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Balance the New With the Old

by Kathy Olevsky


I’ve operated a martial arts school full time for 45 years. I may have made every mistake that can be made in this business. The reason I’m still in business, I believe, is I asked for help. I learned quickly that others before me had already found solutions. In this column, I’ll point out key mistakes I made in my career, which are common errors among school owners, both large and small, throughout our industry. And I’ll share the solutions I used to overcome them.


Over the years, I have realized the importance of balancing the addition of new things with the maintenance of tradition and integrity. In my school’s karate program, we adhere to the same high standards as we always have. The black belt of today is the same as the black belt of many years ago. However, many of our students also partake in our yoga-stretch class, our cardio-fitness class, and our judo and jujitsu classes.

In this industry, it’s essential to explore new ideas to stay ahead of the curve. However, there are many martial arts school owners who totally resist change — to their own detriment.

We know that in today’s market, if you don’t offer a little bit of what your students find tempting about other activities — such as fitness/weight-loss benefits or recreation — they may leave you to seek out those programs.

We learned this by attending seminars and conventions for martial arts school owners. It’s great to pick up something new in a crash course at a convention. It’s also wonderful to visit other martial arts schools and see their programs, especially at the invitation of the dojo owner. There are many opportunities to bring new energy back to your school to keep your current students learning and smiling.

None of this means that you need to set aside your traditional martial arts classes. So how do you keep your school traditional and bring in new energy at the same time?

We’ve learned to maintain everything in our traditional program while adding temporary classes as trials. You may find that a new class goes well for a few months and then participation dwindles — at which time you should be ready to try something different. Or you may find the one thing that keeps your current students happy and training. It can be as easy as adding a yoga class at a time when the floor is not busy so that adult students or parents of students can take a 30- or 60-minute break from the world. Maybe you have an instructor who also likes cardio fitness and wants the chance to teach a class of his or her own. That would be a great once-a-week class to add.

Another option might be creating a demo team. It’s best to start a demo team for a trial period after you’ve determined that you have sufficient time in your schedule and an instructor who is willing to stay on top of team practices.

You can offer any new class for free for a month to see how it goes. Our main goal in adding extra sessions is to get family “add-on” members and keep our current Black Belt Club members happy.

Bringing new energy into your school can take the form of a special class, a series of classes or a few months of something like hosting a demo team. These short-term offerings can help you see whether you will have a following for the new program without committing to anything longer. Make sure you keep your focus on the traditional art that’s bringing in most of your income while you continue to infuse your school and students with fresh energy.


To contact Kathy Olevsky, send an email to [email protected]

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