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Show Them Who You Are!

I‘ve been operating a martial arts school full time for 40 years. I think I may have made every mistake that can be made in this business. The reason I’m still in business, I believe, is because I asked for help. I learned quickly that others before me had already found solutions. In this reality-based column, I’ll point out key mistakes I made in my business career, which are common errors among school owners, both large and small, throughout our industry. Then I’ll share the solutions I applied to overcome them.


When I first started in the martial arts back in the late 1970's, it was common to hear an instructor say to a student, “Only one in 1,000 will make it to black belt.” That statement was a source of pride. It meant that a black belt was to be truly honored. It meant that a black belt wasn’t a common man (or woman); they were elite.


The statement was made with good intentions, but it did irreparable harm!


Anyone who is going to become a success in life needs to believe that he/she can become a success. If we tell our students that they only have a minuscule shot in the dark at becoming a black belt, then that’s what they’ll believe.


It took many years to correct this line of thinking in the martial arts world. Our new line of thought is that we expect every student to become a black belt. We will teach them that way. There’s nothing that can stand in our way of developing each student to reach this goal.


We have not changed our rank structure or our testing requirements since the 1970s. We have, however, changed how we deliver these requirements.


Our instructors now work hard to build up our students and to help them reach their goals. We go through rigorous teacher-training and we meet weekly to make sure we are all on the same path. We review teaching strategies and we spend time discussing students as individuals.


We want each student to succeed. We have come to learn, over the years, that there are many different ways to teach children, teens and adults. We deliver the lessons based on the age, rank and experience of each student.


We’re aware there are many parents who do not know that we always intend to have their child’s best interest at heart. We will take the time to earn their trust. It’s usually somewhere around green belt when a parent starts to realize that we will do anything to help their child.


Similarly, adults come in to our dojo as white belt students with a desire to succeed. We have learned that we have to guide them through the first three belts before they start to learn how they are best suited to the martial arts.


Some adults come in thinking that the only way to get a good workout is to sweat for an hour or more. Then they take that one class where we do everything really slow and they find that they are exhausted at the end and have very sore muscles the next day. If we can teach them to be patient and enjoy the process, then we are doing our job.


If you talk to your students about their promotions or their path to black belt, you’ll set them on a path of understanding it is your goal for them. We know that when we put the black belt around our students, whether it is in two-and-a-half years or six years, they have learned how to develop themselves as martial artists. We know that we are responsible for their progress.


As they get through the green and brown belts, they begin to understand that their efforts will determine their progress. When they reach black belt, we have said that they know how to get the job done. A black belt in our school is full of confidence and self-esteem. Often, these characteristics are what they need to develop themselves in academics or in their job/career.


Yes, we are certainly honored to be part of everyone’s personal journey to black belt and beyond.


Kathy Olevsky can be reached for questions or comments at [email protected]

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