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!

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One Reason Why Your Kid Needs Martial Arts

If you teach kids, I want you to save this article, print it, and read it until you have my bullet points memorize. Then I want you to watch the video at the end of this article and understand why I write what I write, and why you are so important to your community. Then after that, think of a way to add something similar to your school’s website.

By the way, I decided to put this article under the “Business” section of the blog, because this message will make a huge difference in your school’s bottom line–as well as it may give you some new purpose or mission in your martial art career’s life.

Bullying Can KILL Your Child

Whether your child is the victim or the prey, or just a bystander, bullying can get your kid killed.

Parents often don’t know that their children are being bullied or are bullying other children until it’s too late. Kids have come home with injuries they hide from their parents, but the psychological scars never heal. Grades plummet, their attendance suffers, their self-esteem drops to a horrible low, they contemplate suicide. Sometimes, your children never tell you because they are afraid that you will be disappointed in them. Your child might have even come home and hinted that they were being bullied and you failed to protect them. What do you tell them?

  • “Man up”
  • It’s just teasing.
  • They’re jealous of you. Ignore it.
  • Tell a teacher.
  • Stand up for yourself.
  • Sticks and stones may break your bones, but…

Do you know what all this means? It means, “I don’t know what to do, so it’s your problem.”

Perhaps you didn’t mean to send that message, but that’s the message they got. And the truth is, you probably don’t know what to do about it. But you’re not supposed to, Mr. Mom/Ms. Dad–that’s my area of expertise. The good news, however, is that you’re here. This is what we can do about it…

Kids have brought knives to school to deal with bullies. Children fantasize about killing their tormentors often, because to some children–this is the only way they believe it will stop. They are channeling their frustration and anger, and the adults apparently can’t or won’t stop them. Let the bullying continue until the victim acts out, by refusing to do schoolwork, or disobeying teachers and parents (the same ones who won’t help them)–and no one will care that the child is being bullied. Look at some of the school shootings, and you can see how the failure of teachers, school administrators and parents can explode into multiple lives ruined.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have the kids who just want out. They run away, they run into the arms of deviant adults who will pretend to care about them–or bad kids–or they run to alcohol and drugs to try and fit in. Worst of all, out of the 280,000 children that were attacked in American schools last year, thousands have committed suicide (also known as “bullycide”). There is no exact figure, because quite often, the kids don’t say why they do it.

One child losing his life to this behavior is too much.

I am not trying to say martial arts is the cure to this, but martial arts is the cure.

  • Martial arts will give kids a means to defend themselves. Maybe you can’t go into the school and wring that boy’s neck who is pushing your son, but your son can certainly push back himself. But he needs to feel confident that he can do it. I will teach him how, and give him the tools.
  • Fighting in school is often not fighting–a lot of it is self-defense. You wouldn’t go into a job without the proper training, why would you send your school into the jungles of school life to defend himself without the tools?
  • Many girls lose their virginity to boys who force themselves on them. Do you really want your daughter to not have a way to protect herself? Surely, you are not in such denial that you believe the police will protect your daughters 24 hours a day? Don’t fool yourself, please, at the expense of not wanting to spend $70 a month. Few girls will come home and say, “Mom, this cute boy at school is telling me every day he wants to have sex with me.” Especially when all the other kids are doing it (so they think). Martial arts helps kids stand alone with confidence, in whatever stance they happen to stand.
  • Kids are abducted, they are beaten, they are mentally bullied by their peers. You wouldn’t leave your cars unlocked outside, unattended, would you? Why send your kids into this horrible world unable to protect themselves?
  • Martial arts restores a kid’s self esteem, it gives them something to feel good about. It makes them stronger so they can excel at other sports. It helps them sleep better at night. It makes their bodies require less sleep to function. It allows them to relieve stress and focus better in school. It gives them friends with like interests that WON’T bully them. No other activity does this, not even Sunday school.
  • Martial arts combats obesity. Obesity causes your kids to have health problems. Such health problems as cholesterol, thyroid disorder, diabetes, heart problems. Diabetes is even deadlier than bullying. You know this. Do something about it!

Parents, you love your children. Protect them. Let us help. It’s so much more than belts and uniforms and trophies. Don’t wait until your child comes home with an injury or a bruised spirit before you decide to do something about it. Makes as much sense as buying car insurance AFTER an accident. Protect your child, and I can help.

Now, watch this video. Thanks for visiting my blog:

In case it doesn’t show up, here is the link:

UPDATE:  The original video I uploaded was missing so the one above was not what I originally posted. HERE is the video.

Is Your Website Working?

Well, is it?

Are you finding that your school’s website is invaluable in producing the results you wanted when you made it? Some of us have websites to attract new students. Some of us just want to share information. Some of us just want to post “lookitme!” sites. Some are trying to sell merchandise. Regardless of the reason you built your site, there has to come a point when you assess whether you are wasting space on the highway, time and money.

As martial arts teachers, most likely we built our sites to attract new students. So reflect on the last month. Who has been in looking for lessons? How did they find you?

Uh, I sure hope you have been asking everyone who inquires how they heard about you.

Do you have a ledger book recording the names, phone numbers, mailing addresses and details of every person who inquired into your school? If not, please get a copy of my book, Making a Living with Your Backyard/Garage/Community Center Dojo. Even if you have a school, this book has valuable rules for increasing your enrollment. I may not be the smartest guy in class, but one thing I do know is how to run a school and increase enrollment. Make sure you plop down the measly $7 bucks and invest in something that will make a difference… Anyway, every school should have at least two places to go to glance at potential students:  one, in a book–and the other, in a folder in your email.

If you find that that visitors to your school are finding you more through walk-ins or ads, but not your school’s website, then you might consider overhauling your website. The first place people look to find anything these days is the internet, and if your website does not bring at least inquiries you need to change a few things.

I would like to offer some advice about what works for school websites and what doesn’t work. Some of these things might upset you a little; you know how we martial artists like our things-we-do-because-our-teachers-did-it stuff. Anyway, let’s get right to it:

  • Remember the purpose of the school website:  to get people to come in a consider joining your school. The website is not supposed to sell the membership (unless you have a way to actually sign up and pay online). Therefore, make sure that the language on your site serves that purpose. No one cares if your or your teacher is the Grandpoobah Grandmaster with 12 degrees and is a world-champion in the latest hot dog eating contest. The student wants to know if you are qualified to teach, what he will learn, how much it will cost, and if your school will make him better than the next guy’s (or at least be more interesting) school.
  • History section. It is helpful, but not necessary, to give a history of the art you teach. Education is good, and a teacher who educates the student is seen as more knowledgeable. Some sites simply sound like they want your money. But if you give something they don’t know, and it’s interesting–students will paint a picture in their mind of the art’s rich history every time they think of you. Like I said, it’s not necessary, however. What is necessary is your history. Students need to know who you are, where you come from, and what you’ve accomplished. Without it, you are just another business. This puts value in the student’s mind. Tell them who you learned from, where you’ve been, what you’ve done. Another thing you might add is a history of the school–your school. This creates interest and, again, promotes value. Tell a story, and it sets you apart from the other guys. If your story is more interesting, you become unforgettable and more interesting to potential students.
  • Give a curriculum or at least tell them what they’re in store for. I’m not talking about the usual “self-defense, weapons, forms” stuff that every school out there tells you. I want you to look at what your school has to offer that the other guys don’t have–what you do that’s unique–and what you do best. This piques interest, and again, it creates value. A good tip would be to describe, in detail, key points of learning in your school. One of the interesting things I’ve seen my classmates do is to list “vital Jow Ga forms”:  Subduing Small Tiger, Subduing Big Tiger, Double Headed Staff, Tiger and Leopard Fist, Five Animals Fist, Iron Arrow, Double Sabers, Tiger Tail Broadsword… and then give a description of what each form does for you. You could also do a history of those forms. For example, if you teach Tae Kwon Do, don’t just list the forms and general requirements, get specific:  Chon Ji — meaning Heaven and Earth. Foundation form of TKD that builds basic footwork and teaches how to move and strike, and how to move and block, simultaneously >> Dan Gun — named after Dan Gun, the monk who founded the state of Korea. This form teaches the student how to generate power by the rising and falling of the stance, while moving, and using the weight of the body to multiply the amount of force behind a punch. This is much better than No Belt–Chon Ji >> White Belt–Dan Gun…  Students often wonder when looking at schools, “what am I going to be learning?” Answer that question for them. Few schools are.
  • Keep in mind that students also want to know what is their benefit. They don’t care about the titles and bragging stuff. If you tell them who your Grandmaster is, make sure to make it relevant to the student. Why is it beneficial to have a Great Grandma Guro for a Grandmaster? If you claim that your version of the art is the “original” or “authentic” version of what you teach, answer the question of why it makes a difference. Too many teachers use the site as a means to brag and make themselves look good in print–TOO many. Don’t be one of them. Tell the students of your accomplishments, but make it relevant to them. Promise them that if they study with you, they will be stronger, more skilled, and better prepared to defend themselves (or whatever else you specialize in). And then tell them why that is, and how you are different from the “other guys”.
  • One thing to remember is that most visitors to your site will not know much about the martial arts. We are sometimes so used to talking shop with other martial artists, we forget that most people don’t know what a Guro is, what a drill is, a form, or a Dojo. Keep your use of specialized jargon simple, or make sure to explain them, either in (parenthesis) or a legend or a description within the text. We don’t want to confuse our potential students.
  • A good tip is also to outline how your classes will run. I have a “Training Method” section of my website. In this section, I give my philosophy of training and how it differs to what most schools do. I have seen some schools break down what learning will be like at each level of their training and how long it will take. Again, stress education, and make it relevant.
  • Answer frequently asked questions. Sometimes, not knowing the answer to certain questions will prevent students from making the call. No one wants to be hard sold on a program, especially if they have no interest in that program. The idea is to answer as many questions as possible so that the student will know if he’s interested. This section shouldn’t be cluttered with too much information, however. Keep it short and simple, and answer the important questions.
  • Pricing. I have had good and bad experience with pricing. One thing is that it sorts out the people who can’t afford it or won’t pay for it. Yet on the other hand it does not give you the opportunity to justify your price in person and address concerns that would make a visitor to your site move on to the next. I have heard some teachers say that is brings students in ready to sign up, having been convinced ahead of time–since price is often the deciding factor. You will have to decide what works for you. If you charge a lower price, by all means, post it. But if not, you may consider saying something simple like “pricing depends on the program you choose…”
  • Add a form to capture information. I have a mailing list/guestlist on my site, so when visitors view my site, they are invited to leave their information so that I could add them to our newsletter, which comes out once a month. Usually it’s just generic information about the school, but frequently I do a blast that includes some short-term offer if they sign up by the end of the month. We also hold events that I invite potential students to attend, and the form is extremely valuable. You should consult with a webmaster to find out how to add one. They are a great tool to have on a website.

I hope you find this information useful, and–once you make some changes–see results. Again, if you don’t have a copy of my books, get them! Thanks for visiting my blog.