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Beyond the Dojo: The Master Key to Building a Business That Transcends Your Martial Arts School

maia Apr 15, 2021

by Harinder Singh Sabharwal


At least 90 percent of success in business boils down to mindset and the ability to “be like water” as you adapt to change. The fact that you’re reading this article indicates that the martial arts are your business — as well as a way of life for you. The education you’ve received stretches far beyond the physical and impacts every aspect of your existence. This includes how you perceive situations, how you interact with people and how you make decisions. The arts provide you with a philosophy of action that’s powered by a disciplined mind, and this sets you apart from people who are into other pursuits.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 has thrown our industry into chaos. It’s pushed us to transform how we conduct business and how we provide services for our students. As martial artists, we’re trained to make ourselves comfortable in uncomfortable situations, which is why, as an industry, we’ve stepped up and responded to the challenge. In chaos, a person can crumble under the pressure or choose to use it as a canvas for creativity.

Whether you’re a martial arts school owner, an instructor or a thought leader, the paradigm-shifting concept I’m about to share can help you boost your income by taking your most prized teachings beyond the dojo and onto the world stage of high-performance training. This includes speaking at conferences, holding workshops for corporations and conducting training clinics. In this article, I share the most important lesson I learned and the ways I’ve used it to transition from the dojo to the business world, to generate more income in a day than I used to earn in a month and to impact thousands of lives.


Becoming a Black Belt in the Art of SAM

When I decided to become a professional martial artist, I understood the struggle to get students, retain students and fill seminars. I also understood that I was fighting against Father Time. I realized that maintaining a heavy teaching schedule during the week, traveling to seminars on weekends, and risking injury and burnout every step of the way were not sustainable. One wrong move on the mat, and I could lose my ability to provide for my family.

Compounding the situation, I thought about how much I loved to teach and train, and I knew I needed to find a better path that would support my martial arts growth and my family’s lifestyle. I recalled how many school owners I knew had become chained to their schools and were forced to give up on other endeavors — like their own training and their passion for traveling with their families.

So I sat down and started to visualize the possibilities. I saw myself onstage, inspiring and motivating audiences the way Tony Robbins does. I knew I had the ability to provide the edge for business professionals and high performers. I understood the value of the knowledge I possessed; I just didn’t know how to take it outside the martial arts, law-enforcement and military environments and into the business world.

I’d spent two decades earning black belts in several systems, but what I needed was a black belt in the art of SAM, better-known as sales and marketing.

The key to my success entailed finding a master teacher in SAM, just like I’d done in the martial arts. I had to find a coach who could help me build my brand, get clarity on my offer, craft my message and design my program. After a thorough search, I found a gentleman named Steve Harrison, who was responsible for launching New York Times best-selling authors Robert Kiyosaki (Rich Dad Poor Dad) and Jack Canfield (Chicken Soup for the Soul). Both men went on to build empires that consisted of speaking and coaching, empires that allowed them to impact the lives of millions.

Now, a coach like Steve Harrison doesn’t come cheap, so I decided to sell some stock options from my Silicon Valley days, along with my beloved Hummer, so I could commit to his mentorship program. Over the next few years, I immersed myself in training — with Harrison and other coaches — so that I might understand how to package the martial arts in a way that would enable me to take them beyond the mats and into the corporate world.

The most important lesson I learned from Harrison proved to be the master key to all sales and marketing. Understanding it catapulted my martial arts career, affording me opportunities to speak on the same stage as Richard Branson, teach at Canfield’s Break Through to Success events, conduct corporate workshops, coach Silicon Valley executives, give TED talks, and develop high-ticket online and in-person offers.


Getting Clarity on the Problem

The single most important ingredient to crafting talks, designing programs and building brands is getting crystal clear on the problem you’re solving and whom you’re solving it for. This is the master key, the most valuable component in your sales and marketing efforts. It may sound simple, but it leads to a deep question. How deep are you willing to go?

As teachers, we go straight into teaching mode, and we devise solutions for many problems, many people and many situations. This makes us great at helping that portion of the public that walks into our schools, but to go outside the dojo and craft a compelling message, we have to dial into one singular problem. This was really hard for me in the beginning because I thought I had solutions to so many problems. Harrison would say, “You are all over the place. To build a solid marketing message and a brand, you need to home in on what it is that you can authentically and uniquely provide.”

I followed his advice. If you wish to do the same, your first step is to identify why you got into the martial arts. What’s your story? What problem were you trying to solve for yourself? Was it bullying, abuse, lack of discipline, anger, fear or something else?

For me, taking up the martial arts was about quieting the thoughts in my mind and balancing the emotions in my heart so I could learn to enter the flow state at will, at home, at work and in chaos. An incident from my past will illustrate how I arrived at this conclusion.

It was a perfect June night in California. We’d just finished our university exams and were headed to the beach to celebrate around a bonfire. I was in one of the last cars to pull into the parking lot, which was situated 100 yards from the beach. Before we made our way to the fire, we decided to crack open some beers to celebrate the end of the schoolyear. Little did I know that in the next few moments, my life would change forever.

Out of the shadows emerged about 25 gangbangers who were searching for someone. They thought my roommate physically resembled one of the people on their hitlist, so they attacked. In the chaos of battle, I accidently entered the flow state. Time started to slow down just like in The Matrix, and I experienced a level of peace in the chaos. Mind you, I didn’t do anything heroic. In fact, I got my but kicked and escaped death only because the guys the gangbangers actually were looking for happened to walk by.

After the attack, I was angry, ashamed that I didn’t know what to do, didn’t have a plan or strategy, and feared the situation might happen again. At the same time, I was obsessed with the flow state I’d entered. It was a level of peace and stillness like nothing I’d felt. My nature was to be an obsessive thinker, meaning I couldn’t turn off the chitter-chatter in my mind. I was always thinking and analyzing, and it was hard for me to feel. My emotions tended to get the best of me as I reacted to people, places and things. I worried about what others thought of me and ceaselessly sought their approval. Because I never felt safe, I was compelled to control my relationships and environments.

For the first time, however — in the middle of the chaos of the fight — I was free. My mind was silent, my emotions were calm, and I peacefully observed the carnage around me. This effortless awareness that I’d stumbled on constituted the flow state or, as athletes like to call it, “the zone.”

I wanted to experience my life in this flow state. To that end, I let this event become the spear that would head all my training and research in martial arts, mindset development and philosophy.

Over the ensuing years, I discovered that to be successful in chaos, you need to develop mental stillness, tactical strategy and technical skill. Everything I did was about learning to manage my emotions, quiet my mind, slow my heart rate and enter that beautiful state of presence so I could observe and then execute my strategy from a higher level of awareness.

Clearly, that experience on the beach had shaped my career. Since then, I’ve shared what I learned with more than 150 military and law-enforcement agencies across the globe.


Communicating With Clients

Steve Harrison asked me to interview my clients on their experiences with me so I could better understand the problems I solved. Here’s a snippet from a recommendation letter I received from the lead defensive-tactics instructor for the U.S. Secret Service:


“As impressive as Sifu Singh’s mastery of physical combative skills was, there was something else that captivated me. Sifu Singh was subtly integrating mental training into the physical training in a way I had never seen before. Each drill blended breathing techniques, vocalizations, mental focus and rapid shifts of physical tempo and emotional intensity in with the actual physical skills being trained.

For years, I have immersed myself in research on tactical performance, combat ethics and use-of-force training, and I have come to the conclusion that one of the keys to helping police officers, soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen become effective and ethical guardians of our nation and our constitution was to be found training arousal control — the ability to control one’s emotional state. To this day, I have yet to find another teacher or program that blends this skill with physical combat skills at anywhere close to the extent that Sifu Singh does.”

— Hal Williamson, Secret Service Defensive Tactics Instructor


After reading other such testimonials, it became clear that my programs were helping clients quiet their minds, balance their emotions and raise their performance levels when it mattered most — in risky, sometimes life-threatening, situations. If I could teach these principles to martial artists, police officers and military personnel, I also could teach them to business professionals and corporations.

I was excited to share my findings with Harrison. That was when he looked me straight in the eye and, with a stern voice, asked, “What is the problem you solve? You have presented me with the solution. People take action to move away from a problem and not toward a solution. People want to get out of the hell they are in. So what is the hell you are moving them away from?”

That was when I learned that I have to position my offer and message in the language my clients use and that I need to describe the problem to them better than they can describe it to themselves. First, I had to zero in on who my ideal client was. For that, I’d require the guidance of another renowned business coach, a man named Diego San Miquel.

I wanted to work with successful business executives and entrepreneurs. I knew these clients well because I used to work in Silicon Valley, first as an advanced applications engineer and then as a strategic marketing manager at a semiconductor company. I also knew what it was like to live the hectic life of an entrepreneur. From personal experience, I was aware that these high performers never turn off their minds, never relax and are always exhausted. It’s hard for them to juggle performing well at work with being present with their families.

So what was the real value of quieting the mind, balancing the emotions and entering the flow state? More presence would mean better decision-making, which would thereby increase performance. After all, if you’re up in your head, you can’t connect with people. If you’re emotional, your awareness goes down and you can’t adapt to situations and find solutions.

So the ultimate edge in making business decisions, in surviving life-and-death situations and in connecting to your loved ones is the ability to be present and choose a response, rather than reacting according to emotions and old habits. It’s the ability to detach from the outcome and operate as an observer.

Now, what might stop us from making good decisions? Being exhausted, feeling overwhelmed and experiencing distraction all can prevent us from being present and making good decisions. Aha! Finally, I had figured out the problem that I’d offer to solve. From this, I was able to draft my message in the form of a mission statement:


I help busy professionals and successful entrepreneurs overcome exhaustion, overwhelmingness and distraction by building the energy needed to enter the flow state on command so they can grow their business/increase their performance — and still come home and be playful, present and peaceful with their families after a tough day at the office.


This internal mission statement is the most important asset I have. It identifies my ideal clients, their problems, the solutions to those problems and the results the clients can expect. It allows me to plan my talks, build my programs and target my audience. I recommend you invest some time in the process described above to formulate your own internal mission statement. It’s your north star, one that will guide your branding, direct your messaging and assist in the building of your identity. Your ability to articulate what you do and the problems you solve will put you a step ahead of the competition and enable you to serve others to your highest potential.


Communicating the Message Onstage

After you have your messaging down, you must learn how to tell your story in a compelling and engaging way so it captures interest without trying too hard. It should never appear like you’re selling something. You must be authentic, and your story must be in line with your experiences. If you’re trying to impress, if you’re seeking approval or if you’re afraid of being judged, you’ll come off as needy and insecure.

You must be yourself and believe that your story can serve people. The reason we became martial arts instructors and school owners is we’ve been called to serve our students and be examples in our communities.

When Steve Harrison had introduced me to Jack Canfield, this was the first thing Canfield said: “Tell me your story, young man.” Without skipping a beat, I clicked into the flow and authentically expressed my story over the next 10 minutes. I was prepared, I had practiced and, most important, I was detached from the result. This enabled me to be wholly in the present. After I shared my story, Canfield booked me on the spot to speak at his event. He offered this feedback on our first meeting and my presentation skills:


“I was so impressed by Harinder’s internal power, physical presence and mastery of the moment that I invited him to come and share his ‘Principles of High Performance’ with the 250 people at my annual Breakthrough to Success training, which was held in Scottsdale, Arizona. Once again, Harinder dazzled, inspired, entertained and, most importantly, educated the attendees while simultaneously uplifting their spirits and awakening their consciousness.”

— Jack Canfield, author of Chicken Soup for the Soul


What I hope you take from this note is that people don’t buy what you’re selling; they buy into you. The trademark of a good speaker is the person’s energy, state of mind, level of presence, and ability to connect to and have fun with the audience. It’s your stillness and engulfing awareness that inspire people to change.

As a martial arts instructor, you already have thousands of hours of speaking experience under your belt. Moving forward, your school can serve as the perfect sandbox for practicing your pitch and for learning how to capture an audience and inspire them to greatness. The better you get at relaying the message, the better the results that your students will get. Then you can slowly expand to audiences outside your comfort zone. Start at community centers and public events. Joining the Toastmasters organization can help you fine-tune your public-speaking skills.

And there are many other platforms and stages on which you can speak. The more you pass along your message, the better you’ll get at your delivery. Facebook, Instagram and Clubhouse provide stages you can get on every day to perfect your message. Try to get on relevant podcasts or consider launching your own. Do anything you can to get comfortable speaking to anyone anytime and anyplace.

Next, set a goal to give a TED talk on the benefits of martial arts training or another suitable subject. Speaking onstage outside the martial arts world builds credibility in the eyes of future clients. Parents are looking for well-rounded instructors who can articulate life skills to their children. Need an example? In 2012, I gave a TEDx talk titled How to Quiet the Mind in 5 Minutes a Day by Sifu Singh. You can watch it on YouTube. This one talk generated a six-figure revenue and landed me countless corporate-speaking gigs, podcast interviews and private training opportunities.

My first non-martial arts podcast was for InsideSales.Com, and my first corporate-speaking gig was for Morgan Stanley Smith Barney. Both came about after martial arts students shared my TED talk with friends. This clearly illustrates the importance of getting your message out there. Just as people are waiting to hear from you, people are waiting to guide you. When I needed specific guidance regarding how to create my TED talk, I watched other TED talks on how to give good TED talks. Then I practiced and practiced and practiced some more.


Finding the Greatest Joy

The greatest joy I’ve experienced from taking martial arts out of the dojo and onto the world stage is having the opportunity to inspire others to take up martial arts. I love showing the public that the arts are much more than punching, kicking and grappling. They offer a way of life, a profound philosophy of action and a path to self-discovery.

Everything I am today is because of the martial arts. I owe my life to the arts and to my teachers. Chances are you feel the same way. So you no doubt agree with me that we need more martial artists spreading the life-changing benefits to the non-martial arts world. Considering the chaos in which we live, we’re needed now more than ever. Our schools need us, our communities need us, and the world needs us. Now is the time to start taking your message to the masses. Stand strong!


Harinder Singh Sabharwal is a high-performance coach, speaker, philosopher and author. He teaches jeet kune do, wing chun, tai chi, kali, savate, boxing and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He’s the founder of Black Belt University and the Jeet Kune Do Athletic Association. For more information, visit For information about his Jeet Kune Do for Black Belts online course, visit

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