The Business Side of Martial Arts
By Christopher Caile
A while back some friends and I went into a neighborhood restaurant
for the first time. Inside, first looks were not impressive. The place
seemed a bit dingy, old and deteriorating. Strike one. As I slid into
a booth I noticed that the booth’s high cloth seatbacks were faded
and stained and the plastic seat cushion on my side was cracked. Strike
two. Strike three was the menu I was handed. It was encased in cracked
plastic and was smudged. In addition the utensils didn’t look clean.
We walked out. The food may have been great, but our initial impressions
didn’t allow us to stay to find out. Too many martial arts schools
fail the same test.
Picture yourself as a prospective student who visits a martial arts
school. How do you react if you see that floors or rugs are dirty, or
if there is junk lying around, such as an unorderly pile of fighting
equipment, shields and mats? How do you react to changing or locker rooms
that have peeling paint, dirt lodged in corners, unclean floors, or if
there is a pervading acidy locker room smell? Would you want to use or
let your children use dirty toilet or shower facilities that remind you
of an unclean gas station facility?
In short, if you want to attract new students your facility should be
Spotless facilities show you are organized, attentive to detail, and
that you and your students take pride and show respect for your school.
The same is true for your student’s personal appearance and uniforms.
If your facilities are clean, uncluttered and well maintained they will
be attractive, and inviting. Spotlessness, it should be noted, isn’t
everything. There are a lot of considerations in choosing a martial arts
school, but if the facility isn’t immaculate, the poor impression
given just might be enough to persuade the visitor not to investigate
If you go to traditional martial arts schools in Japan, they are immaculate.
The floors are shiny, cleaned by students at the end of class. The walls
are uncluttered, save for weapons and the spiritual center which may
have pictures of the founder, calligraphy or other artifacts – all
tactfully presented. This translates into simplicity and a feeling of
discipline and spirit, something which almost has a tangible, inviting
If you want your martial arts school to be attractive and inviting,
it must first be absolutely clean and neat. It should also feel uncluttered
which gives a feeling of purity, even simplicity. This will provide the
all important good first impression. Any visitor will feel comfortable.
He or she will be given the sense that you are organized and that you
pay attention to detail. It shows a sense of pride and respect.
So give your school a checkup. Ask someone you know, but who has never
visited your school (new eyes), to take a look around and write down
a detailed critique of your facility. Sometimes this is difficult to
do yourself since the human mind (yours) just gets used to what it sees
every day and thus fails to have a critical eye.
Then create a plan for fixing up any structural or material problems.
After this is done, create a schedule of what is to be cleaned, by whom
Be sure that any training floor that uses mats or stretched
canvas is clean, neat (tucked in around the edges) and free of spots.
Also be sure that any blood, spill or other contamination gets immediate
Make sure carpets are clean (if you have them). Vacuum daily
and have them cleaned regularly – at least once a month.
training area has a wooden floor, have your students clean it with
cloths (have them make a line across the floor and push the length
of the floor as a group) at the end of every class.
Inspect the locker
room, toilet and shower facilities (if you have them), after every
class or at least daily.
If you have a visiting area be sure that chairs or
benches are neatly arranged, that the area is clean and that there
is no clutter is on the
floor. If viewers look through a glass window, be sure it is clean
and free of smudges and fingerprints.
If there is an entrance area, visitor
lobby or sign in/help desk area be very sure it is clean, that
anything there (fliers, sales materials,
notices, goods for sales, etc.) are neatly arranged (on countertops,
in cases, or hung up).
In short, your whole facility should be clean, free of clutter and well
set up. You can pay students, or better yet give scholarships or partial
scholarships (bartering against membership fees) to those who will clean
locker rooms and toilet facilities and other areas every day.
Also remind students (on a regular basis) that they should take responsibility
for their school and its cleanliness and that they on their own should
help clean, pick up dropped papers or neaten up when needed, or at least
report something that needs attention. Remind them that helping out is
part of their training. It shows care for their school and other students
and that it also shows pride in the school and self-respect. Tell your
students that the impression their school and they themselves give is
really a reflection of their training and who they are.
Neatness and cleanliness is really about learning discipline, mental
conditioning and development of spirit. This is something you should
hope to impart to all your students.
There are also other very practical competitive reasons for making sure
your school is immaculate. If you want to attract adults, including business
people before work, at lunch time, or in the evening, you have to give
them an atmosphere that seems clean and professional, someplace they
will feel comfortable changing in and perhaps taking a shower. They demand
cleanliness, especially of the locker room.
If you want to attract children and young adults, it is absolutely critical
that parents feel comfortable with your facilities. They demand clean
facilities and showers as well as spotless toilets – after all
they are responsible for the health and well being of the children.
For parents, you probably aren’t the only game in town. There
are other choices including other martial arts schools and other community,
church, school, university or YMCA programs.
Remember too that your competitors include other recreation and health
related program offered by well financed gyms, YMCA’s, health clubs
and other athletic facilities which often start with facilities you can
only dream of.
Yes, as a martial arts school you can offer something unique – a
product that is interesting (health clubs where people exercise and lift
weights often get boring very quickly for many), practical (self defense)
and can lead to self discipline and mental strength. But success is limited
in part to your capacity to compete with the alternatives in terms of
the cleanliness and appearance of your facility – BE SPOTLESS.
About The Author:
Christopher Caile is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of
FightingArts.com. He has been a student of the martial arts for over
45 years. He first started in judo. Then he added karate as a student
of Phil Koeppel in 1959. Caile introduced karate to Finland in 1960 and
then hitch-hiked eastward. In Japan (1961) he studied under Mas Oyama
and later in the US became a Kyokushinkai Branch Chief. In 1976 he followed
Kaicho Tadashi Nakamura when he formed Seido karate and is now a 6th
degree black belt in that organization's honbu dojo. Other experience
includes aikido, diato-ryu aikijujutsu, aiki-budo, kenjutsu, kobudo,
Shinto Muso-ryu jodo, kobudo, boxing and several Chinese fighting arts
including Praying mantis, Pak Mei (White Eyebrow) and shuai chiao. He
is also a student of Zen. A long-term student of one branch of Traditional
Chinese Medicine, Qigong, he is a personal disciple of the qi gong master
and teacher of acupuncture Dr. Zaiwen Shen (M.D., Ph.D.) and is US representative
of the DS International Chi Medicine Association. He holds an M.A. in
International Relations from American University in Washington D.C. and
has traveled extensively through South and Southeast Asia. He frequently
returns to Japan and Okinawa to continue his studies in the martial arts,
their history and tradition. In his professional life he has been a businessman,
newspaper journalist, inventor and entrepreneur.