“Secrets” of the Filipino Fighting Arts
Words from a Modern-Day Warrior

Advice for a New FMA Teacher (Guro Alvin)

I haven’t mentioned this yet, but I am opening my first kickboxing gym (already signed the lease last Saturday) and retail store in about a week.

Well, my sister and I had travelled to San Franciso and Oakland a few weeks back so that I could buy equipment and open wholesale accounts. While there, I was in a dim sum store next to a young man who was ordering in broken Mandarin, just like me. I recognized his appearance to know that he was not Chinese, but possibly Filipino or a Tsinoy (Filipino-Chinese mix). He recognized me as a martial artist by my forearms. I could tell he was either trying to figure who I was or he was gay (I mean, we are in SF…).

“Excuse me, I’m willing to bet you practice the martial arts.” Whew.

So, as we waited on our kao da cha shu bao (baked buns, gai cha shu bao for me… that’s chicken), he ran down his rather lengthy resume to be a man of only 24. He told me of his plans to open a martial arts school–the first commercial FMA-only school in the Bay–once he was able to borrow the money. He has a small group that he trains, and is right around the age I was when I opened mine. I referred him to this blog and told him to look out for his name (sorry I forgot your last name, Guro). The advice I had for him could fill a book, but I would like to give some basic advice. From a sorta-old Lion to a young Lion. I hope that many of you who aspire to open a school will benefit from it. And for giving me the bragging rights of signing an autograph in front a crowd of people, I accept your offer to guest-teach a class in your school when you open.;-)

  • Eliminate your competition by choosing a niche within the martial arts community that no one else does, or that no one else can do better. This niche must be blasted in front of everyone who sees your school’s name. Eventually, they will identify your school–and your school only–with that niche.
  • As we spoke about in the restaurant, you have to be a regular in competition. True FMAs are about fight matches. None of the old grandmasters were able to have a career without them. I’m sure you won’t engage in “death matches”… so you have to do something. The matches will round out your skill and transform your knowledge into actual fighting experience, which is something 90% of the martial arts teachers out there don’t have. Stand out by being able to be one of the men who speak with authority, and those who speak from experience.
  • Give yourself a well thought-out, patient curriculum. When I say it should be “well thought-out”, I mean that you have pondered over what goes where, why, and for how long. Know what goals you have for each student at specified benchmarks throughout their learning career. I would recommend having an older master like your own teacher review and give you feedback. Those older masters can tell you from experience what changes will yield the best results in your students. They can help you avoid mistakes and wasted instruction.
  • I always say this:  Keep a savings account. As a teacher, nothing is more damaging to your school than having to choose between teaching and doing what you love, and having to take a business-leeching job. Since you did not go to college, take it from me; you will never make enough money to quit and go back to teaching full-time if you neglect your school. Since you are on the way to running your school, make sure to plan for hiccups. There will be some and you want to be your own bank loan.
  • Have the discipline to teach exactly who you want to teach and reject anything that does not point in the direction that Guro Alvin wants to go. In the late 90s I ran an aerobic kickboxing class because it was popular. It was great money, but I hated every second of it. I’m warrior dammit, and I felt like Richard Simmons up there. I don’t even like soft rock.
  • Every school can be lucrative, as long as you never stop advertising and marketing. The best cheap form of advertising is to stand on the street in front of your school and hold a poster with your name on it. The next best is to pay someone else to do it. The next best after that is to pass out flyers.
  • The experts have always said that the best form of advertising is through referrals. I do agree to a point. In my school, my students are the only men in their circle of friends who like the kind of training I give. But for a school that is not as extreme, referral programs are great. When we had a children’s class, referrals were our top form of recruitment. There is a lot of material on the market for doing this, and you would do yourself a great favor by investigating.
  • Start your school with low tuition just to get income flowing. Then, as enrollment increases, increase your tuition. It’s much better than charging too much and having too many potential students “think about it” when the only thing stopping them from joining you is their budget.
  • Some people do contracts, some do month to month. My memberships are 6-month memberships. Any student who does not think he can hang for 6 months is not a student I want. However, as a new teacher, it would be a good idea not to give anyone a reason to walk out and “think about it”, and just allow month-to-month until enrollement and cash-in increases.
  • If you choose both methods, offer lower monthly rates if they select the 6 month memberships. That way they have an option that fits their budget.
  • For intensity, it depends on your teaching style. When my cousin taught, he made classes moderately difficult, and then offered an optional killer workout twice a week for those who want that type of training. One of my enemies in business is that my classes are too intense for many people. I may adjust this method, I’m thinking as I type.
  • Learn as much as you can about other styles. This will help your role as guide and teacher because there are many lessons to learn from other masters and styles. You will miss all of that wisdom if you close your ears. I am not saying to go and study other arts, but pay attention to them. Your journey is not complete as a teacher; you are pushing towards mastery. And to be a master of the art, you must be an expert. What kind of expert knows nothing about anything that is not his forte’?
  • Finally, study the business of the martial arts. There is a wealth of information on the subject  I am no marketing expert or master businessman. But in 19 years of running my own school, I have learned a lot throught mistakes. Had I learned what books would have taught me two decades ago, I would have not made those mistakes and perhaps I would be retired by now. Wait, retired? No, never… See, when you do what you love for a living, you will never have to work for the rest of your life.

Like I said, I could write a book on the subject.

Wait, I did write a book! Several, in fact. Just keep checking for updates; I am getting them edited as we speak. Thanks for visiting my blog.

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