thekuntawman on the Commercial Dojo

That’s *commercial* dojo to you, mister. Not “McDojo”. There is a difference.

I have noticed, among traditional martial artists, that many construe commercial success as “selling out ” in the martial arts. Not only is this untrue, it is unfair to the sincere martial artist, as well as bordering jealousy and being unrealistic. Many of our counterparts have figured out the formula to success without comprimising the purity of the art, and we should give them credit for doing so. I don’t believe that charging money is bad in the martial arts, and I don’t believe that one should have to charge such a small fee for lessons you would need an army to put food on the table.

I have had several debates with my own close friends in the art, who prefer to teach out of community centers and backyards and hole-in-the-wall schools. These are passionate, pure martial arts enthusiasts who turn their nose up at any sensei, sifu or guro in the community center. Reading the little comments I make on this blog here and there, you would think that I’m the same way but that’s not true.

Many of our successful brothers and sisters have made a good living teaching quality martial arts. Just off the top of my head, Dennis Brown, Willie Bam Johnson (and student of Brown’s), Anthony Goh, Chuck Norris, Benny the Jet Urquidez, the entire Gracie family, Cung Le… Some of these men have made millions of dollars while maintaining a high standard of skill in their schools. I think it’s worth seeing what they do to be successful.

But another article. Today, I would like to offer some suggestions that you may find helpful for your school. These are “commercial” as well as “traditional” practices, and they will help you improve your school’s operation as well as keep the integrity of the art. Now, let me qualify this by saying that I am presenting my opinion–and in no way am I passing judgment on any of you. You know how some of you martial artists are so easily offended:

  • Drop the free class/trial. I consider this a flawed tool for recruitment, as it really doesn’t give the student an idea of what goes on in a martial arts class. When you do free trials, you end up trying to entertain students with neat tricks and exercises to make them feel like they are in a Shaolin movie. You wait until they sign them up to do the all-so-necessary-but-painful-and-boring footwork training and conditioning exercises. Or, because of retention and “buyer’s remorse”, you may skip doing so altogether. It’s just a bad idea. Can you attend one day of class at a university to “see if you like it”? Hell no. You either want to do it or you don’t. And if you like it you stay, if you don’t, you drop out at the end of the semester. If a student isn’t sure if they are going to like it, tell them that they aren’t supposed to like a class if it’s done right. But if they want to find out what training is like in your school, try it for a month and they will get the gist of it in 5-7 classes. You do something different each day, and one day won’t encompass everything.
  • Another reason I don’t like free classes, my classes are a monthly curriculum. They can only join at the beginning of the month, or I end up cheating my students while I accalamate a new guy to the training. If a student joins in the middle of the month, we will do a few private classes to get them caught up. You want your school to be taken seriously, and lookie-loos distract students, you and detract from the focus in the class.
  • Don’t allow visitors to the class. I need concentration during class time, and spectators are a distraction. Can you walk into Harvard University and watch a Law class in progress? Who put our martial arts schools on display anyway? This is a traditional program, and we do not entertain visitors the way the more commercial schools do. You may make an appointment to discuss our program, but as a rule–I give my students my full attention by not recruiting while they are paying me to teach them.
  • Rather than charge by the month, why not charge by the course? A course being 3-6 months?
  • How about charging by the class?
  • Separate your general martial arts students from your fighters. I have seen some schools offer a basics class, where they drill punches, kicks and other skills; a conditioning class; a sparring class; and a forms class. This way, students can pick and choose according to their tastes, and you aren’t scaring away the guys who just want to lose weight and not fight, nor are you turning off the guys who want to fight and not do forms.
  • Have a real age cut-off. I don’t accept students younger than 10 in my kids class, and my adult class is exactly that:  an adult class.
  • Are you in an area with a lot of immigrant Hispanics? How about a class offered in Spanish, where you mix English and Spanish terminology, to help newcomers and their children ease into the language?
  • “Homework Club” for kids. I have long thought about this myself. There are many latch-key kids in my neighborhood who come home to drug dealers and drunks and TV and gangsta wannabes. I don’t want a day care license, but if my place is a safe place, and I can have my student come to the school to hang out instead of the streets, why not? Make it $50 a week for the school to be open to kids to come in, train, get a snack, and do their homework. Just a suggestion.
  • Offer one-on-one fitness training during the day, while there are no classes going on. I charge $35 a session, and its better than getting a day job.
  • Drop the uniform, and make it optional. Some students in this economy can barely afford the tuition. We use our uniforms for tournaments. I have school shirts, and student can train in whatever’s comfortable. As my slogan says, this ain’t your little brother’s karate school.
  • While you’re at it, drop the corny creeds that no one really cares about too. This ain’t citizenship class, it’s martial arts. And your students aren’t 6 years old.
  • Encourage competition among your students. I allow trash-talking, because it lends to confidence. As the saying goes, don’t let your mouth write a check that your ass can’t cash. Allow a little aggression to enter the dojo, and your students will get that confidence they are paying you for. Plus, it will make them have to back it up, and learn to deal with antagonism. Makes the dojo more self-defense-oriented.

Just a few ideas. When I’ve had a chance to really get my thoughts together, I will write up a part II. Thanks for visiting my blog!