Wow, this summer marks the 17th year that our school has been in Folsom, and about my 25th year teaching martial arts in the Folsom/Granite Bay areas. It sure doesn't seem that long. There have been a lot of changes in the martial arts industry since then. When we first came to Folsom we were the only people for miles practicing jujitsu and kickboxing, and cage fighting was still illegal except for on Native American reservations.
We have been through several changes in focus in our own program over the years from traditional Bok fu to incorporation of more and more diverse jujitsu and wrestling then the awesome addition of traditional Muay Thai kickboxing, Chinese Wushu, & Wing Chun. Still to come is the incorporation of Escrima and Arnis ( Stick fighting martial arts.)
I have been going over and over for months exactly how our curriculum is going to evolve into the the future and what the future of our school and program is going to look like, and I have come to some very important and far reaching conclusions and decisions. As always, I prefer that my students and families understand my decisions because, in my view, transparency is paramount. The next year and a half to two years in transition and the next twenty-five are going to look very different than they have for the last seventeen. Let me explain, and I apologize for how long this is going to be, but I find this communication very important. Some things I will go into detail and some thing will be bulleted.
What happens to a martial arts school in the long term?
I have been watching how martial arts schools evolve since I was child, and there are some basic patterns that develop. Like any profession, someone who has been participating in the environment for many years has a different understanding and perspective than people that may have limited experience with the environment. One of those perspectives that I am aware of and most people cannot be is the difficult balance between business and training.
How the person in charge approaches this balance determines the culture of the school, the martial arts success of the students, and the financial health of himself and the school.
Unfortunately proper training and good business are not very well aligned in most circumstances. For example, good business is built on giving people a product that they want and promoting those positive feelings. Good martial arts is a product of overcoming difficult obstacles, repetition, and hard training. Most people actually don't know what they want when they walk into a martial arts school. I am not going to beat around the bush here. Everyone says that they want to learn how to defend themselves or fight, learn discipline, self control, but when it comes to what it takes to accomplish those things, some of the most gunghoe people are no longer interested.
What It really boils down to is that most people are more interested in feeling good or making their children feel good. Of course this is where the culture of a trophy for everyone comes from. As a business person, my job would be to give people what they really want, not what they say they want. This is a very financially successful strategy. It's also a very dishonest one.
As a long term veteran of this industry, I know that when someone walks in and says they want their child to learn discipline and self defense, I know most ( not all) ,deep inside, really just want to see their child look good relative to others, and feel a sense of accomplishment and progression while having fun. It would be very easy for me to take full advantage a person's lak of education in real martial arts and give them a long term feel good program so that I could profit off of the discrepancy in education, force a financial contract, and engage in up sales to secure more funds. It certainly happens across the country everyday.
Fortunately, I could never stomach such practices. It's no in me. Even when I have been frustrated with how I normally do things, when those thoughts crept into my head, I banished them because I knew I could find a better way. I care far to much about what I'm doing. Instead, I have chosen to let that illusion be for a bit, as I slowly and sometimes delicately ( and sometimes not so delicately) educate my students on what real martial arts is about and what it takes to become real martial artists. Eventually all my Black Belts fight in the ring and embrace what it means to be a true martial artist. All of them learn that real confidence comes from overcoming very difficult obstacles. Not belts, not trophies, not breaking boards, and not pats on the back or praise. All those things have their place, but the symbol of the Black Belt also means that the need for all of those things has fallen away, and the individual can stand alone as a competent martial artist. The Black Belt is a symbol of no belt.
You can imagine that when a seven year old wants to do martial arts that their interests are more influenced by media, cartoons, and movies. Some martial arts schools even paint cartoons on their walls. Im sure you can also imagine when I'm shaking hands with a new child and parent that says they want to learn self defense and discipline, inside my head I'm wondering if that is really true or not, and ultimately will they accept what it takes. I'm wondering if what they really want is an entertainer, or if they will eventually except me as a teacher. I will entertain them for a bit. After all there is a business to be run, and a commercial lease to be paid, but the goal is to get them eventually to focused on real martial arts and to get them to have a different vision for themselves that is built on reality and not the influence of culture. I have been struggling with this balance all of my life, and I have been extremely successful at it. It has become harder in recent years possibly do to technology, changing values, and other influences, but I remain committed. This brings me to answer the question above.
Eventually a martial arts school branches into one of several directions if it continues on for decades.
- The original master moves on and sells the school to a high level student. While this can be successful, in nearly every case that high level student eventually ends up failing. As skilled as that person is, they did not have the drive and desire to do it on their own, and that is the very trait that long term success is built upon.
- The original master creates a system, and runs the location by hiring someone else to run it for him possibly opening up multiple locations. This is the business man approach. While these schools can do well financially and survive the test of time, the quality of martial arts is built on the primary goal of sales. The costs to run a large operation force the school to focus on money instead of quality. No matter what someone claims, all veteran martial artists know this. In fact, this evolution of quality is true for all products and services.
- The Master instructor consolidates his resources, steps out of commercial martial arts to an extent, purchases a building or finds a location to continue training people as a lifestyle. Usually he maintains instructors and some commercial presence, but because the need for volume to pay for commercial leases, advertising, employees, high levels of utilities and insurance... etc etc is not there anymore, the focus becomes on quality, education, and development.
Our school has reached this point, and I am in a phase of my life where I have to make hard choices about where we go from here. My goal has always been to find a building to purchase and follow the 3rd path above. Unfortunately, as you know, real estate is terribly expensive, and in our particular economic circumstances to buy a building would require me to charge more for lessons than most people are willing to pay. There simply isn't anyway for me to accomplish what actually has been my life's goal without thinking outside of the box.
Those of you who know me closely know that I can be very driven when I want to accomplish something. It's a value in martial arts to never give up. The last year or so, I have been thinking very hard about the school and my own family situation. Having three boys and a wife that has a very demanding career it has fallen on me to make sure that there is a solid home life as well. With my schedule being opposite, my instructors become a necessity to cover me when I have to be home. This is not really the way I like to teach. I prefer to be with my students 100% of the time, and use my instructors as back ups and to improve classes with my overseeing all classes. My relationships with the people who are with me over the years are extremely important to me and indeed it's part of the reason I do this. I have been working on making the master student relationship tighter and stronger, but of course I have to be home part of the time as well. I have found a way to accomplish all of this. I'm Excited to tell you I have found a way to overcome all these obstacles.
- Build a building for our martial arts school that can be a center for their development and even be a home away from home, tutor center and even a place to go after school.
- Train my students nearly 100% of the time and develop a stronger and closer relationship with each one of them.
- Be close to home and available for my children on a regular basis while they live out a martial arts oriented child hood.
Some of you may know that I live on a fairly large lot (nearly and acre) here in Folsom with lots of outdoor space. After thinking hard and looking at many options over the passed couple of years, I finally realized that I can build my building here. I can create an incredible place right here for our students to grow and train.
At first, I did not consider such a thing because of zoning laws. The rules for home based private lesson businesses are to restrictive to have an active school. However, I have always dreamed of a facility that was a true school with a study, rec room, and of course the dojo. A place where a kid could be dropped off after school train in their class, then get homework done or other activities with the supervision of tutor, play outside a bit, have a snack, and then go home. It could be a couple of days a week or more.
I came to the revelation that I could get licensed to run a day care. With that kind license, I can have up to 14 kids at a time on the premises legally. Of course it's not a day care, its an after school martial arts program. A program that accomplishes all of the goals I have been looking for and more. My head is spinning with the possibilities. Instead of the standard karate school on the corner we will have the equivalent of a high end private school for martial arts.
There are so many martial arts related training structures I can build outdoors. Outdoor training and incorporation nature and health from an outdoor garden. I could write to you all day about the things we can do.
I have decided to pull the trigger. I'll be turning 40 years old this year, and if I sign another lease that's just 5 more years not achieving my goals. It's time to move and it's time to make things happen. To be perfectly honest, I'm completely tired of the large commercialized approach to martial arts training. It forces my mind to be constantly focused on marketing and keeping the school healthy with numbers. My passion is developing people not sales. I will always have to do a certain amount of that, but I have always known there is a better way. I just had to be creative enough find it. I have.
I have traveled in Asia and what we do in the west is not the way martial arts is taught in the east. In many ways we are becoming more traditional and breaking away from what everyone else does and becoming something much more. The success and prestige of our school has always been that we are different and forward thinking. I have so much martial arts to teach that I simply cannot give constrained by commercial leases and even the tiny spaces we mush occupy because of the expense of our real estate.
What's the Plan?
The plan is already in motion. We are starting this project now. I have no desire to sign another lease and watch funds evaporate that can help me complete my vision. There are 4 phases to this.
Phase 1, Transition
We are in transition now. I had to sit on telling everyone about this until I knew for sure. Summer time is slow with a lot of people on vacation, so it's the perfect time to make a change. As I mentioned, in Asia, outdoor training in courtyards and parks is the most common form of space used. We are going to mimic that format until the weather changes in the fall. Kids practice soccer and other sports outdoors all the time. We are going to spend a few months doing the same. They will have a blast. We will have some temporary indoor space once the weather turns. During that time, I will be remodeling and building our building. It's going to take a while, because I have to get the proper education to get licensed, and I have to remodel my home, garage, and yard to pass inspections for licensing.
Those of you who where with us when we moved from our first location 12 years ago may remember that we did something similar waiting for our building to be built. It will be a similar situation. A school is really about the people in it, not four walls, so it will actually be pretty exciting. I don't know how long the transition phase will be. I'd like to keep it under a year.
Phase 2, Move the school onto the property.
It's going to take me a little longer to actually build the separate building, I will most likely have my licenses and inspections done before that. After we are legal to operate on the premises, then we will move the school to the property. I will likely build a large traditional martial arts platform surrounded by gardens to train on in good weather, and we will have a large garage to work with in bad weather, at this time we will return to squads. Note. Our uniforms will be changing to reflect outdoor activities.
Phase 3, full after school martial arts program using the whole property and our new dojo. Your children will have a home away from home and training will be a way of life along side my own. There will be a gated property with beautiful gardens, a dojo, a work out room, and a rec room. You will have a code so that anytime you can view the properties surveillance system and see what your kids are doing, or relax and get a workout in yourself while the kids are training. We will have a unique opportunity to watch our children grow up together with a truly unique martial arts lifestyle.
I am starting this all as we speak. Following this letter, you will receive a new schedule with a location. The new schedule will allow for three classes per week. Ideally twice a week what most kids are able to do. Squad style training will pause for a while and we will return to group classes. The location is being broken down this weekend and our first class outdoors starts on Monday. Nothing is really changing except where we train. I will be adjusting tuition down to a flat $99 per month for everyone, and that will be a grandfathered tuition for everyone. When we are up and running with the new building, tuition for new people will be significantly higher. It will be a fun transition.
This is a journey that I have always known I was going to take. Its now or never, and I have never been afraid of risk. I hope you can see the value in the vision I have for our school and students. Your participation is what funds the new school. Everything that I do from this moment on is to ensure that this project is completed.
Feel free to text me with any questions or concerns. If you would like to call me and talk to me in person simply text me ahead of time. I receive dozens and dozens of phone calls everyday, so it becomes impossible to answer my phone if it's not a prearranged talk.
Let's do this!