Posts Tagged ‘how to own a martial arts school’

How To Become A Martial Arts Instructor, Karate Instructor, Kung Fu, or Taekwondo Teacher

June 1, 2011

Martial Arts Teachers Change Peoples Lives

So You Want to Be a Martial Arts, Kung Fu, Karate, Taekwondo, Teacher. Great! Here are Seven Skills Needed To Be a Martial Arts Teacher.

From Judo, Jujitsu, BJJ, MMA, Krav Maga, Jeet Kune Do to Muay Thai Kickboxing, Boxing, Kenpo, WingChun, and Hapkido Your Ability to Market and Present Your Skills is More Important than Style.

WordPress suggested that I do an article on How to Become a Martial Arts Instructor. So if you want to be a Kung Fu Sifu, a Taekwondo SaBumNim, a Karate Sensei or make martial arts a career or job choice this article can provide you insight from my experience.

Dream Big & Write it Down
I’ve been a professional martial arts instructor for most of my adult life. Martial Arts changed my life and I wanted to share that magic with others. I got bit by the martial arts teaching bug and it became my dream to teach martial arts and one day own a school.

I’m blessed enough to live in a country where that dream was possible. I’ve been drawing pictures and writing plans, notes and ideas down since that time. So if you want to be a martial arts teacher, kung fu instructor, taekwondo, or karate professional, the first step is to dream big, visualize, clearly define what you want and go for it. Write a mission and vision statement or whatever helps you draw inspiration.

“Even the mighty oak tree starts as a small acorn.”

Learn From Your and Others Success and Mistakes in Teaching Martial Arts
I’ve been teaching since I was in my teens, had my own Park District program at 16 years old, teaching at two retail schools and have been operating my own professional full time schools since 1992. Having trained and taught in Korea, China and over 10,000 students in my career I hope to be able to share some of my experience to help you. I’ve made plenty of mistakes and enjoyed the blessings of being able to follow my dreams and helped others do the same. You can too!

You Can Fail – Don’t Be Afraid of That. Remember to Fail Forward and Frequently. Fail But Don’t Fail To Take The Lesson and Apply It. That’s Wisdom.

Building Martial Arts Instructors from the Ground Up
Most martial arts instructors get their start as a student in a professional martial arts program. That’s what I did. Those who belong to a successful commercial operation have a significant advantage than those who do not. They inherantly learn the habits, structure, systems, customer service and psychology of a successful school. In my experience, those coming from community programs, part time schools or struggling operations will typically have to unlearn and relearn some components. You can learn those skills through industry training and good mentors.

John Nottingham Pulgueksa Temple Korea

I learned a great lesson from Grandmaster Ernie Reyes that I use in just about every facet of my business, life and martial arts practice. It is especially true for teaching,

“It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.”

The less like REX the better.

Being a successful martial arts instructor has a lot less to do with belt rank, kicks and punches (what you know in martial arts) and more importantly what you can do for people. That’s not an excuse to stop training or be a low ranking, underqualified instructor. It just points out the importance of knowing you are in business to provide value as an instructor or school owner. You’re marketing your services, expertise and most importantly, the experience a student has when they work with you.

Taekwondo Master John Nottingham Flying Side Kick Punch 1995

Early on in my training I was taught,

“Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Define Your Goals as an Instructor
It is important to define your goals. Do you want to just teach? Do you want to be a martial arts instructor as a job? Do you want to own your own school? Knowing this information will help you determine who you choose as a role model and mentor.

One of my contemporaries teaches for a large non-profit organization and thoroughly enjoys what she does. Others teach for successful schools and make a nice living doing what they love. The other option is to own a school and employ yourself. Your decision should be based on your goals, risk tolerance, passion and end goals. Make no mistake, teaching is a leadership role involving sales, persuasion, communication, and lots of human emotion.

Well established commercial schools will often have leadership programs and staff training or “assistant instructor” programs for which you can qualify. This is a tremendous beginning because you can learn and make mistakes on somebody else’s students. Some schools charge for it, while others do not or trade for service.

In my schools we offer students leadership training, mentoring programs, instructor training and career options for students. When I started, none of these things were available to me so I swore to myself that one day when I had a school that I would have a program for martial artists with a dream of teaching or owning a school to do just that.

You will need skills in several areas to be a successful martial arts instructor:

1. Product knowledge. (Usually advanced Black Belt with admirable skill). You have to have something that people want. Excellence is admired and inspires.
2. Know how to teach. Communication and leadership skills are essential to being an effective instructor. Good teaching skills require training and constant updating.
3. Ability to problem solve and build duplicable systems. Your ability to manage problems, plan, solve challenges and make decisions quickly will determine much of your ability to teach successfully. Your ability to duplicate will determine your growth.
4. Passion and enthusiasm. These are essential because enthusiasm is what drives the emotion of the school. Enthusiasm is caught, not taught. Usually if enthusiasm in a school dies, the school soon dies. Determine what makes you unique and emphasize it in all you do.
5. Charisma. The little acknowledged secret of our industry is that it is primarily personality driven and you will need charisma (or to hire those with it) to be successful in any long term capacity.
6. Wise counsel. You’ll need a team of advisors who you trust and are interested in your success. Several minds are better than one and outside eyes can be more objective for you, your teaching or school operation. This can be other successful teachers (Grandmasters), attorney (legal), CPA (accounting/tax), billing (tuition collection), marketing, sales and investing.
7. Industry, marketing, sales and other business knowledge. You’ll need some guerrilla skills to make it in this quirky industry. There is a lot of information available but only a select part of it would I qualify as wisdom. That’s why I recommend belonging to a good network of successful school owners and/or instructors. Even if you don’t plan on owning a school now and just teaching, this is an invaluable resource and usually worth every bit of the investment. Above all, it will help you tune in and listen to the market. The market is king.

John Nottingham Shaolin Temple China

EFC, IMAMS, Member Solutions (APS), AFS
I started with a company called EFC who does consulting and billing. It was the best decision I made and can be credited with the reason I could do this for a living. I met mentors, teachers and associates there that I still have to this day. I’m no longer with EFC but I still have relationships with many from it. This changed my life.

I’ve been a member of IMAMS, IFC EasyPay, AMS, Member Solutions, AFS (indirectly), and consulted clients in just about every major billing/consulting company. Interview and talk with clients extensively before joining. Just as a side note, most of the other organizations emanated from original board members of EFC. The top 10% of our industry tend to network together.

Management Marketing Motivation
The Three M’s of a Successful Martial Arts Teacher

The National Association of Professional Martial Artists (NAPMA) is responsible for one of the biggest shifts in professionalism in our industry. It launched a trade magazine and provided quality information for many years. However, it has since been bought out and is now a marketing tool for Mile High Karate Franchises. NAPMA

Carlos and Rigan Machado with USA Martial Arts Founder John Nottingham

Martial Arts Industry Association (MAIA) is underwritten by CENTURY Martial Arts, the largest Martial Arts supplier in the industry. It has great programs to help with virtually every phase of operations from teaching to promoting the events. MAIA

The Martial Arts Teachers Association (MATA) is from Master John Graden, the original founder of NAPMA and offers some of the best information and advice online at a lower rate. I think this one is a no brainer and great for any instructor or school owner wishing to improve. Master Graden changed the course of my professional life. MATA

Professional Martial Arts Instructor College (PROMAC) is one of the elite training programs for instructors and school owners in the world. It is run by one of the top school owners and instructors in the world, Kyoshi Dave Kovar. I’m proud to call him one of my mentors. ProMAC

Most are offering similar information so the real issue is finding the company most cost efficient and best suited to your personality. It won’t do you any good if you won’t use it. I highly recommend doing the training, conventions, conference calls and giving yourself fully to the process initially. Try not to second guess it too much in the beginning and it will save you serious time and money. No matter what, pick one and go with it wholeheartedly.

Success Begets Success
If you do not have the advantage of coming up through the ranks in a good martial arts school, it is highly recommended that you join the most successful school you can find and work hard to qualify for a leadership team or instructor training program. It will save you time and cost you much less because you are less likely to make costly mistakes or have to reinvent the wheel. You can model the business systems you like and modify others to suit your goals.

Be Willing To Travel, Move or Make a Sacrifice
One of the most successful instructors I know moved from a different country to the USA to the most profitable school he could find, learned the systems and now operates his own chain. He has made a difference in thousands of students lives as well as made a very good living doing what he loves.

Start Small and Test It
One proven way to test if you are ready to be a teacher is to start a summer program such as a YMCA, Park District or even a small class in a Dance, Gymanstics, Fitness facility, corporation or apartment complex. I started in my first teachers school just helping on the floor. That lead to my filling in for other instructors then a Park District program (teaching for free to learn the skills), summer programs, fitness gym and then a gymnastics school. As that program grew it enabled me to make the leap to commercial retail space.

Test, Review, Renew Goals
It can be as simple as starting with seminars or summer programs to test your marketability. You will know if you are viable if people are asking to continue or sign up with you on a longer term basis. If they don’t, that may mean that you need to work on one or more of your 7 Martial Arts Teacher Basics listed above.

“You don’t get paid for what you know. You get paid for how well you market, sell and duplicate what you know.”

ATA an American Martial Arts Success Story
One of the most established successful instructor tracks are organizations such as the ATA or American Taekwondo Association. Although I’m not a part of it, I’ve had friends in it for decades and seen tremendous success through their instructor training programs.

For those professionally minded, there are also franchise options which you may consider. United Studios of Self Defense, Mile High Karate, AmeriKick as well as a myriad of other license programs are available such as Premier Martial Arts. I recommend speaking to owners as well as former member owners of those to get the pros and cons of each. Consider also the quality of life, not just income, from those opportunities.

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” -Lao-tzu

Lead By Example and Think Long Term
So whatever level you are, beginner, Black Belt or Master, the most important thing is to begin. You’ll learn along the way if you stay hungry for knowledge and remember to always stay a student first and a teacher second. My final piece of advice is to lead by example everyday and be willing to sacrifice who you are for what you may become.

Recommended reading:
Black Belt Management by John Graden
How To Own and Operate a Successful Martial Arts School by John Graden
The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber

If you have any additional questions about how to become a martial arts instructor or how to start your own martial arts school I can be reached at:

About John Nottingham
John Nottingham is a 6th Degree multiple Black Belt holder and founder of the USA Martial Arts chain in Arizona USA. He owns Nottingham Sword & Shield Security, a Bodyguard, Law Enforcement and Military Training Company specializing in protective security.