I have a question for you at the end, so read on, please.
While martial arts is a good influence for 99% of people, it was a not-so-good influence on me. The Florida Karate Academy was more about chasing the dragon than entering the dragon.
I went from being Student of the Year in 8th grade to five Fs and one C on my 10th-grade report card. I recall one of my teachers saying to me, “Your attitude has really turned bad since you started karate.”
The problem was simple. I knew from my first class that I was going to do this for the rest of my life. That was on February 12, 1974.
The problem may have been simple, but I didn’t have a solution. I stopped caring about school. The only teachers I cared about wore white gis and a black belt.
According to scientists, we each have about seven to eight decades on this earth. I’ve burned through six of them and I want to make sure my last few are meaningful.
When I look back, I look more at seasons of life rather than decades of living.
High school was torture for me. Each day I’d get home, turn on my “stereo” and listen to the album Yessongs full blast. At the end of the opus Close to the Edge the vocal crescendo is, “Seasons will pass you by. I get up. I get down.” That line got me through high school. At least until I dropped out in 12th-grade.
Four years after earning my black belt in 1978, my instructor was killed in a plane crash while smuggling pot from Mexico. That was the end of the Walt Bone season. (That story is in Blood and Guts Dojo)
Two years later, both Joe Lewis and John Corcoran moved in with my friend Mike Anderson and joined him as two of my closest friends and mentors. That was a truly treasured season in my life.
In 1993, I created NAPMA. In 1996, I launched Martial Arts Professional magazine. That season came to a screeching halt in a courtroom in Oklahoma City where Century sued NAPMA into bankruptcy. I lost my business and my marriage.
I always try to turn a negative into a positive, so I launched the MartialArtsTeachers.com in 2003 and it’s been supporting my family ever since. I also married the woman of my dreams, so I would do it all again to get where I am now.
Enough about me, what about you? We all have seasons in life. Here are my questions about your seasons as a martial arts instructor.
- Are you stuck in a season?
- Are you moving forward or are you repeating the same year after year?
- Has your curriculum changed or are you in a perpetual loop of some traditional style?
I was coaching a school owner last week and he said that he feels he has to honor his instructor by teaching the style the same way he was taught.
My question was, “Is it more important to honor your students or honor your instructor?” After some silence, he replied, “I never thought of it that way.”
That is a telling trait of traditional martial arts instructors. The focus is more on retaining the past than forging the future.
It’s a natural flow to fall into because it’s natural to teach the way we were taught.
However, in this post-COVID season, the schools that thrive will have a program that focuses on their students rather than focusing on the style.
Once I started to realize that I was contradicting myself in each class, I made the decision to scrap my tae kwon do curriculum.
It didn’t feel right to demand students aim punches, hold them out and pull their other hand to their hip during the first half of the class.
Then, during the second half, when they were sparring or doing pad work, I’d demand they snap their punches and pull their hand back to their face. That was the complete reversal of the demands in the first half.
Once I made the change, my retention sky-rocketed. It was a huge hit and the launch of a new season in my life as a very successful martial arts school owner.
Eventually, I knew I had more in me, so I sold my schools and launched NAPMA.
- So what’s it going to be for you?
- Do you feel you have more in you as well?
- Do you think your program focuses more on students or maintaining a style?
I’m available if you’d like to explore this in a phone call. Just set an appointment. I’m sure you’ll get some value out of it.
When Combining Features and Benefits Gets Confusing
- “Hold the lunge punch out with your chin up. This way you honor the art with good form.” (Is form more important than defense?)
- “Before you block, cross your arms and step forward. This way you can create power.” (Why does a block need power?)
- “When defending against multiple attackers, you want to stay on the outside and line them up so you’re only fighting one at a time. In kata though, you’re in the middle of an attack from six guys. And, if you get it wrong, you might not pass your belt exam.” This way you honor the art with good form.
Your Assignment as an Intellectually Curious School Owner
Take another look at this list of benefits. Remove your sensei/master perspective and look at this with one goal in mind.
How can you provide these benefits in a more DIRECT, BAGGAGE-FREE, and EFFECTIVE process?
BENEFITS of most martial arts schools.
- Life Skills
- Friendship and Social