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Can the Filipino Arts Sustain a Full-Time School?

Let me answer this question with the short version, and then the long version.

The Short Version: YES.

The Long Version:

I have been hanging around MartialTalk discussing whether or not a full-time FMA school is possible… and whether they are needed, bad for the art, blah blah blah. If you check it out, you may notice a few feelings getting hurt, insecurities coming out, and things of that nature, but the conversation and feedback is pretty good. But at the same time, it is also pretty sad.

There seems to be the belief that the Filipino arts cannot survive in a commercial school, unless it is a side dish to something else. There are several reasons why, but the most bothering of them all is that teachers of the art believe this–and it is reflected in how they treat the very arts they teach. In most FMA teacher’s resume profiles, the Filipino arts are just one of the arts they do and are often just “sticks and knives” to them. Even the ones who do empty hand use another style for their main form of empty handed fighting. Because of this, I would say that the only way the Philippine arts will survive commercially in this country are (1) as watered-down martial arts, or (2) as a specialty, niche art to be given up on DVD and in one-day seminars.

However, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

I would like to offer my advice to those who would like to take a stab at making this art a full-time job and career:

  1. First, you must have good skill at the art. There are just far too many mediocre martial artists and fighters representing the FMAs–as well as other arts–and no one will stand out who does not leave behind people impressed with the art and the artists. If you want to do this full-time, develop your basic skill and train until your palms bleed and your forearm swells up. This is the first rule to success in the martial arts. Good marketing and slick sales speak only gets you so far…
  2. You must be committed to staying on the path of promoting good Filipino Martial Arts. This means having the discipline to not add “After School Karate” and “Sticks and Kicks”, just to make a buck. If your mission statement is to promote solid, traditional FILIPINO Martial Arts, anything that does not drive towards that direction is working against your mission. Don’t do it. Resist the easy money and build on your passion.
  3. Study Sales and Marketing. Learn how to promote and persuade. If you don’t like doing so, get someone who does. But a business with no sign and no effective advertising is like a car with no wheels. It’s just sitting there. This, I believe, is where most martial artists fail. Nothing happens until you make a buck. You can post Youtube clips until you’re blue in the face, but you have to drive traffic towards your classroom.
  4. Decide if you will have an empty handed program or not. You don’t have to have everything, trust me. I don’t see Boxing gyms adding weapons and kiddie classes, and I don’t see Fencing academies trying to figure out an empty hand component. But whatever you decide, make sure you have done the research and that you have a solid, strong program available. Too many FMA people are still “exploring”, and they don’t have that “master’s expertise” aura about them. Don’t pad your resume with a bunch of stuff you have only scraped the surface of. Don’t teach what you “dabble” in.  Be a true expert at what you do, and decide what type of expert you will be. Nothing will kill a business faster than having a bunch of people believe you are not one of the best.
  5. Get yourself a good business plan and a website, along with a good cheap location. You do not have to be in an expensive location, and you don’t have to be in a extremely busy location. But with good advertising, reputation and website, you will draw students. You should also have a place that is affordable!
  6. You must either have financial backing to keep you floating until you arrive at success, or you must have the drive to keep going until you get yourself there. I have seen many good martial arts teachers fail because they lacked one or the other. Does this mean I have never had financial problems? Of course not, I have moved out of expensive shopping centers and taught in parks until my enrollment allowed me to get back into another commercial location. I have lived in a hotel with two young children (I was a single father for 6 years) while teaching and working a low-paying job at night (and sneaking my babies into the job) before “breaking through” to full-time teaching. Believe me, I am not a very educated or smart man–my wife proofreads, edits and even rewrites everything I post here–but I will do this art until I die. And I will always have a school. If I can do it, I know you can. But you have to have the fighting spirit to see yourself through the difficulties and the faith to know that you will succeed. Too many martial artists do not, and so they end up tap-dancing in Tae Kwon Do schools for $75 a pop and certifying beginners as experts to make ends meet. And you shouldn’t have to accept 5 year old students, sublease in Kenpo and TKD schools, or spend your entire martial arts career in a community center to have a school.

Of the FMA masters I have met that have made a decent living with their arts, none have a college degree, and most speak poor English. By our standards they should not be successful in the business, but they are. Take a good look at what you would want to remember you did when your life passes before your eyes, and if you would have rather have spent it teaching the arts, pursue it. The Philippine arts are as valid as any mainstream martial art, and there are possibly millions of people who want to learn it. Be one of the teachers ready to take them in when they are ready to train.

Thank you for reading my blog. And if this article interests you, you may be interested in my first book, Making a Living with Your Backyard/Garage/Community Center Dojo, available for purchase on the Offerings page. Good luck!