It is common for people to study martial arts at some point during their life. While I am a martial arts school owner and realize that my subjective experience may not be the norm, most of the people I know took some kind of martial arts class at some point. A few stuck with it for a long period of time while others stopped after a few months. As these classes have become a regular part of growing up here in America, the business elements have increasingly come into play. Often, people own martial arts schools and teach as a main vocation rather than having it be something they do outside of another job. While the goal of having a financially successful school is important to any school owner, the goal of also having a school that is successful at teaching proper technique as well as a good psychological approach to challenges in life is also vital. One goal should not be achieved at the detriment of either of the other two. Finding that balance can be challenging at times, but it is necessary in order to have a school that functions well for all involved. I’d like to take a moment and share some of my thinking on this.
Satisfying the intersection between good physical education, good character development, and good business is the goal of any reputable martial arts school. In many ways, it should also be the goal of all the people involved – even the students. I know that may be a strange thing to read, but it really isn’t so alien of a concept if you think about it. Students, parents of young students, and staff all have to come together to create the proper environment for those three goals to be achieved. When these three groups come together to achieve these three goals, then everyone involved is better for the experience.
The first and, in many ways, the simplest is good physical education. It’s is the bedrock of a martial arts school – what do you teach and do you teach it well? As school owners, it’s the reason why we opened a school. For the students or their parents, it’s why they came. Still, it is important not to lose sight of this goal – and it happens often. Instructors get so busy teaching that they start losing time to just train. Students have so much fun hanging out with friends that they lose track of their training. There are a million side streets along the path to being a good martial artist. It’s easy to get lost. Because physical training is such an obvious thing, it can get lost in the shuffle. The remedy for this is fairly simple: remember why you started and, if you have not achieved the goals you set out to achieve, get off the couch and back at it! If you’re like me, you have goals that will take a lifetime. For others, it may just be a curiosity and you will satisfy that quickly. Still, know what it is you want and don’t be afraid to communicate it or allow it to adapt as you learn more.
The next thing to be considered is character development. Few people are surprised that this would be a goal of martial arts training, but they are conflicted, angered, and unwilling to engage in it when a challenge or opportunity presents itself. For the students, class will sometimes challenge them and they will have the potential to fail in some way – to spar and lose, to try a new technique and not get it easily, or to learn a complicated sequence of ideas and run the risk of making mistakes. While we all know that handing out trophies simply for showing up creates an atmosphere of entitlement or assumed success, being confronted with failure seems to be unacceptable as well. Without failure as part of instruction, a martial arts school simply turns out fevered egos instead of good martial artists with a strong spirit. But a strong spirit can only be forged by accepting failure and growing from it. As students, we must allow disappointment and failure to be part of learning – to shake away the false and leave behind only what is true, real, and effective. The process of finding out what is true is often very humbling in any context. You will stumble; sometimes, you will fall. Each of us must prepare not just for the possibility of failure, but be ready for it as an inevitability when we are pushing at the edges of our ability. Similarly, parents of young students need to be aware of it as well. It is important for parents to recognize that they are a valuable part of this process. Your child will often not want to pick up and try again after a failure. Your child will be tempted to give up and want to do something that won’t refine their character. This is no different than having a child that doesn’t want to eat a salad or some other food that is good for them – not everything in the world is going to be coated in sugar and they have to learn to have a wider palate to be healthy. The same goes for their mind. If the instructors aren’t abusive and they continue to be sensitive to these challenges and support their students, then it is a good environment and worth pressing forward. To be clear, I’ve never heard anyone as an adult complain about the struggles of studying martial arts in their youth unless an instructor was abusive. If the instructor had a good mental approach, then everyone I’ve known looks back at their time as a student with a lot of passion and gratitude – please, remember this as a parent! As staff members, we must continue our training just like our students, as well as be supportive and optimistic with the people coming to us to learn. We must encourage them to take chances, to try to laugh through the failures while learning, and to give them the space to reflect on those failures and successes. Also important for instructors is the need to allow the student to own their experience. The student’s success or failure is theirs alone and we are missing our own potential to try to take some of it for ourselves. Along those lines – if a student wants to leave martial arts training, we can’t shame them. If they want to stay, then we must always encourage them and never give up on them. That all sounds so easy, but it often times is not.
Lastly, the success of the martial arts school needs to be of interest to everyone involved. Students, too? Yes. If the school is not doing well on a business level, then your instructors are not going to be able to do good work for you. In the most extreme case, the school will cease to exist. That doesn’t mean that this has to be high on a student’s interests for the school. Still, this place exists to do good work for you – to teach you martial arts and to be a community for you and others to work together. I don’t mean to sound self-serving here, but it still is a valid point. As a music teacher, my students always cared that things were going well with the other students because they knew those successes would feed into their own study and efforts. The same is true in martial arts. While that doesn’t mean you should want your teacher to get a new Lexus every 6 months, it does mean that you need to realize that having a quality space and trained instructors to teach you takes time and money. If the price is reasonable and the quality of what they offer is good, then why shouldn’t the staff at the school be doing well? If their goals are aligned with yours, why not have them be happy and content in their work and working environment? A small number of students always seem to be very cynical about this idea. It’s the same in music; all the punk rock kids growing up would lament about how some band “sold out” because they had a successful album. Sure, that does happen from time to time. Some band releases something that is sub-par and watered down and it gets some short term success. Still, the best music groups often are the ones that can convey their art in a way that is commercially successful. Those are the groups that all music lovers talk about and refer to as central to a place and time. I think this is true of everything from painting to food to martial arts; to do a quality thing and present that in a compelling way so people can understand it and be part of it is a sign of a smart and balanced approach. There’s no shame in being a successful martial arts school owner or studying at a successful martial arts school. The image of a homeless martial arts instructor that is a vagabond teaching ancient truths might have some cinematic appeal, but it is a kind of romanticism that seems reserved for detached idealists or people with romantic notions of what a “true” martial arts schools. Reality doesn’t work like that. Business doesn’t make a thing dirty or incorrect if the people engaging in it have the right goals; just like no lack of a professional atmosphere can compensate for an instructor with bad intentions or poor training. It is always baffling to me when someone thinks otherwise.
So, the goals of teaching good technique, active engagement in character development, and good business growth are central to a successful martial arts school’s existence. Everyone involved – the students, the parents of the young students, and the staff all have to share these goals in order for everyone involved to have success. If everyone can accept these goals for themselves and each other, then everyone at the school will be understanding of everyone else and the school will genuinely be a place where everyone will find what they need. A place like this would be a credit to any community. That is my goal for Han Mi!Share this: