Thursday, June 12, 2008

Thoughts on How to Use Your Martial Arts Journey as a Student/Teacher to Fill Your School with Students –and then Keep Them Training

Thoughts on How to Use Your Martial Arts Journey as a Student/Teacher to Fill Your School with Students –and then Keep Them Training

By Tom Callos, Team Coach for the Ultimate Black Belt Test

You’re a martial arts school owner and/or teacher –or a “teacher in training.” A martial arts school is, well, a SCHOOL –and you’re going to want eager students who will do what you ask of them so that you can share the fun, confidence, rewards, and adventure that your own martial arts journey has given you.

Ahh, but remember, for your students to grow –you must grow.

The fact is, you won’t be able to stop your own journey, your inevitable aging, your evolution as an athlete, a teacher, and a man or women, no matter how “experienced” you esteem yourself at the moment. What you can control, for the most part, is your own journey, your direction, and your mission as a student and a teacher.

It is this journey and mission that will fuel your school beyond your initial “start up” as a business owner. It is your journey and mission as a human being/student/teacher that allows you to brilliantly deliver on the promises you’ve made in your school’s well-crafted sales pitch about the benefits of martial arts training.

Throw the Stone, Watch the Ripples

You started teaching (or thinking about teaching) —and that was where the stone entered the pond. Your first wave of ambition might have been to polish your won skills. When I first started a school I needed people to spar and compete with, as I was trying to be a “nationally rated” competitor. When someone joined who was about my size, I thought, “Oh, good! A new sparring partner!”

The second wave of teacher awareness is often based on developing top competitors. A lot of us used to live for our competition teams –and the measure of our skills as teachers was measured in the number of medals our students took home.

Each ripple that fans out from where you begin as a teacher is affected by your age, your experiences, your peers, your heroes, and things you might never have thought about. You become a far better teacher at the moment of birth of your first child. You take a leap forward as a teacher upon the death of one of your parents. When one of your young students dies as a result of something you and their parents never anticipated, but that might have been preventable had you known, your understanding of life, of self-defense, and of teaching, shifts into a new universe. As you walk the path of your life and as you watch your friends and students do the same, you start to assemble all of the ingredients that take a fine athlete, a good competitor, and a martial arts practitioner to the level of a “Master-Teacher.”

It is Not What You Know, It is What You Do in the Here and Now

Here, we come to the crux of this essay. What you know is the foundation of what you teach and what you “sell” as a martial arts teacher. However, what you DO, right now, this week, next week, next month, and in the next year –this is the heart, the blood, the cells, the brain, the everything of your school’s growth, its sales campaign, its vibrancy, and its power.

It’s what makes your school breath, it’s what gives you the drive to move ahead in good times or bad, it’s what makes you good to work with and for, it is what motivates people beyond “a paycheck.” What you do about or with your martial arts training is more important than what you know.

Running a real martial arts school –a school run by a real master, well it’s just like growing up. You start off wanting your own place. Then you want a car and all the bangles of success. Then you want love. Then your “stuff,” which has found a way to have WAY too much power in your life, takes a big backseat to the quality of your daily life. Then, if your brain hasn’t been fried by excessive exposure to corporate brainwashing and TV sitcoms, you go through this unexpected awakening. And, being that THAT is where you are, it is then that you start really living. This is when your experience makes you rich and the education you then provide your students has the potential to border on wisdom, to be parallel to what a student of a master in any field, in any discipline, might hear from his or her teacher.

And what does your wisdom say?

TAKE ACTION! Talk is cheap, what are you DOING in your life and in the world? In the words of the legendary master teacher Jhoon Rhee, “If a picture is worth a 1000 words, then an ACTION is worth a 1000 pictures.”

How to Bring Students in and Keep Them with ACTION

This info might not be ideal for the instructor who is just cutting his or her teeth as a teacher and/or school owner. However, let’s remind ourselves not to underestimate the understanding and awareness of any young person. Each generation seems to start with a foundation set by the generation before them.

To bring in students and keep them in the school, the first ingredient is running interesting, exciting, content-rich classes where people feel safe, respected, and cared for. If that’s not happening, you can hang it up. The second component is seeing what you practice on the mat –come to life outside of your school. The expression is “Out of the dojo and into the world” (copyright Tom Callos, thanks).

If little Johnny is taking his martial arts home and to school –and as a result treating his family better, being more polite, cleaning his room more often, and saying/doing positive things that reflect your influence, then your value goes way, way, WAY up in the eyes of his parents; his school teachers too.

If 25-year-old Shannone aspires to be like you, if he carries himself with a sense of dignity, if he controls his temper, you are doing something very important and valuable, both for him and for the world. If he feels a sense of belonging, if he treats his friends and family better, if he handles work and relationship and “life” issues better because of your coaching, well –what more could you ask for?

If 45-year-old Jennifer finds her power through your training, if she gets physically fit again, if she gets her “groove” back on, if she gets some of her life back, her vigor, and her courage, you have done something! If, as she evolves as a person she can also contribute significantly to the world through her love of martial arts training –NOW you’re really doing it.

AND THE BEST WAY TO DO ALL OF THIS is to be an example for them. Set the mark so brilliantly, so wonderfully, so exceptionally, and so high –that everyone in your sphere of influence is moved and inspired by your actions. Show them how it is done, both in victory and defeat.

School owners and teachers; take your martial arts out of the dojo and into the world. SHOW us that you have grown too large to be hemmed in by the four walls of your school. Show us that your footprint is too big for the size of your mat. Don’t just be an “exercise instructor,” or a “self-defense teacher,” or even a “business-person” or “school owner.” Be something bigger than that, be somebody that is hard to describe. Be a genius in action for the world. Look at self-defense from a GLOBAL perspective. See wrongs that are way bigger than what can take place in the ring or on the mat –and then make solutions! Sure, mobilize your students to do 1000’s of reps of techniques, but then show your wisdom and mobilize them to solve REAL problems.

The MASTER TEACHER of today engages in projects in his or her community that speaks of the real heart-of-hearts, the core, of martial arts teaching, of martial arts practice, and of why they have spent nearly their entire adult life doing this stuff. It’s more than kicking, punching, and grappling.

Is what we practice on the mat important? Isn’t it enough? Yes, and no. We begin, as teachers, to teach the ABC’s. We focus on the micro. We obsess over the details. They are important. Yet, someday, we hope to see those letters turned into something big, something that speaks to our potential as human beings, something like:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
--The Declaration of Independence
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.”

--Martin Luther King

“My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man. “

--John F. Kennedy

On some level you are just a martial arts teacher –and you’re there on the mat teaching the ABC’s of focus, self-control, teamwork, perseverance, courage, tenacity, and all the other character traits that make a good black belt. At the same time, you should be aware that those ABC’s can become something –and that you can open your mental door and recognize that each person has in them the potential to make a difference in the world –and that, in the end, that’s what all the training is for.

Start Hanging With People Who Blow Your Mind

To avoid being too presumptuous, I have to assume that many of you reading this are already “there.” If so, good for you! If you’re reading this and it doesn’t fit what you know or usually read about martial arts school management, I can tell you why. It’s because you haven’t been hanging out with the “right” people.

They say it takes a “village” of people to raise a child. Well, likewise, it takes a village of people to raise a master teacher. Some of those villagers are family members, some of them are old friends from school, some of them are people you work with, one or more of them might be the village idiot, and somewhere in that village, if you’re lucky, is the wise-person.

If you make a conscious effort to seek out (and it’s easier now than ever before) and be with, study with, read, listen to, and generally “hang out” with our planet’s wise-people, it will have the most profound effect on your school. You will have no shortage of topics to address –and no shortage of motivation, inspiration, and mental stimulation. Your advertising topics will go through the roof.

And here, now, is the challenge. Study –but most of all BE ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE. Tackle violence. Tackle environmental degradation. Tackle racial prejudice. Tackle anger. Are any of these subjects related to personal protection and self-defense?

But don’t do it alone. If you do everything you can as a person, it isn’t half of what you accomplish if you could inspire 200 students to one-tenth of what they are capable of. Teach and then mobilize your students in your community to take action where action is needed.

This is what a wise-person does. This is now our business –and getting your head in this space is exactly what you need to get your fire burning –and your school filled with people who haven’t come to you because they received a VIP Pass or a discount on lessons. I am challenging you to become a man or woman of extraordinary action.

This is what all the training has been for.

If you could empower your students and mobilize them to take even the smallest action steps, in the world and outside of your school, and each one of those people touched the heart of, the intellect of, the one, two, five, ten other people, you would have successfully waged the best advertising campaign in the world. The learning that would happen! The stories that would come out of this!

It’s a lot easier to do than you think.

Come join me on June 27th at 10:00 am PST for a tele-seminar to get your new business plan happening. Join a movement for a new and more relevant kind of martial art teaching; a kind of teaching that pays tribute to tradition –and forges a way for the martial arts to evolve into something everyone benefits from.

Tom Callos

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