I believe every good martial arts teacher should make a profit. I believe in making money. Every good instructor should make enough money to live a good lifestyle and save for a secure future. I try to make money at my arts, and I do, but not enough.
It's sad to see good martial arts schools struggle. The image of the kung-fu or karate teacher living a meager existence, taking little for lessons but teaching a pure art is becoming a memory.
Even Chinese masters have learned that they can make big bucks, and they want the money. Chen Xiaowang, I heard, is a millionaire. He deserves it. He's that good.
And yet, it's disappointing to me to attend a Martial Arts Supershow like the one in Las Vegas this week and see that it's so geared to the business side of the arts. They taught things such as: How do you squeeze more money out of your students? How can you "re-package" and "re-brand" your arts to capitalize on the current fads like MMA?
There were a few great seminars -- I especially liked Bill Wallace (yesterday's post) and I met Stephen K. Hayes, the ninja instructor that I've read about since the 1970's (tomorrow's post). But for the most part, it seemed the fads and non-traditional arts beat the traditional arts into submission at this convention. I may have been the only Tai Chi guy in town.
In 2010, even if you have very little experience, you can buy a curriculum, get certified and offer a new class for the public. A couple of the photos here show two booths -- both offering a curriculum and certification. One is for a new fad called "Cage Fitness." A lot of people are discovering that if you just put MMA or Cage in the title of a martial arts program, you can get more young guys in the door. I'm sure it's a good fitness program. I believe it would help you get into great shape. That's not the issue here.
So you can buy your curriculum. You can buy software that will help keep track of students. You can hire a company that does your billing and threatens to sue students who stop paying on their contracts. Yes, contracts are crucial for successful schools in 2010. So are "Black Belt Clubs" where you try to get someone to pay a few thousand dollars upfront and promise that they can study until they get their black belt, even though you know that most of them will drop out long before they achieve their goal.
You also have to launch "Lil Dragons" programs, after school programs, summer camps for children. Kids are money-makers for a successful school these days. Have them practice Laojia Yilu for ten years like they do in the Chen Village? Are you kidding? You can't teach them a real martial art. Teach them punches and kicks and give them a good workout -- stroke their little egos with merit badges and don't forget, everyone is a winner (they'll find out when they grow up that everyone is NOT a winner).
Oh, and by the way, you have to hire and train a staff. The days of black belts teaching classes out of respect and obligation? That's so 1970's. If you want to rake in a million a year, you have to get with the program.
One speaker actually said "lineage is not important." It's probably true. Just attract kids and teens with titles like "Extreme Karate" or "MMA" or "Cage Fighting."
Some schools that practice all these things are raking in more than a million dollars a year.
I taught a kid's class for over a year. I've always been great with kids. I love kids and I loved being a father to my two girls. In my kids kung-fu class, I had a good sense of humor and I tried to help them understand the movements. When the movements were wrong I showed them the right way.
One 10-year old guy started crying one day. I was shocked. "What's the matter?" i asked.
"You're always criticizing me!" he said, tears running down his face.
I was merely showing him the correct movement, but no one had ever had the nerve to imply that he could improve at something. No, he had learned that it's all about him.
I stopped teaching my kids' class in December, 1998 and swore I would never teach another one. I haven't. Children in America are not ready for the internal arts.
Real martial arts take time -- a slow, painful process. Sometimes a good coach has to tell his players -- or students -- that they suck and need to work harder. In a fast-food, I want-it-all-now, ADD culture where more kids want to be rock stars than scientists (it's true, I used to work at ACT and saw the research), the traditional martial arts school has a tough road ahead.
This is one of the reasons I started my online school and why I never again want to run a bricks-and-mortar school. I have a small, dedicated core group of students in the Quad Cities. I don't have to adopt any fads. I don't have to water down my arts. I put what I know online and if it can help you, a membership is very inexpensive and you can quit anytime. My audience isn't the kids and young adults in the Quad Cities -- I have members from Japan to the U.S. to England to Israel -- even a couple of members serving in Afghanistan. I can be true to the art and to myself. And as I keep learning and improving, I pass it all to my students.
There will always be a few people who want the things that traditional arts teach -- things that you don't see in MMA guys. But right now, the business of a martial arts school is to get people in the door and teach them something that will bring in the income. I'm hopeful that things will change, and I hope the good traditional teachers can hang in there until that happens.