Saturday, September 13, 2008

Advice for Martial Arts School Owners and Teachers

I’m writing this to talk to you about how to have a healthy, successful, and profitable martial arts school, in today’s world, and in a way that makes a DIFFERENCE in the world. And before I really get started, let me tell you that I’m not talking about the kind of success or profitability you might see in Forbes, Worth, or WSJ Magazines. I’m not talking about something out of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.

The kind of success I’m suggesting is grounded in global consciousness. It is more spiritual than it is material. The measure of wealth, success, and profitability I’m thinking about won’t fund the endless consumption of disposable things. It won’t have you driving a car that costs as much as a year’s worth of food for an entire village of people in Southeast Asia. It isn’t the kind of success that has every amenity you can dream up and acquire at your fingertips. It won’t fund $100 cigars or $20,000 watches or $1000 purses or $5000 suits or 5-million dollar McMansions.

In my world –and maybe in your world too –these things are an embarrassment. They are personal neon signs of narcissism, selfishness, and ignorance. They are the result of a kind of corporate consumer-brain-washing and snow job that convinces the unaware that the label, insignia, and hood ornament is a personification of success, intelligence, and style.

The kind of success and profitability I’m pointing to is about quality time with people you love. It is about enjoying the sound of the river as you soak your feet in it. It is in the slow preparation of a dinner, the sound of your child reading aloud, and the feeling of knowing you don’t NEED or WANT anything but what you already have.

With all of THAT being said, I’ll now begin:

I would like to suggest that you make your black belt test mean MORE than it means today.

I am not suggesting that you make your test a fierce gauntlet that weeds out the weak or an Ironman-like endurance event that breaks people down; I’m suggesting that the journey one goes on to become a black belt might be interwoven to activities that expand one’s ability to feel empathy and compassion for others, societal awareness and involvement and, perhaps, a more useful inner awareness.

I am suggesting that we (martial arts teachers) take a closer look at the idea of “self-defense” –and that a new definition ought to include more than defense from physical attack. We should train our students to recognize the damage and pain caused by self-centered living. We should link conspicuous consumption to self-defense. We should consider attitude and outlook as important as middle block and palm strike.

The way to make your black belt test (and all your testing) mean more, is to make your own job description mean more. If you could make the decision that BEING a master teacher of the martial arts means FAR MORE than teaching people combat –and if you lived this idea, you would then teach from an entirely new place.

Being a master teacher means LOOKING DEEPLY at conflict; at ego; at wants and needs; at community involvement; and at one’s own beliefs and habits. If you/we made BEING a master teacher mean MORE, we would then teach, BY EXAMPLE, something that is far more important that profit, than punching, than combat, than competition, than style and method and system.

Like a Round Kick to the Head

Getting kicked in the head is, well...a real eye-opening experience. It’s not one you soon forget. It can be, however, an excellent teaching tool. Yes, one solid kick to the head can teach someone exactly how much they don’t want THAT to happen again.

I have, on a number of occasions, used a kick to the head as a teaching tool. It’s not one I use often –and it might not be the “sharpest” tool in my toolbox, but let me tell you, sometimes it’s the magic key for quickly changing one’s behavior.

Changing your own habits, living a simple life, getting your own head together by looking deeply at how you can make a difference for others –and in the world; well, for your students and almost everyone in your sphere of influence, it can affect them like a kick in the head. It’s not in what you say, think, or write –it comes in what you DO.

To run a successful and profitable martial arts school you must look deeply at your own center, at what is driving you, and why. If you could actually BECOME A MASTER, a real, honest-to-goodness MASTER, then all the accoutrements of wealth won’t mean much to you anyway. Making a difference, living with compassion, living simply and giving to others, and enjoying today with whatever it is you have been fortunate enough to be given, I believe those are the concepts embraced in authentic mastery.

Under those guidelines, we should begin to run our schools and classes with a new vigor and energy. I believe that by focusing on these ideas rather than all of the boxed-up marketing junk-mail that some school owners have been convinced is the key to a school’s success, will eventually bring us a kind of success we hadn’t anticipated.

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