17 – Growing Your Martial Arts School With External And Celebrity Instructors
No time to groom martial arts instructors to grow your martial arts school? Con Lazos hire's externally if they're a match. Martial Arts celebrity Richard Norton most definitely makes that list.
IN THIS EPISODE YOU WILL LEARN:
- How martial arts ‘fills the gap' with education
- The school teachers advantage to martial arts instructing
- Having access to the knowledge of world-renowned Richard Norton
- Trusting your gut feel when hiring instructors from outside
- When you take your foot off the pedal and have to start from scratch
- Grooming students to be the best version of themselves
- And more
*Need help growing your martial arts school? Learn More Here.
The main thing here is that we teach from a total love perspective. What I mean by that is, we have to love everything about what we're doing.
Hi, this is George Fourie and welcome to martial arts media podcast, episode number 17. I have with me today Con Lazos, from Fusion MA. And we talk about a few interesting topics, that being going back to the whole teaching aspect again as an ex teacher, using those principles in teaching martial arts, but also something a bit counterintuitive to what most people recommend, and that is, instead of just grooming instructors from the ground up, but actually employing people from external clubs and external expertise to come and coach at Fusion MA.
And that's the blend that is really working well for him and he's got various experts on board, other than himself. One famous and well respected martial artist from Australia, Richard Norton, who, if you're not familiar with, was the fight coordinator and stunt coordinator for “Suicide squad“ and a whole bunch of other movies, so you can check that out on Google, you'll find a whole lot of information about him. And we discussed a bit working with Richard, but more so, talk about Con's vision and how he likes to impact youth and students through training martial arts.
Now, if you've listened to a few episodes, you know that I've always been asking, please leave us a positive review on iTunes and I've been sending you to the link martialartsmedia.com/itunes. But I have to apologize, because somebody brought it to my attention that it’s only halfway to leave a review when you go to that link and iTunes does not make this easy, they make it pretty confusing.
So the link is correct, but it’s not the last step to leave a review. So when you go to martialartsmedia.com/itunes, you've actually got to click on another link and you'll see there's a sort of a red, fiery, I don't know what you call that, picture of me, with a logo of martial arts media. And just below that, there's a blue button that says, “View on iTunes.“ Now, you actually have to click that button “View on iTunes“ to open up iTunes and then you're able to leave a review. So, apologies for not giving the whole swell of how to get there, but that's basically it. martialartsmedia.com/itunes, click on the “View on iTunes“ button and you can leave the review. And why do I ask for this? Because, if you're getting value out of this show, that's all that we could really ask for in return. Leave us a good review that makes the episode stand out within the iTunes directory, so it gets noticed more and it helps us get the word out about the martial arts media business podcast. So if you want to help us in that way – much appreciated.
As always, transcriptions and links mentioned in the show can be found on our website, martialartsmedia.com/17, that's the number 17 and that will take you to the page where this podcast episode is hosted. Alright, let's jump into this interview, and please welcome to the show – Con Lazos.
GEORGE: Good day everyone, today I have with me Con Lazos from Fusion MA. And a couple of things we want to talk about today, something that's really been brought to my attention that really stands out on what Con is doing, is employing talent from outside and not promoting people from within, but actually creating a martial arts school that serves a vast variety of styles, because of the way he is running his staff. And of course, I want to thank Michelle Hext for putting me in touch with Con, who I interviewed a couple of weeks back. So welcome to the show Con.
CON: Thanks a lot for the intro George and very excited to be on this call with you.
GEORGE: Cool, awesome. So I guess, starting right at the beginning: who is Con Lazos?
CON: Right. So, I'm 43 years old and I've been running Fusion martial arts fitness for a lot of years: in the Yarraville location since 2001, in the Port Melbourne location since 2008 and I've been teaching martial arts since 1991 in various different places. An ex school teacher who saw a need for proper martial arts teaching to fill in the gap about what they don't do at schools and my whole life has been basically health and wellness through the martial arts.
GEORGE: Where did you actually get going with martial arts yourself, before all the teaching and everything came about?
CON: When I was a young kid, a primary school kid, I actually use to live in Greece and I got into martial arts through watching martial art films in outdoor cinemas in my home town of Chalkida in Greece. Every summer, I think this was a plot by the martial arts club that was opposite the cinema, that just used to run those old school martial art films that are so eclectic, those kung fu films with Bruce Lee and snake kung fu and this and that. And I used to go and watch them all the time and I used to bug my parents to go and take me to the martial arts center. And my dad was an ex army boy and he was like, there's no way you're training at any of these martial arts centers, they're just not the standard to what you think it’s going to be, so you're not doing martial arts.
So I had to befriend a couple of kids that were martial artists and their dads used to run the school, so I used to go around to the house a lot and basically try and learn anything I could in my primary school years. So I got a little bit of a wing chun at the start, but didn't officially start until we moved to Australia and my first official martial arts instructor was a really good man called Ragnar Purje, through Goju. He took me in for a few years and then I just kept going on forwards from there.
GEORGE: So you went from martial arts, you decided to go into teaching – how did that transition to your martial arts instructing?
CON: Alright, when I finished year 12 at high school, just before that, I was basically state level swimmer and I was making my way up through martial arts, through Taekwondo specifically. My parents were like, you're not doing sport as a job, because you know what? You should just keep it as a bit of fun.
So I went and started applied science for a couple of years, and then I realized nah – actually, this is what I'd like to do. And then I started physical education and mathematics at the University of Ballarat, so I could become a better martial arts instructor, because I was already pitching martial arts since I was 18. So I went into this University at 21 and yeah, I did my bachelor of education, just so I could become a better instructor with what I do. Obviously, then I went and became a school teacher for a few years, but the martial arts was a real calling, and I eventually had to stop school teaching, because the martial arts then took over all my time, and the training.
GEORGE: Now, this seems to be a common theme, because I spoke to Sean Allen and Sean Allen, he was also an ex teacher, and he was being very vocal about using the whole teaching concept through martial arts and then, a few weeks back, I spoke to Jess Fraser, and her go-to coach that she was speaking about, Paul Schreiner, which also focuses a lot on the coaching element and does a lot of studying with coaching: how do you feel this gives you that edge? Having that teacher background and applying that in your martial arts instructing?
CON: I think it’s a massive advantage for myself, because you've seen the other side of the coin about what they're trying to do at schools and what they're trying to achieve and how they basically are trying to make the kids to move along at a particular kind of pace. I wasn't happy with the pace that I saw here and I just thought, you know what? We can do a lot better with the kids, even twice a week coming in, to do a lot more character development for the people, through high training.
I know some people that do character development with the clubs basically, they focus a lot more on that and they don't focus as much on the training. We really focus on the training, but we're trying to bring up the best kids that are going to be really well integrated in the community. And we find that a lot of the kids thought the systems that we're doing here, that when they go to school, they might have come from nothing, but they end up being school captains, because they know how to be good leaders.
They take home all these trophies from school. I've got this young instructor here, Fred Made is winning all these major awards, for the type of kid that he is. So the school teaching element let's me marry what they do in schools now with what we're doing and we're just filling the gap. Not everyone can do everything, and we certainly don't say that we'll do everything, but we're certainly filling that gap for pushing kids to go further in life and to learn how to be successful.
GEORGE: Do you structure this with a set curriculum, or are you very more sort of in tune with the individual needs of each student?
CON: We've got a curriculum that we have. It used to be so much more filled up to what it is now, but kids have changed and adults have changed and the time they commit, and come to the classes has changed. So our curriculum is 100% reduced to what we used to teach, in regards to all the wrist locks and arm bars, because my system that we have here at Fusion martial arts in the Taekwondo system has a lot of self defense, you know?
So we've narrowed it down so it’s certainly easier to learn, but certainly the conversations that we're having with the kids about what we're expecting them to get to, to get their black belt, that's really honed in basically every single class. So it’s a looser class structure, it’s not like we don't set out ten weeks they want and tenth minute is what you do, but we do have the rough thing that we do and we're just making sure we're covering it over the ten weeks.
GEORGE: So you've got a few instructors that were with you?
GEORGE: Just give me a bit of an overview of the setup, because I know we're going to lead into, there's a lot of external players that also help with instructing: just give me a bit of background on how that's set up.
CON: Ok, so: four or five years ago, we used to bring up everyone from internally and they trained with me, because I used to teach all the classes. It was really good before, because I actually could bring everyone out. And then eventually, some of those people, they wanted to become my instructors, so they used to take an assistant role and take more responsibility and then obviously, sometimes the people meant to move on and do something different with their lives, because they get families and so on. I've got one instructor now, his name is Jake Vella. He's been fantastic with us and I brought him right through since he was seven old, he's now 23. He runs my Port Melbourne location, he knows the way I like doing things, but now what we're doing is, we're bringing people from the outside, but we still keep building our assistant instructors and everything from the inside.
So if they now want to do their own career, they can actually go and have their own place outside of Fusion and be able to run their own centers. That's still a few years to go, but we've got a really good teenage team at the moment, that in the next 6 or 7 years time, they'll easily be able to run their own places, if that's what they want to do. I've got some really good people that have come in from externally.
I guess the most famous one that everyone around the world would know is the gentleman called Richard Norton, who is one of the first 12 non-Brazilians to get a black belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu. Basically, right up there with Chuck Norris and done all those movies, so every time professor Richard Norton is in Melbourne, Fusion MA is his home base. He comes and helps teach some of the classes out of here. Obviously, the guys really love it, but his main focus is to go around and run seminars, all around Australia, with all the different things that he does, on top of even just the Brazilian jiu jitsu. So he's a really good name. And then I've got another couple instructors here from Iran, one is Arash Mojdeh and his brother Eisa.
They're fantastic, they bring in that hardness from Iran that sometimes I think we've lost in Australia. I feel like all that old school training and that's what we're trying to lead with from here. So it was really good to bring Arash in from the outside, because he was an international competitor at the time and I needed someone to look after our competition team, so his main focus is to look after our competition team. And we've got national team members back on board now because of this.
GEORGE: And is that also for Taekwondo?
CON: He is a Taekwondo guy, yeah, Arash is only a Taekwondo guy. Obviously, with my guys, they want to learn all around. In time, they've learned Brazilian jiu jitsu, they've learned boxing, they've learned everything, but his forte is Taekwondo, yes. An then we've got another instructor that teaches basically Jeet Kune do, we call it modern day kung fu, Jeet Kune do. His name is Christopher Christoph, he's from Bulgaria. He runs a big security from here in Melbourne and he just loves his Jeet Kune do, so we've just introduced him into the club. Anyone that wants to do Jeet Kune do, there's that. So we've got a really good variance of people in here.
GEORGE: Having someone like Richard Norton – I know obviously he's a busy guy and he's got all these great movies going on – what was the latest one I saw…
CON: “Suicide Squad.“
GEORGE: There, that's it, “Suicide Squad.“
CON: He's involved with everyone, he's so popular with helping people, Scarlett Johansson, all that kind of stuff. He's right up there, he's at the top of the tree. And for him to come in and pitch at the club here, we're very thankful, I'm very thankful. I've made great friends with him, because we've got the same kind of philosophy on what martial arts should be all about. So yeah, it’s really really good.
GEORGE: Is that a big draw card? Do you find that, most people that start martial arts, they're just not familiar with who people are, but does that celebrity status help you at all to draw students?
CON: I've personally got a big issue with really promoting. I've got a bit of a backwards kind of a thing: I've worked with a lot of top end people as well, as does Richard.
If you actually come into Fusion MA, it’s very Spartan about what you see around, unless you ask, you won’t know who's who. Obviously, with Richard, he’s got the name out there, and he’s very well respected. I think it’s a very good thing for people outside of Fusion to know that he’s here. The people inside Fusion, I think guys like this, when you're used to having someone around, obviously you totally appreciate it, but you really don’t know what the gem is you have until you don't have him anymore.
He’s just gone missing for a couple of years now because of all the movies. He’s just returned to come back on the mats with us for a couple of months and the guys are absolutely appreciating it, because they missed out on him for a couple of years. So now when he’s come back on the floor, the talent just shows. It’s just a totally different kettle of fish. I guess I could exploit it and say, this is who we've trained and this is who we've got and all that kind of stuff and I think that we would get a lot of blow ins.
But for me, I'm not really interested in blow ins, I just like to have our students and what we’re doing with our students and really developing the people that we actually have. I like people to stay with us for a long time and keep on building them up. So if someone wants to come across because our professor Norton is here, or any of the instructors are here, that’s great. But we don't want you to just come here for like a month or two and then, see you later. We want to work with you and make something of you.
GEORGE: For sure. So going on those principles, let’s just start internally, and then all these external influences that have come in. So, when you sort of groom people internally to become instructors, how do you get all these philosophies across? Because, you've got experience with teaching and all this: how do you communicate this message that it can't be one step, two step, three, which I guess can be a lot harder for younger people to grasp, how to communicate effectively and spot the needs in people and so forth. How do you go about handling that?
CON: These instructors that are coming up to be internal instructors, they started with us since they were really young. So when they come up and become teenagers, they've already got the feeling of what the club is like and how the instructors are really talking to their students and so on. My main thing here is that we teach from a total love perspective. What I mean by that is, we have to love everything about what we're doing. We have to love everything about the people that we have and we want to work towards bettering the other person.
So if you're in that environment all the time, where you're coming from a place of love, even when you have to discipline someone: if you're doing it from a place of love and care, that goes into that person over time, and then, when they start teaching, we can start reminding them: remember when we did this with you? This is what it is. Remember when we did that with that kid? That's what it is. If we see that they're not doing it the way that we like, we take them aside and we do the job ourselves to show how we do the discussion, or how we go forward with that and obviously, they'll learn through us, through example.
I'm very much in the club as much as I possibly can. I've got five young kids myself, I'm still here at least four days a week, just to make sure that everything is running really well. Obviously, before I had kids, I was basically living in Fusion, so those people are really well groomed. So yes, if we always show them that we've got a sense of love and care, that gets past down very naturally to everybody. And obviously, if someone is stepping out of line, it’s myself that will step in and I will deal with that myself and I will explain to them how we go about doing that. Because sometimes – you know what martial arts is like: sometimes, people get a bit of an ego, and they want to be the hero and they want to teach a little bit harder, they want to show someone discipline, or whatever it is. I've got to always remind them that it’s not about us: it’s about our clients and about how we deal with our clients.
GEORGE: How do you deal with bringing in people externally? I've seen this conversation around in a few Facebook groups, that people are very anti bringing people in from the outside. It’s always, groom people in from the bottom-up, groom people to become instructors. So it seems like it’s a big thing that business owners fear is to bring people in externally. Now, you've got all of these strong values, and love and care and value service with your students, instructors as such: how do you convey that message to anybody like Richard Norton, or anybody that comes in externally, to be an instructor at Fusion MA?
CON: I guess the first thing, I've never put an ad out for an instructor. It’s always been through introduction, or it’s always been through someone. Let’s just say, I’ll give an example, which is Arash. Arash had come from overseas, he was living in Footscray up the road, he'd gone around to a lot of Taekwondo clubs and he just happened to drive past Fusion in Yarraville. And walked in and – I don't know what it is, but I've got a sixth sense about someone when someone walks in. I can tell whether they're going to be a good person or not.
I introduce myself to them, I'll have a bit of a chat. Then he opened up and said that he was a Taekwondo person. I said, how do you feel about coming in and just having a bit of a kick around. You know, I've got friends in Iran, and obviously, we hit it off from then. Because I've got a lot of friends form overseas, form international competition myself and been having my ear on the ground and so on. You sense something about someone. And then obviously, he's coming in, training. One day he goes, I really loved your club because you guys are really training well.
You're training hard, you love that kind of thing. If there's any chance that I could work here with you guys, I would love to have a chance. So then obviously, we test it out a little bit by little bit. I teamed him up with Jake Vella, who is, as I said, my student that's been with me for a long time. He went out to the Port Melbourne location, which was South Melbourne at the time. He worked alongside of my right hand man, which is Jake, for a year, until there was a position available in Yarraville for him to be able to do it. And then I just gave him what he's really good at, which is the competition team.
And we started backwards from that: OK, you're going to start the competition team. We're going to build that from nothing to something, and then I'll integrate you in my normal classes. And now, he's basically running the show here in Yarraville for the Taekwondo. And obviously, there's always conversations to be had, because it’s not only someone from outside, it’s actually someone from another country altogether, and they have different systems and so on. And we just keep on talking it through. It’s the easiest thing to do, get upset, that someone's not doing something right: the hardest thing to do is to be able to discuss it and realize that we're doing it for our students and not for ourselves.
And then, it just sort of pans out. It doesn't always pan out 100%, we've had people come in externally and they've taken it to a different level to what they thought that we're going to go for and it just didn't fit into our culture and I've lost a whole bunch of students because of this before, so I just try and get it out a little bit earlier. I think that's why the instructors are scared to lose students. I'm not scared to lose students, I'm only scared to lose students that have been treated wrong and if I'm not on the floor watching what's going on, that's my fault. And I've done that and basically, my club went down from whatever numbers I've had to a third before, because I stepped back as I had another child and I thought, you know what, I think I've got everything down packed. I think everything's going to run really well – I basically stepped off the club for six months, I'd come in 2-3 times a week. And in that time, I lost most of my students, so
I had to restart from scratch. And actually, that's when Arash came into the club, at that time. So yeah, if you don't have your finger on the pulse, you're going to lose it for sure, 100%. Because this is a personality based business. People that walk in, they've got an expectation of what they want. We obviously try to match what we are with the way that they are, and if it matches, they stick with us for a long, long time. If they come in with one set of perspectives and then they see something different, either then they join or we've done something wrong with one of our instructors. So there's lots of conversations that need to be had all the time, that's the key.
GEORGE: That's awesome. Keeping that ear close to the ground and just really paying attention. That really sticks out for me, just being on top of it before things escalate in a direction that you can't control.
CON: Yeah, that's right. And you know what, a lot of people are interested in opening up a lot of clubs and good luck to them and everything. I've seen some really successful people open up multiple clubs and I think the only way it works is when the other instructor has got a major share in that club, because they feel like they're doing something good for themselves or their families and so on. However, if the culture's different between the clubs, the person that loses is the person that created the name. Obviously, this club is not called conlazos.com.au – it’s called Fusion MA, because I like to bring in the best of everybody, but the culture has to be the same.
GEORGE: Con, awesome. It’s been really great chatting to you. Where do you see this going? What's sort of your plan? Where do you want to take your journey with martial arts and your instructing and your school?
CON: This is actually something I've been working on really hard on myself over the last year. I think martial arts is a very, very difficult gig and I'll be honest with everybody: I think it's about as hard as it gets, and I'll tell you the main reason for this: we've got basically four, maximum five hours a day to make a business work from a business perspective. So you've got a building that sits there all day, where other businesses, they can make it work 24 hours a day if they really want to. Martial arts is a very hard business, but you don't have to get rich. I think you can do it, there's ways to do it. If you want to leave a bit of a legacy behind, I'm finding that this is better.
So I'm not interested in opening up more Fusion MA's around. One of my students wants to go and open up their own, it will be their club and they can have my love and support behind them, and so on. I just want these two to run really well. Jake, I totally trust in Port Melbourne, that's his people out there. If Jake left, those people would not stick around, I guess the only person that could step in would be myself, because I obviously used to go in and out a fair bit, but really, that's his club.
Yarraville, it’s always going to be here and it’s going to be bringing up instructors and so on. This is a career for a kid that wants to go to university and you know you want to see yourself through while you go and make something different of yourself. If someone wants to become an international competitor out of here – by all means, go for it. We've got all the facilities, the gym equipment, we've got the talent, we've got the knowledge, we've got the location- we've got everything like that.
That's where I see Fusion going, just making better people out of Fusion, looking out for this local community. There's a lot of great instructors, I'm not interested in going and competing with them, or try and take over territory and all that kind of stuff. I just love everyone to know who the best is in their area. We definitely want to look after all this area that's around Yarraville for what we do. And the same thing for Port Melbourne: if someone wants to go in competition with us, we just keep on doing what we do really well and our clients will be our clients for life. If they left, they weren't our clients to start with. I think that's the long game, just keep on looking after your clients.
GEORGE: Awesome. Con, it was really great chatting to you. Where can people find out more about you?
CON: They can go to fusionma.com.au. For myself personally, most people find me through Facebook. I'm always trying to calm my Facebook group, to try to keep it under 5000 people, because obviously, you need new people coming through. So that's Con Lazos, and you'll find Fusion MA attached to it. Yeah, that's the best way to go about doing it. Bit of a Google search and you'll find us straight away, we can't hide very much these days.
GEORGE: Yeah, true. All right, Con: thanks a lot for chatting to me, I hope to chat to you soon.
CON: Thank you so much George, thanks for your time.
GEORGE: Cheers, bye.
There you go thank you very much for listening, thanks for spending your time with us here today.I hope you got something of value out of that. Thanks of course to Con Lazos from Fusion MA for sharing his journey and his perspectives and values that he brings to the martial arts industry. And for me, when I do listen to any podcast or any training, it’s nice to listen to the story and get the context out of it, but at the end of the day, I'm also looking for that transformational info that I can apply to my business. And a simple goal that I set for myself when I listen to stuff is just one thing: can I grab one item, one thing out of this conversation or training that is actionable, that I can apply to my business? And I hope you can do the same for your business, I hope there's things coming out of these podcasts that you can relate to and just make that one little shift and tweak that is profitable and builds a better business and helps you influence more people through your martial arts training.
Thanks again for listening – show notes are at martialartsmedia.com/17. If you can, please leave us that review that I've been asking for. I would much appreciate it. And martialartsmedia.com/iTunes, but click on the blue icon button that says “View on iTunes.” It takes you to iTunes and you'll be able to leave a review there, we much appreciate it.
Anyway, back next week with another awesome interview. Looking forward to that and I will chat to you then – cheers.
*Need help growing your martial arts school? Learn More Here.