Is Owning a Martial Arts School Right For You?

Take Our 100 Question Evaluation to Determine if Opening a School is Right for You

I knew from my first night in white belt class on February 12, 1974, at age 13, that I was going to do martial arts for the rest of my life. I was teaching professionally by age 16 and have been teaching ever since. However, I never wanted to own a school, at least until the mid-1980s when I was in my twenties. 

For one thing, I had no business experience. For that matter, I hadn’t even finished high school. 

Second, I was not money directed. I was far more focused on quality of life, and in your twenties, it doesn’t take much money to have the lifestyle you want. I slept until 10 a.m., ran three to five miles on the beach, lifted weights at the gym, took a nap, and then taught for a few hours. It was the life of a karate bum and I loved it. 

Mike Anderson, the co-founder of the PKA (Professional Karate Association) and WAKO (World Association of KickBoxing Organizations) and publisher of Professional Karate magazine, tried to persuade me to open a school in the early 1980s.

He, along with Fred Wren, had operated some very successful schools in the St. Louis area. He tried to tell me I could do the same thing, but I had no clue of how to run a school. I knew I could teach well, but that was about it. 

In 1984, Joe Lewis convinced me to open my first school. Before that, we trained and sparred together at the various locations around town where I taught my classes. One day we were on a basketball court, the next day in a college fitness facility, and another at a boxing club. 

Joe noticed that I was building a solid core of excellent students who would follow me from location to location to take afternoon and evening classes. Kathy Marlor, Phil Beatty, Kevin Walker, Kim Cox, my brother Mark, and eventually even action movie star Gary Daniels (who came to me already as an excellent black belt) all were training hard in my classes almost daily. 

The day Joe called me on the phone it was a seminal moment in my life. I was in the kitchen of my rented house when I heard him say, “You need to give your students a home. You need to give them a place they can take pride in.” That hit home. 

Mike Anderson’s promise of making good money never struck a chord with me, but I certainly could relate to having pride in your school. Since I had often slept at my school when I was a kid, I understood totally the idea of creating a home for my students. I started looking for a location the next day. 

Martial arts is not an ordinary business. Because there is no educational requisite to open a school, schools are opened by people on many levels of experience and skill.

You can come out of college with an MBA and open a school. You can also come right out of prison and open a school.

There are no hard standards or requirements. Some have what it takes and some do not, regardless of what system they study.