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Ten Commandments of Running a Successful Martial Arts Business

By Terry Bryan

As a practitioner of the martial arts for over 40 years and a person that has run clubs and successful martial arts schools for most of that time, I am amazed at the people that consider themselves warriors while on the mat in the dojo or at a sporting event, but have no clue how to transcend that attitude into business. On the battlefield it is easy to see the “One Encounter – One Chance Theory” where you realize that each of us only has one mistake in us when it comes to a life and death encounter. Well, I am telling you in business that same attitude must exist.

Eight out of ten businesses will fail within the first 5 years and even the lifetime of a fortune 500 company is less than 40 years. Like our human life experience there is much to do and only one lifetime to do it. Business is war, and unless you are a warrior, you should not walk onto the battlefield. If you are going to teach others, then you are entering the world of professional martial arts, even if you are teaching a handful of students in your garage or at the local YMCA. Of course those that rent space or buy a building to run their operation are taking a bigger risk than those teaching out of their garage. One lawsuit, however, can and will take everything from everyone equally and in business unless you follow key success principles, you will find your business dead just like the untrained warrior on the battlefield.

The following 10 commandments are key points I feel that the average martial artist must overcome to become successful in the business world. It is a shame that more quality instructors don’t run successful operations and pass on quality martial arts instruction to the next generation, leaving us most of the time with business people with lower levels of competence with their martial arts, but successful at marketing or sales. If you are currently running a martial arts school, I suggest you pay attention, and if you are considering opening one, then I would include these elements in your business plan before ever opening your doors.

1. Set your price. Most people set price points for their service or business based on what others in the area are charging and that is insane. You should set your price based on hard costs and how much you want to make. The average price today is probably around $125 a month around the country but some schools or instructors charge $300-$400 a month for group lessons and others have been known to generate thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars in a seminar setting. How much do you want to make? After you know that, then you can design your business around those price points.

2. Collect what’s due. The ability to say “Oh, pay me later” or go ahead and “Pay me when you can” needs to be eliminated from your vocabulary. Once you have set a price then collect what’s owed to you. Have good collection or billing systems in place so you get paid for your services you are providing.

3. Run your school on your terms. While excellent customer service is important, you should always remember that your needs and those of your family always come first, not the students. Set your teaching schedule, work hours and days off based on what works for you, not what you think the students need. Taking time off for yourself and your family is respectable and your customers will respect you for it. Remember, the purpose of a business is to give you more freedom to enjoy life, not tie you down. Design your school with this in mind. Do not let people drag you into their problems and focus on spending your time on high valued activities. Be aware of activities and people that slow you down or entangle you in wasteful activities.

4. Promote yourself and your school shamelessly. You must become an expert at marketing and get over the fact that a humble Sensei doesn’t talk about how good their product and services are. If you can’t do it, then hire someone who can. As a general rule, never outsource the marketing of your business. You can hire instructors to teach, bookkeepers to do your books and sales staff to sign up new students, but you should always oversee the books, the cash flow and the marketing.

5. Understand the 80-20 rule. Eighty percent of your successes will come from twenty percent of your activities. Eighty percent of a business profits will come from twenty percent of its customers. Do not be afraid of firing people in the bottom 80 percent. Sometimes you need to cut off a hand in order to save the body is an old saying and in a martial arts school, many times it is better for the school to get rid of certain students and parents because they can be a like a cancer and destroy the morale and attitude of others. Pick you teachers and students well, and your life as a teacher will be much more blessed.

6. Be thrifty with your money. Demand high value from anyone that you spend money with and track results of any activity you pay for. If you have a marketing campaign, make sure it is a direct response activity where you can quantify how many calls you got and your conversion rate of how many of those calls were converted into paying customers. Never waste money on something you can’t track.

7. Always be totally honest with yourself and others. Demand high quality work from yourself and your staff and never surround yourself with “yes men”. The more successful a person becomes, the more they respect and rely on having people around you that will tell you the truth and stand up to them. I recently spent 2 days in a mastermind training session where 20 very successful business people picked each others businesses apart, gave suggestions and paid a premium price for having that honest and truthful feedback from 19 other successful business people. When you are being honest, don’t worry about offending others. Listen to the concerns and needs of others, especially your customers.

8. While developing a reputation for being fair, be tough in business dealings. Always do what is right for you and the company, don’t lose your ability to be the dominant force when it comes to the law of the jungle. Everyone needs to know who is in charge and be the person who says “The Buck Stops Here!”. Listen and take the advice of your senior people, then you make the final decision. While you can demand high expectations from others as a strong leader, it’s because you demand those same expectation from yourself.

9. Develop immunity to criticism when you know you are doing the right thing. If you are successful, some people will be offended and talk bad about you, because they haven’t done what you have achieved. Try and hang around those people you consider to be mentors and leaders. Don’t take advice from your peers or people at your level. I have never understood why people listen to lawyers or accountants that make $30,000 to $50,000 a year. Find someone that is making millions and listen to them. I belong to several coaching programs and pay my teachers extremely well for their advice and that is because I have realized that is much cheaper than learning from a real life experience that may end up costing me thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars from a mistake. I am amazed sometimes that a black belt will spend thousands of dollars traveling around the country chancing credibility or fame on a tournament circuit, and they are reluctant to spend $3000 on a business seminar that could double their income and double their time off. To be successful, study the art of running a business and pay for a good education. I would also recommend you studying with someone that has been there, done that and has the T-Shirt, not someone that is just good a giving seminars and knows nothing about your type of business.

10. Believe in the law of abundance. Just because you are successful, doesn’t mean that you are hurting others or taking away from their piece of the pie. Working together does indeed increase the size of the pie. The martial arts school down the street is not a competitor, but a fellow advocate of what the martial arts can do for others. Work together to bring the martial arts into the publics eyes as a positive thing for the growth of our nation and an important tool in the raising of the youth of this nation and everyone will achieve more.

I hope these ideas help you in achieving more and looking at your business in a different light. Teaching the martial arts has been a very rewarding experience for me over the last 30 plus years and I hope this journey is a good one for you. Should you choose to be a professional martial arts educator, then I encourage you to become the best you can be, financially, personally and spiritually.


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About The Author:

Terry Bryan has been involved in the martial arts for over 40 years and holds black belts in several arts including Okinawan Karate, Jujitsu and Chinese Kempo. He is former General Secretary for Olympic Karate and the USA National Karate-Do Federation. He is now the director of the State Games of America Martial Arts Program and is President and manager of the American Black Belt Association, a networking and educational association designed to help classical martial arts schools become successful. When not teaching other black belts technical knowledge and how to successfully run their schools, Terry Bryan is a successful real estate investor and teaches others how to increase their wealth through real estate investing. You can reach Terry Bryan by calling toll free at 1-800-665-7051 ext 007 or visit his web site at www.warriorwiz.com. Terry is a regular contributor to FightingArts.com and often writes under the column “Simple Lessons.”


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