Have you ever had a prospect come to you and ask, “Do you teach [your style]? Me neither, with the exception of people who had trained before. Most students know nothing about styles. They especially don’t know the complexity that most styles pride themselves in. People don’t know about styles because people don’t care about styles. They only care about their experience and the benefits of that experience.

Was the ONLY reason that you were raised in your style is simply that the school was the closest that you could afford? That certainly was the case for me and my brothers. Had we been raised in a different style, I’m sure we would have thought it was the best as well.

Have you ever told your students that your style is the best because of of…? I did too. We have to convince students that all the extra baggage we’re about to unload on them is worth it because “our style is the best.”

Here’s the kicker. If my style is the best, how can your style be the best? It can’t be because no style is the best.

The BEST thing I ever did for my school was to throw out the style. I mean everything. I stopped teaching front, back, crane, cat, and every other stance but fighting and horse. I focused on footwork rather than mastering these rigid, clunky kata stances.

I stopped teaching all traditional blocks and replaced them with the blocks that we used in sparring and self-defense. Instead of a rigid upright position with our chin up ala’ kata, we focused on head movement by slipping and weaving. I always felt like my head was being teed up like a golf ball during kata. Have you ever seen a self-defense situation where the defender takes a full step forward to execute a block? Me neither.

I kept all of the kicks but stopped requiring the difficult ones for rank. We did them in class, but it was no longer a belt requirement to do a jump spinning back kick for blue belt. This way, the less athletic 40-year old was not at a disadvantage compared to a 16-year old hotshot. The difficult kicks became a fun, athletic challenge more than an embarrassing belt exam exhibition.

I replaced traditional kata (which I loved) with fighting forms. They accomplished everything a kata did but were far more fluid and fun. Rather than “hiding the self-defense” secrets in the complex movement of a kata, the fighting forms were direct and clear. By the way, why would anyone teach “hidden self-defense?”

For the record, I was the 1984 US Open Korean Forms Champion and Center Judge for the first WAKO World Kata Championship in Munich. I loved kata, but it’s not about me. It’s about my students.

Overall, the effect of the change was congruency. It makes no sense to me to spend the first half of a class teaching students to pull their hands back to their hip and keep their head up and then when it comes time to do pad work and spar, we tell them to, “Keep your hands up! Move!”

The result of the change was 50+ students in white belt class. Our school exploded with much higher retention and enrollments.

We could integrate a new student into the class in less than four minutes. There was no more of this, “You wouldn’t actually use this stance and block, but in a few years, you’ll understand how to apply it. It just takes practice and discipline.”