You must gain control of your online presence and optimize it to attract customers, clients, and the media or hire someone like me to do it for you.

The web provides you with the most powerful “marketing without marketing” platform in existence. Yet, most professionals have no idea how to take advantage of it. That ends today in this section.

I will walk you through the process of creating a steady stream of new clients using various web-based tools that will pull clients through the resistance they may have against your services.

Here are the primary tools you can use to jumpstart your position as an expert in your field. Keep in mind that all of these tools run on the fuel of good SEO. Always produce with SEO and your “Ideal Client” in mind.

The Lower the Price, the Lower the Expectations

When you read the title of this article – the Lower the Price, the Lower the Expectations – what came to mind? Did you feel that meant that the market would have lower expectations of your school if it was low price? Or did you feel you would not have to meet high expectations if your price was low? For far too many owners, the second description is more accurate.

As your skills as a teacher improve and your system for operating the school becomes more polished and professional, you can begin to raise your standards of performance and your tuition with it.

This is not to say people don’t like a good deal. Everyone does. However, there are certain things you don’t expect to have discounted and, in fact, may not want them if they are. Health care is at the top of that list. Rarely do we say, “Give my kids the cheapest medical exam possible.”

Education is much like that. Parents don’t work hard to give their children the cheapest education possible. Your martial arts school is not a gym where club owners compete over $29 membership fees. You want to be compared to the local private schools, not the local gym.

In establishing your tuition, divide your area’s pull potential student base into three levels of income: the lowest third, the middle third, and the highest third of income earners. You want to price your tuition for the middle and highest thirds, not the lowest.

It is much easier to manage quality and teach 100 students paying you $150 per month than 300 students paying you $50 per month. The gross is still a projected $15,000 per month, but the amount of work and stress to manage 300 students is much more than just three times what it is for 100.

The top two thirds of income earners are not terribly concerned over $100 or so one way or the other. They are concerned about getting a return on their investment and feeling as though they are valued members of your school. They will also want to train with people in the school who are like them and want to be trained by a staff of professionals.

The Screen Money Provides

To a degree, the high-income earners’ market will want to train at a club that not everyone can afford. This is not out of snobbery as much as the natural screening process that money affords them. This is why people belong to country clubs and private golf courses.

I’ve belonged to plenty of each, and usually they are not any nicer than upper-scale public facilities. The difference is that by paying more for what everyone else can have for less, you don’t have to do it with everyone else. The levels of expectation are much higher for the private club, and so is the price.

The School Down the Street is Cheaper

Here’s a great response to a prospect that points out that the school down the street is cheaper: “Mrs. Jones, we could charge that same tuition. But you know what? We would be packed, and it would be a lot harder to give your son personal attention and to maintain the quality of students we are known for.

Plus, it probably wouldn’t be as safe with loads of kids in here on a discounted program. We’re all about quality, and our tuition helps us keep our student standards high. Our school is really for the families who want the best for their children.”

Don’t you love that last line? “Our school is really for the families who want the best for their children.” What parent is going to respond, “Well, that’s not us. We want less than the best for our kids.”

The most important thing to understand is that this market will not expect you to be the best instructor and the cheapest at the same time. However, at a good price, they will expect you to be the best, so make sure you are always studying and expanding your skills as a martial artist, a teacher, and a businessperson.

Then, make sure you are training your staff at least two hours per week to carry out the mission of Being the Best.

Working With The Parents Of Students

From The MATA Instructor Certification Course

By Don Korzekwa, Ph.D.

It’s 20 minutes after the last class for the day. You’re still talking with the mother of one of your ten-year-old students. She wants him to participate in the next belt-promotion examination. You attempt to explain that he’s not ready quite yet. You think to yourself, “Doesn’t she understand? I’m the expert here. I’m the one in charge of belt promotions.” She thinks to herself, “Doesn’t he understand? I know my son. I’m the one in charge of whether he stays at this school.”

As an instructor at a martial arts school, you recognize that working with the parents of your young students is a critical element in your success. Parents have an investment in their children’s well-being at several levels, including physical and emotional aspects. Because of this investment, it is important to consider that your relationship with the child as instructor to student, also involves a working relationship with the parents.

Parents have certain expectations about your work with their child as a student at your school. They see their child as an individual with unique needs and characteristics, and expect that you will do the same. The manner in which you deal with the expectations of parents regarding their child’s training at your school will have an impact on the motivation of the parents to keep their kids at your school.

Parents can also offer the advantage of years of knowing and understanding their child in a variety of situations. They have a first-hand perspective on what interests and motivates their child. They may also alert you to any changes, problems or sensitivities of the child which can have an impact on his/her training in the martial arts. The more proactive you are in gathering this information, the better equipped you will be to make the training experience a good one for everyone from the outset.

It is also worth consideration that you and the parents can be allies in working with the child. Training directed toward the goals of increased self-discipline, self-confidence, and others can either be supported or ignored by parents when the child in not in class. The extent to which you have a solid working relationship with parents can make a difference in the degree of success which is achieved in guiding the child toward these goals. If you and the parents are communicating about the child’s progress, the consistency and continuity in your combined efforts are more likely to produce the desired results. If parents see you as a valuable ally in working with their child, they have added incentive in maintaining your relationship.

The bottom line is that it is important and advantageous for you to have a good working relationship with the parents of your young students. This can, however, be a difficult task. You may have many students, including children, in your school. The time which you have available to speak with parents is very limited. You may find that you have no difficulty in communicating with some parents, and a great deal of difficulty with others. Regardless of the challenges, it is up to you, as an instructor, to establish and maintain a good working relationship with the parents of your young students.

Establishing the Relationship

The first time the parents and child come to the school to talk with you, or to watch a class, is when the relationship begins to take shape. It is the first impression which they form of you as a potentially important person in the life of that child. If you do not connect with the parents and child in a meaningful way at that time, it is unlikely that the child will enroll to train at your school. They must feel confident in your abilities as a martial artist and instructor, and see you as a person who can understand and communicate with children and parents.

The following section deals with responding to parents’ questions and concerns, gathering information, and parents’ expectations related to their child’s problem behaviors. Communication skills which are discussed here are also relevant to maintaining the relationship with parents, which is discussed in the next section. Also, several examples of questions which you might ask are given for illustration. Although the suggested questions often refer to the child as “your son/daughter,” it is always best to use the child’s name when talking with parents.

Responding to Questions and Concerns

At the stage of “getting to know each other,” it is essential that you make every effort to listen carefully to the questions and comments of parents, and respond in a manner which addresses their unique concerns, interests and expectations. If you treat these issues as important when you first meet them, they will feel more confident that you will be sensitive to their needs as the child’s training progresses.

Questions asked by the parents vary in content. Some questions require straightforward, factual information in response. Here are some typical questions:

– What is your method of teaching? What about discipline for misbehavior in class?

– Are the classes large?

– What age groups comprise the classes?

– Are beginners taught in the same classes as advanced students?

– Do you teach the classes, or do you have other instructors?

The answers to other questions may be dependent upon a number of factors, including the predisposition of the child upon entering the class, the diligence with which they train, and a number of other variables, some unpredictable.

– Will my child learn to defend himself?

– Will he learn how to avoid a fight?

– Will he become more self-confident and disciplined?

– Will my child get hurt?

– When will he test?

– When will he get his black belt?

In response to these questions, it is important to keep in mind that what you teach, and what the child learns may not have as direct of a relationship as you, or the parents, would like. You face the same concerns as any instructor. A child may sit in a Spanish class with an excellent instructor for nine months, and learn to say nothing more than, “Adios” (“Good-bye”). If you begin to make lofty promises about what the child will learn, and this does not occur, “Adios” may be the message which you get from them.

You can more reliably talk about what you teach, and what you do to support each child in the learning process. If parents have specific goals for the child in martial arts training, you can suggest talking with them at appropriate intervals to discuss the child’s progress. In this way, you and the parents are agreeing to a working relationship which assists the child in meeting these goals.

It is important to understand that each question the parents ask gives you information about their expectations and concerns. They may be concerned that you are overly strict or inflexible in teaching methods, or in disciplining misbehavior. Possibly they fear that their child will get “lost” in a large class, or be intimidated by older, or more experienced students. They may be anxious about their child’s safety and want to know what they can expect from you in this regard. Listening carefully to the context in which the question is asked, the way in which it is phrased, and the parents’ response to what you say can reveal a great deal about such concerns and expectations.

Answers which respond clearly and concisely to the content of the questions are good.

Answers which respond to the content, as well as the fears, anxieties and expectations of the parents are better. The reason that these responses are better is that this establishes a working relationship which shows an interest in understanding their personal concerns and expectations related to having their child train in the martial arts. If indeed you want the parent to know that this training will help the child on a personal level, the better job you do at communicating at this level, the more effective you will be seen by the parents as being capable of meeting their needs.

This simply means that you allow parents to talk more personally about concerns and expectations, if they wish to do so. If the question about “defending himself” comes up, once you’ve related what you teach in terms of self-defense, you may say, “It’s important for kids to learn how to defend themselves in a variety of situations. Have there been some situations where you felt it would be good for your son to know more about defending himself?” If they choose to talk about the school bully picking on their child, you can begin to relate in a way that is more empathic and supportive of their needs.

Another example of responding at a more personal level may be if the parents ask about the size or make-up of the classes. Once you’ve talked about your class size and make-up, you may say, “We do our best to understand how each child responds to our group classes when they join, and give them the support that they need. What are your thoughts about having your son join in these group classes?” Again, you’ve opened the door for them to express any relevant personal concerns.

Parents of prospective students who ask, “When will my child test?” and particularly, “When will my child get his black belt?” may be communicating expectations which are best addressed at the outset of training. If you respond to such questions by talking about training and performance standards, you hope that the parents will be satisfied with this, and allow you to use your expert judgment as their child progresses at your school.

Parents who ask “when” something will occur, however, at times tend to be less concerned about “what” is required to make it occur. As these parents listen to your comments, they may make the assumption that their child will perform at the martial arts prodigy level, and most certainly receive their black belt within six months.

You can follow-up your response to this “when” question by saying to the parents, “I’d be interested in hearing some of what you might expect with regard to your child’s progress.” The goal of this comment is for you to become aware of their expectations, and to diplomatically clear, as needed, any misconceptions which could later become a point of conflict in the relationship.

Gathering Relevant Information

You can ask questions which show an interest in understanding the personal needs of the child and expectations of the parents related to martial arts training. Spend time getting to know the parent as well as the child. Your questions and conversation with the parent and child will, at minimum, help you assess the individual training needs of the child. They also allow you to talk with parents on a more personal level regarding these needs, and their expectations. You will gain an awareness of the mental, social and emotional development of the child, and begin to formulate in your own mind a “training plan” based upon the child’s abilities. For example, issues related to how well the child can attend to instruction in a group setting, process this information, and respond accordingly, will certainly have an impact on the child’s training.

In your assessment of the child’s needs, and the related expectations of the parents, you will gain insight as to how this child interacts with peers, particularly if problem behaviors exist which can have an impact on the functioning of the class as a whole. Will the child be demanding of the instructor’s time, possibly behaving in a manner which requires you to continually shift your attention to him/her?

Training in the martial arts places demands on the child to perform according to specified standards. It is important to assess the child’s ability to cope with the frustration which may accompany these demands. At the same time, you must assess how the parent expects that you will deal with any of these potentially problematic issues, should they exist.

Your assessment of the child, and parents’ expectations, can take the tone of a friendly conversation. Some questions for the parent may be:

– “How did your son/daughter get interested in the martial arts?”

– “Has your son/daughter trained before?”

– (If the answer is yes:) “What did you think about that training? What did you like? Was there anything you didn’t like?”

– (If the answer is yes:) “Tell me about that.”

– “Different people want to learn different things in the martial arts. What kinds of things might you want for your son/daughter to learn here?”

– “Are there some things which you would like to see emphasized in your son’s/daughter’s training?”

– (If the answer is yes:) “What are they?”

– “What kinds of things does he/she like to do for fun?”

– “How is school going for him/her?”

The responses to these questions can engage the parents in a conversation which helps you understand the training needs of the child, and the expectations of the parent. If the parents tell you that they are interested in enrolling their child in the martial arts because, “The kid needs to learn some self-control,” you had best gain insight into what they mean by this statement. Do certain problem behaviors exist which you should know about? If so, what are they? A simple “How so?” is a nice follow-up when parents make this type of comment.

Another scenario is that parents want their child to become more self-confident. Self-confidence can mean different things to different people. Are they bullied at school? Are they overly shy, or hesitant to speak up in class?

If you say to the parent, “Tell me more about that,” not only do you show an interest, but you can more specifically define what it is they expect for their child to get from training at your school. The key is not to assume that you know what the child needs from general statements. If you really are interested in helping the child and parent, find out specifically what it is they need help with first.

As you gain insight into the needs and expectations of the parents and child, you can begin to relate how some of what you offer at your school can benefit them. This is an important element in establishing your relationship with parents. If you simply deliver a standard speech that you give to parents when they visit your school for the first time, they may feel that you are not interested in their individual needs and expectations, but only in “making a sale.”

Regardless of what your school has to offer, unless you make a connection with what the parents want for their child, these nice features may be irrelevant in their mind, and so will the relationship which you are attempting to establish.

Responding to Expectations Related to Problem Behaviors

Some parents enroll their children in martial arts training because they want help. The child may have a problem managing his/her behavior when angry. Other concerns which parents express regarding their child are low grades in school, problems focusing his/her attention, or lack of appropriate respect for authority figures. Regardless of the problem, there may be a certain expectation that you, as his/her instructor in the martial arts, will play a major role in “the cure.” These expectations may be supported by what parents see advertised by various martial arts schools.

Such expectations by parents must be appropriately managed. These parents need to know that martial arts training is not martial arts therapy. Also, your time with, and influence over the child is limited. Although training in the martial arts can be an excellent adjunct to other efforts which are being made to help the child, promising that martial arts training alone can solve personal and academic problems is risky.

When talking with parents, explain to them the role which training in the martial arts can play in helping the child with specific problem behaviors. Show an interest in how martial arts training will be used in coordination with other efforts to assist the child. Questions and conversation about the ways in which this problem behavior is being addressed at home, school and other areas allow you to understand their current efforts and needs. Do not allow the parents to expect that training at your school alone will be the miracle cure to all that ails the child. This is an expectation which can result in disappointment for all concerned, and a strained relationship between instructors and parents.

Maintaining the Relationship

If you have successfully established a good working relationship with the parents of your students, you must now turn your attention to maintaining that relationship. It is critical that you continue to apply the same communication skills discussed earlier in this chapter. If parents feel they can easily approach you with their questions and concerns regarding their child’s training, and you will listen and respond with understanding and respect, you have made a major step in maintaining that relationship.

Parents have a variety of options when they are dissatisfied, or concerned about their child’s training. Two obvious ones are that they can either bring these issues to your attention and allow you to respond, or they can pull the child out of your school. If the parents do not feel that they have a relationship with you which allows them to bring concerns to your attention, their most immediate response may be to terminate their relationship with the school. It is thus to everyone’s advantage that you keep the lines of communication open with the parents of your students.

The Rarely Seen Parents

Maintaining a good working relationship with the parents of your students brings on its own challenges. Some parents can be quite busy. They may simply drop their kids off in the parking lot at the beginning of class, and return when class is over to pick them up, vanishing as quickly as they came. In essence, your contact with these parents may be limited to receiving a monthly tuition payment. Their child may be performing adequately in class, so you see no reason to have more communication with them than you do at present.

Although the above scenario presents an advantage in that these parents do not take up your limited time, there is a disadvantage in that you lack an understanding of how they view your school and their child’s training. You might assume that as long as you get a tuition payment every month, things are okay. If, however, this is your only form of communication and contact with the parents, you may be missing out on some essential information.

There are some things you would benefit from knowing about these parents’ perspectives.

– Are they satisfied with the school, and committed to keeping their child in training?

– Do they see their child as making adequate progress toward the goals which were discussed at the outset of training?

– Are they supporting your efforts with the child at home?

– Are there changes coming up in their family situation, schedule or other areas which may cause them to pull the child out of your school? These considerations, and others, can have an impact on the child’s progress in training, as well as how long he/she remains at your school.

These parents also need information from, and contact with you. Some parents may not understand that training in the martial arts is not just “participating in another sport.” If their kids disappear from your classes after six months, you may simply see this as a lack of commitment on their part to follow through with the training. It is important, however, that you assess your own commitment to maintaining a working relationship with parents which may preempt their departure. This includes helping them to understand that this training is more than a hobby or simple recreation.

There are some important considerations in this regard.

– Do you spend time talking with parents, reminding them of training goals and benefits, and reinforcing the commitment to keep their child in training and at your school?

– Do you talk with them about your efforts with their child, and check to see if there are problems with the school or training, of which you must be aware?

– Do they know how to support your efforts with the child at home? The point is that if you, as the child’s instructor, have this communication with the parents, you can do a great deal to maximize parents’ commitment and support for their child’s training. You also minimize the number of students needlessly terminating training at your school and thus enhance retention.

The Highly Involved Parents

Other parents may be quite demanding of you and their child. They continually express concerns to you about their child’s lack of progress through the belt ranks. They may constantly “coach from the sidelines” while their child is in class, and admonish the child for what they consider to be inadequate performance.

In such instances, it is helpful to establish appropriate boundaries for the parents with regard to their child’s training in the martial arts, and their interactions with you. These boundaries can be limits and guidelines which are set with regard to the behavior of the parent.

If you attempt to establish such boundaries, be aware that parents and their children tend to have their own special ways of relating to, and being involved with, one another. This is part of the “family system.” If you try to intervene in the way in which parents are involved in their child’s training, you may be “bucking the system.” There are some things that you can do, however, which may be beneficial to all concerned.

If you are setting boundaries for parents who seem to demand a lot from you and their child, the manner in which you frame this effort is critical. It is not that you want the parents to become less involved with the training, it’s simply that you want to assist them in finding new ways of being involved. Recognize that these parents may feel they are being helpful, and showing an interest in their child’s training. If you begin your conversations by voicing a sincere respect and appreciation for their desire to be helpful and supportive, you are building upon your working relationship.

One way in which you can begin to set limits on the frequent lengthy conversations in which you become involved is to establish regularly scheduled times when you can meet with them. You might explain that you regard these conversations as important, and setting aside specified times allows you to devote your attention more completely to the discussion.

Once you have established these appointments, keep them. It is also important that you specify the amount of time which you will spend in this discussion, and be consistent in beginning and ending on time. If these parents attempt to engage you in non-urgent matters outside of these discussions, remind them of your upcoming appointment, and assure them that they can bring this to your complete attention at that time.

Parents who continually coach from the sidelines, or admonish their child for what they see as inadequate performance, may believe that they are being helpful. Such behavior can, however, be disruptive to the child’s training (as well as to the rest of the class), and prove discouraging to the child.

A private conversation with these parents can possibly modify this behavior. This is how to handle the situation:

– Acknowledge the fact that they want to help their child.

– Explain that progress in training typically occurs in small increments.

– Suggest a strategy which focuses and builds on the child’s strengths, complimenting the child on the things that he/she does right.

– Ask that they hold their comments until the end of class, so that the child will be less distracted by other things that are going on, and more capable of hearing what they (the parents) have to say.

It is essential that these parents get the message, however, that you are the professional martial arts instructor, and in charge of training during class time.

Concerns about Belt-Rank Promotion

A common topic which parents bring to instructors is their child’s progress through the belt ranks. Parents want to see their children succeed, and belt promotions can be an indicator of success to them. As with many conversations, this is one best held in the privacy of your office, away from other parents and children.

If this is a point of contention, it is best that you and the parent reach an agreement as adults, before discussing this with the child. In this regard, circumstances may or may not necessitate this discussion with the child. Typically, it is best that you talk with the child about his/her progress through the belt ranks in the same manner as you would with any other child of his/her age and skill level.

Meeting requirements to test and be promoted is not a foreign concept to parents. They understand that their child must meet certain requirements in academic settings to be passed from one grade to the next. Just as it would be a mistake to promote a child in school to the next grade if he/she has not met the academic standards, it would also be a mistake to do so in his/her martial arts training. This sends the wrong message to kids about their own responsibility, and sets them up for future difficulties. The better the working relationship which you have with parents, the easier it is to get this point across to them.

In these belt-rank discussions, it is important for you to understand that the parents are concerned about the best interest of their child. You can acknowledge this by telling them that you appreciate their interest and this opportunity to discuss their child’s training. By doing so, you have opened the door for communication, and expanded this from a discussion about when their child will be promoted, to a conversation about their child’s training in the martial arts.

This is how to handle the situation:

– Make the parents aware that all of you are working toward the same goal, making martial arts training a successful and rewarding experience for the child.

– Emphasize the child’s current successes in training.

– Explain the elements which you look for, as a professional instructor in the martial arts, which would indicate that a child is ready to test.

– It is important to tell them specifically what you are doing with their child in training to assist him or her in meeting the requirements for their next promotion.

– If they press for a date, and you are not certain when the child will be ready to test, set a date for your next conversation with them to discuss the child’s progress.

– Do not make promises which you are not sure you can keep.

Creating Opportunities for Communication

Communication doesn’t occur unless there is an opportunity for it to occur. If you want to maintain a good working relationship with the parents of your students, it is beneficial to create opportunities for communication with them. There are various methods which can be used in doing so.

As discussed previously in this chapter, regularly scheduled meetings may be appropriate and desired by some parents. Other parents may not feel the need, nor have the time for these meetings. You can, however, initiate conversations with them when they drop their kids off, or pick them up from training. Be sensitive to their availability. If they have a few minutes, a pleasant greeting can open a conversation and allow them to express their thoughts, or to ask questions about their child’s training.

Solicit feedback in the form of surveys. Although having these on hand at the school will get some results, mailings with self-addressed, stamped envelopes will allow the parents who only see your parking lot to participate.

Phone calls to parents whom you rarely see can open the door to increased communication. Unexpected phone calls, however, can be a little annoying or anxiety-provoking at times. If you talk with them about the fact that you like to receive feedback from parents, you can suggest occasional meetings or phone calls and gauge their response.

If you do have this type of contact, calendars, tickler files, or databases can be helpful in remembering when to make your next contact. Also, making a few notes when you do talk can provide consistency for subsequent contacts, as well as add to the value and importance of these conversations.

Newsletters can be used to acquaint parents with you, as well as other personnel at your school. Include articles that invite parents to contact you with comments or questions. Newsletters can also alert parents to any group activities, or an open house which you may be sponsoring. Such gatherings may become the forum for increased communication, and enhance the personal, friendly atmosphere of your school. Allow parents to volunteer to help at such functions if appropriate opportunities exist. This type of atmosphere does not detract from your professional reputation, and can be a point of added value for many students and parents.

It is also essential that your school is an inviting place for parents to stay during classes. Adequate seating which allows parents to watch the classes and have conversations with each other is essential. When they do come in, make them feel welcome. The message to them is that you appreciate them being there, and you want to make this a pleasant experience when they do come to your school.

Creating opportunities for communication might require some additional effort and creativity on your part. It does, however, send an important message to parents. It tells them that what they think about and expect in their child’s training is important to you.


Establishing and maintaining a good working relationship with the parents of children in your martial arts classes is important to your success as an instructor. This relationship begins when you first meet them, and continues to develop throughout the child’s training. It is your responsibility, as an instructor, to foster this relationship in a manner which allows open communication. This requires that you demonstrate an understanding of, and respect for, the needs and expectations which parents have with regard to their child’s training. In doing so, you can maximize success in making the martial arts training experience a good one for everyone.

Key Strategies in Implementing Change

As you learn and grow as a martial arts school owner you will discover new methods, procedures and processes that you will want to implement into your school. How you manage that implementation will have a direct effect on the success of the change, how well it is received and your personal stress level.

When considering changes remember that the students and staff that are with you now like the way things are now. If you have been losing 80% of your students because your classes are three hours long and you walk on their stomachs during sit-ups, you may now realize that you have to make some changes. However, the 20% of students who are still with you like the school the way it is.

You have a vision of higher retention, a growing school and the financial rewards that come with it. Your students have a vision of their current class and maybe their next belt. That’s it. They are not training for your future; they are training for theirs. So, here are some strategies to help you implement change without a revolt.

  1. Start tuition increases with the lowest ranking students first. This way the new, higher paying students will begin to replace the old, lower paying students.
  2. If you must raise tuition for everyone, give the students at least 30-days notice and tell them they can “beat the tuition increase” by purchasing a year in advance at the current rate.
  3. Start your curriculum changes with the lowest ranking students also. To them, it won’t be a change. As they advance in the new curriculum, within a year, they will be the largest population in the school so the majority of the school will be doing the new program.
  4. Grandfather some students or ranks into the new program in order to avoid losing them.
  5. Fire the students or parents who raise an unreasonable level of resistance to the changes. They will corrupt the other students and compound your problems. “Excuse them” from the school.
  6. Use Student Surveys as the catalyst for change. If you are going to change class length or curriculum for a majority of your students at once, you can make them feel as though they were a part of the process by using Student Surveys.

The questions on the survey can be written to plant the seed of change to the students. The feedback will be helpful, but more importantly, regardless of the feedback, the you can refer to the survey as the catalyst for change.

For instance, you could tell the students that, “In response to our survey, tuition will be raised $20 per month….” Or “In response to our survey, classes will now be one-hour instead of two hours.” That is a truthful statement. You are not saying, “Because most of you indicated on the survey that you would like a $20 increase in tuition.” All you need is one vote for a $20 increase and you can truthfully say that, “In response to our survey, tuition will be raised $20 per month….”

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 Rainbow of Rank

As a kid, you can’t choose your school, your parents, your city, your neighborhood, or much of anything else about your environment. You have no control and, when the situation is negative and intimidating, that debilitating feeling can stick with you for life. Martial arts changes all that. The rank system provides a direct path to respect that you control by training hard, following the rules, and enduring.

With rank comes more control, to the point that people bow to you and call you Sir or Ma’am. Because you trained the hardest and absorbed the lifestyle without question, it’s usually not long before you are helping out in class and then actually leading classes.

To a kid who was in an intimidating, powerless situation, this turnaround in control is like water to a plant: it gives new life. I know it did for me. Being a teacher of anything gives you a feeling of significance and self esteem.

I was in 8th grade when I earned my green belt. Green is a great belt color, because it’s a lot darker than orange or yellow. It looks like you’ve been around for a while and know something.

After I cleaned the martial arts school, Mr. Farrah said that now that I was a green belt, we were going to rank spar for three rounds. This, I discovered, was the instructor’s way of making sure you didn’t get too cocky with your new belt. For three rounds he pounded me into the ground.

Then Mr. Bone drove up. He said, “Hey, green belt. Let’s belt fight.” I said I had just rank sparred with Mr. Farrah. He laughed and said we were going to fight using our belts like nunchaku. The rule was no hitting to the face and, if your opponent grabbed your belt, you could punch and kick them until they let go.

I really had no choice, so I bowed in by snapping my belt between my hands with a hard yank. He did the same, and that’s when I noticed something. My snap sounded kind of soft. His sounded like a whip snapping, because his belt was one of the heavy Tokaido silk black belts, whereas mine was made of very soft, light cotton. I was in big trouble.

He hit me on the outside of the thigh so hard I almost flipped. My attempts to hit him fluttered into his blocks. He continued to hit me in the same spot over and over until the skin was broken and I was bleeding and limping while trying to fend him off. After we bowed out, I took my green belt class and staggered home. The next day on the school bus, every time we hit a bump, my eyes would water from the pain in my body, especially my thigh. As painful as that was, I knew it was a reward for moving up the ranks. I was moving closer to the inner circle, and it was worth it.

In my martial arts school, white belts were called “scummy white belts.” You didn’t have a name until you got up to at least blue or brown belt (oddly enough, you were given a key to the school when you made blue belt, so that you could practice). Until then, you were referred to by your rank, as in “Green belt, get over here.” In my case, since I cleaned the school for lessons, the instructors knew me well.

Despite the pain involved in this type of training, many of us took to it like a moth to light. Karate class was a haven to me. From my first day in class at age 13, I knew this was what I was going to do for the rest of my life. Since I had quit football, and karate required a 12-month contract for $25 per month, my parents wouldn’t pay for the classes, so I cleaned the school for lessons. I was the original “wax on. wax off” kid. The second day I was cleaning. Mr. Farrah snapped at me to finish my cleaning before I practiced. With a flashback of being yelled at by my parents and embarrassed in front of other kids, I almost quit that day.

I remember making the conscious decision not to fall back into the pattern of quitting if things got rough. The following week he punched me in the head with his bare fist. It was playful, not malicious, but it really hurt. I was getting his attention, so I took it.

Mr. Farrah was a great influence on me during my teen years. Mr. Farrah was a funny, charismatic guy who mentored me all the way to first-degree brown belt. He taught me a lot but there were clear rules and no doubt who the black belt was.

Why Martial Arts Instructors are Control Freaks

At some point while you were dutifully teaching classes for your instructor, I bet a few students and/or parents let you know that they preferred your classes to those of your instructor. At first, you thought they were just being polite, but then you began to notice things your instructor did that you would not do ‘if it were your school.’

You enjoyed the attention and the rewards that came from teaching martial arts. Maybe the martial arts school became your social circle because it was easy for you. You were moving up in rank, training hard, and teaching, which automatically earned you respect and recognition within this community. Meeting people is easy when you outrank them.

You were loyal to your instructor and strongly believed in what you taught, because these techniques and methods brought you out of the darkness of intimidation to being a revered black belt instructor.

It was natural that we developed deep emotional ties to the techniques and the methods of our school. The mere mention of our school, style, or organization brought on fierce feelings of pride. This is also why the suggestion that there may be a better or a different way is met with initial resistance. These connections are so strong they are even parodied in films, because the “my kung fu is better than yours” scene has been played to death in movies. When an art has changed our life, it’s not always easy to admit that it may be flawed in some degree or way.

While you were teaching for your instructor, you may have suggested new ways of doing things, including teaching, testing, and martial arts marketing, but virtually every idea of yours was shot down. Your instructor had everything in his control, and trying something new was a risk he was not willing to take. I understand wanting to stay in your comfort zone. I was certainly that way. Once, as a school owner, I wanted to introduce some energy into classes by clapping in between drills or forms. I literally stayed up at night, thinking through how to introduce this concept. I was afraid my students would think I’d gone sissy and walk out.

Teaching martial arts is nirvana for a control freak. By the time you become a black belt following the path I’ve just described, you are a full-fledged control freak. You control how students move, breathe, where they look, what they should think about and, even in some extreme cases, some spiritual aspects of their lives. So, to risk giving up control for even a minute was very tough for me. This clapping thing became a huge obstacle for me. After all, my instructors would have never done something like this.

I chickened out during the first two classes and decided I would do it in the last class of the night, which was my brown and black belt class. I figured, if it bombed, only they would see it (by the way, don’t introduce new ideas to your advanced students first. They like things the way they are now. That’s why they are here. Some of them have developed deep connections to the way things are, just as you did at that rank).

I had the class do a form, Tan Gun, as a warm up. I was thinking, OK, after this form, I’m going to do it. But, instead of simply saying, “Hey! Give yourself some energy!” and clapping to show them what I meant, I used the classic control-freak method. When they finished the form, I snarled, “Attention!” Everyone snapped to. “Extend your left hand!” Every left hand popped out. “Extend your right hand!” Every right hand popped out. “Clap!”

I had to be in total control of every step of the way to clapping. It was silly. They did it and liked it, and it became part of our school’s energy, but without the micro-managing from me to extend each hand like robots. Much of our hesitation and fear of new ideas and changes are rooted in this control factor. You’ve gained control of your situation, and you are afraid of trying something new that might put you out of control, even for a moment.

Your Martial Arts Ensemble

I have written several articles about Finding Your Own Voice as a martial arts professional.  I’d like this article to focus on some typical martial artist characters. When you meet these guys you’ll know they have not yet found their own voice.

The Tough Guy

Once I saw the Tough Guy as a corner judge in a point match. He refused to move. When a fighter complained, this guy threatened to “pound him.” Martial arts has not made these guys better people, as much as it has given them additional weapons to bully and intimidate. They need to be extra tough and aggressive to make sure no one thinks they aren’t. This is someone my grandmother would call a very small man.

Travis Bickle

Travis is the character played by Robert DeNiro in Taxi Driver. Bickle doesn’t do martial arts per se but transforms himself into a militant vigilante. His was the classic scene in front of the mirror as he pretends to confront someone with the line, “You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? Then, who you talkin’ to?”

In high school, I wore karate pants, my karate school T-shirt, and wooden Japanese sandals. I was like Travis in adopting a new identity. I was “Karate Jock.” I grew out of it. Some guys never do.

Typically, these people are more fringe martial artists than hard core. They play-act like they are martial artists more than they actually engage in structured training. I knew one who seemed to learn everything from books. Somehow he got a black belt and taught students in his garage. His living room was a weight gym/dojo. Travis Bickles are fascinated by the martial arts but never seem to undergo extended training under one instructor or system. Mind you, that won’t stop them from getting a black belt.

At best, they are lifelong dabblers in the martial arts. At the worst, well, they may not be far off from Travis Bickle.

Mr. Negative

Mr. Negative has seen everything and tried everything, but nothing works for his school. He blames his area, his economy, the belt factory down the street, or the current president for his school’s struggles. He is critical of everyone and everybody. He starts sentences with, “The problem with ______ is . . .” Insert a name, style, system, idea, tournament, or business idea in the blank, and you have Mr. Negative. Not a fun guy.

Crusty the Clown

With the movement toward personal development in the classroom, some instructors work hard to look like perfect role models. They talk like a rehashed motivational speaker: “What are you passionate about now?” They try to come off as a hybrid Mr. Rogers and Robin Williams. Truthfully, they remind me more of a character from The Simpsons named Crusty the Clown.

Crusty is a favorite of the kids, who idolize him and watch every episode of his children’s TV show. But as soon as the camera is off, he pops a beer, lights a cigarette, and starts complaining about the kids. Watch out for Crusty the Clowns wearing black belts and making you laugh. Hold onto your wallet, and hide your female students.

The Enlightened One

Did you ever speak with a high ranking black belt who seemed to turn everything you say into a metaphor for nature or world peace? He doesn’t speak as much as give speeches.

Master Po

I know a guy who makes his wife call him Master. Another man calls himself Grand Master. That’s nothing new, but one day his non-martial arts wife said, “All these people call you Grand Master, what title can I have?” Not exactly what I’d call an authentic person.

The Retro-Warrior

Every conversation ends up a war story from the blood-and-guts days. This guy’s dream is for it to be 1975 again. When the only thing you have going for you currently is an event that happened decades ago, you have stopped trying. The Retro-Warrior peaked a long time ago and does his best to relive those times year after year, even as his school crumbles around him. These guys are fun to spend time with because they often have great stories. In fact, this reminds me of the time I was fighting in London and…

The Asian Wannabe

This is the freakiest of all martial arts characters. This is a Caucasian who is so enamored of the Asian roots of the martial arts and, even more so, of his Asian master that he actually begins to speak with an Asian accent. Some people call it pigeon talk. I call it weird.

The Martial Arts Millionaire

Conversations with this guy start as an interrogation about how many students you have and what you are grossing and end as a bragging session all about money, money, money. Boring, boring, boring.

If I ever do this to you, you have my permission to choke me out.

You Can't Help the Poor by Becoming One of Them

I have learned that you can’t honestly give yourself to anyone unless your needs are met first. Initially it sounds selfish, but it’s a healthy kind of selfishness. In the safety briefing before a flight, the attendant reminds you to fasten your own oxygen mask before you help someone else.

You will be in a much better position to help people in your black belt school if you are grossing $30,000 per month, because you are taking care of yourself first, rather than grossing $10,000 because you are “helping the children.”

The reason you sign the lease, risk your money, risk lawsuits, risk losing everything is not to help the children. The reason is to build wealth for your family. This is a key mindset, and the top black belt school owners are crystal clear on it.

The purpose of your school is to build wealth for your family and to maintain a career in the martial arts.

You accomplish this by becoming the best teacher in your town and having a strong business system to support your teaching, so that you can reach and help more people. You create wealth by helping people.

Imagine you are the owner of a television network. You don’t take a risk like that just to have shows that will help the children. You offer some educational programs in the public interest and others that are pure entertainment. But you bought the network to create wealth for your family. You do that by hiring the best talent, equipment, and programming possible.

This is especially true when you have a family. It’s simply not fair to drag your spouse and children through the life of a martial artist if you are not going to build a future for them. The purpose of launching your martial arts business is to send your kids to good schools, to provide your spouse with a feeling of security and certainty that things are going to be OK financially and to give you the opportunity to retire in dignity.

You accomplish this by being the best martial arts school owner and instructor in your town. Once you adopt this attitude, business becomes less stressful, because it’s easier to make decisions when you have Clarity of Purpose.

Chase your passion but don’t chase away profits or your families’ future doing so. As Abraham Lincoln put it, “We can’t help the poor by becoming one of them.”

I heard one of my mentors, a plastic surgeon, speak on the phone with a patient who asked for a discount or payment terms. He said, “Miss, this is how I earn my income. You can make payments and, when they are all done, we can do the surgery; otherwise, we’re going to have to wait until you can afford it.”

That is Clarity of Purpose. Plastic surgery, like martial arts, is a choice. Western society will never take martial arts seriously as a business, activity, or potential career if we all live hand to mouth. How can you teach the success life skills so popular today if you have never experienced success as a teacher?

Would you want someone to teach you how to run a martial arts school who has never even owned a business, much less a martial arts school? I hope not.

Cardinal Rule –Never sacrifice the needs of your family for your students.

The most successful school owners are crystal clear that the purpose of their school is to build wealth for their families. Create profit – not poverty – from your passion.

What Changes when Martial Arts Instructors Begin to Teach for a Living

If you are a martial arts instructor today, odds are that you began teaching classes for your instructor shortly before or after you earned your black belt. You became a good teacher, but you were still under the control of your instructor, and you loyally taught and followed his syllabus.

This is usually a great period in our lives. We can teach without risk but, more importantly, we have gained control of a very important part of our new life and are in a position of power. People bow to us and call us Mr. or Ms. or a title of some sort that we associate with prestige, such as “Sensei.” That’s a big turnaround for many of us. That is the beauty of the martial arts. The arts provide you with a healthy way of redefining yourself and your future.

I was an 18-year-old bus boy clearing tables in a restaurant during the day and Mr. Graden, black belt teacher, at night. My days were filled with, “Graden, clear off table six, fast!” My nights were, “Mr. Graden, would you please speak to my son? He’s having trouble in school, and he looks up to you so much . . .” Which do you think appealed to me and fueled my ambition?

If you started your training in the 1970s, or maybe even the 1980s, because of the Kung Fu TV show and the many Kung Fu movies, there was what I call an “implied wisdom” in earning a black belt. As a black belt, especially a “master,” you were perceived as somehow knowing more about life than the average person. This image of the martial arts master as being a master of life was reinforced by the martial arts movies, television shows, and magazines.

To this day, that prestige has tremendous pull and attraction for martial artists. Why do you think black belts seem in such a rush to call themselves Master, Grand Master, Senior Master, or Supreme Grand Master? In the real world we have master mechanics, master sergeants, chess masters, and even chess grandmasters, but only martial artists insist on actually being called “Master.”

On the popular TV show Seinfeld, a small-time conductor insisted everyone, including his girlfriend, call him “maestro.” I wonder if sometimes we don’t generate some laughs ourselves with these titles.

In moving from a martial arts student to a martial arts school owner, a few things may have happened to you as an assistant teacher. Your instructor may have been “overusing” you and taking advantage of your loyalty. This is never pleasant, because you have to face some cold, hard realities, and your relationship with your instructor begins to change. Your spouse, family, or friends may have suggested that you were being exploited. They may have urged you to open your own martial arts school. Perhaps even a student offered to back you financially.

Being loyal, you decided to be upfront with your instructor and tell him you were considering opening a school. What was his reaction? Either he went for your throat or insisted you pay him a percentage of your lifetime earnings.

Why did he react that way? Odds are, because he went through the same cycle of moving from no control to total control about a decade before you, and then you threatened that control. He had you, his golden child, teaching classes. You symbolized his success as an instructor, but now you were making the biggest decision in your martial arts life without his control? Not without a fight you weren’t.

This is often the beginning of the end of your relationship with your instructor. If he can’t control you, he may perceive you as disloyal. Does this sound familiar? “I taught you everything you know. You owe me! How dare you take what I taught you and use it against me?” Mind you, he will probably view anything less than totally capitulating to his demands as working against him.

Contrast this with a college professor. If you attend law school, your law professor wants nothing more than for you to go out and be successful using what he taught you. That is his reward. He doesn’t ask for a percentage of your revenue.

One school owner would bring each student into his office right before he tested for black belt. He pulled a .38 revolver out of his drawer, set it on the desk, and explained, “Just to be clear. You will never, ever open a martial arts school in my area. Understood?”

How I Lost my Way as a Martial Arts Instructor

Know who you are, and why you are doing this. When I became a billing client of EFC, I attended one of their seminars in Atlanta. I was doing pretty good, but nothing like some of the EFC stars of the day.

Still, it seemed the guys in Atlanta knew my name as a fighter, which was nice. As usual at these events, we shared information about student counts and, when I mentioned I had 245 students, they seemed impressed. They were even more impressed that my student body was mostly adults.

I didn’t know there had been a huge boom in the children’s market at the time due to The Karate Kid. The guys in Atlanta implied that I was missing half the market because I didn’t have a lot of child students. I listened, thought about it, and then made one of my worse decisions as a school owner.

I started doing the things they did to attract and keep kids. I started the student creed, message of the week, and had kids screaming, “Yes, Sir!” on cue. In time, my school had totally changed from an adult school to a school full of kids or, as some like to call them, “a family school.” Mind you, this was more the influence of EFC clients than EFC itself.

My income increased. I paid off my house and socked the money away, but I hated it. I didn’t want to be at the school anymore. It was no fun explaining to a mom why her Miss Perfect daughter who gets straight As in school failed her blue belt exam. I had strayed big time from who I was as a martial artist and as a teacher.

Quality of life is a big issue with me and, for the first time in my martial arts career I had a job I didn’t like. Most of the kids were fine, and many were great. But some kids just drove me nuts mostly because of the control factor.

Controlling kids and their parents is not a fun way for a control freak to spend time. A lot of instructors like to teach kids, but I don’t.

I had lost my way because I subscribed to someone else’s voice. But I learned something important. Since then, I’ve tried to make it clear that you need to know yourself and what you want to do. This is especially true today, when so many programs are available.

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.