How to Fail. . . Or Greatly Succeed. . . At Running A School

successContrast has always been one of the greatest teachers in my life. Everyone makes mistakes and knowing this truism, tremendous opportunities to learn are contained within each.

Especially the mistakes of others.

Doing so of course, will not make you infallible, but will drastically cut down on the number of errors, blunders, glitches and overall mistakes that we typically make.

I first learned this when I was in practice as an Acupuncture Physician. Having a huge practice had many advantages and one was to observe, contrast and compare those who were “successful” with those who were not (however you define success). Some made great money but were in debt, renting a tiny apartment and had a tough time with bills. . . yet continued to spend wildly. Some were earning modest money and lived like a king or queen in spite of all challenges. Contrast always taught valuable lessons in each instance.

Same is true with running a Martial Arts School. Though I have made 1001 mistakes over the years, it is better than the 5001 that could have been made and luckily, were avoided. Here are the most common errors, in no particular order:

1. Order shirts, pay for a logo and a website, buy business cards etc. . . .before you even have one paying student. Lose money before you make money.

Fancy logos do not make a school. Nor do eye-catching shirts. Great teaching, promotion and going out of your way for others are the things that build a school. It takes time, effort and the willingness to do the unpleasant things that others are not.

2. Open before you are ready. Open the doors or the site, well before you are ready to go.

Let me use the analogy of a website. Want to immediately destroy your new business, with virtually 0% chance of recovering? Announce you have a site. Do heavy promotion for the site and then. . . use these 2 words:  “Under Construction.”

Open your school only when you are 100% ready. Yes, there are always problems that will creep into the picture, but have as much ready to go as possible. Do not advertise a school when you don’t have one or are not ready to go. You will instantly turn off any and all potential students.

3. Complete with other schools, particularly the “McDojos.” Focus your attention on the things that do not really matter.

If you have a less-than-common art such as Systema, it is very difficult if not impossible to compete with the TKD/local black belt mills. They cater to those only interested in the quick fix, the martial arts “hackers” of the world. They are not interested in having their art blended with their life; rather, it is something to check off the Bucket List.

These are not your students. So don’t seek them. No sense competing with businesses that are not part of your niche. Go to places where you would find people like you — dedicated, genuine martial artists.

4. Make no connections in the community. Avoid reaching out to others and you are sure to be closing your doors in no time.

Be a part of the community. This is where your supports and future students will be found. Joe tells Mary who tells Jon who tells Bill and Bill becomes your student. That is the typical sequence.

I received students from local coffee shops, newspaper featured article, restaurant, barber, Sports Authority and book stores. Mostly I receive them via word of mouth.

You just never know. Keep all avenues open.

5. Don’t promote. Do no advertising of any sort. Don’t hand out flyers, do web promotions or anything of this nature. Failure loves lack of effort.

Take risks and go for it. That is how we were featured in the local newspaper and other media outlets. From this, we are being featured in an upcoming documentary. Promotion is the most unpleasant part (at least for me it is) but it is the make/break aspect of your school.

6. Make each person insignificant. Treat each student as an income. Or a non-entity. They don’t matter. . . .said NO ONE who ever ran a successful school.

I have gotten to know each and every student in depth. I do my best to treat each person with respect and teach each in a way that is ideal for their learning style (versus one-size-fits-all). Over the years, we have become a very tight circle where loyalty matters. Those who did not want to be a part of this have left, and that is fine. It makes the Circle that much stronger.

Every person in every class matters to me. I want to help with their Life as much as their Systema. That is why I offer health information, inspirational stories, learning opportunities outside of class and many others. I think people really, really appreciate this. Again, it shows up with a close-knit group being formed, such as ours.

7.  Try to be like Vlad. Watch DVDs or clips and try to imitate the masters like Valentin or Vlad. Do nothing original. Nothing that you can call your own. Surefire way to great disappointment.

Over the years, I have and continue to find my own Systema. I do my best to help others find theirs as well.

I will never be anywhere close to Vlad. Not exactly a big secret here, now is it. But I can learn, do my best and continue to move forward. That is the message I convey to students.

Be you. Everyone else is taken.

7a. Be common. In the same vein, be ordinary. Have each class like every other. Take zero risks, and you too will have a bland, vanilla school.

I have added The Approach, Arnis stick work, concepts from Applied Kinesiology, Oriental Medicine and Dim Mak, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, The Shredder and other “styles” of Systema into the mix at times. Granted they are a tiny percentage of the overall work but nevertheless, it makes it unique and out of the ordinary.

People LOVE this too. I believe it is one of the reasons why our schools have grown so much.

I am reminded of a quote from the late, great Herb Brooks (he of the famous 1980 Miracle hockey team):

“We cannot be a team of common men, because common men go nowhere. We must be uncommon. . . . . . . “

8. Stop Training. Go to seminars or watch DVDs once in a while only. Maybe some clips and try to convince yourself that this is real training. Apply nothing and never grow.

The only way to make steady and continue progress that will last is through regular training. I have said this many times  – If you are not training weekly, you are training weakly.

Have a teacher and connect and train with them regularly. If you don’t have a teacher, go find one and train with them regularly. You have to set the example for your current and future students. If not you, then who will?

Conclusion: There are undoubtedly more on this list, but these are the major ones that I have come across. Most importantly, observe carefully what others who are successful (and those who are struggling) are doing. Implement what is working. Do the opposite of what is failing. Best of all, make your own, your own. Leave your mark.

We are at a time in history when being creative, loyal, determined and other skills are desperately needed. What better way to teach and practice these skills than doing so via Systema, the greatest art ever.







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