Friday, March 16, 2007

Some Future-Thinking for Martial Arts Teachers

“The biggest room in the world is the room for improvement.” I don’t remember where or when I first heard the saying, but it stuck with me -and I know I’ve said it a thousand times to a thousand students since.

The martial arts community, or the “martial arts industry,” certainly has room for improvement in its methods and practices. I spend most of my work-time thinking of ways we can improve the results we get as teachers, as leaders, as business-people, and as honest-to-goodness contributors to a better and more peaceful world. The following list of ideas are some that I think have value for martial arts teachers; some of them are already in-process, while others are things I believe will happen in the near future.

Thirty to 40% of Testing Curriculum will Take Place Outside of the School
In the future, a percentage of a student’s curriculum, as much as 40% of it, will not take place on the mat, but involve “things” the student has done outside of the school.

Those “things” will be manifestations of the ideas and philosophy the school promotes. Essentially, they will be the ideas that are practiced on the mat, but practically applied to things that have nothing to do with punching, kicking, or grappling. The phrase I’ve coined to express this idea is, “Outside of the dojo and into the world.”

A School’s Testing Curriculum will be all of the Advertising a School Needs
Most schools have a testing curriculum that has little or nothing to do with community service, activism, OR promotion of the school itself. There are, of course, exceptions to this, but for the most part, what the students do as a part of their test has little to do with the schools image, public relations, or promotion and advertising campaigns.

In the future, many of the things that students do to achieve their belt ranks will also perfectly demonstrate what the school is “about” –and those requirements will bring the school all the publicity, promotion opportunities, and new students it can use.

Students Will “Build” Their Own Belt Tests
In the future, testing curriculum will follow a linear path from one belt to the next, as it does now, but the difference will be that students will have a large variety of “elective” test requirements that they can add to their test as suits their needs, goals and ambitions. The electives will include tasks or challenges, and include any number of interesting concepts that help students bring their personal ambitions into their martial arts training. Music, family time, art, community activism, diet, meditation, outdoor recreation, and even recycling will become elective requirements.

Music Training will become a Part of Every Children’s Marital Arts Program
As Ernie Reyes, Sr. has been doing for years, as Capoeira practitioners have always done, teachers will bring live music into their classrooms and integrate it into their curriculum.

Belt testing Will no Longer Last a Day or a Weekend, but Will Go On for Months
The Ultimate Black Belt Test ( is proof of the effectiveness of long-term belt testing. Why not? There’s everything to gain –and nothing to lose.

Two and Three Year Black Belts Will Become a Thing of the Past
High-speed advancement in the martial arts creates a kind of student that does not have the experience, the weathering, the knowledge, and the poise to represent what it is to be a black belt. Many schools are already lengthening their time between tests and their overall requirements –gross profits be damned. If we don’t make a black belt mean something again, if we don’t require our students to be patient enough about their training to reach authentic “black belt” levels of performance, then we dilute the meaning of the rank and the value of studying the martial arts in general.

My opinion: If a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu or an amateur boxer with 6-months of experience can easily defeat a black belt of similar size –of any style under nearly any reasonable circumstances, then that black belt received his or her belt without adequate training.

Peace Education, Including Anger Management and Non-Violent Conflict Resolution Will be a Standard Part of Every Martial Arts Teachers Education
You are, I am guessing, aware that there are NO industry-wide standard or requirements for martial arts teachers? If the public knew how little was required (if anything) for a person to be a martial arts “teacher,” our entire community would be embarrassed.

In the future there will be, at the very least, an on-line educational program for martial arts teachers that provides the A, B, C’s of peace education and other self-defense related topics. Courses for instructor certification will last months, if not years.

In the martial arts community, there is little or no balance between education pertaining to violence –and education pertaining to peace. Most teachers could easily drum up 50 ways to disarm an aggressor using force, but could not name half as many ways to deal with conflict with non-force or peace.

Project Based Leadership Training (PBLT) Will Become a Dojo-hold Phrase
PBLT, in a nutshell, is the idea that students do community-based projects, of their own choosing, as requirements for their advancement in the martial arts. Every school will maintain a “project portfolio” that documents the work that students and teachers do in their community –work that perfectly reflects the philosophy the teacher espouses.

If a school owner or teacher wants to tell a prospective member or the media about his or her school, all they have to is point them to the school’s project portfolio. What the school DOES will speak louder than anything the school says about itself.

“Sustainable Business Practices” will Replace the Greed and Student Harvesting of the 80’s and 90’s.
“Get them in and get as much money as you can, up front –because they won’t be sticking around for long.” I actually heard a martial arts business consultant say that about signing up students! Many business practices in the martial arts community reflect this idea, but it is wrong, it is unsound and unsustainable. In the future, our business practices will sustain a healthy and long-term relationship with students. Even students who, for whatever reasons, cannot continue taking lessons, will leave the school without having been convinced to paying for hundreds of lessons they will never take advantage of.

About the Author
Tom Callos is the designer for the Ultimate Black Belt Test ( Applications for Team 5 are now being accepted. Tom is also the founder of The 100 ( He resides in Placerville, California. His e-mail is, phone: 530-903-0286.

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