Choosing Your School Identity



If you think about the Kempo classes in the early days, the ‘attendance’ list reads like a who’s who of the martial arts – Chow, Emperado, Parker, Lowe, Leoning, Godin, Gascon, and so on. Seeing as we know a lot more today about exercise, physiology, pedagogy and tactics used by other arts, we should be producing whole crops of students that surpass the revered elders. Why aren’t we? 


Because the reason the class list read like a who’s who back then was that the non-hardcore students were removed via attrition. The only folks who stuck around were the ones who would have kicked your butt no matter what they trained in. By trying to keep the average joes, soccer moms and kids, we’ve flooded the martial arts schools with hobbyists. Is this bad? Good? I think it’s just a matter of opinion or philosophy. Are you trying to create peerless fighters or just do the most good for the largest number of people. I have some friends who teach at a school a couple of towns over, and I’ve recommended about a half dozen students to them over the last year. I teach at a different school, so why on earth would I send them to ‘the competition’? Because they aren’t the competition. They gear themselves directly to the 18-23 year old male UFC hopeful demographic. They are a small school in someone’s basement. They will never be a big school. They have no website, and I’m not sure they even have a sign. They have business cards now and then. And if you survive a month there, you are allowed to add your name to the roster. Only a small percentage of folks do. The last guy I referred there (about 6 months ago) has lost 50 lbs. He has a cauliflower ear now. He’s as happy as a clam. How many soccer moms or kids do you think they have? How many of your students would last a 2 minute round MMA style with any of their ‘1-year’ veterans? How many of your blackbelts? You make your choices based on your personal philosophy and how you want to focus your life and time. 


I’m not saying that either one is bad or good. What I am saying is – run your school the way you believe is right. You will attract that type of student. If you try to cater to everybody (from hardcore to soccer mom) in one program, you will alienate half of your students on a regular basis. If you want to teach the hard core and the soccer mom, learn to separate your goals from the goals of your students. Plan a class for each, but don’t expect one class to fit the needs of everyone. If you teach in a way that you don’t personally believe, your students will figure it out. Run the school the way you believe. Your students (although they may not be a large group) will find you.