Sunday, July 20, 2008

Mission Driven Marketing

Marketing Your Martial Arts School by Adjusting and Refining Your School’s Mission and Your Life’s Work

By Tom Callos

In a perfect word you would, as a teacher of the martial arts, make art –and that art would be so remarkable that it sold itself. Take for example the glass artist Dale Chihuly’s work ( Chihuly has developed an international reputation and sold millions of dollars worth of art because his work is absolutely stunning. And while his materials are not much more than colored glass, Chihuly takes it and turns it into magic.

This is how I visualize the fully evolved martial arts master teacher. The art that a master teacher makes is, for the most part, human –it’s physical. Our tools are our various martial arts –and it really doesn’t matter if it’s aikido or Brazilian jiu-jitsu or taekwondo or karate or gung fu, because the methods are just a small part of the art. What makes the work turn the corner from mundane to magical is what the artist does with the materials –how he or she puts the raw material to work.

Point: Approach your work as art. Make art –and let the art speak for itself. USE the art you make as your primary source of marketing and promotion.

Sell your services because you make magic –and you know how to display that magic, how to light it, and where to put it for the best effect.

Find the art in what you do; use what you do to make beauty, to teach people, to produce the extraordinary, and to make positive change in the world.

So what is the “art” that you can make as a martial arts school owner / teacher?

Your School is Art
Some of the art is in how you present your school. By itself and standing alone, your school’s appearance says something about what goes on there. I like a school that looks at its presentation and attempts to make a statement. It doesn’t matter to me if the look is Japanese minimalism or Brazilian culture or Chinese pagoda or American pragmatism –it’s that the school owner recognizes and is aware of the presentation’s impact on the senses.

Two fine examples of this reside in Southern California with Dawn Barnes Karate Kids schools and Rorion Gracie’s Gracie Academy. If you haven’t seen these schools –I’ll have to describe them to you as “art in and of themselves.” Both schools teach dramatically different “styles” of martial art, but both perfectly represent the idea of “academy as art.”

Point: A school can sell its lessons because of the “art” of its presentation.

Your Classes are Art
How you run your classes is a kind of art. A master teacher mixes the paint of his or her students into a moving, yelling, rolling, kicking work of art. It might be a class of gently flowing aikido practitioners or a group of 20-somethings in shorts and t-shirts getting ready for a no-gi jiu-jitsu workout or a class of taekwondo students in bright white uniforms or a capoiera troupe rhythmically warming up to music; whatever it is, it can be art.

Point: Your classes are a kind of art; done right, they can sell your services. Look at your class structure and execution as a kind of art.

Your Testing is Art
There is no better example of testing as art than my own program, The Ultimate Black Belt Test (UBBT). The UBBT spreads the process out, it blows it up into something grand, it breaks it down into little artful pieces. In the UBBT each martial artist crafts his or her own test –and then plays the process out in writing and film and action. Even before the UBBT participant throws a single kick or punch for the test, he or she has something to talk about, something to show, something with an expectation of emotion, spiritual quest, and mission.

Point: Your testing process has the potential to be the art that attracts people to your work.

Your Philosophy is Art
What comes out of your mouth, as in your message, your philosophical mission, your intent and direction as a teacher –this is art too. It can attract people, sell your programs, and be the foundation of your marketing and promotion campaign –if you know how to make it fly.

What you say is up to you, but that it is ART, just as Chihuly’s glass is art, is the point. It is something the martial arts master teacher ought to understand.

Philosophy as art might take the shape of adhering to ancient traditions, it might come from Christian or Buddhist teachings, it might be cultural or motivational or, as in my own focus, about sustainability, peace education, global consciousness, compassion, and community activism. Whatever it is, I am suggesting that seeing it as art, treating it as art, and selling it as art, is a far more constructive and intelligent approach to marketing a martial arts school than a strategy that makes no consideration of the idea.

What You Get Your Students to Do is Art
How your school looks, how you run your classes and testing, and what you say is all a part of your art –your mission to do more with what you have been given than to simply run a “business.” But the finest art you can make as a martial arts teacher comes in what your students do with what you teach them.

THIS is what you SELL. This is the crux of your marketing and promotion. Your art your mastery your mission in the world reveals itself in what you do and in what you inspire your students to do.

I’m not talking about what they do on your mat –which is undoubtedly a beautiful part of your art. The ultimate art that comes out of your work is what your students do in their lives and in the world.

This is your life’s work –to see your teaching manifest itself in goodness, in results, in victory, in health and happiness and peace and accomplishment. If you could display this, if you could light this work up, put it out there for the public to see –well, this would be the venue where your art would be most appreciated, understood, and valued.

Point: The art of the martial arts is found in ACTION. What you and your students do in the world is your ultimate art –and is should be the foundation of your schools marketing and promotion campaigns. What you do, what you produce, what comes out of your efforts –THIS is what you sell. It’s what brings people to you, it’s what makes your phone ring and your front door swing open. Your art allows you to transcend the triviality of simply operating a “business” for money.

How to Turn This Idea into Action

-- You don’t sell lessons, you change lives!

-- You don’t teach “karate” in a “dojo” –you teach people how to make their LIFE THEIR DOJO.

-- Your brand of self-defense instruction isn’t meant to simply protect your students from kicks, punches, and arm-bars; you teach self-defense from the REAL KILLERS: mediocrity, lack of self-esteem, apathy, the inability to connect with other people, and –among other things –the idea that you are what you own!

-- You don’t only produce fighters or black belts; you are a part of the village that raises people to be aware, to be here in the moment, to enjoy their health, and to learn how to keep fear and doubt from destroying their sense of humanity.

Your mission in life –your life’s work –has got to be more, in my opinion, than in “getting your gross up” and being a multi-school owner. Our industry is fixated on business basics, on suit-and-tie professionalism, on coming up with the next big plan to “double your gross” or “fill your school.” Our trade magazines and industry e-mail campaigns are all about promoting the martial arts through some new movie or the next lead-box gimmick.

Point: We should be fixated on seeing the martial arts come out of our schools and into the world.

Where to start?

It all starts with the primary teacher / owner of the school.

Mr. or Ms. School Owner / Master Teacher, can you answer these questions with an affirmative response:

Are you in the best shape of your life? Are you in the kind of shape that inspires others to get in shape too?

Are you doing anything in the world besides the minimum requirements to thrive and survive?

Do you have a list of heroes –and do you look to them for inspiration? Does that inspiration manifest itself in any kind of daily behaviors?

Do you have, in your mind, a clear definition of what it is to be a true master of the martial arts? Does this definition make you a man or woman on a mission –or is it a non-issue in your daily life?

I created the Ultimate Black Belt Test because I felt that a school’s master instructor should be able to market his or her lessons by acting like a master on a mission. The very process of testing ought to promote the martial arts school. The very nature of the test, what it is made up of, what it causes the participant to do –ought to be the very things that make people stop, look, listen, and enroll.

I think a school can operate without a master teacher on a mission, but it’s like a marriage without romance. The school owner who doesn’t use a sense of mission as the fuel for his or her school ends up getting hyper-focused on the procedures and particulars of payroll, statistics, bathroom maintenance, employee handbooks, and what’s called “majoring in minors.”

Five Concrete Steps to Start a Marketing Campaign for Your School Based Upon Having A Sense of Mission

Ok, enough with the rhetoric. Now I’m going to step out on the line and actually suggest five things YOU can do to make your work the kind of ART that brings people into your school; the kind of art that gives you something powerful to show, something powerful to talk about and to promote and to SELL.

Action Step # 1
If I were you, I would consider joining the Ultimate Black Belt Test ( Other than going to the Olympics or deciding that you’re going to go after BJ Penn’s UFC title, you won’t find another mission-based program like this in the martial arts world. And unlike going to the Olympic Games or fighting in the octagon, the UBBT is designed specifically for school owners and master teachers.

If you don’t join the UBBT 6 (the next UBBT project) then carefully look it over and undertake your own “hero’s journey” program. Make your training and growth and personal/professional development a priority. Read, mend relationships, meditate, train like you’ve gone insane, and put yourself smack-dap in the middle of a new circle of friends. Find people that inspire you and remind you that there is a whole hell of a lot more to life than driving a fancy car, buying the right clothes, and competing with that school down the street.

Action Step # 2
Over the course of the next 12 months, commit yourself –and all of your school’s resources –to saving one child’s life in your community. Somewhere in your community there is a child who is going to die from something you might help them avoid. Children defend themselves with their heads; that is, children protect themselves by knowing how to avoid danger.

What you have to know is WHAT is killing children in your community? Take for example, diabetes. This insidious disease is expected to touch the lives of 1 in every 3 children over the course of the coming decade. By the way, UBBT member, “Mr. Diabetes,” Andy Mandell, has a completely free martial arts instructor diabetes prevention training course –with dozen’s of free teaching resources –at Look for the MADDCAP program (Martial artists Defeat Diabetes Community Action Program).

Is there a possibility that a child in your community could die from smoke inhalation or a fire this year? Will there be any teenagers who might perish from reckless driving? Or from drug or alcohol abuse?

How many children could you reach with some kind of life-saving message in the next 12 months?

Point: A teacher on a mission to save lives is 10,000 times more powerful than a business-person looking to distribute 10,000 VIP passes. This is mission-based marketing.

Action Step # 3
Embrace Project-Based Leadership Training (PBLT). If you haven’t heard of –or if you don’t fully understand my concept called PBLT, then BOY are you in for some fun times. PBLT is pure rocket fuel, pure genius, pure marketing power for the martial arts school owner and/or teacher.

For you, for free, on Friday, August 8, 2008 at 10:00 am Pacific Standard Time, I will host a free one hour tele-seminar on the subject. Here are the specifics:

EVENT: Project Based Leadership Training Tutorial
DATE & TIME: Friday, August 8th at 10:00am Pacific
FORMAT: Simulcast! (Attend via Phone or Webcast -- it's your choice)

Action Step # 4
You should OWN the acts of kindness program in your town. In 2001, I developed a program for the martial arts community called Random Acts of Kindness. Since then, more than a million acts of kindness have been initiated by martial arts students around the world. Starting an acts of kindness program with your students is still one of the most effective (and least expensive) forms of community-based, grassroots “marketing with a mission” you can do.

Can you name another business in your town that makes acts of kindness its business? Is there a better form of practical day-to-day self-defense than kindness? Do it for a day, do it for a weekend, or do it for a year –just do it.

Action Step # 5
Profile 10 living heroes. This might seem like a stretch, but I guarantee you that the PEOPLE you hang out with have the most amazing affect on your thinking –so amazing in fact, it might be the key ingredient to your school’s success (or lack thereof).

My 10 living heroes are:

Julia Hill; Nelson Mandela; Pam Dorr; John Bielenberg; The Dalai Lama; Thich Nhat Hahn; Ray Bradbury; Wangari Matthai; Oprah Winfrey; and Sarah Chayes.

If you want to find your mission, if your want to light a fire in your own life and in the lives of your students, then DO NOT make your primary influences people you read about in martial arts magazines. Get out of that box and into a new realm of quality thinkers and action-takers.
Point: In the future, the people who are going to have the most profound impact on your martial arts –and what you sell in your lessons, ARE NOT going to be martial artists.

Not only do we have to take our martial arts “out of the dojo and into the world,” but we need to bring the world into the martial arts.

About the Author
Tom Callos heads the Ultimate Black Belt Test and The New Way Network. He resides in Northern California. His e-mail is

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