by Kathy Olevsky
In the martial arts industry, we constantly have to reinvent ourselves to stay relevant. For example, many years ago, my husband and I ran a very traditional karate school. In the mid-1980s, the two of us moved into cross-training in other styles, but we kept it a secret from most students. We didn’t want to muddy our message, which was that we were a regular karate school.
What we learned is that offering multiple styles in one dojo can be a game-changer. That happened when we transitioned from teaching karate exclusively to offering instruction in karate, kendo, iaido, judo, jujitsu and a variety of weapons. Instead of it becoming confusing to the general public, it became enticing. Students liked the fact that we offered them more choices.
Similarly, we never could have predicted what happened to our world with the COVID-19 pandemic. All of a sudden, we had to transition from physical entities to online businesses. Not surprisingly, the martial arts industry adapted. Those who wanted to survive tapped into their “never quit” mindset. After doing the research, schools all over the world moved to online platforms like Zoom, WebEx and Google Hangouts.
As a result of the pandemic, many martial artists had to teach themselves how to become virtual entrepreneurs. In early April, shortly after we went online, our school enrolled our first student who lived 3,000 miles away. The person wanted a virtual martial arts program. We had moved our curriculum online and had even modified our website to let people know that we were not closed; we were virtual. We originally did it to save the students we currently taught. In the long run, the “stay at home” order helped us discover that we could stay in business. In some ways, it inspired us to improve what we offered.
Just like in the 1980s when we discovered that cross-training in other arts and offering them in our dojo was a smart change, there is a benefit to being forced to teach online. I’d venture to say that most of us are learning that this is a different aspect of our business, one that we had not tapped. Our school, along with many others, moved toward it rather than giving up. We modified our website to include a learning module system that made delivery of the online curriculum even easier.
Our previous investment in great student-retention software turned out to be serendipitous, as we had made the switch only eight months before COVID-19 hit the United States.
Throughout the industry, martial arts schools have learned how to help each other. We have learned that to survive, we must work as hard as we worked to achieve our black belts. We move forward and adapt. We don’t let obstacles block our path. This is a new world, and as we always do, we lean into it. In doing so, we will gain new talent that will benefit us far into the future.
To contact Kathy Olevsky, send an email to [email protected]
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