Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Big Picture Instructions for Martial Arts School Owners

Allow me to state the obvious: Every living thing on this planet goes through its cycles of life, from birth to disintegration. The needs, focus, and desires of the infant differ from that of the teenager, the mature adult, and the senior citizen. The same idea applies to ones career (the way one makes a living from the time he or she is required to do so, until it is no longer a need).

In a career, like yours for example, your needs, focus, and desires change as you mature. What drives you now might not drive you in the near future. The reasons you do what you do now --and in the future --are probably going to shift. That shift is an opportunity for you to make your career ever more important and relevant to the world and your spiritual connection to it.

That last statement is written with the assumption that you might start your career with very self-focused needs and desires, but that as you mature the motivations might become focused on something else. That is how it has worked in my career. As I’ve matured, my idea of what I do for a living and why I do it has shifted. The circle of my thinking has expanded. I started out taking care of and feeling a sense of responsibility for myself. It expanded to include my family --and now, I have a feeling like a part of what I do for a living is about taking care of the world.

If you share this feeling –or if you see yourself moving in a similar direction, then the remainder of this article is for you.

The Big Picture of School Ownership
Front kicks, phone calls, mats, microphones, retail and renewals, belt tests, much needed rests, taxes, computers, contracts, moms, dads, demos, keys, conventions, employees, advertising, first aid, training, (take a breath) –the list goes on and on. The school owner has many things to do, little things, details, and big, conceptual things, and all of it needs to be managed.

For the last decade in our industry, the “martial arts industry,” we have spent an enormous amount of energy focusing on the small details of school management. EFC, NAPMA, MAIA and other organizations have hammered home the basics, organizing and teaching all of the little management details that every owner needs to know.

In contrast, the big picture of school ownership has been second to business basics. But, in the ever-shifting consciousness of the school owner, in a field where the pursuit of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual “mastery” is often a part of the agenda, big picture thinking is simply too important to take a backseat (at this time in our career) any longer.

Business basics are vital for our businesses health, indeed, for its very survival –just the way that brushing our teeth, looking both ways when crossing a street, and washing our food before we eat it are all essential “basics” for good health. The point is, while we need to master the basics, we don’t LIVE to brush our teeth, to cross streets, or wash food. Something bigger drives us. The little things are not where we find our purpose, our passion, and our drive.

Coincidentally, I hold the opinion that after one becomes proficient at the details, the basics of business, that it’s the big picture thinking that is the “final stage booster rocket” of one’s career. The basics get you up in the atmosphere, but your vision, passion, and spiritual focus is what frees you from the gravitational pull of the mundane.

So, what is the big picture thinking I’m referring to? At this time in my career, I feel the four following concepts represent the opportunities we need to thrive and survive, to grow and evolve as professional teachers and “black belt” citizens of the world:

Peace Education
Anger management, non-violent conflict resolution, “peace thinking,” “peace speaking,” and peace activism are all components of what it is to know peace as well as we, martial arts professionals, know about things relating to the opposite of peace (violence, conflict, etc.). This planet needs peace in the worst way –and we stand in a position to teach peace skills and peace technology in a way that could make a huge difference in the world.

At the moment, the word “peace” is hardly a part of our collective vocabulary. The word is rarely uttered in your average martial arts school. Yet, peace education, in all of its forms, may be the ultimate form of self-defense training. It is the most important, yet missing, ingredient of our teaching “platform,” and it is high time we embrace the techniques of teaching peace to the same degree that we have excelled at teaching blocks, punches, kicks, and grappling.

I believe that teaching peace education in the martial arts industry will drive as many, if not more, students to our schools. It will also make the education we provide our communities more relevant to the needs of our world as it is today.

Environmental Self-Defense
If we don’t take care of this planet, we, as a species, are in big trouble. Taking care of what we use, consume, and throw away, is part of taking care of our fellow man –and for preserving what is essential for our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.

Embracing environmental consciousness, sustainability, renewable resources, and all of the many other ideas and concepts involving “environmental self-defense” are just about absent in our industry.
I believe these concepts are more relevant to self-defense than any block or attack. We are more likely to be hurt by things we do to our environment, by the things we carelessly and thoughtlessly consume, and by our disregard for our footprint on the planet, than we ever will be by the punches, kicks, and chokes of a human opponent. Nevertheless, in the next 30-days, the martial arts world will inspire people to do millions (if not billions) of different maneuvers, but barely a handful of “acts of environmental self-defense.” I think it’s time we embrace a new perspective of “self-defense.”

Community Activism
I believe that community activism, as in doing “things” in the community, is the new paradigm for martial arts school promotion (and curriculum, and intent, and passion, drive, purpose, ect.). In the near future, you will sell lessons in your school something like this:

“Mrs. Johnson, what I do for a living –is to teach people how to manifest the philosophies of the martial arts, like courtesy, respect, focus, perseverance, self-control, and integrity, in their lives, but OUTSIDE of my school, and outside of the realm of anything that has to do with a punch, kick, or throw. Let me give you some examples…”

Those examples will kept in your school’s “project portfolio” –which contains the stories, the documentation, of the actions you have inspired your students to take towards the betterment of your community. Your new focus will be taking the martial arts “out of the dojo and into the world.” Your new “trophies in the window of your school” will be the accomplishments of your students in the real world, motivated by the concepts you teach and practice so diligently on your school’s mat.

Compassion and Reducing the Suffering of Others
Teaching people about compassion, teaching them to embrace the idea of it, and teaching them to practice it, just like peace education, environmental self-defense, and community activism, has more to do with authentic self-defense, deep-rooted-real-this-is-what-in-the-end-will-REALLY-hurt-you self-defense, than almost anything we currently teach in the martial arts world. This is big picture self-defense.

Reducing the suffering of others –is a kind of thinking that comes from the pursuit of spiritual training. For many people, the idea doesn’t hardly penetrate the consciousness, much less manifest itself into any sort of notable action, but for some of us it can become one of the primary motivating factors for doing what we do.

I think that talking about and teaching compassion and ideas for reducing the suffering of others deserves at least one-tenth of the time we, as an industry, have spent on learning how to answer our phones and upgrade memberships.

There’s More, But…
I haven’t spelled out here exactly how to pursue the topics I’ve outlined above, but I have some specific ideas about how to proceed. If anything I’ve written has made you think, if you are already on this path –or in anyway hear a ring of truth in it, please feel free to contact me for further discussion. I’m actively looking for the next generation of thinkers and activists in the martial arts community. From a “big picture perspective,” I think we have some wonderful opportunities ahead of us, both to expand the value of what it means to be a martial arts educator and to shift our thinking to a place that brings us an all-new level of career satisfaction.

About the Author
Tom Callos is a 6th degree black belt under Master Teacher Ernie Reyes, Sr. He is the designer and team coach for the Ultimate Black Belt Test ( and The 100 ( Tom resides in Placerville, CA and can be reached by e-mail at or by phone at 530-903-0286.

1 comment:

John Zenkewich said...

Hi Tom

Thanks for the inspiring comments. I agree Self Defense can be more than what it has been in the past.

What is the self anyway?