A frequent contributor to Black Belt, Floyd Burk insists that instructors can achieve greater success by following these nine tips for staying motivated and energized on the mat. Guess what? Most of them involve retooling your own behavior.
except Sunday, I put on my
gi and drive to the dojo, then teach for several hours. I started doing this in 1980, and 38 years later, I find myself repeating the same sequence over and over. Maybe you do likewise, or maybe you’re hoping to embark on your own journey of school ownership. Either way, I’d like to share some of the things that have kept me loving what I do and motivated to continue conveying my art to my students.
DERIVE PRIDE from your school name. You must love it and love saying it so the name elicits a positive reaction from people. I went through a couple of school names before I ended up with Trad Am Karate, which is short for my eclectic system of traditional American karate. The name works well because it reflects our system, it’s easy to say and it has a ring that a community can get to know — which helps get people to train at the school. I didn’t come up with the name overnight; the process entailed writing down a mountain of names and descriptions over the years. I was happy when I made the change. Now if your school name is working as is, that’s great. If not, change it.
Don’t change your school name too often or in an effort to capitalize on the latest fad. You’ll just seem wishy-washy to the community. Also know that many names have been trademarked. Do some research before you pull the trigger.
ESTABLISH A NETWORK for discussing business issues. The lone wolf doesn’t last many long, cold winters. I meet with a mentor from time to time, as well a few like-minded people I call regularly. It’s really beneficial to talk to fellow martial artists who can understand the challenges you face, whether they involve teaching, marketing or social media.
Warning! Avoid being overly critical of your staff or students with your network unless the discussion is a sincere exercise intended to find solutions to particular problems. This includes not bad-mouthing other schools or instructors in your area. A discussion that deteriorates into attacking people who aren’t there will leave you feeling worse and undermine the positive motivation you’re seeking.
JOIN AN ORGANIZATION that provides the professional guidance you may need. There’s no limit to the help you can receive — on curriculum development, school operation and even rank certifications. Three prominent groups are the American Independent Karate Instructors Association, the Martial Arts Industry Association and the Independent Karate Schools of America. (Full disclosure: I’m affiliated with IKSA.) You can find others by searching the web.
Warning! Steer clear of groups that require you to make too many changes — such as alterations to your art. Also, avoid those that are operated by people who seek to strip your freedom or independence.
FREQUENTLY ATTEND seminars or conventions. They can motivate you and offer new knowledge and ideas. Case in point: When I attended the 2016 Martial Arts SuperShow, I liked a suggestion from the keynote speaker that pertained to building a “photo op” area in your dojo, one that includes your logo in the background. The speaker then said that whenever you host an event, encourage students to take photos there with their parents/spouses/siblings. When those photos get posted on
social media, it’s great exposure for your business.
As beneficial as that proved, it was just a fraction of the wisdom I encountered at the SuperShow. There are many other conventions, training camps and seminars that take place across the country, and most of them will leave you better prepared for success.
Warning! Avoid events that make overreaching promises or that guarantee a rank advancement just for paying a fee.
ALLOW PEOPLE TO PAY their enrollment fees directly to you. Let it be a way for them to say you’re an awesome teacher — after all, you’re helping them make their lives better. If asked, be positive about the fees you charge and don’t hesitate to mention that their financial support helps keep your school thriving and vibrant.
Warning! When operating expenses rise, sometimes you have no choice but to raise prices. Don’t feel guilty. The last thing your students want is for you to close down because you can’t pay the bills. And don’t worry about what others in your area are charging. Charge what you need to charge to pay the bills.
DEVELOP A POSITIVE MINDSET and start today. Begin by using positive self-talk. Never say, “I have to teach class now.” Instead, say, “I get to teach class now.”
With difficult students, don’t say, “I dread today’s kids class because of so-and-so!” Instead, say, “I can’t wait for the kids class because soand-so is going to help me become a better instructor.”
Another case in point: My wife, who teaches more than I do, used to come home after our community karate classes and say, “Tommy and Timmy (not their real names) were behaving so awfully I don’t want to go there anymore.” I told her, “One day, they’re going to be running the dojo.” Ten years later, my wife said to me, “You were right — Tommy and Timmy were running the dojo today.” It was so rewarding to watch those kids mature and become model students.
Positive self-talk also includes telling yourself — and truly believing — that you’ll always get new signups. If you’re positive, you’ll attract positive. If you’re negative, you’ll attract negative, and that can drag you down.
Warning! Don’t spend too much time thinking about circumstances you can’t control. If a new school opens across the street, there’s nothing you can do about it. You can, however, control your attitude. When a new
tang soo do school opened near my school, I used it as inspiration to create new window posters and spruce up the lobby. It also motivated me to be a better teacher. It’s all about the silver lining.
SPREAD A POSITIVE ATTITUDE to those around you. One way is to make an effort to be in a good mood and say things out loud that are positive. Also, avoid complaining about personal problems or life in general when your students or their parents are around. Once, I was talking about this very subject on the phone with Dr. Jerry Beasley of AIKIA. He advised me to reply to how-are- you-doing questions with “I’m happy, healthy and terrific.” I’ve been doing that for years — no mat- ter how I feel — because it makes me feel good and never brings others down.
ORGANIZE SPECIAL EVENTS at your school to spice up the routine. For instance, hold day camps during spring break or summer vacation. Conduct training seminars and workshops. Find a guest instructor who will be a good fit with your art. Conduct an occasional tournament at your school and keep it fun and friendly.
Warning! Limit the number of events you have throughout the year, or you’ll wear out and de-motivate your staff. If an event won’t benefit you or your school, don’t hold it. I decided to stop doing day camps because they were harming a few student-instructor relationships, and the breakdown found its way into regular classes. On the other hand, a friend of mine named John Lipari runs day camps at his schools in New York and California, and he’s been doing them with no issues for more than 25 years.
FINALLY, ADD SOMETHING to your own training plan. A handful of my senior students and I started doing the traditional Japanese art of ken
jutsu a couple of years ago. We found that adding to our skill set was motivational, and it has spilled over to our students — including those who will need to wait for some time before they’re invited to join us.
OABOUT THE AUTHOR: Floyd Burk is a San Diego–based 10th-degree black belt with 45 years of experience in the arts. To contact him, visit Independent Karate Schools of America at iksa.com.