Thursday, December 23, 2010

Open For Business

So, you want to open a martial arts school?

Big decision... maybe one of the biggest you'll ever make.
There is a massive difference between those teachers who go on to have successful careers running their own schools, and those that are back working for "The Man" 9 to 5 within a year (or less). What's up with that?

1) Why Open a Martial Arts School?
To be great, not just good, but GREAT at martial arts requires a sacrifice of time, energy, and discipline very few people can achieve. Becoming a great teacher goes even beyond the requirements of being a great martial artist. If you are someone who has invested (yes, "invested") that much of your life into mastering those skills, the only lifestyle choice that can truly satisfy you is to do that every day for the rest of your life. Since most of us are not independently wealthy already, it means we must work for a living.

Since you know from previous blogs that I equate a martial arts lifestyle with a religious/spiritual lifestyle, I would say making a decision not to teach your art is like spending your whole life studying religion, and then never actually using that knowledge for the common good by becoming a priest. To go even a step further, a master has a moral obligation to the art itself (and his or her own masters) to transmit the body of knowledge to the next generations, or risk losing it forever when he or she inevitably dies. Sadly, this has happened to many, many martial arts throughout human history.

I believe that a good master develops those students who will one day become teachers, and helps them grow into being ready, including sharing with them the practical aspects of running a school to encourage them to pursue this dream and become successful entrepreneurs themselves one day.

Even though many martial arts students and instructors daydream about opening a school, few will actually do it. This is a trend that can and should be reversed. The world needs more martial arts schools and more qualified, dedicated teachers.

2) It's Not Just About Martial Arts
Like all small businesses/start ups, running a business requires much more than just knowing the subject matter of the product. Owning and operating a hair salon means not just knowing about hair, but also about real estate, employment contracts, banking, marketing and sales, technology, insurance, and a host of other sub-skills. These skills are shared by every entrepreneur, and operating one successful business usually means switching from one to another is pretty easy. As a martial arts school owner, get ready to learn everything about everything else (except martial arts).

3) Dollars and (common) Sense
You have to be profitable. You deserve to be. Profitability equates to sustainability, and we all want to be associated with success. Students do not like to see their teachers on the dole, and we want to believe our teachers are professionals, preferably full-time professionals. This is what makes a school (full-time operation) different from a club (part-time operation). To do this, you have to have at least some basic numerical skills, be well organized, and fair.

A balance has to be struck between making the classes accessible and giving fair value for the knowledge received. The value of the knowledge itself cannot accurately be measured, since to the teachers it is priceless (based on the lifetime of investment they have put in it). It is also true that cost and value have a psychological connection. More expensive things are perceived to have higher value. I do not advocate being unethical by charging students exorbitant fees for voodoo. However, I do believe the classes should not be for free, and should fairly compensate the teacher for the investment of his/her time, energy, and knowledge, as well as provide a foundation to make the school sustainable.

4) Customer Service
As a teacher, you have to have skills. These skills have to be good enough to attract students and show them what they can achieve through dedicated training over time. However, what will matter most to the students is not how good you are, but HOW GOOD THEY BECOME. Successful teachers appeal to the psychology of the individual and the group, and must always focus on helping each student become the best that he or she can be. This means providing individualized guidance as much as possible, developing a personal relationship with each student, creating a supportive student community, and working hard to make the body of knowledge as accessible to the students as it can be.


While many misguided teachers do this, ultimately they are the ones that will lose their students and have nothing. Teacher/student relationships are like every other business relationship (doctor/lawyer/priest/accountant). They are based on TRUST. The moment that trust is undermined or results in harm to the customer, the relationship becomes irrevocably damaged. Good teachers focus on the students and their improvement EXCLUSIVELY and SELFLESSLY.

In practical terms this means that students must understand that they will progress and improve, feel firsthand the goal setting and achievement, be encouraged and supported by the teachers and other students, and correctly identify the improvement as being consistent with what they want for themselves. A feedback loop (formal or informal) is helpful for keeping dialog with each student about their training.

There can be a great temptation to be involved with students as close personal friends (or more).
Good teachers bear in mind that it is a PROFESSIONAL relationship, and keep it so. Teachers can be professionally close to their students (just as a good doctor or lawyer is often considered a family friend and trusted adviser over many years), but professional protocols should always be observed. Since the school involves a trust relationship, it should be bound by the same behavioral guidelines as any typical workplace or university as regards teacher/student conduct. Many a school (and teacher) have been ruined by failing to observe these important rules.

 Not an appropriate student/teacher relationship.

5) Products and Innovation
There is a lot to be said for tradition, especially in martial arts.
However, if we compare martial arts to religion, then we must acknowledge that religion's great failing has been to hang on to tradition at the expense of adapting to the needs of modern practitioners, which has resulted in confusion and disassociation among worshipers.

One of the things I like most about FMA, and specifically Kali Majapahit, is that a lot of time and energy is spent on perfecting the curriculum to make it as easy as possible for the students to absorb. The classes are very well organized, and bodies of knowledge for each sub-system are set up in a logical fashion to promote understanding. The drills and exercises are very carefully constructed to develop students' skills in the shortest possible time. Good businesspeople care about their products, and in making those products compelling and competitive. It is a common mistake for the teacher to think he or she is "the product". THE PRODUCT IS THE KNOWLEDGE, NOT THE TEACHER. The knowledge must have portability or it dies when the teacher dies. Students must be developing knowledge that they will take with them on their own martial arts journey.

Many teachers fail because they want to train "the old way", which may not be consistent with the demands of the market (the students) for how they need the material presented. Such hard training methods are usually best left to the advanced students and other instructors with a deeper understanding and commitment, and who are not prone to misinterpret that training as cruelty.

It is reasonable to expect the students to make some investment in the equipment needed to train properly. However, it is unreasonable to make the school into a sales platform where heavily marked up merchandise is flogged on them at every opportunity. This undermines the trust relationship and leads to an empty school. The goal must always be on developing the students' skills first and foremost, using every innovative tool and technique (ancient or modern) which can be integrated into the curriculum. Often times the cheapest equipment is the most effective.

cost? One chicken...

6) Keeping It Real

Good martial arts teaching is much more than just being a good doctor or a good lawyer.
Some of the benefits of the training are not immediately visible and take time to manifest in each student. Because good martial arts is a lifestyle choice, it stands to reason that all the positive aspects of this choice do not appear on Day one. I do not believe in "watering down" the arts, since I do not believe in watering down the benefits either. However, at the same time, I look with disdain on those schools which teach some psychobabble and delude the students into thinking they are gaining some real practical martial arts/self defense benefits. In short, keep it honest. Martial arts means exactly that. Students should develop martial skill and artistic expression (and I consider "art" to include lifestyle) in accordance with the school's mission and the student's unique balance. I personally can accept a wide range of "martial" and "art" combinations as long as they are not misrepresented to the students, and both teacher and student are clear on the goals and objectives of the training.

If you are a great teacher, please open a school. The world needs you.
If you are studying with a great teacher, plan to open a school yourself one day. Live the dream.

See you in class.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010


I found a pleasant surprise over the past few weeks - I have downsized.

After returning from Singapore, I tried on a few pairs of pants in my closet that I bought off the web. 3 months ago, none of them fit. In fact, I could not even button them or zip them up. Now all are snug, but they fit.

Pretty happy, and know that this is a direct result of losing almost 7kg in the past 2 months since I left JPM.

It is hard to stay the path of exercising regularly and paying attention to food. It is especially hard when immediate results do not show. However, if you can be patient, they come. It feels great when they do.

I don't think I have gone down a size since high school. This is good - very good.

As my wife correctly points out, it is not about weight, it is about body makeup and strength.
For me, though, it just feels good to wear clothes I was too big for before.

New Age, Old Tricks

"I am the ALL-POWERFUL OZ!... Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain..." (The Wizard of Oz)

Out to dinner the other night with friends and the topic of Jin-Shin Jutsu (JSJ), came up. They asked me what I thought.

I am no specialist in JSJ, and hold nothing against it per se.
What I can say is that there are a lot (an awful lot) of people on the fringe of homeopathy and alternative healing fleecing the unsuspecting. Many of them prey on our emotional weaknesses, naivete, gullibility, and insecurity, and cause innocent people to pay exorbitant amounts to get nothing in return (except poverty).

I am a big believer in spirituality, and accept the importance of faith in daily life. Still, these charlatans anger me. The next time some scammer hits you up, please consider the following:

1) What's the Science?
If it is a legitimate healing methodology, what is the science that backs it up? If this cannot be easily and simply explained, hold onto your wallet tightly. Acupuncture is a great example. Although there are some unbelievers, the healing effects of acupuncture and TCM for a variety of ailments are extremely well documented and backed up by modern medical science as well. The body's hydroelectric system can indeed be tuned using the needles, and there can be little doubt as to acupuncture's effectiveness by a skilled practitioner.

2) Touch
I am sorry, but it is very hard for me to accept healing arts that do not even touch the patient.
I guess I watched too much Star Wars as a kid. If they claim to heal you without touching you, head for the door.

3) The Thin Line between Healing and Psychotherapy (and cultism)
Of course the patient's mental state has a lot to do with healing. That said, I do not personally believe meditation or the like on its own can heal bodily injury. Therapies which rely solely on this cause me to want to meditate on how to get my money back. When the line is further blurred by adding some supernatural being (God) into it, I need to exit immediately.

4) Magic Words
I lump chanting and other magic healing words with 3) above. My magic healing word would be "refund".

5) Happy Endings
In my view, any treatment plan for an injury (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual) has a beginning and an end, as well as constant feedback along the way. If I broke my arm, for example, I expect the doctor to diagnose (X-RAY or CAT scan), treat (cast and/or sling), assess using periodic visits, and complete (rehab to regain mobility). If my doctor told me to keep coming back once a week for the rest of my life, I would be highly suspect (and might break his arm in return). By this rationale, I find it unacceptable when alternative therapies are presented as open-ended, where you keep going (and paying) forever. If my specialist wants to see me every week for an indefinite period, great, but I am going to stop paying after a fair and reasonable time frame.

Remember, in China, doctors were paid to maintain health, not to treat sickness. We should err on the side of preventative medicine, and be skeptical of long-term therapies. Of course, religions and lifestyles are long-term approaches, but they should be presented as such, NOT as therapies or treatments. There needs to be honesty and transparency between caregiver and patient in order for trust to develop.

My apologies to all the legitimate alternative healers out there. Your reputations are being wrecked by pseudo-babble from those who would seek to exploit the unknowing. Please join the cause to educate people about what the real benefits of real treatment from real therapists can be. Alternative medicines, and pseudo-medicines, should be licensed and regulated. Practitioners should be able to show clear credentials to patients. Treatments should have a logical basis in scientific fact, and have start and end goals.

The charlatans are better left in Oz, where they belong.

A Week In Singapore

Just back from a training week in Singapore. It's been a while since I was there, and since I had mileage I could use for the airplane ticket and Rob let me crash at his place, I could go on the cheap. Here's what happened:

1) Testing
Guro told me after Monday's class that he wanted to test me on Wednesday. Shaiful was also testing, and was going for his kasama (red shirt) rank. Test went smoothly, and it was great to see some other old friends who are now kasama (Robin, Neal, Frederic, Sylvia) come out as well. This was my first time playing with my new kris, and I like it a lot. Guro graded me to Phase 5, and said my flow and boxing had improved. Cool.

2) Classes and Structure
Many new faces and Ben told me the school is now up to about 170 students. Wow! I went to Tuesday 12:30pm class and it was packed with 15 or so. I remember when that class was only 4-5. Guro still uses the phased approach, and this cycle was shortened due to Christmas break. This one was all about FLOW, and especially overlap between sticks, hands, and karambit. Very cool and a lot to use here in the Tokyo Study Group.

3) Video
Friday I helped Guro, Ben, and Herve work on shooting for the Kali Majapahit Online program. It was a good day and we got further than I expected. It was interesting to see how the material is catalogued, and how Guro wants to present it. Some very, very cool stuff in there. Kali Majapahit is great because there are so many options for movement and solution. It could be confusing if it was not so well organized (but it is!). Every series included kadena de mano, karambit, stick, panantukan, and flowing applications. I think it is very high quality material.

4) Gear Shopping
Brought back some new stuff for me (training karambit, everlast gloves, bag, kris) and some stuff for other students, bags, etc.) . Thanks to Ben's packing, everything arrived safely.

5) Knees
for some reason, the jumping squats played hell on my knees and I had knee trouble all week; now gone. Why?

6) Panantukan
Great classes and professional boxing drills we can use in Tokyo. Sparred with Clement which was fun. he has very long arms and solid boxing skills. I'd hate to have to fight him for real.

In short, a great week with lots of drills and training. It makes me wish I could live in Singapore again, but Yokohama is where it is at for now.