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Remembering Our Defining Elements

Years ago a martial arts school in a city neighborhood, or in a small town, was something unique. At the same time Bruce Lee movies and TV's Kung Fu series excited a whole generation of viewers, and eager students flocked to get any training they could get.

Today, things have changed. Many traditional martial arts schools are now floundering. Schools are found on every street corner. There are also lavish health clubs and spas competing for student's attention. And if this were not enough, there is a whole new generation of westernized pseudo-martial arts like Tae Bo and Kick boxing.

So what is a traditional martial arts school to do? First of all, they must realize that traditional martial arts has something unique to offer. Health clubs have corporate funding, lavish facilities, even a broad range of programs, but they focus on the body (muscle building and conditioning) and all too often the participants are left on their own to exercise - a solo and often boring experience.

In comparison, the traditional martial arts give students a more rounded program, including strengthening, stretching and aerobic exercise in a single session and this is done while the student learns a martial art and self-defense.

Martial arts also offers a community, almost family environment, where students practice together in classes, get to know each other and their teachers and later help each learn technique. Compared to another set on a weight lifting machine, martial arts offer challenging material to know and techniques to master. This results in a real pride of accomplishment. People will recount years later how they achieved this or that belt in a martial art.

Perhaps most importantly, students learn important life skills -- discipline, self-confidence, a non-quitting spirit and a philosophy of life. That is why children's programs are so popular. Parents realize the positive effect karate, tae kwon do, kung fu, judo, or aikido can have on their children. The failure of most schools, however, is their seeming inability to communicate and promote these same benefits to potential adult students.

Of course, this does not mean that improving the locker room, having showers, and sets of weight available isn't important. If your business is to succeed andattract wider strata of students than just young enthusiasts you have to cater to needs they deem important. This also includes minimizing injuries. And it can mean adding yoga, tai chi or other programs. But, don't forget the unique philosophical, spiritual and mental benefits of your core martial arts business. You would be neglecting the defining element. These are what keeps students returning. These are what attract students of all ages and what can genuinely help them in their lives. These are what sets martial arts apart from the health clubs and the pseudo-martial arts exercise programs.

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