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The Business Side of Martial Arts

Spotless Marketing

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.

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 further.

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 feel.

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 and when.

  • 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 attention.

  • Make sure carpets are clean (if you have them). Vacuum daily and have them cleaned regularly – at least once a month.

  • If the 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.

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About The Author:

Christopher Caile is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of 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.

To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

martial arts marketing, martial arts business, business and martial arts, martial arts marketing, recruiting new students in martial arts

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