8 – Sean Allen: The Importance Of Martial Arts In Physical Education

A business to match your lifestyle while teaching the importance of martial arts in physical education? Meet Sean Allen.


  • How to structure your business to match your lifestyle
  • Life lessons from martial arts that go beyond self-defence
  • Why only having a great curriculum is not good enough
  • When it's ok to ‘sell your martial arts baby'
  • How martial arts help kids think creatively under pressure
  • Using martial arts as the vehicle of values and education
  • And more

*Need help growing your martial arts school? Learn More Here.


What I've done is, I've completely changed my martial arts curriculum to answer today's problems. And it might not defending yourself against a right-hand punch in the face.

GEORGE: Hi, this is George Fourie from martialartsmedia.com and welcome to Martial Arts Media podcast, episode number 8. Today's exciting guest I have for you is Sean Allen.

Now, with this story I wanted to go full circle, because if you remember my first episode, my first three actually, the first interview with Graham and Phil from the WA Institute of martial arts, which was split over three episodes, you might have picked up that they actually purchased the school at that point from their initial instructor, and that instructor was Sean Allen. And although Sean grew the business to about 5 or 600 students at that point in time, before he sold it off, that's not what success means for Sean.

And I found it fascinating that much like myself, Sean has based his entire life around building a business that suits his lifestyle and not the other way around. And Sean is truly living a successful life for himself, he's moved down south, here in Western Australia, down south being Margaret  River area, with just amazing surf spots, where he gets to surf every day and teach a  very small, niche group of people, but really where he gets to express his personal values and teach kids the life lessons and skills to deal with problems and life situations through his martial arts, and through his martial arts classes.

You can find all the show notes on martialartsmedia.com/8 and all the transcriptions are available from this interview. If you get any value out of this episode or any of the others, please head over to iTunes, you can find the link below this episode. Head over there and just leave us a review. Five-star reviews help us get up in the rankings, but an honest review is much appreciated. With that, I want to leave you, and I’d like to welcome to the show Sean Allen.

GEORGE: Good day everyone, today I have with me, Sean Allen. Now, honestly, I don't know Sean Allen too well, but I've heard his name around the industry for quite a while. Now, my podcast started out initially interviewing Graham and Phil from the WA Institute of Martial Arts. And if you've picked up on that story, before it was the WA Institute of martial arts, the pretty much purchased the school. And the original owner was Sean Allen.

So I wanted to go full story and go back and interview Sean, because when I use to train at WAIMA, Sean Allen's name popped up a lot, and it was always these one liner words of wisdom that came from Sean Allen, and I never knew who Sean Allen was. Now, other than the start of WAIMA, before it was WAIMA, I'm going to get into that story, Sean Allen has vast experience in martial arts and has now moved over to Margaret  River, where he's living the lifestyle. I always see his surf pictures and things pop up on Facebook. I want just to introduce Sean and get him of course to share his full story. So, welcome to the show, Sean.

SEAN: George, thank you very much, much appreciate your interest in my side of the world and me of course.

GEORGE: Awesome! So, let’s start right at the beginning, with you as such. So, who is Sean Allen?

SEAN: Well, 35 years of martial arts, I'm 54 years of age at the moment – actually, it’s a bit over 35 years of martial arts. I started as a teenager, for the usual reasons. Just before us starting to talk for the interview, I said that, as everybody does, I've evolved and changed in my 50s, and I'm a vastly different beast than the one that I was when I was training and teaching in the early days when I first started as an instructor.

And I suppose we can go back to the original reasons I started training in martial arts, which probably wasn't that much different to most other people. But it depends on where you want to start, whether you want to start why I first started training in martial arts or where I am at the moment – which year should I start at?

GEORGE: If you don't mind sharing the beginning or what were your reasons for starting martial arts?

SEAN: As a young kid, I was bullied. I haven't got the monopoly on being bullied, I moved around a fair bit as a young man with my father moving up his corporate ladder and moving the family to different opportunities that he had, and I changed schools eight times. So I was always the relatively new kid, which left me feeling a little bit insecure, as it would with anybody. Later on, that was an advantage, because it means that I could adapt to new situations quite easily, but I was picked on, bullied, beaten, hit, purely for the fun and enjoyment of other groups of people.

So, when I was in school, I thought, this is crazy, I've got to learn how to defend myself because I've never been a violent character. I've never been one of those guys that like to fight. So it was a real challenge for me to be able to step into a martial arts academy. I tried Taekwondo  for a while, I've tried karate for a while, I've tried a judo class here and there, and I sort of stuck with bits and pieces.

And it wasn't until I had just become a legal age to be able to go into a drinking establishment and I saw my original instructor walking out and there was a large group of guys encircling a car and – geez, this just goes way back! And my original instructor, Rod Stroud, was not a big man. He wasn't tall, but quite a strong person. And he went out and told these guys, it was 15 or 16 guys, to clear off. 

A few of them fronted up to him and he made short work of them. And I just remember him being in the middle of a big circle and everybody being scared to go near this guy. And I remember thinking, holy crap – who is that? And I was standing at a safe distance about 50 meters away, and a guy next to me said, that's my instructor, he trains at – and he told me where and when they trained. That was on a  Sunday – I was there on Monday and continued to train. I brought two friends, they dropped out, I continued on after that.

And it was always, for me, a series of consecutive challenges. It was a challenge to turn up to training in those days because the content was plentiful. These guys weren't placid martial artists in any way, shape or form. They were violent men who worked in security, who had a string of assault charges on them constantly. So, knowing that and me being a surfy boy, who was a bit of a pacifist, it was a challenge for me to just turn up for training.

But then, lo and behold, the next year I kept training, and I grew 6 inches, so I became 6 foot 1, and I could start to get a bit more control over what happened to me. And that became a series of challenges that I kept focusing on for the rest of my life, especially the rest of my youthful training life. Full contact kickboxing, whatever was going to challenge me and scare me, that's what I would focus on. If something was easy, I lost interest on it. So the martial arts was always that focus and challenge for me and challenging myself.

GEORGE: Ok, it’s interesting you mention how these events, and it’s always easy when you look back at these events in your life that seem as if you had a disadvantage, you moving around and moving around. But then there's always a hidden benefit that you're going to discover later like you said, it was easier for you to adapt to situations because you kept on moving around. So you mentioned challenges: what were the challenges you were struggling with, just to get to training and so forth?

14199200_10153916008768511_482799919776758480_nSEAN: In those days, the intimidation factor in training was reasonably high. I just posted a picture of my instructor standing next to Bob Jones, with their shirts off in the 80s when I was training with my instructor. And there was just a string of comments like, omg, who would ever step foot into a room with those men? People who were there in those days go, I remember the fear of training with them. And these people that were commenting and saying I remember the fear – these guys are Australian title holders in kickboxing. They're national, international champions, in their own field, in full contact – Thai boxing or kickboxing.

So these guys are not just your general mainstream Joe off the street – these are highly accomplished fighters, who admit to being scared when they trained with these two men. So, for me being a pacifist and being not a natural fighter, it was hard for me to just wander into training. And it’s only now, in the fullness of my fifties, that I can say – yeah, I was scared! But to me, that was the challenge that I wanted to overcome, I didn't want to be scared.

I remember, at school, being scared of people challenging me to fight, purely because I didn't know what to do. So, by confronting that fear, funnily enough, it extinguished. And within about five years, I was fighting full contact, I had state titles. Most of my friends started teaching earlier than me. I just wanted to work in the security field as a doorman. I wanted to fight full contact, I wanted to continue to focus on getting control over my emotions in serious situations, and not teaching because I didn't feel that I was qualified to teach yet.

GEORGE: Ok, so how did the journey of teaching then come around? And I'm going to get back to that, because there's obviously a vast difference from what you described now, with the whole intimidation factor. I could be wrong, but it’s something that I haven't really seen in other places today.

SEAN: Yep.

GEORGE: So we can get back to that, but how did your journey then evolve into teaching from there?

SEAN: You know, it’s funny because of just this week, I was standing in front of 20 kids, we're doing a martial arts class, and one of the kids said, why did you start teaching? And it stunned me, because I thought, first of all, I couldn't remember, cause when you're in your fifties, it’s hard to remember where I put my keys, let alone what my original motivation was.

So I had to think about it and I remember thinking, when I first started training, I enjoyed the training so much, I wanted to find a way to be able to continue to train more. And I started training and then, especially when I started focusing on a full-time martial arts club, I wanted to be free to train during the day, so I wanted to be able to run the martial  arts school at night, so I could train and surf and do all the things I enjoyed during the day. So, my initial motivation for getting involved in teaching was more of a perception of a lifestyle than wanting to help people.

I know that sounds selfish, but I've got, to be honest – I wanted to be able to train other people and create strong black belts and all that stuff, but I wanted to be able to train my way. And that was my initial motivation. It just so happened that I was studying to be and was a school teacher in those days, so my method of articulating a technique out the front or just being able to control a group of people was one that I’d learned at university, not one that I just sort of fell into and had to work out along the way – I was professionally trained to be teacher.

GEORGE: OK. All right, so – how did the progression go then from that point? You started teaching, where did you go, how did the whole ownership of your first school come about?

SEAN: I was reading self-help books and positive thinking books in the 80s. I was also buying cassette tapes and listening to those in my car or whatever it might have been in those days and I remember it one time, they said, they were talking about creating your own future, creating your own lifestyle, to just going to work for someone else and jamming in what you'd like to do on the weekends. They said, in this particular program, they said – write down your perfect day, write down your perfect week, write down your perfect month.

So I wrote down my perfect day, what if I would have taught martial arts during the night time, and during the day, I would be free to do what I wanted to do? Because in those days, I had a boxing trainer, I had a Thai boxing trainer, I was still fighting full contact, I was doing a whole range of things. So I thought – what fits in with my perfect day? Don't think about what I'm doing now, think about what fits in with my perfect day. And running a martial arts school did.

So, therefore, I had to work out, well, I've got to be able to create the same income from running a martial arts school that I am as a school teacher. Because if I'm making $80,000 as a school teacher, and I can only make $50,000 as a martial arts instructor, my opportunity cost is $30,000. It’s costing me $30,000 to be a martial arts instructor. So, as you can see, I researched the economics of running a martial arts school to fuel my perfect day and my perfect life, how I wanted to run my life. Most people do it in reverse.

GEORGE: Interesting. And I don't think it’s selfish at all, because that's what I'm doing right here, it’s a lifestyle by design. I've structured my business around the way I’d like to live and it’s fascinating that that's how you actually started your whole planning. And really strategically planning it out, that this is how it’s going to match your lifestyle by design, as such.

So what were the next steps to follow? So you had this plan in place, that this was going to fund your lifestyle in a perfect way, that you're able to surf and do all your things and still have your passion for martial arts grow and evolve. What were your first steps to open a school and get that started?

SEAN: I've had 8 different locations for martial arts schools. Seven or eight, something like that. Well, now it will be nine with River included, but my first locations were part time locations, shoestring budget, leaving pamphlets in letterboxes, got my first few students, just started to get it going.

Interestingly enough, the information that was around in those days for running a professional school – this is before the internet: all you were left with is a couple of international magazines and I bought online, well, not online, I bought via mail and paid for a book to come to me on how to run a martial arts school, and this is archaic stuff!

And basically, in those days, I just got started with teaching and was trying to read everything I can on martial arts school. Because there was only like a handful of martial arts schools in Australia that were running professionally. And even then, you'd find that the guys might have had a day job or were supplementing their income in other ways. So I really had no other schools to look at that I could say, I want to model my school on that. So I just gradually learned by trial and error.

For example, a student of mine, I bumped into him in the shops, and I remember thinking about this recently, I'm amazed at how simple this was and people these days who run a school would think, it’s a little bit archaic for Sean to learn it this way. This guy said he joined another school. And I said, wow, OK, how's it going? And he said, Sean, the type of training is inferior to the type of training that you do, but on the walls are all the requirements for the belts, so we know where we're at and we know what's in front of us. He said it’s a little bit unclear as to what we're expected to do in the future to get better with you.

And I remember it hitting me like a bolt – that's so obvious. But in those days, none of us used to do that, because we'd come in, we'd rent a hall, and then we'd move out and someone else would come into the hall. And rented after us, so you couldn't put stuff on the walls or windows or whatever. So I started doing things like that, I started letting my students know, and I'm talking probably 1989, I started letting my students know, this is what you have to do for your next level. This is the reason why and you have to practice this and we're going to help you.

And I started to be able to do that and the school grew. And then one of my higher ranks quit and one of my other higher ranks saw him out somewhere and said, how come you're not training anymore? And he said, I'll tell you the truth, there was nothing wrong with Sean, he said it was just that I'm sick of learning white belt stuff all the time. So I split the classes up, cause it was all belts in one class. And I had so many people beginning all the time that I just couldn't focus on the advanced people and the beginners.

So that was the start of splitting classes, the start of a rotating curriculum, that was a start of requirements. So, unfortunately, it was a school of hard knocks in those days. You learn when things went wrong and you really had to sit down and think and take it personally: he quit because I couldn't take care of him. So it went from 10 or 15 students, I changed locations, because my then the current location was taken over by the state emergency services, it became an office budding. I moved to another location, which had a cheap rental agreement, but it was in the wrong demographic, it was in a Mount Lawley, which is a retirement area practically.

So I just couldn't work out why the phone wasn't ringing. So I closed that down and got a map of the northern suburbs of Perth, our city. And put markers, dots wherever all the high schools were. And then I put a different color marker where all the primary schools were, and looked at the spread of dots, and just looked straight in the middle there for a location. Found a location, started training – lo and behold, the phone starts ringing like crazy. I outgrew that, moved into Canham Way, just down the road from where you're training with WAIMA. Outgrew that and then moved into a big center. Outgrew that, and moved into the combined buildings next door, and the rest was history.

GEORGE: There's a lot of growth spurts there, what do you account to that? You mention the structure and people knowing exactly where they're going, but what was the cause of getting the word out and getting people to reach out to you that the school grew so much?

SEAN: Two things: number one, in those days, you would put an advertisement, an ad in the paper. I remember, I put an ad in the paper and I would hear, I don't know if your listeners will remember the old pager system? Before mobile phones, we had pagers. And it was like a little button with beep on a little machine and it would be a message to say, John Smith called, please call me back on such and such, interested in martial arts. So I remember, I would get 60 inquiries in a night in those days!


SEAN: And I remember at one stage, I had 30 people coming to watch a  class. So it was 30 in a  class and 30 people watching. So it was a case of number one, you were fishing by yourself in a River full of fish, with hardly anybody else fishing, and they were just jumping onto the hook. The unfortunate thing was that the systems were a week. My ability to be able to retain a student was a week, so I had a lot of student loss in those days. But because I trained so hard, I was reasonably articulate at the front of the group of people. I actually had a linear growth pattern with my schools.

A lot of guys, they might have been great at marketing, but I grew nine students a month for about three or four years. And when I say growth, I might join 15, lose 6, which is 9. But I gradually grew, I grew nine students a month, until I had about 500 students, which was unheard of in those days. And it was also my ability to be able to change the system that I was training under, and having the courage to be able to go – I'm not going to do that and I'm not going to do that because I don't think it’s a good idea. If I'm going to lose members, I'm not going to sacrifice quality, but I'm not going to do something just because it was done in the past.

So it was that, the courage aspect to be able to front up to my instructor and say – look, I'm running a school, I want to do it properly. And he'd say, great Sean, and I’d say, I don't think I should do that, that, that and that, which was relatively unheard of in those days. And luckily, he supported me and didn't beat the living daylights out of me.

GEORGE: It sounds like you picked a great location, you had a rush of people – obviously there was a lot of word of mouth because people wouldn't just naturally be attracted to your location as well. So, with all this happening and you say you pretty much had to scramble to get things in place to retain the business – what were the systems you put in place first up, to structure the business, to maintain all that flow?

SEAN: First of all, for me personally, when I was teaching all the classes, initially I was teaching 7, 8, 9 10 classes a week. Again, it was trial and error. First of all, I had to identify what the requirements were and make them visible for all the students. Then I had to work at how I was going to train people of a variety of different levels. You would have, obviously white belts, people who've done a year, people who've done 5 years, so you've got to think, how do I split the classes up?

And I remember one of the first things I did, I mean, I tried a lot of things – I would get all my black belts, and I would say, right – can I get you to take all the people that joined in, for instance, what is it now, September? So let’s make it August. All these people who have joined in August: I want you to take them through and teach them all the white belt curriculum through to their first belt – go.

And he would take them and there might be around 15 people in his group – I've still got all this paperwork funnily enough, in my archives somewhere. And he would have to identify who they were, he'd have to know their name when they've trained. They would have specific times with him, and as  I'm joining people in September, I’d have a separate black belt take those people on. And then as the first guy from August started to train those people, I’d be watching him. He would then graduate those people, we'd have a graduation night, and he would dump them into my class.

And then he would be free to take on the next month of people, say in October. So I tried that for a while. I then had one instructor training all white belts, no matter when they joined. So I was constantly changing things around to work out what worked the best. A mistake I made in those days was, I had an instructor in  a room next to me teaching, and I was teaching the advanced grades, and I realized that through word of mouth, he wasn't following the curriculum.

So in retrospect, I should have had someone taking the bulk of the students, someone taking the beginners and me floating between the two groups. So it really was a trial and error thing in those days. And I'm talking early 90's when the school had probably around 100 to 150 members.

GEORGE: You're talking about this curriculum stuff in the past – this is a conversation I had recently with a jiu-jitsu instructor, about the whole structure thing. And I'm a novice, but when I've trained traditional Zen Do Kai and that type of martial arts, there was always the structure. You could see what was going, what you need to do. And it kept you on track. And then, I started training jiu-jitsu and it was sort of, you get thrown in and there's no clear definition of what you're doing.

You just know – OK, you're training jiu-jitsu. For something like jiu-jitsu, and I know that a lot of Muay Thai clubs do that as well, that it’s just, there's no real structure of training: what advice would you give someone that has that type of style, that they can put things in place and sort of create this curriculum style that people know where they're going?

SEAN: Ok, well, first and foremost is, most schools might have a curriculum and requirements and what have you, but they're successful because of the personality of the person at the front. They're not successful because they teach Arnis, Muay Thai, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, or whatever, even though Thai boxing and Brazilian jiu-jitsu and MMA are the buzzwords today. So, yeah, if I taught some weird system of martial arts, it would be harder to make a viable business out of it. But having a good curriculum is only part of it.

If you've got a good curriculum, but you're boring at the front, you're going to struggle to be able to retain students, because in this day and age, the way we can access things on the internet, people want edutainment. They want education and entertainment at the same time. They want edutainment, so therefore, if you're an instructor, you need to be able to obviously show students what you're teaching and where that's going to lead to, but you have to ensure that they're being entertained at the same time.

I don't mean entertained like they're laughing, but you need to give them a buzz in their training. You need to give them a buzz out of handling frustrations successfully, because in the 80s, to create a large body of students, they made it easy. And then you ended up with weaker long-term students, whereas the reason the MMA is so powerful these days is because you can't survive as a weakling. You either quit or you blossom and you toughen up.

So going back to your question, my focus for one of those instructors would be to create a visible pathway that you are taking your students through. The instructor knows what they're doing, for instance in Brazilian jiu-jitsu to get from white to blue. But they have to make the student understand that pathway and understand how they're going to get them there. That's something that we never did before, you just don't question your instructor, and say why are we doing this? That was just unheard of. Usually, it was met with violence or expulsion from the school.

GEORGE: Ok, great. So what made you, not knowing the exact history, what made you sell or leave your Greenwood location?

SEAN: A succession plan for any business owner is important, and also taking yourself out of the picture, so that I wanted to be able to ensure that the business would continue to run and continue to service the 400 or 500 members, and it floated between 400 or 500 for probably a couple of decades, maybe a decade. And when I sold it, it was about the 400 mark. And I effectively, not entirely, but I removed myself from the situation and I wanted to be able to have a system that still created solid students, even if I wasn't the one teaching all the time.

So the decision to move out of the spotlight was a variety of things. I knew that I wanted to embrace a new direction in my life and I think that you can't move in a new direction in your life in any area of life unless you completely let go of an old direction. It’s a bit like, you can't see what's on the horizon without setting sail and  leaving the safety of the port, you might say. So that was my motivation because I've always had an ability to be able to change my mind and go that way if I feel I want to pivot.

So, when I was about, what am I now, 54 – about ten years ago, when I was 44, I realized that my direction was changing. I had a faltering marriage and the Grahams and the Phils in my club supported me in that, which I'm forever grateful for.

And I was really going through something that we all go through, not a midlife crisis, but just a questioning period – who am I, what am I doing? What's my contribution to the world? Is it just martial arts? How am I contributing to my own life and my world around me? So I realized I needed some time off. At the same time, I had two kids in high school and I realized I was missing their growth. So, for example, when I did sell the school, my focus was to get back in touch with them.

So I spent basically two years, not being  a full-time dad, but traveling with the kids and sort of concentrating  on getting myself together after nearly 20 years of total focus on the business. Yes, I was burned out, but I need to be able to find someone who could carry the mantel of business because I'm  not the sort of person who can just  close a business down and walk away.

I'm mentally and emotionally traumatized  every time someone quits my martial arts school, even when I had 400, I would still be traumatized  when someone says I want to quit. I’d take it personally. So knowing that I had to create a system of strength that could carry on after me. I looked at franchising, partial ownership, the whole lot, but I thought, no, I want to step away completely.

GEORGE: We touched on this a bit earlier – how have you evolved then? You mentioned that you had this whole change and real questioning of who are you and what you want in life. And now you've moved out of Perth, you've opened a new martial arts school: how have things changed for you?

SEAN: Well, one of the things was, one of my kids was questioning – I've got two kids, and one of the kids was questioning and saying, we won't see you as much if you move to Margaret River. And I said, look, I'm only 3 hours away, but how can I teach you – I'm your dad, I'm supposed to show you the way in life: how can I teach you to chase your goals in life if I don't chase mine?

So that was the reason for me going, OK, rather than me spending a month a year living in an idyllic location, and 11 months of the year working so that I can do that, why don't I just live in an idyllic location? So we looked all over the world for places to live, we looked at the fact that myself and my wife have both got kids: I've got two kids, she's got triplets. So we have 5 kids between us, we wanted to stay accessible to them, so we had to make it within two or three hours drive away from Perth.

And then we just got the map out and said, where do we want to live? Not where do we live now: where do we want to live? Which goes right back to our original conversation: what kind of a day do I want to lead? What would be a perfect lifestyle for me? Not how much money do I want to earn, or what kind of house do I want to live in. It’s what kind of activities in enrich me on the inside most?

So I tended to that first, and funnily enough, I'm a better teacher now, I'm a better martial arts instructor, I'm a better dad, I'm a better partner because I've taken care of myself first. So when I focus on my wife or my kids or my parents, I'm totally focused on them, because I'm coming from a strong, calm foundation of – I'm living the life I want to.

So that was the reason for the move, the departure from the big martial arts school. Everyone used to say, how can you sell your baby? And it's like, well – it’s not me. It’s something that I've created and it will evolve with the next owners too, which it has. And now I need to move in a different direction. I had to really investigate what matters to me most in the world, what do I think is wrong with the world, what do I think is my message to the next generation, and that's the basic message I have. I just happen to do it via the vehicle of martial arts training.

GEORGE: That's awesome. Sean, it’s been great chatting with you! Is there anything I missed, any questions that I didn't ask that I should have?

14333207_10153944234108511_5067751564843855344_nSEAN: Look, the thing I totally focus on now is, in the martial arts industry, there is a lot of who's got more students, whose got a bigger location, whose students are the best, whose students have more titles, which instructor is toughest. And at the end of the day, with the challenges that we are facing globally and nationally, who fights better than another person is of minimal interest to me and really to everybody.

It’s the things that are challenging us globally and nationally, which is what we should be focusing on. So I've looked at the things that matter to me, things like climate change, things like religious intolerance, things like crime and drugs and what have you, and I thought, right: these are the things, which are important. These are the things that are really going to threaten the lives of my kids in the next decade, let alone by 2050.

14054138_10153872490968511_9104346470015392360_nSo I thought if I can identify the types of things that, for example, kids need to be armed with to be able to be successful and happy in their life. Sure it’s an ability to be able to defend themselves, but that's not of primary importance, kids these days, adults for that matter too, but kids these days need to know how to think creatively. They need to be able to make up solutions to problems where there is not an obvious solution. And martial arts can do that.

Martial arts, it’s up to the martial arts instructor to go, look: I've taught you defenses number 1, 2 and 3: they're not gonna work. You've got to work out how do you blend 2 and 3 together. You've got to work it out, I'm not going to save you. I mean, I save my little kids occasionally by going stop, start again, you're crying, whatever it might be. But quite often, after six months of training, they're stuck underneath someone in Brazilian jiu-jitsu or whatever it is – I'm not your mom. I'm not going to save you, you've got to work it out.

13692905_10153789969843511_7822940420007814257_oPerson on top – stay on top, come on, you can do it. I'm there barracking for you, but I and your mom or dad are not going to save you. And it’s that, I suppose tough love, but it’s that making people comfortable with the struggle and getting to think outside the box, even when it’s uncomfortable, that's a life lesson. And that's something that should be articulated by every instructor. Who cares who can punch the hardest? It’s can you handle the difficulties in life and can you come up with answers.

I mean, what is it: 40% of the jobs in today's market won't be in existence when the kids today leave school. And what's that, by 2020 or whatever it is – 40% of the jobs won't even exist! So we don't even know what the future's going to look like. We have to teach our young people, and adults for that matter, to think creatively under pressure. That's what martial arts can do, very well. As you can see, I'm passionate about that. When I talk about the history, it’s like, ok, I'll tell you what happened years ago – today's different. And that's what I've done, I've completely changed my martial arts curriculum to answer today's problems. And it might not necessarily be defending yourself against a right-hand punch in the face.

GEORGE: Wow, that was a great way to end things off. Thanks again for your time. If anybody wants to get in touch with you, I know you also do coaching, where can people get in touch with you?

SEAN: If they search Margaret  River Martial Arts, they search Sean Allen – I've got websites and what have you. Me, growing myself financially, that's sort of taken care of now: I'm more interested in seeing social change and change within the industry, so if anybody wants to contact me, they just search me and search my name and Margaret River martial arts. And just stay in touch with the types of things that I'm talking about because I'm researching the latest educational techniques for martial arts instructors.

For example, my martial arts system that I'm teaching now is a blend of the Montessori education system and traditional martial arts. So if someone wants to learn more about that, I've written articles about that. I’d rather see me turn the industry upside down so that it’s helping more people, rather than having more violence to an already violent society. I don't think we need people to be more violent: I think we need people to creatively think their way out of problems more.

GEORGE: Excellent. Sean, thanks again for your time, it’s been great chatting to you, I hope to chat with you soon.

SEAN: George – much appreciated, and thanks for asking me in the first place.

GEORGE: Thanks, Sean, cheers.

And there you have it. Thank you, Sean Allen. And as you could hear the last few minutes here, that is where Sean's real passion lies. Being able to teach people life skills through martial arts classes. Big takeaway I got from that is, what's success for you? Success doesn't mean numbers and big premises, but what is a success for you as a person and what are you doing to serve your life purpose through your passion for martial arts?

And he’s got a completely different process, the different system in place for a school. Very niche based, very small, and has a huge waiting list. Think about that, how you could apply something like that, although this is not a tactic for Sean, it happens because of his good service. But if you've only got small premises, think how you could differentiate yourself from all the other martial arts schools out there, by providing a better service, actually have a waiting list because you are in demand. And by that of course, when you have a niche service and have a better service, people are prepared to pay more for that.

So once again – show notes are at martialartsmedia.com/8, the number 8. I have a few exciting guests coming up, I'm also working on an excellent training, online webinar training for martial arts school owners, about all the aspects of martial arts marketing methods, but more on that later. That's it for now, thanks again for tuning in and I hope to speak to you soon – see you next week, cheers.


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7 – The Smarter Way To Go About Martial Arts School Student Retention With Paul Veldman

Paul Veldman from Kando Martial Arts shares how to improve martial arts school student retention by spotting the ‘quitting signs'.


  • Knowing your demographic without being everything for everyone
  • Market for a season or a reason
  • Growing young confident students through Leadership Programs
  • Who your real competition is
  • The real reason why your students leave
  • The one thing you need before your martial arts business will flourish
  • And more

*Need help growing your martial arts school? Learn More Here.



Personal development is a big thing. And as you know, as most martial artist instructors know – the bigger you get, the less trouble you seem to get into.

GEORGE: Hey, it’s George Fourie from martialartsmedia.com and welcome to the martial arts media podcast, episode number 7. Today, I chat to Paul Veldman from Kando Martial Arts. Another great chat, very inspirational. I’m getting a lot out of these podcasts. My focus is always to start with something martial arts related, but I see it evolving, with all the chats that I'm having and all these great martial artists and business owners that I'm speaking to. It always evolves to the deeper stuff behind the business, what makes the business work, the message behind it and so forth. And that's what you're going to discover in today's podcast as well, so more about that in a minute.

I have a few excellent interviews coming in the next couple of weeks, and I'm going to continue with this week by week, interviewing top martial artists, top martial arts top business owners, top business owners, top motivational people, coaches – you name it. Anything that relates to martial arts in a way and can help you build your martial arts business. From my side, I am preparing to do a series of martial arts podcast with a few live pieces of training, about different aspects of online marketing. How you can grow your business through online media. And the more I speak to martial arts business owners; I see there's a lot of confusion out there on what is the right thing to do, what they should be doing.

Some people that have gone down the journey spent a lot of money on somebody to do their SEO or something stupid. They forked out thousands of dollars and pretty much wasted their money and came away none the better. And I see there's a lot of distrust because of people out there that give advice; that shouldn't be giving advice. Old school methods and just taking a chance to provide real crappy services. It’s something that drives me nuts, but it’s unfortunately out there. And I can see the frustration that people have by going down these avenues and not doing the right things first, which is very, very costly.

So I'm going to embark on a bit of a journey and do a few live training. I've got a few things in mind that I want to teach that I know the essentials. If you've downloaded our martial arts business plan for online media, you will get an idea about what those essentials are, and I'm going to shift a few of those things around and elaborate on them. But I would like to know from you: what would you like to learn, what would you like to know about? Obviously, I'm not going to teach about anything that I'm not qualified to do.

If it’s something that is pressing, that everybody is requesting, I will get an expert to help with that. Or if not, I will do the research and make sure I do my homework before I offer any advice. But anything else that we talk about, that I talk about, I’ll make sure that it’s tried and tested, that it’s been done before, that's it’s not a thumb suck idea. I would like you to get in touch with me. My email – I'm going to say it on the show: george at martial arts media dot com. Very easy, george at martial arts media dot com. Email me directly, tell me what you would like to learn about, what you're struggling with, what your biggest obstacle is in your business now, and I would like to focus on that and give a few training.

So that's it for now, that's what's coming up in the next few weeks, but we still have a few interviews to go before we get to that point. Ok – show notes is at martialartsmedia.com/7.  Show notes; you can also download the transcript from there. And that's it for me for now; please welcome to the show – Paul Veldman.

GEORGE: Good day everyone, today I have with me Paul Veldman, all the way from Victoria. You're based in Melbourne, is that correct?

PAUL: Based in Melbourne, yes.

GEORGE: Based in Melbourne. And Paul is from Kando Martial Arts, and Paul has been in the industry a long time, and it’s funny enough, as I was researching for people I can interview, a lot of people said, “I've been mentored by Paul Veldman.” And that's kind of how I got knocking on Paul's door, and I thought I’d like to get him on the show and get him to share all his industry experience and knowledge with us. So welcome to the show, Paul.

PAUL: Thanks, George, good to be here.

GEORGE: Awesome! So, I guess to start right at the beginning, how did you get into martial arts and what's your background story?

PAUL: Martial arts training, I probably started when I was around 13 years old. And there was no real reason, I wasn't bullied, I had a nice stable house, a home. It was just something I thought I might like to do. Spoke to mom – mom said, you can do martial arts, and I’ll pay the fees, but you've got to find somewhere you can walk to, because I'm working, and these are the jobs you've got to do around the house to make up for your fees. So back then, 30 years ago, there was a judo club or a freestyle karate club in walking distance, that was the choice. So I went with freestyle karate, and I've been training ever since.

GEORGE: All right, awesome. You were also in the police force, weren't you?

PAUL: Yeah, and that was the tipping point as to why. So I trained as a kid in the freestyle karate, I went into traditional karate in the Shukokai stream. And training with my instructor, as we were all young and fit and having a great time and training two or three classes a day, a few days a week, then in conjunction with that, I was going to have a crack at our special operations group on the police force. And in training, I blew my knee up. So I had a full knee reconstruction, and I went from training five or six days a week with my instructor, training at my workplace, training at the gym, to answering phones in a room with no windows.

And as you can understand, it drove me crazy. So I went down to my sensei, and said, I am going nuts here, can I come and help out on the mats? And he said, yeah sure, come on down, help the kids classes. So there I am, in my knee brace, with my crutches, hobbling around. I got off the crutches, and he says to me one day, why don't you open up a club, there's a place down the road? And I went, oh yeah? How hard can it be to run a business in a martial arts club? So for the next ten years, we ran it very, very, very badly as far as the business side went. We taught what we knew. We didn't market; we didn't advertise, we didn't know anything of that.  I worked full time in the police force; I worked six days a week in the club.

We had a young family, and we went through burnout phases regularly. And then, maybe ten years ago now, the first martial arts SuperShow was running Queensland and the first martial arts business seminar I ever went to was with a local Roland Osborne. And the first thing he said to the class was, everybody will leave you in your school. Everybody who's in there now will leave you. They might leave in thirty years time when they've fallen off the perch, or they may turn and quit tomorrow.

So enjoy it, make the most of the time you have with them, but don't let it become personal when they go. And that resonated with me, cause I just lost one guy who was helping me out, and he got a promotion at work, and he left. So I was back to running the club by myself after eight years of running, and I was just in total burnout stage. And so it was then I realized – you know what, there's so much more to the industry than just learning to how to throw a punch or a kick. We might be black belts in what we're doing on the mats in whatever style we're doing it, but boy, we're a white belt or less in the administration, business owner things.

And so that's when we discovered, if we're going to do this, let’s do it properly. Let’s reach more people, let’s do it well. Let’s give people the same goals and career opportunities that we had. So we started getting some business mentoring, we started looking into the subscriptions around, which back in those days were very American, but it was the turning point, it was a real tipping point for us.

GEORGE: Ok. So two things I want to get back to the American vs. Australian systems, and how you adapted that. But going back: you said your first ten years, you guys sort of run it badly. What were the core mistakes that you were making at that time?

PAUL: I think, especially in the first couple of years, you try to be everything to everyone. We were a Shukokai karate base, but with what I was doing in the police force, we were just starting to blend some Brazilian jiu-jitsu, some Filipino martial arts. So you have somebody come in and say, do you guys do Cato, and we say, yeah absolutely, we do Cato, we're Shukokai. And you have someone else come in and say, I want to do sparring, but I am a bit scared, do you do it no contact? And we say we can do non-contact.

Next bloke comes in and goes; I want to get on the mats and punch on, and do full contact. And we go, we can do full contact. And you make a little note to yourself, looks like I'm sparring with this guy most of the time. So we didn't know what our demographic target was. We ran classes that we enjoyed, and to be honest, that's still the basis of our club today. I enjoy the traditional karate, the values, the strength, the style. I enjoy, although I'm not very good at it, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I enjoy the Filipino martial arts, so that's what our styles evolved into.

But we're a lot clearer now on who we want training with us. We don't want the knuckle-dragger who's going to come in and hurt people, who want a professional fighter because we can't cater to them. So identifying who our ideal customer was looking at who do I want to train with? Who's my perfect training buddy? And that evolved into, well – who's the best customer for what we offer?

And so when someone comes in, who's wants don't suit what we have, then we're really happy to recommend a couple of clubs nearby, there's a couple of really good mixed martial arts clubs, there's a couple of smaller clubs that are maybe a little bit cheaper than us and a bit less full time. And to be honest, I'm more than happy: as long as someone's training, I think that's great. If they're training with me, that's fantastic, but I would rather have someone not join me, and go to another martial arts club, than not train at all.

GEORGE: For sure. Ok, so that solved a lot of problems, when you defined exactly who that audience is that you can zone in with your market, and it’s something that comes up in the interview yesterday as well. So, moving on from that: you mentioned you learned from the American systems. I've worked in America for a long time, and I had a shell shock when I came to South Africa, and going to America, coming to Australia – I was adapting myself to those different styles. Now, you've mentioned that you've learned a lot from the American way of doing things: how did you take that and applied it to the Australian market, without becoming too Americanized as such?

PAUL: Our first package we joined up was a Mayer package. And what it gave us, it started giving us structure. It started to say – have a plan. Because I think I've run my club for nearly two years and nearly closed the doors, before I put the pamphlet out. You know, the old adage – if you build it, they will come – build it and they will come if they know about you! So we found with the American Marketing, one – it was all there was. There was nothing local back then. And so, it gave us a structure; it gave us things like marketing for a season or reason.

So when father's day came around, the father's day workout, New Years, Spring specials. And tying it with all that makes sense. Their senses might be opposite ours, so the package we're getting is no good for now, but it gave us an idea. It gave us an idea of making things colorful, and not just putting a sign in the window. But then, the artwork was never for the Australian market. They don't look like Australians. We're relatively similar on the outside, but the artwork looked very American, the Mother's Day or thank you, mom, M-O-M – never translated. But it gave us a start; it gave us a bit of an idea of what was happening.

The first guy, a mentor I know, was a chap called Keith Scott. A fantastic little Texan, he's just a wealth of knowledge, a guy who shared everything. And he came to Australia a couple of times, and we started to bring him around to the Australian way a little bit, and he would help tweak things. He came and did a two-day assessment of a school, where he stayed with us for two days. He came to the school, sat through all the classes, all the instructor meetings, etc., to feel the difference.

We made those mistakes through trial and error – some ads worked, some ads didn't work. It was a little bit of a shotgun effect, where we'd throw everything out there and the ones that came back, we'd go with them more. So we gradually fine-tuned things. Nowadays with Facebook and social media, that's a massive part of it that we're still getting our head around.

GEORGE: Yeah. Well, one thing you brought up, and this is something key that we try and teach: if you're doing social media and stuff yourself, the easiest way to do things and to get traction is just pay attention. You had a name for it, season or reason I think it was?

PAUL: Yeah, the market for a season or reason.

GEORGE: Yes, and that's such an easy way to get traction in social media because, when you're talking about what's already been talked about and you can tie that into your marketing, people are automatically paying attention. They're already paying attention to the Father's Day, so piggyback on that promotion that's already happening and then make that your marketing.

PAUL: Yes.

GEORGE: Ok, cool. So, how many locations do you have at this point?

PAUL: We have three locations, the main one is in a place called Hughesdale. We run… I think we're seeing around 670-680 students out of that one. We've got another one that's two years old as of yesterday, they're seeing around 250 students, and we've got one that's six months old, and there are about 80 students.

GEORGE: Ok, so let’s go back to how did this all evolve? At what point did you decide you were ready to branch out and go for that number two?

PAUL: I guess, with working through the police force as well, I got out of police force about 6- 7 years ago. Not because I didn't love what I was doing, but the time just came to jump, one way or the other. I was finding I wasn't doing anything properly, I was half doing the club, half doing the police force. And so, when I went full time with the club, it gave me so much more opportunity to develop. Not just the style or the students, but the instructors. That was one of the key points, after that first mentoring was to understand that you can't do everything by yourself.

You've got to build your team. And your team might be your guys on the mats, your guys on the desk, it might be your accountant, your solicitor, but your team has to be there. I’m very lucky that I've got still with me now some really good young guys, kids, that are now in their mid-twenties. And I always earmarked an area, that demographic. I lived here; I thought this would be a great club one day. And a couple of young guys that talked about running clubs, and one day, James came in and said, I know you've always said you'll do this area, but I wouldn't mind starting something – what do you think?

And I said, look, I'm not in a position to do it, so, we could do that – what do you think we do a partnership? And he said, well what does that involve, and I said I have no idea at all! So, we formed this idea of a partnership, which is an interesting demographic. Like I said, James has been with me since he's been five years old, and he's now an extremely competent 23-year-old instructor practitioner. So we went – let’s just do it. And the stars aligned to a certain extent, and I think it’s like anything: if you've gotten things on your checklist that you want to have happened before you proceed to something, good luck if you get 6 or 7. So do we prepped in some areas? Yeah, absolutely.

James is a fantastic instructor. The premises came up quickly, which was unusual down there, so we thought let’s just jump at that. Areas we could have worked more on if we had more time, was the admin side of things, the business side of the club. But we're up and running. We had some teething problems, we fixed things that we needed to go, and as long as the face of what was happening, to the students, to the customers, was OK, and then the behind the scene stuff – we scrambled where we had to scramble. So it wasn't an expansion plan as such, it’s just that we had such great success here.

And the guys who helped me make this place so successful by taking classes and being such great instructors saw it as a genuine lifestyle choice. And so, we thought why not? It’s not your traditional career path, but we know that financially it can be rewarding, and even more so rewarding in the way that you interact with people through what you can do. So the plan to expand was never “I think I want to open up two or three clubs.”

And one of our mentors, Fred DePalma, says, “When you think about opening your second or third club – don't.” Headaches do come, things get to a certain critical mass, then things start to come together. The clubs support each other; you bounce ideas off each other. So yeah, I guess to answer that – I never planned on opening multiple schools, but we a have a really good instructor development program, where we almost develop the instructors to the point where, if we don't let them go at it under us, they're going on their own anyway.

GEORGE: So what does that involve? I’ll probably skip this step as well. Were you balancing your full-time job and then the school part time?

PAUL: Yes.

GEORGE: So you went full-time with the school first and then opened the second one?

PAUL: No, I’d run the school six days a week from the day I opened it, this was just, again, not knowing what to do. My instructor ran his school six days a week, so I did the same, I ran my school six days a week. But I was also working a full-time job – he wasn't. So that was probably mistake number one, it was too much. And doing that for multiple years, where every working week was 80 hours +, was just crazy. The kids paid the price; the family paid the price; we don't do that anymore. Even the new schools on their full time only run four days a week. And we won't run more than four days a week until we create a critical mass. So there was that.

GEORGE: Ok, so you have this program then where you sort of groom the instructors. Can you elaborate a bit more on that?

PAUL: Yeah. There's a very solid element of self-defense involved in martial arts. And my background, my street background with policing and so forth, has helped with that, what works and 14365348_10208838587554765_1464196218_n1what doesn't work. But in this day and age, especially the demographic we live in, our area – 14365348_10208838587554765_1464196218_n1personal development is a big thing. And as you know, as most martial artist instructors know – the bigger you get, the less trouble you seem to get into physically. You don't have that need to get into a confrontation, you've got nothing to prove.

Your awareness of what can happen, both to you and from you is there, so we work very much in developing the kids and their confidence. We start off with what we call a leadership program, and kids can join that at ten years old. And simply, that involves them coming down to help one class a week and then once a month we do a leadership training hour. We'll cover things like public speaking, how to break down teaching.

And I’ll tell you what George: these kids are amazing. They might be 10 or 11 years old; they're like sponges. They will get up and explain to you the three attributes of teaching, what a good instructor should be like. So, from there, when they hit 14 years old, if they're really good, we put them on what we call a traineeship. It’s like an internship, so we're looking at how can this person get. So they come along for one night a week, and we want to see if they can maintain that balance of training because that's first and foremost – they've got to be a student.

If they can do that one night a week, they can maintain their homework. Because we have to work with parents into this. At 15, if they've gone through that pretty well, we’ll put them on as part-time instructor. And then they'd stay with us really, up until most of them finish university.

GEORGE: Oh wow, awesome.

PAUL: In my main club, we've got in the vicinity of 50 to 60 leadership team, and we run at about 15 staff. We've got three full-timers, and the rest of them are part-timers or casuals or students.

GEORGE: Awesome. I see the value in that. Where my son trains, they have the similar type leadership program, and he's been talking about it for a few years and very much is what you've explained, the whole progression, like you say, the public speaking and things like that. I’d almost argue that they get more value out of that from going to school because you see these kids in martial arts, they're at this maturity level that you can't compare with when you look at anybody else in their age group.

PAUL: And where do you get an 11-year-old these days, who can stand up in front of a class of 20 kids, take charge and give clear instructions? It just doesn't happen.

GEORGE: Yeah, it’s invaluable. I think it’s probably the most underrated skill, that confidence to be able just to present something. They say public speaking is what most people fear more than death.

download3PAUL: And I think you've touched on it there, when you say it’s underrated, I think if people knew the value of martial arts and not just the punching and kicking, they'd be lining up around the block to join clubs. I think as an industry, this is what we need to push across. It is the inherent value of what we do, and I know this sounds cliche, but I believe it: our competition's not the bloke down the street with the different martial arts club. I don't lose students to other clubs: I lose students to basketball or football or cricket or whatever that team activity is. But as martial arts instructors, if we can teach parents especially – look, this is what your kids get out of this it’s not about making them become thugs in our industry.

GEORGE: Do you use that in your marketing? You've hit the key point there; I guess that's the ultimate thing: it’s not the kicking, it’s not the punching. That's really what the kid is getting out of this martial arts training. Is there a way that you use that to communicate it to a parent?

PAUL: Yeah. And I guess I look at it in two ways: one, what I talk to parents, and two, what I talk about people that I mentor. To the parents, I say it straight up: we will teach your kid self-defense, and we teach age specific and school appropriate.We also give them tips on how to avoid bullies etc., like a lot of clubs, do. As I said to the parent, what we're going to give to your kid is more valuable than just being able to defend themselves.

If they're in a fight – initially, we're going to teach them how not to get into a fight. We're going to teach them environmental awareness, we're going to teach them verbal skills, we've got some download1fantastic instructors, who work with the young kids, and they're just guns, but the message they deliver is not just about punching and kicking, there are life skills there.

We've got a great book, where every week there's a lesson. Now, the lesson might be on good manners, or it might be when day comes up, a bit of history. So we're trying to make these kids more than kids. And as I say to the parents, think about the last time your kid had a real fight. And they go, well he hasn't yet. And we say great; we want to maintain that track records, with a few skills to back it up if need be. We talk a lot about kids, but it’s the same as with adults.

When you sit down, especially in our area, I say to the adults – when's the last time you had a real fight? Knock them down, stomp them in the head, poke them in the eye fight? And most adults, 95% of them will go – never. I say good, so who the enemy here? It’s cholesterol and stress and not having something to do for yourself. So these are the triggers we use for our marketing because they're true.

I’m 45 years old and to find something for me, when I'm not busy at work, I'm not busy with my kids or spending time at home, working around the house, finding something that's my outlet, is gold. And that's why, in our adult class, probably half of them are parents. And when we talk to business owners, we say, we'll put a value on your punching and kicking, and again, you've got to find your demographic we talked about at the start. Find your perfect market. If you're a fight school, and you want to groom fighters, then you're looking at a different market.

But I say, punching and kicking – man, that's worth $50-60 a month, I can get that anywhere. You add in nice venues at that, where the parents who are your customers, can come in, sit down, there's a coffee machine, it’s maybe a bit warm in the winter, a bit cooler in the summer – add another $30-40 a month on. Then you show the parents how you're going to develop their kids as people, and you've got a  good match-up program or life skills program – add another $30-40 a month again.

So you're constantly building value in what you're doing. And, when you think about it, the worst quit you have is the email from the parent – little Johnny is quitting, please cancel our fees. The best quit you have is the parent ringing up and saying, little Johnny wants to quit – how can we stop him from doing that, what can we do?

GEORGE: And how do you handle that? If a parent says, look – this is the situation, he wants to quit. What can you do?

PAUL: We try to be proactive before. So, what we look at, we look at training patterns. When the kids or even adults come in to train, they have a card, like the old punch card. And they take it out of the rack during the class, and they hand it to the instructor. Now, it’s old fashion; we have databases and things as well, but what that does is, it gives us a point of contact at the very start of the class.

We run a rule of three: that every student at every student at every class has to be encouraged and acknowledged at least three times. So the first one is: good day George, how's it going? I have a look at your card, I flip it over, and I can see your training pattern. And I saw you were doing great at the start of the of year, mid-year you've dropped off, and the last two months I've barely seen you.

So that's the indicator for the instructor to flag up with the parents before it happens before they stop coming. The instructors are OK to give out free private classes. So maybe he's having a bit of a problem with him picking up a kata or form, or maybe he's taken a knock in sparring, and his self-confidence is down. So we try to schedule just a quick chat with the parents and/or the student to say, hey – you're not training as much, what's going on? Is it something we can help with?

If we don't catch them before that, and they do cancel out – now, I should say, we don't run contracts. I have nothing against contracts; we just don't do it because if you don't want to train with me, I don't want to keep you here. We do have a 30-day cancellation policy. They can train in those 30 days, in those 30 days what can we do to reverse it? The biggest thing is finding why and the bottom line is, students leave because they're bored. Sometimes they leave because they don't feel like they're making progress, but they leave because they're bored. So we have to look for patterns in classes. We have to look at is it a certain class, a certain belt level, a certain instructor, and then we need to pay our due diligence there.

GEORGE: Ok, excellent. So this is going to lead in great with retention, because I think you're addressing this right now, it’s a question of really paying attention to what's happening with your students. It’s not like they just come in, and then you're in shock when a cancellation letter comes. You're actually in tune with that and watching for the patterns that might arise to address them. So, expanding on that, what do you guys do to manage retention within the club?

PAUL: Now, here is that piece of string and how long is it!


PAUL: People want to be part of a tribe, I think. People like to be part of a group, and organization, where they feel valued. So I guess we have two parts: on the mats and off the mats. On the mats, your staff has got to be good at highlighting the hotspot. Highlighting on the go, recognizing someone saying something well and just making a comment along the way. Or spotlighting, where you stop the class and go, hey, show me that again, that was fantastic.

So people feel recognized for the class they do. Something as simple as a high five or a fist bump for a kid, and again, if you've got a class of 40 people, you can't do it yourself, your staff have to be able to do this. So the system, being acknowledged in class. They need to see progress; this is why we have a belt system. But then again, as you know, it’s self-sourcing. If they're not training and not progressing – not progressing, they're frustrated and won't come to training.

So you need to have a belt system with the goals that are tangible for them. We have Good Joe cards. Every kid in our club gets a Good Joe card every turn. And again, there's a spreadsheet where the instructors need to find something they've done well. And it might be he mastered a kick, it might be his consistency in training; it might be his general effort. But every shift, the instructors have to have the Good Joe cards before they go on. And they write them like, and some of the Good Joe cards are amazing! They're almost like pieces of art. The instructors believe what they say, which is important. You and I, we get a letter in the mail, and we go, how much is this going to cost me?

A kid who is anywhere from 4 to 11 years old, gets a letter, and they're excited! My instructors recognize I did well in class, and they've acknowledged it! My three kids train, they've all been training since they were four years old. And even last year, my boys will get a Good Joe card, and it will go up in the mirror, even after all these years. So there is that acknowledgment. We have birthday cards go out when it’s your birthday or birthday week. We have little events, retention events, where we'll do pizza and DVD nights, we'll run in-house tournaments.

There's just a lot of things, and I think what you've got to realize is that there's no one quick fix. You've got to have a system of retention. And interestingly, if you do some math, say an average $130 a month student: if you can save two students a month, just by showing some extra attention, working some retention strategies, over two years, you're setting yourself to $70,000. So it’s not we're talking about here. Plus, that student who's left, he's not saying fantastic things about your club necessarily, they're not referring people. They're not with you; you don't want to lose students because some of the students you lose are fantastic people, and it hurts when you lose some of them.

GEORGE: Yeah. Alright, excellent. Awesome, I'm sure I could keep you going for hours, but I've got two more questions for you. One: taking all this experience that you have, where you're at now, what would you do differently, starting all over again?

PAUL: Wow! I didn't have a “Why.” I didn't have a “Why I want to open up my club,” and these days this is my main thing with someone who's an instructor, it’s having a why. So I opened up my club because I was frustrated and bored – that's not a good enough why. I didn't have a goal of, I want to help people, I want to generate income, I want this to take over my full-time job. So I would make my why a lot more solid because that would make it easier to focus on through the harder times. And it would just keep me in tune.

The second thing I would do is say, get educated. Especially these days, there's so much marketing around. When I started off, there was not the Internet. There were no packages, no one was allowed to cross train, to find different skills, it was very tabooed, not to go to another club. So get educated. Acknowledge the fact that you might be the most fantastic martial artist in the world, you might be a fantastic instructor, but if you don't know a Facebook boosted post from a  newspaper ad, you've got no hope in building your club, not in this day and age, there's too much competition.

So treat yourself like a white belt. I can't tell you how much the industry frustrates me, that I will get people who will spend $300 on a seminar, to learn a sparring technique or a new kata, but won't spend a $150 to go to a weekend business summit, where they could put 20 new students down in the next month. So what I would do differently, I would start off slower. I would educate myself on the marketing and business side of things. And if you're not running a business, if you're in a school hall, and you're charging $10 a class per person, then you're just not running your business very well.

So that would be my two big things: focus on the why, get educated earlier with the business and administration side.

GEORGE: Excellent! Paul, thanks a lot for your time, just lastly, you've got the vast knowledge to share and so forth: if people want to learn more about you or from you, is there anywhere they can go or find out more?

PAUL: Yeah, absolutely. I’m very excited; a lady called Michelle Hext, and I are launching an online mentoring program, Martial Arts Business Success. That launches in October. So if you jump into Facebook and look for Michelle or me – Michelle is an absolute whiz on Facebook and in IT. I’m dysfunctional with IT, but the strengths I have, we work very, very well with our staff, our growing schools, our retention. So it’s going to be a great little partnership there.

But have a look at that, talk to people more successful than you, talk to people who have made the mistakes. This is like training: we're training martial arts, so we don't have to go through the mistakes that the early guys made. Same with martial arts business: walk into the Facebook works, go to the summit weekends and just get educated and start to build up your network of guys that share the same goals that you do. Because as you know, you get energy from those guys. You look at what they're doing, and you're like, man, that a good idea!

And I’ll let you in on a little secret, you and your couple thousand of people that are going to watch this: all my best ideas are not my best ideas! Out of the hundred great ideas I've had in twenty years, probably three of them are original. And the other 97 I've gone – that's good, I'm going to do that. I might tweak it, but, yeah. So get invested in your industry and get to know people who are like you and just enjoy your journey.

GEORGE: Excellent, that's awesome. Thanks a lot, Paul, and what I’ll do is, once your program is out for those people that are listening to this later, I’ll make sure that the links are all in the show notes so that they can get access to you.

PAUL: Alright, great, thanks, George.

GEORGE: Awesome, thanks a lot. I’ll talk to you soon.

GEORGE:  And there you have it, a great way to end off. And thanks again Paul Veldman from Kando Martial Arts. Transcripts of the show, show notes is at martialartsmedia.com/7, the number 7. And I liked the last message there from Paul – having your why. Having your why it’s so important. Why are you doing this?

Is it just to earn a paycheck, is it just that's what you're doing – what's the real why, what's the real motive behind building your business and doing all this? And the clearer you are with the why – it’s funny enough, everything else falls into place. We tend to look for the solutions and strategies and everything, but when you get clear on where it is that you want to be, everything else tends to fall into place.

All right – thanks again for listening. Tune in again next week, I have an excellent interview with you, going real, real deep on the why. Looking forward to getting that interview up to you, and as I've mentioned before – if you'd like to get in touch with me, george at martial arts media dot com, and let me know what you'd like to learn about and what you would like to listen to more on the show. Thanks again, I’ll chat with you next week – cheers!


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6 – Michelle Hext: How To Run A Niche Martial Arts School (And Mind-Bending Transformations)

Michelle Hext, author of The Art Of Kicking Ass Elegantly, shares her niche martial arts school secrets and mind-bending transformations.


  • How a niche martial arts school improves your marketing
  • The martial arts stepping stones that led to confidence and success
  • When ‘not knowing what to do' becomes your biggest business asset
  • The emotional motivator of changing lives
  • The power of vision and backwards planning
  • How to deal with the constant push-pull of self belief systems
  • And more

*Need help growing your martial arts school? Learn More Here.


GEORGE: Hi, this is George Fourie. Welcome to the Martial Arts Media podcast, episode number 6. Today I have another great interview with Michelle Hext. Now, I have to tell you: I'm not a big one on planning questions for my interviews. And I've had this turmoil with myself that I should be more prepared, and I should structure my questions. But the reverse side of that is, then the conversation is structured, and because I don't know the person I'm interviewing very well, I don't always know what questions to prepare.

So I try and play it very off the cuff, which can be risky, but I try and not prepare it all because I know that the person I'm interviewing is going to say something that's just gold, and then I'm going to go down that path and dig deep into it. And today, after my interview, I've got to tell you that I'm really glad that I didn't have a structured interview, because if I've had a structured interview, it wouldn't have gone down the path that it did, and I wouldn't have gotten the golden information that came out from this interview with Michelle Hext.

Now, I don't have any intention in mind. The intention was to focus on the niche side on having a martial arts school, having a martial arts business that focuses on a niche category, in Michelle's case, focusing on a women's only taekwondo school. And that was the focus, but the conversation just became much bigger, about the mindset stuff and her deep transformations, and it’s true gold. From a business perspective, you are going to get a lot out of this interview.

For the show notes and the full transcripts, you can go to martialartsmedia.com/6, so that's the number 6. And all the details are there for you. No reviews to read out today – unfortunately, but we would love your feedback, we'd love your comments. Bare in mind, every podcast show, you can leave comments right below the post, also ask questions. If you do ask the questions for the guests I have, I’ll make sure that they stop and answer them for you. If you'd like to leave us a review, 5-star reviews are awesome, because they help push our show up the rankings, but hey – an honest review is more than appreciated of course. You can just follow the link on iTunes, which is at martialartsmedia.com/6.

That's it from me; please welcome to the show Michelle Hext from the Art of Kicking Ass Elegantly.

GEORGE: Good day everyone, today I have with me, Michelle Hext. Now, Michelle has a vast spectrum of experience that I really want to tap into here today, starting of course with the 5th Dan Taekwondo master and her very niche based martial arts school, which is something we really want to dig into today, and then also, the author of the book The Art of Kicking Ass elegantly. I like how the elegantly part falls in there. So welcome to the show Michelle!

MICHELLE: Thank you, thank you for having me.

GEORGE: Cool. I guess we've got everyone, so let's start at the beginning: who is Michelle Hext?

MICHELLE: That's a big question, put me on the spot. So right now, I guess my main focus is, I have a business that's thriving, I love that. But I'm giving myself the gift of being a student in my martial art again at the moment. I've trained Taekwondo for 25 years and recently found an amazing instructor, and I'm feeling very spoiled having good instruction, it’s been many years since I've had an instructor that I felt was getting the best from me.  

I'm getting my 6th degree next year, so I'm focused on that, I'm enjoying that training, so that's one part of my life. And I'm also mom to a son who's 21 this month, and I have an 18-year-old daughter as well, but they moved out of the home, so I'm an empty nester at 47, which I did not think was going to happen. But the house is a lot tidier, and I have a lot more time on my hands. I'm an also an author of four books; one's about to be released. And I'm an entrepreneur.

GEORGE: Awesome. So the fourth book: is that in line with your previous one or is it in a different direction?

MICHELLE: It's really interesting actually: the course of my books, they way the evolved, has kind of mirrored my life really, over the last few years. And the first book I wrote in 2012 I think, didn't get released until early 2014, or something like that, end of 2013. But that book was Bulletproof Confidence & a Kickass Body through martial arts training and principles. And I had my women's only Taekwondo school, so it was the first of it’s kind, it was an adult, women only martial arts school.

We had pink walls, and our benches were pink, and our belts had pink embroidery, so it was much a niche school. And I wrote that book because I loved being in that space of teaching adult women, and obviously, I couldn't reach everybody, so that book was a way to let women know that they can be empowered through martial arts, and if they couldn't physically get to classes, then they could practice those principles.  So I was very much in that space.

And then, the next book was the Honorable Martial Arts Entrepreneur, and that was me saying: every instructor should do this. Their niche doesn't necessarily need to be adult women, but who are they most passionate about, where is that type of student on the map, what is it that lights them up, who is it that they love to teach more than anybody else? Because you can build a brand around that, and it means that not having generic advertising that advertises to all ages and all genders and just looks the same as every other martial arts flyer in town.

I've cut through that by having a specific niche, so that book was all about how to do that. And then the third book, The Art of Kicking Ass Elegantly was me stepping back into working with female entrepreneurs,  not just martial arts school owners, and it was a bigger conversation. It was written for women, for female entrepreneurs who were struggling in their business, but also didn't have much life balance. And I'm the first one to say it’s not easy to have it all and have it all at the same time, but I think you can do it. I think if we simplify and we scale,  there are ways that we can have everything that we want in our lives.

So that book was about that, there are a lot of mindsets in here, there's also strategy around how to grow your business as a female entrepreneur in a service based business. And this next book is, even more, mindset driven because I know that many of the women that I work with in my current business, the biggest hurdle they have is themselves. So what I've said pretty regularly is that success isn't about necessarily the things you need to do, but the crap you need to remove that's standing in the way between you and success. So that book is focused towards that.

GEORGE: Okay, so this whole author journey, what I'm hearing is, it’s stepping the stones in personal growth for you as such. From the confidence and then teaching only to female students with your martial arts school, and then going to the bigger audience and almost coming full circle with the biggest obstacle being yourself and the whole mind thing. So going back to the first book, where you talk about confidence: how did your martial arts journey play a role in that confidence in the early days?

MICHELLE: Oh, it was everything for me! I think I've always been very strong willed. I've always definitely been very strong willed, in a big way. But I grew up with domestic violence and sexual abuse; it holds you back a  little bit in life until you figure out how you're going to deal with it. And I think I did a pretty good job of dealing with that and moving forward. I was always ambitious, always driven, and I left school at 14.

I was told that my parents weren't paying for me to go back to school the next year. So, you can imagine, it's like I'm looking at this situation thinking, I'm going to be a statistic unless I do something. So I didn't know what I was going to do, I thought perhaps I would be a keyboard player for pseudo records – that was on the list. But I wasn't disciplined enough to keep practicing, but I knew I had to do something, I knew I had to hustle and be determined if I didn't want to be a statistic.

GEORGE: Was that the exact turning point for you? At a young age? It’s a bad thing that happened, but it was a real wake up call, sort of a turning point for you, where you took everything upon yourself with you own ambition?

MICHELLE: I didn't consider it, it was just the way I rolled. It was just the way that I dealt with things, but I think when I started my martial arts training, and there were structure and discipline, and I could see a way forward. You start as a white belt, and the next thing, there's a yellow belt. And then from there, there's another yellow belt, and there was such clear direction. And I knew that with this path open ahead of me, and I knew what I needed to do, I knew I could do the work. And I just got my head down and my bum up and I did the work.

Through that process, it was safe enough for me to look at my life and the things that had happened to me and be able to say, Wow, I'm thankful for that, because this is who I've become as a person. And before that, I've done big things. I've traveled over to the US on my own when I was 20, no one in my family had done that. I was doing my pilots license; I'd been solo for about 20 hours or something like that. So I had tackled some big things, but it was kind of all random and all over the place. Not really understanding the gift that those life challenges had given me regarding the strength that it gave me and the way that I'm able to help people. And Taekwondo opened all of that up. The way that I was able to help people, it was incredible.

GEORGE: Wow, that's awesome. How did that thing progress into deciding, OK: I want to open my first school. How did all that come about?

MICHELLE: Well, I started dating my instructor, as happens sometimes. And I stepped into instructing very early on. This club that I was at, the instructor had opened a school, and all of us that were training were white belts. So he was the only one ahead of us. He was 3rd Dan at the time I think, and everybody else was white. And I double graded very quickly. And I double graded all the way through pretty much. So I had a strong role in the club from the beginning, and I loved it. I just thrived under that. I was ambitious, very, very ambitious, and it frustrated the hell out of him I'm sure, because I just wanted to run before I could walk the whole time.

I look back now, and I'm mortified. It’s not what it’s about, but I was very ambitious, and I just wanted to learn more, wanted to do more, thought I knew everything the minute I got my black belt, all that sort of stuff. But I knew that's what I needed; I knew that's where I wanted to go, so I was able to open my club. And I think, even in the early days, it wasn't even happening back then, we're talking early 90s, I ran female only classes even then in the mornings and things like that. So for me, it was always going to be that direction, it was always going to be instruction. I was very ambitious, so I had my first school when I was 1st Dan.


MICHELLE: If I've been training 25 years, I would have had schools for 22 and a half of them.

GEORGE: Wow! So I guess it was a natural progression for you if you were already doing just women's classes to open a women's only school. Were you afraid of going so niche? It’s a big step, it’s a really big step to open a school, and you've got to get as many students as you can, but what sort of inspired the whole going down that niche and just sticking to women's only?

MICHELLE: Well luckily, I've had the experience of running a couple of online fitness businesses, and I only targeted women. And for me what I found so easy is, when you only have one market to target, the message is so clear! And it speaks to that market. So I hadn't had schools for a number of years, and I was training at somebody else's club, and I think I was grading for my 4th Dan, I was getting ready to grow for my 4th. And I just thought, I need to do this again, but I'm not going to do it the way that I did it before. I want to do it differently, and I'm going to test it. It didn't feel like a big step; it just felt like this is absolutely what I need to. And I always do what I want to do; I'm not ever bowed by pressure or what is supposed to be the right thing to do. When I think that, with the child I had and left school so young and all the rest of it, I've never known what the right thing is supposed to be, so I've always just made up my rules.

So that was it, I was just 100% convinced that that's what I was going to do, and so I did it. And the only regret I had is that, when I opened, I decided that I would teach adult women and girls, but my passion for teaching kids had long gone. I love kids, and I see them around Taekwondo schools, I love that they're there. But for me it wasn't about teaching martial arts, it was about the impact that I was having, and I was having a big impact on these women. The confidence that was growing, the fact that they were leaving abusive relationships, the fact that they were going out and starting businesses and all that sort of stuff that they hadn't done before they started training with me – that's what it was all about for me.

I had three kids' classes running, and I didn't want to teach them anymore. I was running out of instructors, and I didn't want to deal with instructors as well, that were calling in sick at the last minute and things like that. It took all the fun out of it for me, and for me to have another school because I had another online business running as well, it needed to be a passion project and something I was passionate about. So I had to let the kid classes fade away, I continued to teach those kids until the natural course of events occurred, and they either went off or went into the adult class, and then it was all about the adult women, and that was so powerful, that club was so, so powerful.

GEORGE: Ok, so it sounds like it wasn't a business you were passionate to scale because the whole satisfaction of the business was coming from you being able to have this positive impact on all these women. Is that about right?

MICHELLE: Well, I had visions to scale it in the beginning. I had visions of push schools all around the place, and we'd have our own push Olympics, and we'd have training camps around the place. I had a vision for that, but I outgrew bricks and mortar business quickly, and I just was doing so many exciting things in my online business, in my other consulting business, that I just felt tied to it.

I wasn't getting instruction myself as well, and I was dying as a martial artist. And every time I was on the mat, I was an instructor, and I wasn't a student. And I wanted that for me; I wanted to be a student. And I also wanted to do bigger and better things. And it was a very sad day for sure, to let that go. Sorry! Because it was a beautiful school and the women were so amazing. Obviously it still (inaudible 00:18:14). But I haven't regretted the decision because I'm still impacting women, and I'm still empowering women, and I'm leading by example.

GEORGE: For sure. That's impressive; it’s not like you've lost any of your impacts. I know it’s probably different, but then again, even you that you have an online business, it sounds like your coaching is very personal, and your public speaking and so forth. But having that impact with people face-to-face and so forth, it meant a lot to you. But then again, you've evolved, and although I interview about the martial arts aspect, there's so much more to it. And I want to get to that level. Because even if we take this conversation away from the martial arts aspect, the mindset and things that you've evolved, is something that can be applied all the way down.

MICHELLE: Oh, absolutely, yeah. It’s a bigger conversation, it is. I'm not on the mat sweating with them anymore, which is the part that I miss, but I'm loving being student, I like that. And as you're saying, it’s the mindset stuff and the lessons that I've learned through martial arts filter through everything I do. And it has an impact; it definitely has an impact.

Sharing my story as well helps people to see that it doesn't matter where you start: if you've got the will and you're willing to do the work, and you've got the vision above anything else because you can work and not get anywhere. But you've got to have such a strong vision and such conviction, that you're able to achieve it. And if you can get those things together you can achieve anything. It doesn't matter where you start.

GEORGE: You've mentioned a few things here, like structure and so forth. But is there sort of one thing that, when you look at martial arts, how it is impacting a life and how it transforms your life to shape things and move onto other things as such?

MICHELLE: The discipline of showing up day after day after day, training sessions after training session after training sessions. When you're hurt, you're banged up; you have to spar that person that you don't even want to have to deal with, all that sort of stuff. And that stuff just shapes you. At the time it feels like hell, but when you look back on that stuff. I've trained seven days a week. I remember going down to train under Mr. Chung, who was our head instructor. And Saturday morning classes, it was a black belt class, I was a blue belt.

I've been training 12 months. And it was just hell; I never slept the night before. We used to have to drive an hour and a half to get there, and it started at 8 in the morning. That was on a Saturday, and then Sunday, I was training with the state squad – same deal. The girls in my division are trying to take my legs out every session if they weren't trying to knock my head off. And I remember thinking – I've signed up for this thing to help me deal with my stress, and now I've got more of it!

Michelle HextYou just rise to every challenge, and it doesn't always feel like you're winning because you're filled with fear sometimes. For me, the fear of losing was massive: could not lose, couldn't lose a point. I was just like that about winning, so you never really feel like you're winning, you feel like you're always behind the eight ball, because that person got that point, or you lost that five. Or you weren't as switched on, or you didn't have the amount of energy that you wanted for that sparring session, or you went into that with a fearful thought.

So you never feel like you're winning. It’s only when you look back on it, and you think – wow! I'm so glad that I had that experience because it shaped me, and when I had my girls school, one time, some of them wanted to compete, so I took them along to a big Melbourne club, where they had an open mat sparring class. And I just had hip surgery so that I couldn't participate. But the girls that were on the mat – the look of pure fear on their face! We used to spar in class; it was pretty hard, but it’s not the same as when you go into an environment that's filled with competitors who are getting ready for the next nationals or whatever.

And I'm like, just get your ass on the mat and just do what you came here to do. And afterward there were tears, and everybody was like, I can't believe how hard that was! And I was like; I used to do that every week, twice a week, as well as the sparring in class. And that's why I had the mentor fortitude that I have and the internal strength. And those women, some of them I think were in shock when they were coming out of it. And they all just valued that experience so much, because it showed them that they had to do it, there was no way out. They all valued that experience, I felt very guilty actually at the time, because I thought I prepared them enough, but I don't think anything prepares you for that. I'm glad they did it in the end.

GEORGE: Awesome! You've mentioned something, and I might put you on the spot with this.

MICHELLE: Go for it! I've already cried, what else could happen?

GEORGE: All right, perfect! You've mentioned the fear of losing: now, this is the opposite of that, the fear of winning, as ludicrous as that sounds, a lot of people have a fear of winning. And I know for me, it’s a personal hurdle that I've always had to deal with. I’ll agree to point, and I would almost destruct what I've created, for the actual fear of winning. Now, you do high coaching and high-level coaching, and you're big on the mindset stuff: how do you deal with that?

MICHELLE: Yeah, I'm not convinced that it’s a fear of winning: I think it’s two things. One of my clients that I was coaching today, she was very excited about a business taking over but then she said, but I also don't want to be a bad mom. Because if it gets busy, then it means this. And so what she failed to recognize is that she gets to write the rules. It doesn't have to mean one or the other, so it's not clear about the fact that you get to write the rules and do it your way. It’s a push and pull a lot of the time. The fear isn't the fear of being successful, because that doesn't make sense.

It’s like, what do I have to give up to achieve that success? So it’s working out that bit in the middle, it’s working out what am I fearful of because there's nothing to fear from success. Is it because you feel like you're going to lose your anonymity if it means you're going to be famous or whatever? Does it feel like you're going to lose the time that you have with your family? So, it’s not about his success; it’s about the stuff that you're going to have to sacrifice. And then there's another side to that, which is not so much the fear of success, but the fear of not giving it a 100%.

What that means is, if you give something that you're so passionate about, and it means so much to you, if you give it a 100%, and you fail – what's left? So we say, oh, I could've done more. But it just didn't work out. If you give it 80%, you can be like, oh well. But if I gave it everything – then I’ll succeed. And you've got that up your sleeve a little bit, sort if. So – if I give it everything. But if you give it everything, there's a lot to lose. So it’s getting to the point where you have to create that win-win situation with that.

GEORGE: For sure. Interesting, because on the other side as well, you could have both. You could still be a great mom, and you could still have the success you want. You don't always have to sacrifice one; I guess it’s more the internal conversation that you have that you can't be both. I can't be successful and be a good mom.

a (4)MICHELLE: People have so much crap, rules that they've created for themselves, that they don't even realize that they've created for themselves. For me, I don't have any eating issues, but it was like, if I'm going to train I have to eat this, and I can't eat that before this, and I can't… And years later, I'm not training to that same extent, and I still had a lot of these rules around my meals. And one day I went, this makes no sense anymore. And then I pulled it apart, and I realized that it’s just a leftover habit. It doesn't need to be there anymore.

And also, in building my business and the way that I help the women that I work with building their businesses, it’s really about working out what you want. Because you get to write the script here. For me, I remember I had coaching clients Monday through Friday. And I might have two on a Monday morning, and then one on a Monday afternoon, and one on a Tuesday lunchtime – it was just random. And I realized one day, this is not who I wanted to be, and then I remember asking myself the question, well, how do you want it to be?

And I was like, I only want to do two days of coaching. I've only coached two days for the last 18 months. And it’s like, but what if people can't – they'll just work it out. It was just getting clear on what I wanted, and everybody else fell in, it’s just the way that it worked. And so, setting the attention about what you want and removing any rules. Sometimes rules are OK, but they've got to be still relevant, and they've got to fit still. So, for her to say, success means this, we had to pull that apart and say, well – does it? Does it mean that? So let's just work out if this is reality or something you've made up in your head. And we worked out it wasn't reality. It was just an old habit leftover and it happens with us all the time.

GEORGE: So what are those first steps you take? Because if somebody comes to you and they are – I wouldn't say messed up, that might sound wrong. But you have whatever obstacle you have that you're facing: what are the first steps that you take to break through those barriers?

MICHELLE: I put things into perspective pretty quickly, because you've said it: people come in, and they think they're messed up. “I'm so messed up, and I can't do this…” “I'm messed up, and this a (2)is what's holding me back.” And a lot of the times, it’s one sentence that I’ll say, and they'll be like, “Oh my god, I never thought of it like that.” And it’s just because I have the perspective that they don't. We're all so close to our stuff and someone shining a light on it and looking at it from a completely different perspective is often all they need to get them thinking in a different way.

So the first step is me hearing and listening to what's going on underneath the conversation and often when someone's talking to me about the challenge, it’s usually a justification for something, and it’s fear based, it’s usually fear based. So I'm trying to work out where's the fear, cause that's what we've got to get to the bottom of. So I’ll let them talk, and I’ll let them talk and observe what's going on but listening to those undertones. Having done this for so long now and I've dealt with my stuff, I can see things pretty clearly.

So it’s having the courage to have those tough conversations with people because sometimes I think – why do I have to be the one that has to have these conversations? Because you know it’s going to make someone uncomfortable, but it’s necessary because without that they don't grow. Without it, they stay stuck.

GEORGE: Do you feel a sense of relief when people address it head-on and say, OK, I've got to think of that?

MICHELLE: Yes, definitely.

GEORGE: Or is it more painful?

MICHELLE: Never more painful, it’s never more painful. I haven't had an experience where it’s been more painful; it’s more relief.

GEORGE: Ok. And then, what would the next step be? You've addressed the obstacle, the problem, the fear base, the gender, or whatever it is – now, what's your next step for a person to be ready to discover where it is they want to go and how they're going to get there?

MICHELLE: The next question is always, how do you want it to be? And then, normally, with any clients that I speak with, I send them a visioning tool, I've created this visioning tool where it helps with a number of coaching questions. It gets them to, at the end of it, creates a pitcher of what their ideal day looks like. And then from there, we build it out. Because, if they can't see it in their mind first, they're never going to be able to achieve it. So I help them create a strong vision, and sometimes those visions will come back, and I'm like, so you're thinking this big – I need you to be thinking this big.

Because they're so limited by their self-belief that they can't even think bigger, so sometimes it does take a couple of goes. With the visioning tool, I have them write it into the future. Today is the 1st of September, so if I was coaching someone today, I'd have them write it with the date of 1st September 2017, like it’s already happened. Some people can't get their head around that, and I tell them, write about your ideal day. And I'm like, well, that sounds like the day you've already got. Well, yeah, it is, it would be perfect if this happened. And I'm like, no, no, no, no. So sometimes they can't even think big enough, they're so restricted by their limitations, that they can't even think bigger than that, so sometimes it’s a matter of asking the right questions to try and get them to open up and see what's possible.

GEORGE: Does that almost create more discomfort in a way?

MICHELLE: It creates excitement!


MICHELLE: I've experienced it myself recently. I have my vision that I read every day. And I was reading this thing, and I'm just skimming through it, and then it just hit me: you've been living this for 12 months, so this is hardly a compelling vision anymore. It’s a nice story, but it’s happened. So I was like, oh crap, OK. This is why I'm feeling a bit bored. So I had to go big – big, big, big. I just put my rules, what do I want my life to look like.

If I woke up this morning and had the choice to do anything that I wanted to do and be anywhere that I wanted to be, where would that be and what would that look like? And I start from there, and then I build back. And that's emotion at the moment, and the vision stuff is so important. It’s so important, because, without it, you're not going anywhere. And if it’s not a big enough stretch, you become bored. There are so many people I know that say, oh yeah, I forgot I set that goal! The way that I talk about setting goals is, the stretch has to be that it’s so big that you may not have been able to achieve it before, but you know that if you do all the things that you know you're supposed to do and if the cards all fall the right way, it’s doable, it can happen.

So that's a stretch goal. It’s not so big that it’s never going to happen. It’s not like; I'm taking my business from 2000 and up to 2 million by the end of the month. I'm not saying it can't happen, but if you don't think that's realistic, you'll never take the first step towards it. So it’s making sure that it feels doable. And then, if you can stay there, and you can get that balance right, then that time, it will work out.

GEORGE: Excellent, OK. And that process will be a lot of, obviously, dealing with our self-beliefs, because it’s easier to put yourself out there and then just gradually pull yourself back, is that possible, is it not.

a (1)MICHELLE: Yeah, like I said, it’s that constant push-pull. So you've constantly got to be alert for the pull when it’s dragging you back. You've got to be on alert constantly. I always say, the biggest tool any entrepreneur can have, or any martial arts school owner can have, or any martial artist can have is self-awareness.

If you're aware of your crap, you've got to be alert to it, because it’s always there. It doesn't matter who you are, or how evolved you are,  or how awesome your life is – it’s still there. New level, new devil. And it’s so true, I've had a business where I was struggling. I struggled for many, many years. And then in 12 months, it went to multiple six figures. And the same stuff is still there. It’s not any different; it’s just bigger.

GEORGE: So what do you do on a day to day basis, to keep you motivated and keep yourself on track?

MICHELLE: I have a process that I do every single morning. So the first thing I do when I wake up, I jump on social a little bit. My business is built around social media. So I'm on there, and I'm chatting with people from overseas and stuff like that. A bit of play for about half an hour. And then I start to journal. And the journaling is just how I want the day to be, anything that's bothering me, I sort of work through that stuff and then I read my vision, and then I create my daily actions based on that.

So I read my vision, check in with my goals and then my action is inspired by that. Then I write my to-do list, and I'm excited before the day has even started. I'm up at 5 o'clock, and that's all done by 7. I take my time, there's no rush, I take my time in the morning, have a cup of coffee and just really give myself that time. It’s just getting aligned. The biggest tip I can give is: if someone doesn't feel like doing something if you don't feel like exercising, there's no point forcing yourself to do exercise when you don't feel like it. So you have to get yourself in the mindset where you feel like it.

Listen to something, look at some stuff on Instagram or whatever the hell it is that inspires you, get excited about it, and then do it. Don't try and force yourself to do things if you're not inspired. And writing's a good example as well: if I'm sitting there and I'm not inspired to write, it’s not going to be a pleasant experience. But if I read what I'd written already, or I go back and read the first chapter of one of my first books, I get excited about that. So get inspired before you take the action. If you're not feeling motivated, don't try and make yourself do it from that space. Do whatever it takes to get aligned and motivated and then do the work.

GEORGE: All right, excellent. Michelle, it’s been an awesome conversation, and I'm glad it went where it did. My intention obviously, was talking martial arts, and then we took on a path that I just couldn't ignore. And it was inspiring to me, and I'm sure for anybody listening, it’s going to be awesome as well.

MICHELLE: Thank you.

GEORGE: Before we wrap things up: you've got a program, your coaching program: can you tell us a little bit more about that, what it is that you do and offer?

MICHELLE: The Art of Kicking Ass Elegantly, I've got an online program. I have a live mastermind program as well. Each of those programs run for 12 months and it takes business owners from the struggling, they can't quite get traction, they're still a little bit unclear, and it takes them through the 12-month step-by-step process to create a six-figure business for service-based businesses.

So there's that, and that's really for female entrepreneurs. I do have female martial arts school owners and fitness professionals in that program, because it fits perfectly for them. But I'm working in partnership with an awesome man called Paul Veldman. He has Kando Martial Arts, and we're partnering together now to release a new product in October called Martial Arts Business Success. And it’s all of the stuff I teach I my programs and more, plus Paul brings a whole other side to it. It’s every month; a new martial arts business tool will be released.

My specialty is in branding and marketing and positioning, creating, campaigns and it’s all that side of things, whereas Paul is very great at retention and business systems and all that sort of stuff. So he's great at all the stuff I'm crap at, and I'm good at stuff that he's probably good at too. But this is my bread and butter, this is what I do,  it’s how to get leverage on social media, how to position yourself in the market, all the branding sort of stuff.

So we're launching that in October, and what I'm excited about with that program is, we’re launching at the introductory price of $67 a month. And if people lock in that price, the price never goes up, it never changes or anything like that. And then there's also my program The Honorable Martial Arts Entrepreneur program. It’s going to be a bonus; it’s something that I was selling for $200, so that's going to be the bonus as well. Part of this membership, every month – there's no contracts or anything, we want people to stay because they love what we're doing.

But every month, we're going to release a new packet, we're calling it. Sort of the whole module on one particular subject that's going to help them grow or manage their business, and then we'll run a couple of live calls within that as well, so they have access to a Facebook group. So that's Martial Arts Business Success – we don't have a website just yet, it’s being built as we speak, but we have a Facebook group, which is Martial Arts Business Success.

GEORGE: Ok, great. So once that's released, we'll update the show notes, and make sure it’s live. But for the meantime, if somebody wants to get hold of you, what's the best way to do that?

MICHELLE: They can go to the theartofkickingasselegantly.com.

GEORGE: Awesome. All right – Michelle, it’s been great chatting to you, I hope to chat with you soon.

MICHELLE: Thank you very much.

GEORGE: Thanks.


GEORGE: And there you have it – thanks again Michelle Hext for coming on the show. How good was that? From going one point and discussing, trying to go down the route of discussing the martial arts journey, and it just went onto a whole other deeper level I didn't expect – thanks again to Michelle for opening up and really sharing her passion with true emotion and sharing all the obstacles she went through and transformations that came as a result, through applying what she learned in her martial arts training.

That's it for me; we'll tune back again next week with another show. Remember, the show notes are at martialartsmedia.com/6. And if you'd like to get in touch with us, any questions about what it is that we talk about, any questions about our services for martial arts school owners, or any suggestions for interviews, anybody that you would like to hear from on the show – please get in touch. You can go to martialartsmedia.com and just click on the contact form, get in touch with me and we'll take it from there. Thanks again, have an awesome week, I’ll chat with you soon.


*Need help growing your martial arts school? Learn More Here.

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5 – How To Use Facebook For Martial Arts School Marketing

George Fourie speaks to Rod Darling about using the power of Facebook for Martial Arts School Marketing.



  • What you must have before you start advertising on Facebook
  • A tried and tested ‘irresistible offer’ that you can model for your first campaign
  • 3 steps to follow when creating your irresistible offer
  • The power of strategic targeting that no flyers and papers can match
  • A sneaky cheat you can use with Facebook to discover what your target market is all about
  • One vital change that you can do to your martial arts website right now to boost your conversions
  • And more

*Need help growing your martial arts school? Learn More Here.


GEORGE: Hi, this is George Fourie, and welcome to the Martial Arts Media Business podcast, episode number 5. In this episode, we're going to change gears again a little bit. And today, I have on this show Rod Darling. And Rod Darling has been doing a few interesting things and strategies worth Facebook marketing. And we're going to go down to the real basics of Facebook marketing, and really how any martial arts business owner can jump on and start playing around, and getting your message out, getting your offers out to specific audiences, by doing simple strategies. So we're going to be talking about that.

First up – I do want to acknowledge a few reviews that we have on the podcast. Now, when you go the actual podcast episode, we number it according to the episode so that this one would be martialartsmedia.com/5 and on that, you'll find a link that goes to iTunes. And very much appreciated of course, when we get reviews, especially when they're 5-star reviews. But hey – an honest review is all that matters.

So I've got two reviews here and one from Robbie – apologies if I butcher any names because it can happen – Robbie Castellano. So Robbie says, “Great inside to the martial arts business schools with successful school owners – highly recommended.” So thanks for that Robbie. And then, “Great podcast on two inspiring martial artists,” by Shawn Allan. I'm going to tell you who Shawn Allan is in a second, but let me first read the reviews.

So, “George, great interview with Graham and Phil from WAIMA. I enjoyed the attitude that the boys have in challenging themselves over and over. They do provide us with an inside into their work ethic, professionalism, and ideas. Especially rewarding for me, as I was their employer/instructor back in the day. I clearly remember the reasons behind my decision to employ Graham above all others and that move has been the start of a journey that has benefited the martial arts industry. Then my decision to combine Phil with Graham has been a joy to follow. As an instructor, I've made many mistakes: choosing Graham as a young green belt to groom as an instructor has been a good choice. Helping Phil move into my old school as an instructor; then the owner has been equally beneficial. Of note is the reaction by the boys when I occasionally pass across. They always show me the heartfelt respect and genuine interest in my life journey. My response to them is reciprocated. It seems the WAIMA story is only just starting.  I'm sure you can appreciate this as a dad sitting on the sidelines, watching classes. Anyway, great interview, regards, Shawn Allan.”

So, if you didn't get that from the actual comment, Shawn Allan originally started the WA Institute of Martial Arts, before Graham and Phil took it over. And Graham and Phil was the interview that I did. It was broken up into three episodes, so episodes 1, 2 and 3, which you can get of course at martialartsmedia.com/1, /2 and /3. So there you go, two great interviews and very much appreciate when you leave a review, of course, because that's going to help us get up in the rankings and get the podcast out to all the other martial arts business owners out there.

Alright. So, that's it from me. We're going to jump into this episode. In this episode, we're going to dig over to the Facebook marketing. And Facebook is the prime hangout spot for everybody in the world; everybody's on Facebook. And doing a few things, when you've got your Facebook page up there, doing a few things strategically to get your message out, is not that hard to do. Now, obviously, you can get somebody to do that for you, that's something we specialize in, here at Martial Arts Media. Or, if you're just starting out, and you want to take it on yourself, Rod also offers his help and has a great few strategies to share on how you can get going by yourself. So that's it from me, let me welcome you to the interview, Mr. Rod darling from International Goju Karate Schools.

GEORGE: Cool, so are you ready to rock n roll?

ROD: Let’s do it mate!

GEORGE: All right! Good day everyone, today I have with me Rod Darling and we're going to be talking about Facebook marketing, how you can use your Facebook, or how you can promote your martial arts school through Facebook marketing. How are you doing today Rod?

ROD: Yeah, good, thanks mate, how are you?

GEORGE: Good, good. So just before we get into all the meaty stuff, just a bit of a background, who's Rod Darling?

ROD: Me, pretty much, I've been in the martial arts industry for… I think we started our club in 2002. And we used to do all the normal marketing methods, flyers and school newsletters and stuff like that. And we grew our school to a pretty big size; we're up to about 7-800 active now. Mainly in Perth and I've just moved over to Newcastle, 18 months ago, to get things happening over here as well, moved back home. Got tired of the slow pace of Perth. And we've also got kickboxing fitness studios, which we started up a couple of years ago, and it’s just going gangbusters, obviously cause the fitness industry is a massive market, compared to martial arts. So it’s much easier to grow, to get growth that way.

GEORGE: Ok, so you've got the location in Perth – come on, Perth isn't that bad! I mean, you're stuck, you have to stay there. So, and then how many locations have you got over East?

ROD: I have it here, in Newcastle office, just got one full-time location.


ROD: And I've got a couple of, I've got three, four satellite locations where we run kids karate. And in Perth, we've got four, five full-time location now. One's a stand alone fitness kickboxing studio, the rest karate dojos, with fitness kickboxing in them as well.

GEORGE: Ok, excellent.

ROD: We've got about satellite locations started throughout Perth as well.

GEORGE: Ok, great. Ok so, the meaty stuff would be Facebook marketing. Now, a lot of people talk about. I guess there a lot of confusion about Facebook, how to go about it, what you should be doing. So I guess just for, to sort of backtrack before we get anywhere, with how to go about the advertising and so forth, how would you define the difference? If we talked just about social media stuff and the Facebook marketing?

ROD: Yeah, I don't do Instagram or anything else, so I don't know about that. My theory is that it’s the same as with my martial arts – just do one thing and do it well. So, Facebook as far as marketing, is the go right now. It will probably change in a few years time or so, and something else will come along. But right now, Facebook is the best way, as far as I'm concerned, to get students in, and to grow any business for that matter.

GEORGE: Ok, so let’s go to the start. Now, where should you begin? You've got a business, you've got a martial arts school, and you want to start promoting it on Facebook: what would be sort of the first steps to where to start?

ROD: Make sure you've got a fan page, obviously, cause you can't run boosted posts or ads unless you have a fan page or a business page, is what they call it now I think. But also, the trouble I see with the most martial artist, is that they don't know they market. They don't know their target market. And so we niche it down to, we have a kids karate program called Kanga Karate, so we'll have a business page for that program in that suburb as well.

So we niche it right down, and then we'll have a fan page for fitness kickboxing as well, and we'll have a fan page for junior karate also. We haven't hit the adult market for karate that hard, we just mainly focus on kids and then get the parents training. But that's a good start, just know your downloadmarket and do a lot of research on your market. And niche it down, so my Facebook coach said to me just the other day, “If you try and get everyone, you'll get no one.” So just niche it right down, just target.

At the moment, I'm just targeting fitness kickboxing; I'm just working on that. My karate grows with referrals, so I’ll just target just the normal fitness kickboxing, and then we'll also target moms and dads as a separate, cause they're a completely different anima. They think differently, they've got different wants and needs, so you can make your ads much more effective if you do it that way.

GEORGE: Ok, so that brings up something interesting because most martial arts schools will have several programs, all under the one roof. They'll offer Jiu Jitsu; they'll offer maybe, they'll offer Muay Thai. And then, of course, the kid's programs. With all of those segments, you're talking a different language, as you would when you see them face to face. So you go and create separate pages for those markets?

ROD: Yeah, for instance, in Perth, my main focus is Kanga karate, our kid's karate program. So we have a fan page for each location, even the little satellite locations. And that way, if you do an ad for that location, they can see through Google maps and with the addresses of your location, it comes up on the fan page as well. And you can target people in those suburbs a lot easier. And you know, it’s local.

GEORGE: Yeah, that's a good point. I guess there could be a way to go about that, a different way if you just had the one fan page. And then, that'll probably be a conversation way beyond this call, which you would be specific about your ads, on how you're going to target the market. Which is probably, I think we're probably going to go way beyond that conversation at this point.

ROD: Yeah, yeah. You could have a fan page for each program, and have all your locations included on that fan page. It’s just the way we do it because we're like franchise setup and we leave the fan page up to control to that franchise, run his ads. The biggest drama I see with having the one fan page with all the different programs is the content. Because you want to be putting out content to the people, and you're not going to put out, like krav maga, self-defense style content to a 4-6 years old kids program for karate. It’s a different type of content.

GEORGE: Very cool. Ok, that was a good learning point for me as well, cause we are also kind of try and put everything into one roof a lot of the times. But then, the only way to get people to the different segments would be with content promotion and so forth.

ROD: Yeah.

GEORGE: So, ok. So moving on, when you do your ads, what are you exactly doing? Are you putting up something on your website and promoting that? Are you promoting events, or are you creating a specific offer on Facebook – what's been working for you?

ROD: Yeah, we have what we call an irresistible offer. So we do a paid trial, and for most of our karate locations, our biggest offer that we sell is, we do 5 classes and a uniform for $29.99, and we have websites and landing pages where people can buy that, and we're just directing them to the website to buy that offer.

GEORGE: Ok, so, first and foremost: you're building your audience, so you've got your different page, and then you're putting up a specific page for the offer.

ROD: Yeah.

GEORGE: Right. And do you vary those offers, or do you sort of run with that, and then chop and change, or?

ROD: We've been running with that offer for a few years now, and we're too scared to change it because it works pretty good. We do have a formula to come up with our offers, and we do the same with kickboxing, we do three classes and a pair of gloves for $26.99. And I've also done different offers, just playing around over here, where I've done a six-week kickboxing program for a $127.

And I've been selling them straight off the bat, straight off Facebook. Cause I've always tried to keep it a low barrier offer, which is usually below $49, cause they'll buy it straight off the bat off the internet then. But I'm doing it for a $127 now, and we've done $169 as well, an absolute beginner course for adult karate as well. We've just done that recently, had over 60 people take that offer. As we get more confidence, we try bigger and bolder offers.

GEORGE: Yeah, that's it. Ok, I don't want you to give away all your secrets obviously, but do you mind sharing what's that formula that you take to create your offers?

ROD: There are 15 steps, but the main steps are: it needs to be unique, it needs to be different from everyone else, it needs to have lots of value. So free –  there's no value in two weeks free, there's nothing in it. What we do is, we try to give away a tangible product, which for kids karate would be a uniform, or adult karate would be a uniform, or for fitness, kickboxing would be gloves. And whatever the retail value is of that product, we keep the offer at 50% that retail value. Say if your uniform were worth $80, you'd keep your offer at $40, but I'd make it an oddball number and say $39. So the five classes in uniform for $39 and I’ll always put the value of the uniform in that offer. A uniform is usually valued at $80, or whatever your uniform's worth. And that works every time.

GEORGE: Ok, interesting. And I just want to clarify that: so you're basing the value also on something psychical, so not just the class, because two weeks free can be very, sort of “Great – what am I getting?”

ROD: Yeah. And that's another point, I try and do it as a specific number of classes, rather than four weeks and a uniform, or 2 weeks and a uniform, because then there's still a gray area – how many classes does that get me? So we try and keep it specific, so then there are fewer questions that're going through their head. So, two weeks – how many classes do that equal? Is that one class a week, or is it three classes a week – what does that get me? So we keep it specific, so they know what they're getting.

GEORGE: Yeah, really good point. Cause you don't want the prospect to be answering questions in their head, or give them hard work to try and figure out what is this offer. You want to make it easy for them just to make the decision and go with it.

ROD: Yeah. And once you have that offer, like we've been running with our offer for I don't know how many years know. It was the biggest change we ever did; it made a massive difference to us. Once you have that, that would do most of the heavy lifting in your marketing for you. Most of the work is done, once you have that irresistible offer, you just have to put it in front of the right people, and that's easy on Facebook.

GEORGE: OK, right, so I guess that's the crunch of it: if you're going to have a bad offer, it doesn't matter who the audience is: your offer is not going to work, and nobody's going to respond to your ad. So the first step is going to be, obliviously create your fan page. Get that if you're using profile for your martial arts school, it’s not going to work. Then create a good offer, so something that's going to work. And then start running the ads. Now, what are you doing to expand the fan base? Cause obviously, if you're running the ads just from your Facebook, is there anything that you're doing in particular that you can get more people to the fan page, or you're just doing that with the boosted type posts that's attracting friends, or friends of people in your club?

ROD: When I run my boosted posts – so I find boosted posts work better then a Facebook ad for martial arts. The ads will still work, but boosted posts just seems to work better every time we do it. So we don't target people that liked our page: we create an audience and so, if it’s kids karate, I’ll target moms, cause they make the buying decision most of the time. And I’ll just pick the suburbs in the surrounding area; it’s as simple as that. See, what happens is, this is another mistake that a lot of the guys make, cause I see ads – when I lived in Perth, I used to see ads from martial artists in Melbourne, popping up on my news feed.

It's either their targeting was crappy, or they're targeting people who liked their page and their friends. And this is another mistake they make: they invite all their martial arts friends to like their page. So, we get likes just from running those boosted posts, people will like your page anyway. And what you can do, once they've liked your post, or commented on your post, you can go through and invite them to like your page, so we're getting likes like that. So I don't run posts to get likes, I just do it sell more web special.

GEORGE: Right, interesting. And a good point to mention there, it’s still good to build their fan base, because your ads will be a lot cheaper. So you'll get more. But hang on, that doesn't apply to a boosted post.

ROD: I don't run ads to those people, I run ads to new people. And the people that do like my page will most probably see it anyway, cause they're in my target audience.

GEORGE: Right, OK. So you're not that concerned about running ads just to do your fan base: you want to expand it and get the message out to new people.

ROD: I’ll just run it, cause it’s so good on Facebook now, you can run a boosted post, and you can target women between 25 and 45 who live in your suburbs, who have kids between 3 and eight years old, you know? And you can't do that with flyers or a newspaper.

GEORGE: Exactly! And that right there is gold, that's what makes this direct response type marketing gold because it gives you this, Facebook has got all the data of everybody. Everything that you do on Facebook, I mean, you are literally the product on Facebook. You are the free user, you give them the data, and that data is obviously a way for you to customize ads and present an offer to those people. And you bring a point there is, again, how specific it is, if you're targeting somebody that's 25-45 and you know you're targeting women, then what is the conversation in your ad? What are the pictures that you're going to put in that ad? Do you get a woman to create that ad for you?

Rod DarlingROD: We do a whole exercise now. And we've only just learned this recently, but it’s making a massive difference, where for instance, I've just done that for fitness kickboxing, and I've spent three weeks going into my target. And there's a whole process that we go through; it’s called taking a stop. And we try and get into their head of that person and so, what are their problems, what are the causes of their problems, what behaviors are they doing because of these problems that they have in their life? And then you can speak their language. And when you start doing that – I forget who it was, but somebody said “If you can describe somebody's problem to them better than they can put it into words, they'll always run with you.” they'll always come to you to solve it, and that's what we do, pretty much. But I can't explain how we do that here! It takes ages to learn it!

GEORGE: For sure. I guess for someone that doesn't have access to those type of resources, the quickest way to make that discovery is I guess, really pay attention to what people are telling you that walk through your doors. The people that are coming through the doors and the people that are joining, and if you can get down to the reason why they're joining and what they are trying to achieve through their martial arts, not just kicking and punching stuff. But the real hidden benefit, the real REAL benefit – what are they going to get out of it? What type of transformation they are after?

ROD: And it’s a really good point, but be careful who you pick, because you want to pick your favorite clients. Because you want to attract more of those clients. So I pick my favorite ones, with my fitness kickboxing, there were a couple of ladies I asked questions to, and I modeled it on them, cause I want more of them. And now when ladies come in here,  it’s like they've been here for 12 months already on their first night. They just click with everyone. But there is a cheating way that you can use Facebook to do your market research. Once you have your fan page, and you now have people give you reviews, I’ll go through all the reviews on my fan page, and I’ll look at the wording that they're using.

So, for instance, when I did it for my kickboxing fitness studio, everyone said it was a great workout, and they had fun. And fun was the theme that kept coming through. So then I started to use those words in my ads as well, and I got better results. The other thing that you can do to get better targeting is, I go through those people that have given me a five-star review, and I’ll stalk their Facebook profile, and I’ll have a look at their interests, what pages they've liked. And you'll find a theme in there. It’s a bit harder with kids karate, but with fitness, it was easy. The pages that popped up all the time were Lorna Jane and the Biggest Loser and Michelle Bridges and things like that. So now I can target ads to those people. So it's a bit of a cheat way on Facebook to do it quickly.

GEORGE: OK, cool. And that brings up a good point, and I don't know if it’s going a little more advanced, but Facebook has other features, where you can create a lookalike audience. So it’s taking people that you have, and then Facebook uses their data to create a lookalike audience, which is mimicking all those features that you're talking about. The similarities and so forth, they try and base an audience on that, which expands on that. Have you used any of those features?

ROD: No I haven't, cause I just have my audiences saved, and I just keep hitting the same audience unless I'm doing a different campaign or a different offer. Then I’ll change it up a little bit. Or if I find I'm getting people starting to come from a different suburb, a little bit further away, I might expand the data a little bit further. But that's it. Just keep it simple, that's what it means to have a great offer if you have it articulated in a  way that they understand you and target the people who you want.

You can also target income now. I don't target people that can't afford me anymore. Cause when you have an irresistible offer, it’s like Groupon. We've done Groupon before, and there's a lot of bargain hunts out there. They'll just come and, you know.We did it for karate years ago, and we had like 60 kids come in, but none of them could afford us. It was a way to get uniforms.

GEORGE: And they've got the uniform hanging out the pub.

ROD: Yeah, for their dress ups.

GEORGE: Dress up party uniforms. Alright, cool. Anything else that I haven't asked you that you feel is important? What I like about this conversation is, it’s all about the basics. We're talking about getting your Facebook campaign sorted and really just keeping it simple, making sure that your audiences are well segmented through your pages, so that you can target accurately, that you're not talking about Muay Thai  fights to the mom who's trying to sign up her kids and sharing that type of content, so you can have a relevant conversation with your target audience. Is there anything that you feel, any other tips that you feel we should cover?

ROD: The basics are knowing your target, have a great offer and put it in front of them. That's all you need to know and do. But one problem that most businesses have and martial artists are really bad at this, is, your product is an obstacle to what they want. So for fitness, for example, they want to lose weight, but they don't necessarily want to go to the gym and sweat and workout hard. So your product is actually the obstacle, so you gotta talk to them about what they actually want, so don't talk about yourself on your website, cause I see martial artists, oh, we've been around for x amount of years, and we've won all these world titles, and we've done this and done that – they don't care. They don't care; that's not going to help them give their kid confidence. They just want to know how you're going to do that.

GEORGE: That opens a whole other interview. Cause that is the biggest mistake that I see on any martial arts website is, being us-centric and not you-centric. It’s all about we, and everything is we. We, us, we believe. And nobody cares, and nobody cares what you believe because…

ROD: You're weeing all over yourself!

GEORGE: Alright, that will be the tagline for this episode – don't wee all over yourself! Alright, awesome. So, Rod, I believe you also have a course that is in the making, and by the time that you listen to this interview – for anyone listening, it will probably be available. But for anybody that needs help with this and wants to take on this challenge, and they don't have the confidence, or they don't have someone that can do this for, do you have a website that they can go to?

ROD: I will have for this soon, I’ll have a landing page. But the best thing to do is contact me through Facebook. I've put together this course because I've been getting contacted every day by people wanting to ask all this stuff. And I help them, no worries at all, but I'm like, I need to put it together in a course. And it'll be a short course that'll get them results. After a week or so, they'll be generating page rise.

GEORGE: All right, awesome. So just contact Rod Darling through Facebook. And once the course is live, we will have it in the show notes so that it will be available in this episode. That will be at martialartsmedia.com/5. So that's it. Thanks a lot, Rod, I've learned a great deal and I'm sure everyone else did as well, and I hope to connect with you soon.

ROD: Yeah, cool!

GEORGE: Alright, thanks.

ROD: Thanks, bye.

GEORGE: Alright, there you have it – thanks again Rod for the great tips and we're going to follow this episode up. I'm going to be talking about a few different strategies and things that can add to what you're doing. And there's something that they came up with, the way Rod is approaching it, which is awesome and working well for them, how they are splitting their target markets through various pages. And I got thinking after the interview: there's a lot of brands, it would be very hard for them to restructure that format. So it would be very hard to go and, if you've got your brand and you've got a few locations out there, and you're serving a few target markets, you might get stuck with that approach. In a future episode, we'll get on and discuss a few alternative options that you can go about doing.

Rod, thanks a lot for the interview. Shared some great tips and some great things about the offers – if you just picked that up, the way they structure the offer and the value – there's some gold in there. Little things, but little things is what counts and what makes offers convert. And if you need Rod's help, you can just contact Rod, so rod, R-O-D Darling, just search for him on Facebook and connect with him on there, he'll be happy to help you with anything you need.

Coming up next week: I've got so many cool interviews lined up, so I'm very excited about that. There's a few topics that I'll also be discussing solo, so it's exciting to see this podcast evolving and I'm just going to continue interviewing people from all aspects of martial arts, maybe even get guests on board not from martial arts which we can learn from, obviously talking about the marketing aspect and so forth. But anything that can help build a better martial arts school, a better martial arts business at the end of the day.

Alright, that's it from me. For the show notes on this episode, you can go to martialartsmedia.com/5.  So, martialartsmedia.com/5 and I will catch you on the next show. Thanks a lot for tuning in, chat soon. Cheers!


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4 – Should You Have Your Prices Listed On Your Martial Arts Website?

Is there a benefit having your prices listed on your martial arts website, or how much business is this really costing you?


  • What happens when prospects see prices on your martial arts website
  • The war you don't want to create with your prospect
  • The key conversion elements to have on your website

*Need help growing your martial arts school? Learn More Here.


In this video, I'm going to talk about whether or not it's a good idea to have your prices, your club prices, listed on your martial arts website. And if it's not, what else should you be doing instead of that.

Hi, this is George Fourie from martialartsmedia.com and today, I'm going to talk about whether you should have your prices listed on your martial arts website, or not. And if not, what can you do instead. So, the short answer – no. You should not have your prices listed on your website. Now, let's get the longer answer. The longer answer is that, if you list your prices on your website – now, let's take one step back. Your prospect is sitting in front of their computer, or their mobile phone.

And they're looking for a martial arts program. They know nothing about you, nothing about your school, nothing about the benefits. They've got this idea in the back of their mind, that they want to start training martial arts. Or it's a mom, sitting and looking for a school, after school program, for her kid. So, there's no relationship in this – not even a transaction yet. It's simply somebody that's searching for more information about your school.

Now they find your website and as people, do they see a link that says price. So what is the first thing they're going to do? Of course, they click on the price. And now they've got their point of reference. Their point of reference on how they're going to be comparing your club to other clubs, to other schools.

a (78)And that's going to be their point of differentiation. Now, bear in mind: this person has never spoken to you, never met you, never walked into your environment and felt what that experience is like, the culture, was it warm and friendly, did they like the instructors -there's none of that, there's no relationship whatsoever. So you've now completely kind of ruined your chances, and I guess you've gone down to the point of, you're playing the price war, right? You are playing the price war with everybody else, and a war against price is the price of course, to the bottom. So, never a good idea to have your prices on your website.

What about specials? Well, that's a completely different story, because if you've got a very attractive special, something that people can buy, without inquiring much, without having to find out much information, something that they can try before they commit, then yes, why not? Have something that people can take, which has got a good restriction on the timeframe. So, put a special in a place that's attractive and appealing, but that has a deadline, OK?

Deadlines are key. Now, if you want to go down this whole price track, most websites are just not constructed in a way that is driving people to a form of action. And your website might be great; it might tell great information about you, but it's more. Most websites are structured with information. Information about the club, who the club is and who the people are. And unless your copy – your copy, I'm referring to the words on your website, has been designed by somebody professionally, that actually has structured it for the prospect, all their paying points, and their desires and what they want to achieve and what's really bugging them, why they're actually searching for a martial arts program, then it's best to avoid that whole price scenario and so forth.

quotescover-JPG-63But I'm jumping around, so I want to move along: what should you be doing instead? So what you should be doing instead is focus on conversion elements. At the end of the day, you want to get a prospect through the door, into your dojo, into your school, on the mat, and you want them training. So you want to remove as much barrier there is to entry, but also, you want to make that first connection. You want to be able to get them in the door, and be able to make that face to face connection, speak to them, build that relationship and then get them into training.

So on your website, the most powerful way to get in touch with someone is, once they've obviously made a connection, the phone would always be better – well, that of course, second to face to face would be a phone, and then online inquiry, if you have to. But of course, the quicker you can talk to them live, whether that's over the phone or face to face, there's going to be a bit of a relationship forming right there. So what should you have on your website? You should have your phone number, very visible, right on the top. If you have multiple locations, then maybe have a drop down or something, that people can select the location and call from the website basically. Also, if you look at mobile searches, most people are searching on mobile lately, I think statistically it's about 60%, so you wanna have a clickable phone number, for the person that's on their mobile device, they're on Google, they find you, they click, and they make that call.

All right. Second would be an online inquiry form. So also, above the fold – when we say above the fold, it means that people don't have to scroll down, so everything is visible at the top. This is not always possible, but if you've got a sort of way to test this kind of things, which I know a lot of people don't, but preferably, it's always a good idea to test what's working best on your website. But having that online inquiry form, where people can type in their name, number and e-mail address and get in touch with you right there, that's advisable.

And in the last bit, if people aren't committed to that yet, it's good to have a free give away. Something like the seven best strategies, seven best things to consider before choosing a martial arts school. Something of a free giveaway, that's going to educate your buyer – educate your prospect rather, to what it is that you offer with martial arts and that way, you're going to be building a bit of trust, and building that relationship before you get to speak to them.

All right, so that's it. I hope you got benefits from these tips. If you want to learn anything more, go to our website martialartsmedia.com, and I'll see you in the next episode. Cheers!


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3 – How To Explain The Real ‘Cost’ Of Martial Arts Classes Part 3

How much should your students be paying for their martial arts classes? Or is the ‘cost' focus the wrong metric? Here's what to base your gym's value on instead…



  • What's the no. 1 attribute to consider when hiring an instructor
  • How to use a leadership program to groom young, confident instructors
  • The hard fast rule of the skill levels students need to be at before instructing
  • Cost vs Investment. Where do you focus?
  • The ‘black belt story': how to kill the price question once and for all
  • How your business approach evolves when opening school no. 3
  • and more

*Need help growing your martial arts school? Learn More Here.



GEORGE: Hi, this is George Fourie from martialartsmedia.com and welcome to the Martial Arts Media Business podcast, episode number 3.

So, in this episode, we're gonna be wrapping up the three part series of interview with Graham McDonnell and Phil Britten from the WA Institute of Martial Arts. So if you haven't listened to number one and two, I'd recommend going back. Number two has a lot of value in that. But then again, a lot of that value's gonna be missed if you didn't get the full part of the story, which is at number one. So you can access those episodes at martialartsmedia.com/1, the number one, or /2.

So that's gonna be the interview. I've already started interviewing more guests. So what's gonna be happening in this show is, we're gonna continue on this journey. I'm gonna be scoping out as many top martial arts school owners that I can find. And you know, maybe it's not a top school owner as in numbers, as in its huge turnover or its huge student base. But people that have value to share, valuable things that are working, valuable tips. And that's what we want to bring to this podcast. So I'm gonna be interviewing a lot more guests. And if you have any suggestions for guests, please go to the website martialartsmedia.com, just hit the contact form over there, get in touch and please make the introduction.

I'll also be doing a couple of solo shows, which will be a lot shorter. We'll be sharing a couple of things that, from my experience, is what will help you with marketing your school, on the digital platform of course.

So we're gonna get going with this episode. I do also want to thank you for the feedback I've been getting, just speaking to people in person and a few people online that have sent me a few messages, saying that they've been loving the show and have been getting great value from it – that's awesome. What would be really good – if you've got any positive feedback, just head over to iTunes and leave us a good review. Five stars would be awesome; it really helps our rankings. Now, iTunes does make this a little bit tricky. So, if you go to this episode, martialartsmedia.com/3, and just scroll down, you'll find the link to the iTunes platform. It will open up iTunes and then there's a section that you can click on, which will allow you to leave a review. So, anything good that you've got to say for this show, that'll help us get our rankings up, and get the word out of course.

So that's it from me for me now. And once again, I wanna introduce you to Graham McDonnell and Phil Britten from the WA Institute of Martial Arts.

GRAHAM: So, we hire on attitude, not on ability. We can teach ability all day long, but if you have the wrong attitude and the wrong spark, it doesn't work. Touching on that, this is probably, again, the vision of what we want for WAIMA. We didn't want WAIMA to be personality driven, and it's sort of, I won't say it's an oxymoron conflicting there, but we wanted the energy of the program, the school to be the drawcard, not the instructor at the front. I guess you need to have a great personality type, because, someone walks into the door, and you say hello, and this and that, but everybody does that, so you've got that whole wow experience. And again, this is something we said to our instructors, and something we also realized – we cannot promote you unless we can replace you.

And the thing is, you know, my brother in law is a phenomenal dentist, but he'll die doing what he's doing because no one can do what he can do. So he can't scale his business, he can't step out; he a (82)can't do that, because any one can do what he does. And I think, man, that is, on one hand great, you're successful, but on the other hand, you're chained to a job now, you're chained to a business that you can't leave, you can't walk away and do what we do. So, what we do with our guys is grow our staff. We grow this instructor program and this… Thinking of it now, we actually have quite a few tears and journeys, where they really do grow, to being a, as you said with your young lad, being ten – by the time he's sort of, if he goes through the program and sticks with us, by the time he gets out of school age, a starting to hit Uni, he's gonna be a very capable and confident young man, whether he's an instructor or not. But to be able to communicate in this world is a vital skill set. To be able to promote yourself and engage with people, that is gonna differentiate you from the rest of the crowd.

How we do it though is, from the ages of ten, we have them being able to start a volunteer program. There're lots of different teams of instructing. Again, the goal is being a mentor in the program, as myself and Phil found addictive when we first started was, when you are looked upon, and you're 10 years old, and you've got a six-year-old look up to you and think that you're a superstar, you're a mini Iron Man, you're a Spiderman in their eyes, you're a hero, because you show them how to do a front kick properly. You show them how to tie their belt. That is an amazing feeling. So, one, it helps them with their personal confidence, two, they get to share that energy with others. And what a great thing from a parent sitting back, having a younger child in class, and seeing another kid within four or five years age difference being a mentor, it just shows you that our program has that maturity and that depth. And having an adult who's a mentor and a leader is great. But having someone else, who's got great values and qualities, being a little bit younger around their age, that's amazing. To have that modeling behavior. And that's something as a parent myself  I look for and think; I'd love my kids to hang around with other nice, respectful kids,” cause I guarantee it's gonna rub off.

And that's the sort of value system we have with the leadership program. It's designed to have great values, but it's structured well to help with how to communicate, how to help in class, how to be proactive and productive. And then eventually, how to take warm-ups, or games of a class, and slowly as they grow in age and their confidence, how to lead particular groups, into a paid position one day. And then it goes from there. So, there're a couple of different approaches George, just very quickly – we've got our leadership program, we've have our instructor university, and then we've got the diploma. So very much like a university degree. I'm gonna break it down to be easy for the listeners; the leadership programs are like primary school. We hold your hand; we do everything for you. The instructor university is like high school, where we educate you, but again, it's a little bit of self-reliance. And the diploma is very much like a university, diplomas where you go for that Ph.D. You are on your own, within reason, but you're a leader, and it's developing your personality type. And that's something we've got extremely structured.

PHIL: Just something I wanna mention here, because Graham might not say it himself, but he's got a bit of a nickname around our school, sort of like John Appleseed, because Graham has this knack, where he can walk through a class, walk through a school, and just, you know – look at someone's ability is one thing, but look at their personality and their attitude, and literally just that one hint, “Have you ever thought of being an instructor?” And just that one thing, we don't have a belt level limit, when it comes to adults. You might have that white belt, with an amazing personality. Sure, you don't have any skill yet, but we can teach you that. And we will put you through an instructor program.

Now, we're not one of those schools, that will have green belts running schools, that's not the thing. We have the hard fast rule where you have to be two belt levels above the person that you're teaching, even at an assistant level. But we wouldn't put lower than black belts to run a school; you know what I mean? But what we're getting at is, if a white belt, a yellow belt, someone with 6 or 12 months experience has the right personality, we're gonna invite them to teach them the skills of being an instructor.

Not because we must have an instructor, but because we know that what we will teach you will send you down a path, whether it's personally, professionally, or hey if we can grab you and you'd be an instructor for us, we would love you! You know? So that's one of the key things, don't look at the black belts and the brown belts, cause if you haven't identified the personality then, it's too late. Look at your white belts, look at your yellow belts, just have a look. They're approachable; they'll say hello; they're a personality in the class. There's all those sorts of people. Put your time and money and investment in teaching them, and showing them the way. Dangle the carrot, you help here, you volunteer, then you get a paid part time, then you get this, then you get that – one day you might be a branch manager and get paid really good money, so it's definitely about planting the seed early and not letting that fizzle out.

GRAHAM: George, there's another thing that we do too. There's the benefit to our schools, which is great, but a part of our, especially the adults, is to focus on changing the community too. And I don't mean them going out, placards and billboards – it's more about just being genuine and being authentic in what they do. So, part of their challenge recently in the leadership course, we've got one guy at the moment, is to pay it forward. And some of the guys listening may think, “OK, pay forward, but I don't have money to pay for someone's coffee or this,” –  it's not about that, it's about just making something unexpected, a kind gesture, pay it forward, hold the door for somebody, let go of somebody in front of you in the line, smile and share a smile to somebody where normally they've got their head down, cause it's an amazing thing to change people's attitude by the way you hold yourself.

a (85)So if you're conscious of how you hold yourself – man, you will change those around you. And that's what have we got at the moment, we've got close to 50 adults going through this instructor program. And our 50 people go out in their community, and on a daily basis, maybe have an effect on 5-6 other people. It's a pretty good feeling to know that you're not just teaching martial arts, but you're changing your community, whether they know it or not. We're just changing people's days, and that again is what we stand for, and it goes back to that WAIMA values, that wow experience, that customer experience. And whether a customer or not, just making sure we're changing our communities. So it's a pretty cool feeling.

GEORGE: What you're saying is, you can't put a price tag on that. And that's why I want to transition to that before we talk about Dojo 3. But you guys charge a premium if there was a price comparison of martial arts rates, you guys are charging a premium above the standard. And I think for anybody listening to this, there's a lot of things that you guys have just mentioned that justifies that, but how would you answer that? How do you justify a premium service, beyond the average martial arts school?

GRAHAM: We talk a lot about cost versus investment. Again, it's the investment you make. If you think, a cost, if you think about the play on words, a cost is something that costs you, you spend money, and then you don't get anything back from it. An investment is something you obviously spend money on, but it gives you back things. And again, that's something our programs do. You'll invest with us, and we guarantee the money you invest will triple, quadruple times 10, ten times a 100 in what you get from it. So, it's then outlying; we're pretty direct and upfront how much it is for members to start at our school. And there's a lot that can't afford it. We'll do our best to try and offer some alternatives, in regards to trying to help them with our school. If we can't help them, we'll certainly send them to another school. And it's not that we don't like other schools, we certainly do, but not everybody can fly first class, dare I say. So we do hold ourselves to that standard of providing first class service. But like anything, it's making sure that we outweigh the money that they have to invest with us, to make sure they see the benefits and values. And that's sort of, in a nutshell, what it's about. I'll throw it to Phil because I know you've got a good spin on that.

PHIL: Oh yeah, my spin on this, especially as you're training instructors, program directors in particular – if you ever have to teach someone to present fees, you know, for the first time it's like, I remember the first time when we were doing program, we were like, it's $40 a months, and you're like, are they gonna sign, are they gonna sign? You know what I mean? You're scared! To be the way we are today, we definitely can't charge what we used to charge, but it's evolution. But there are two strategies that I do to help students, help instructors, program directors or school owners identify.

Now, the first thing most instructors, you've probably heard this story before, it's called the black belt story. And it's a story about approaching a mother and talking about her son, who is now a a (86)black belt. And she came in one day and talked about the fee increase for the next level. And the instructor said, “Look, how about I do this for you – what have you invested in the last four years? Let's just pick a figure and say $10,000. So you've invested $10,000  in the last four years with your child to do martial arts, and they're a black belt now. Now, if I was to give you that $10,000 in cash, but would take away all the skills, all the abilities, all the lessons that your child has, would you take that $10,000?” And she thinks for a little bit, and she says, “No, not at all.” And then he said, “Let's double it, I'll give you $20,000. But if I give you that $20,000, I'll take all of the skills, all the abilities, all the lessons your child has learned in the four years he's been at our school.” And she thinks, and you know, it's tempting, but at the end of the day, she says no. You can't put a price tag on the life skills that you learn in martial arts. And this is what you've got to forget – it's not the punches and the kicks, it's not being able to defend yourself, although that's an important part. It is the lessons that you learn, lessons that I learned that got me off this hospital bed or out of that terrorist attack.

It's the lessons that helped Graham in his life and the hard times. There is not a price tag, and when you put it into context like that for someone, like maybe a parent, they might think of it a bit differently. For my instructors, what I'm trying to teach them about why we charge what we charge – we truly believe that we change people's lives and that we're just as important here in Australia as swimming lessons. And you know, I've got three children. My children do swimming lessons, and it's like $30 a class for 30 minutes.

a (81)Now, we charge a little bit like that for our 40-minute class, if you do it once a week. So, I think we're just as valuable in someone's life, as learning to swim. I think we're way more valuable than gymnastics, or dance school or football. When I compare myself to other sports, other activities, that I believe are probably life changing as well; I see us double, triple, quadruple the value. I think we undercharge ourselves really, but there comes a point, a tipping point. And as Graham said, the difference is that, yes, some people can't afford it, and it's a bit of a shame, because people come through your door, and you'd love to help them. But to run a professional school, to have 20 full-time staff, that dedicate their lives… this isn't like a job – this is a lifestyle. And our instructors dedicate their lives. They work hard to invest in themselves as instructors, invest in themselves as people, to grow themselves – why shouldn't they get paid well for transforming someone's life?

GRAHAM: George, for your listeners listening in, you know, the martial artists – you think of a doctor, a dentist, I spoke about that before, they may have a degree, a master's degree, a PhD, whatever else – think of the time invested in them, educating themselves to get to that point. Let's say, 5 years, 6, 7, 8 years. I guarantee your listeners here, I spent 10 years, 15, 20 years crafting the skills in this discipline. They may have a first degree, second degree, third degree, fourth degree, fifth degree on their black belt. It's still a degree, so why do you see yourself any different in what you present? Because I guarantee we all wear different hats – a psychologist, a mentor, a fitness trainer, a life coach – all of these things are hats that we wear, and that's something you gotta just think about. If I coupled the income of all those guys and put it into a martial arts instructors, man, we'd be laughing. Obviously, it's something that's very unrealistic, but it's how you value yourself, how you value what you've done and the life that we've invested in education. We believe that we deliver far beyond what we charge, and that's something that, getting your head around that and believing in yourself is a key factor.

GEORGE: Great. Ok, so, quickly just on Dojo 3, and then I'm gonna ask you guys a few random questions. So, two dojos and now you open number 3. What are the key differences, after your learning experiences from the previous two – what's the key differences you did when you opened number 3?

GRAHAM: Ok, so we're gonna paint a picture just a little bit too George. We spoke about taking over a shell and rebuilding a shell in Dojo 1, our sort of headquarters. Then we thought, hmm – was that just a fluke? So, let's operate a new school, that's within the same northern code or northern area. So for the listeners listening, we've got our second school, maybe a 20 minutes drive away. But still very much, because of our branding and our marketing, people may have known about us. So, school number 3, we went completely south of the river. So, here in Perth we have… South of the river is almost like another country. So nobody knows who we were and whatnot. So, this was the big test to see, does our systems, marketing systems work, when nobody knows who you are? So you couldn't rely on word of mouth, you couldn't rely on your brand integrity, it was just your completely unknown entity. And now we're system testing to see, OK – what do we need to do to get this vision, mission, values out there? The marketing and get people through the door. And man, it was an awesome challenge, which is great. A different approach this time around Phil, what do you think?

PHIL: Definitely, third time around you get a little bit more ballsy. You're trying to get the location, you will push the lease, and you'll get free month's lease. So, finding the location – how we do that, there's art in itself. Getting to pick the location, there's a specific art around what we do.

GRAHAM: Guys, just to add to that before Phil runs on. Through the negotiation process, myself and Phil, because we were like, “Right, bugger that – we know what value we bring to a location.” We were negotiating a lease for 5 years, and we said, right – we want 10 months free rent and $50,000 fit out. And the guy was like, “Alright, we'll think about it.” Cause we knew what we were worth. We chose to go to a different location that suited the school a bit better, but I think we've still got 6 months free rent. They couldn't do a fit out for us, but again, that was compensated for the free rent period. And again, that equates close to $50,000 saved in rent. Because we knew that, if we put our roots down to that location, buying the building if they let us in due time, we'd be there for life, you know? That's sort of what we were talking about. We knew the value we were going to bring to that area. Therefore, the negotiations were pretty hardball. So, to be able to sort of turn around and go – they were willing to give 10 months free rent and $50,000 to fit out the premises, it's a pretty good starting point for a new school.

GEORGE: Definitely.

PHIL: Yeah, so, you get a bit more ballsy, you get a bit pushier. You know what you want, and you know how you want it. And at that point really, it was trust within our systems. And for example, again, the manager we chose for there, we didn't go down there, and weren't part of the school really, it just sort of happened organically. But we trusted the systems, trusted that it worked. And as an example, you know, the branch manager was like, “Oh, can we try this, try that.” I was like, “Man, I love your ideas, but no, we're doing this because it works.” Our analogy is like baking a cake: if you see an amazing cake, it tastes amazing, it looks amazing, and you wanna bake the same cake.

What do you do – you follow the recipe. If you miss out an ingredient, you will not get the same result. So we were very adamant that we would follow the same recipe that we did for the second location. And in doing that in the first 12 months, the other school was 300, versus 350. So in the first 12 months, we grew this one 50 more students than the other one. And it was just a testament to following the recipe for success. And knowing that we were doing the right thing, and we would say no to certain things and yes to these things. Trusting in our ability, trusting in what we know works. And just, again, not starting a new business at the detriment to others.


PHIL: So, that's one of the big value points I see.

GRAHAM: Look, I think George, the big thing to help with starting new schools was, it goes back to the staff training and the staff growth programs. So by being able to have instructor programs, on a consistent basis, you're forever developing these little gems, that will be your school manager one day, or your support team or staff. So, we have learned a lot. We tried it once in the early days, to hire from the outside in, get a sales guy from out to bring in, and it just bit us in the ass, very quickly.

So, the challenge with hiring or growing your staff – they take the time to mature, you know, I used the phrase the other day with somebody: it's like making a good bottle of wine. You've got all the ingredients, but you just need time for it to mature and time for it to come into its own. And the same thing goes for your staff. We forever have this system where we are continually growing and maturing the staff, so when the opportunity arises that there could be another location opening, or there's a position vacant in one of the schools, you've got the right person to step in and then be able to be effective, not just waiting and waiting and waiting. So, there're so many components to this machine that need to be working hand in hand before you can go, hey look – I can stand back, and sort of watch. But it's important, and it's fun to watch it go on.

GEORGE: Excellent. Ok, so, getting to the end, yeah – just a couple of questions: is there a number 4?

GRAHAM: There will be. The thing is, we will expand across Australia, if not the world. Something that we've done, myself and Phil being forward thinkers – when the time is right, the time is right. But we are the WA Institute of martial arts. But we own the domain names and the business for South Australia Institute, Queensland Institute, Sydney Institute, Melbourne Institute. We've got all of that already sold out, but we just haven't found the right person yet. So anybody listening, who's thinking about maybe jumping on board with one of us and our schools, you know, drop us a line.

GEORGE: All right, great. So, just going back, cause we've gone from beginning to a maturing model and system. But just going back again, what would you do differently, if you guys look back on the day you took over the Greenwood dojo, and you got started, what would you do differently from all your experience, from everything that you've learned up to now?

PHIL: I don't think I'd do anything different, because if I did, we wouldn't be here today. And I know that's cliché, I guess. But, when I look back, everything happened at the right time, at the right moment. And if I said that we should not have worked so hard at the beginning so that we could have that time with our young family, we wouldn't be here today, where Graham and I only work 4 days a week, we do school pickup and drop off, we get to go on holidays. So we wouldn't be here today. I don't think I would do anything different. If anything, we've now grown into a role where we don't have to teach, we teach when we want to. And we're pretty much managing the staff. So we manage managers. Which is an amazing thing, but again, that's a learned thing that we had to learn.

We originally started a business because we love teaching martial arts. And it evolved to a point where now we don't teach martial arts. We do, we teach it to our instructors. So we train the trainers. But we are constantly now with the big school, now we've moved into a role where it's just HR. We're managing the managers, and making sure they feel good, they're all right, they're still growing, they're inspired, they don't go down the wrong path. So we're like parents. It's like, we've both got 3 of our kids, but really with the 20 full-time staff that are our kids as well. So we gotta guide them along their journey to make sure that they get to live the lifestyle that we want for them.

GRAHAM: There's a quote George that sings out, I've always loved, I read it in the Steve Jobs book, it's “If you wanna predict the future, create it yourself.” And that goes back to us. Day one is where people go, you can't do this, and I'm like, why can't we? So you can have your cake, and eat it too. We run a successful school; we have the ability to enjoy time with our family, and we also have the chance now to travel the world and up-skill ourselves and bring it back. But also leaving a legacy for our team, that if they hit their straps, and they hit those benchmarks, they'll also get to do that. We've created a system where it's not one person has to be the manager/leader at any given moment. So we have plans in place for them to be growing to area manager, state managers, national managers if that's their dream and their passion. To travel and grow, so, you know, would I change anything? Definitely no. We always change things as we go. Looking back the past is the past, but we're gonna change what's happening currently, and it's exciting, you know? We roll with the blows, which is awesome.

GEORGE: Common theme I get is asking yourself the right questions. Just always, if something can't be done, just asking yourself why not and challenging yourselves and taking yourselves to the next level. So what do you guys do to stay on top of your game? You've talked about mentors and so forth, but what do you do to sort of stay on top, that you're always motivated and that you're influencing your staff on the right path?

GRAHAM: Well, we've got a couple of things coming up at the moment, where we're just planning a trip to the States. Education is one thing so, being alive to model and have a look at how other things have been done. Keeping a finger on the pulse with what the globe is doing. Not that we compare ourselves to anyone else, but it's always nice to just go, “Look, have things changed in the last couple of years?” I think the last time we were in the States was two years ago. So, go and have a quick look, we've got some great friends that we'll go and have a look at their organization and see is there anything we can bring back home. When we're on home soil, it's definitely putting yourself in a great headspace of education, and constantly listening to podcasts, audio books, things like that to stay positive, further your mind, because, at the end of the day, there are gonna be challenges in everyone's life, but then really trying to make sure you're surrounding yourself with the right people. And you talked about mentors and things like that – definitely.

If you've got an area that you need attention on, that needs absolute attention, find someone in that area that can resonate with you and your values and do the time. Maybe a three-month thing, a six-month thing, it could be a lifelong journey with that mentor, but continuing education is key factor. And you know, if you're pumping, the rest flows. Enthusiasm is caught, not taught. It's part of our teaching, but also it's great when Phil goes, “Hey Graham, there's an awesome podcast I listened from Tony Robbins,” which he did to me the other day, and I'm like, “Perfect man, great, thank you.” Equally, there're these books that I have, I read this Richard Branson book that was really good – Phil, here you go mate. So, continually sort of swapping and sharing and trying to stay ahead of the curve.

PHIL: I would say, never not be a student. Both in business and life, but more importantly, in martial arts. Cause if you're gonna run a martial arts school, whether you're teaching or not, and you're just managing guys, man, you've still got to train. We will always get instructors to come in and teach us and go to seminars and stuff like that. But how I try and hone my game as well, we're now at that point where we're business coaches for our own business. And that's why we created TIMA, The Institute of Martial Arts.

A way to then test again, like I said, it was another challenge, to test our skill and ability, to help other martial arts business owners as well. And then in saying that as well and taking it to the next level, now I'm also helping others businesses as well. So you know, we do a lot of speaking internationally, nationally, helping entrepreneurs, small business owners in various fields and niches. And we're testing our knowledge, our skill and our ability to be able to turn what we know, what we love to do in this environment, this niche, and help other business owners as well. So it's that constant and never ending improvement, kaizen for all those martial artists out there, that were always improving. We're never satisfied, you know, we just wanna push ourselves to be the best we can, but also share that knowledge as well.

GEORGE: Excellent. Last thing, where can people find out more about you, you mentioned The Institute of Martial Arts?

PHIL: So yeah, the best contact for us would be www.tima.com.au, or if you wanna get in contact direct with us, so that was our website, direct with us, you can just contact us at admin@tima.com.au. That's admin, as it's said, and TIMA, T-I-M-A .com.au. And you'll be able just to reach out, and just, hey guys, I've got some questions, thoughts. You know, we offer online help as well, so people can get access to all our systems and procedures online, or if they wanna talk to us direct, just reach out, we're here for everyone.

GRAHAM: Hey guys, just another one, the social media aspect, again, further education. There a ton of stuff, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter and whatnot. But on a weekly basis, we have some vlogs, some podcasts that go out, so you can download them on iTunes, which is the martial arts business success. There's a ton of great material, specifically designed for martial arts schools in regards to content, and there's also the vlogs that are on the website, which will allow you to see a happy face, as well as to get some great content.

GEORGE: Excellent, well thanks a lot, Phil. Thank you, Graham.

That's it! Thank you for listening. I hope you got good value from that. That will be the last part of the interview, the three-part series with Graham Mcdonnell and Phil Britten from the WA Institute of Martial Arts. Next week, we'll be going solo, so I'll be sharing some tips that will help you with your online marketing, positioning and all good things for your martial arts business. And if you wanna get the transcripts of this interview and any other interviews and episodes that we do, you can just head over to the episode, for this one, of course, martialartsmedia.com/the number, which is number 3. So martialartsmedia.com/3, and that's it.

If you'd like to get in touch with me, if you've got any guest suggestions, just head over to the website, martialartsmedia.com, get in touch with us. And if you'd like to chat with me about your business, if there's anything that you need help with, with your marketing, or anything that you feel we can help you with, I do offer a free strategy session, which you can get on the link, the “Work with us” link on the website, and just fill out the form there. We'll get in touch with you, and you can set up a time, which is convenient for us to chat, and see if we can help you with anything with your martial arts business.

That's it! Thank you very much for listening, I'll chat with you again next week. Cheers!


*Need help growing your martial arts school? Learn More Here.

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2 – How To Run A Successful Martial Arts School By Not Being The Grand Guru Part 2

Can you run a successful martial arts school without being the “Grand Guru?” Graham McDonnell and Phil Britten from the WA Institute of Martial Arts reveal how ditching their ego brought them success.

The Institute Of Martial Arts


  • Why being the grand guru that “knows it all” could be your downfall
  • What you can learn from modeling other successful businesses not related to martial arts
  • Why the only way to grow is to stop doing everything yourself
  • Have all your pictures displayed on the walls and opening up a new location? They must go!
  • The system test you must do before opening up a second school
  • What lead to almost $750,000 in 12 months with a brand new school
  • and more

*Need help growing your martial arts school? Learn More Here.



GEORGE: It is George Fourie from martialartsmedia.com and welcome to the Martial Arts Media Business podcast, episode number 2. This episode is part 2 of the interview with Graham McDonnell and Phil Britten from the WA institute of martial arts, also The Institute of Martial Arts and a whole string of other businesses, that's probably not applicable to this podcast. And of course, this podcast is based on the success story of their martial arts school, the WA institute of martial arts.

So, this episode we just going to dig deeper – I think this is where the real meat of the interview kicks in. This is going to go deep into just different types of systems, different approaches of how you can approach your school, modeling other business models, ditching your ego, doing things a little differently, maybe not making yourself as the grand hero of your school, making the popularity of your school dependent on your systems and the actual training module, instead of you being the centre piece that holds it all together. And this is what's gonna allow you to really step away from your business and make it run like a well oiled machine as such.

If you haven't listened to part one of this interview yet, head over to martialartsmedia.com/1 – so that's the number 1, and the interview is there. You can also download the PDF transcription, or just read it on the actual page. And that'll get you up to date, before jumping into this interview. For this interview and for all others, you can go to the episode number, so martialartsmedia.com forward slash the episode number, this one will be number 2, and then we'll have all transcripts available also for you to download as a PDF.

So once again, introducing Graham McDonnell, and Phil Britten from the WA institute of martial arts.

GEORGE: OK, so – strong foundation, so you guys come in, you get a strong foundation, you put your identity and you pretty much just… What I hear is almost like the Apple of martial arts, and the whole unboxing experience, because it's an experience. Your goal is that, from when a person walks into the door, to when they leave, that there's a wow experience, it's a happening, it's not just about “I'm here to train”, which I think maybe that's a key thing that a lot of people are missing. it's the whole experience. it's walking through the door, parents that are assisting the kids, bringing them in. So it's the whole system, not just the actual class that's happening. So that's obviously a key part of your growth, but what else did you do, beyond that? So you got the foundation, you put your identity in, you've really optimized the experience for all your members – what did you do beyond that to double your membership base?

PHIL: Once again, we looked at all the stock standard type marketing, things that all the martial arts schools do, and we knew what worked and what didn't and one of the biggest things that any martial arts school owner, and if there's anyone out there who has any conflicting statistics, but I dare say they don't, one of the biggest ways that people get students in is through referral. And that's always, ever since the day that we started together till today, is always the biggest way. And that's why we said, what was the whole, the main thing, was about delivering amazing classes, wow experiences. But we needed to do this, not by modeling other martial schools, but that we looked outside our niche.

And we did look at Apple and we did look at McDonald's, how does McDonald's run staff and systems, and one adult has to be there to run the whole thing, Starbucks in America – we just looked way outside into what other businesses did and were doing to be successful, and then see how we can introduce that into our business. And that's really how we grew exponentially, with referral based type stuff. And there's an immense amount of things you can do, I mean this podcast's probably not gonna be long enough to list it all. Not neglecting the external stuff that you need to do, because you've got to open the funnel up. All the things that you need to do externally in your business, to be able to show the awareness to the wider community of your niche, your businesses, and why you do and what you do.

GRAHAM: George, there's something else that Phil sort of touched on, something we did early on – we got rid of our ego. We didn't know everything, we didn't claim we know everything and we didn't care that we didn't know everything. We'd actually probably been in a benefit that we'd started this business and realized, “Oops, we need to learn about business.” And then started to model off of different business model types and started just educating ourselves and really trying to grow and pick up on information.

So, I certainly know there's a lot of people I've dealt with, all across the world, that sometimes get stuck on the need to present an image, they need to be the grand guru of absolutely everything – look, people don't really give a rats. They like you to be real, and sometimes in business, it's all about going, “Ok, cool, that didn't work too well, we need to explore something different,” and knowing when you've made a mistake or failure or something. But it's not a failure, it's just a learning point, and cool, the next time around, I'll redo it. And I think what we did is, we tried everything. We tried it. you know, we didn't just limit ourselves to just doing the advert in the paper, or back in the day the yellow pages, which was around back then. But it was just like cool, we're gonna give it a go, why not? Why not? People go, you can't do that, it's not normal. Well, why the hell not, why can't we do that? You know, bugger that, we're gonna do it, so sit back and watch us. And we did. We've had a lot of people from the sidelines, business owners and others, sort of martial artists sort of criticize, “Ooh, you guys are selling out the system,” but really our drive was to empower our students, make them better, reach a larger audience and really transform them through our customer service and our community. One thing we knew is we had a really great environment, that when they walk in, they would be blown away. But how then do we reach a bigger audience? And we just didn't stick to doing the normal stuff, we broke the mould.

PHIL: I think just quickly, like Graham said, it comes up quite regularly, when we're dealing with our coaching clients, we all grow up in this world of being martial artists and more often than not, we have degrees in martial arts, but we don't have degrees in business. You know, you're talking to two high school dropouts here. Graham can hardly spell his name, and I can't count.

Phil BrittenSo between us, we're OK, that's why we've always worked so hard. But at the end of the day, you need to understand what Graham's saying, you don't have to be the best at everything. You just have to go, “I am who I am, now who can I learn from to get to the next level?” And that's what it's at, you might not have the business degrees, but someone else does. So go search for that environment, go search for that model, that person, who's getting that success you want, whether it's marketing or attention or whatever, and see what they're doing and model their behaviors, model their strategies, their mindsets, their beliefs, and the rewards will be amazing.

GRAHAM: George, you're gonna have to cut us off at a certain point, cause as he talks, I think of something different! But you know, we've touched on it before, we've invested a lot back into our schools, and a big part of that was education. Education for ourselves. It wasn't necessarily for the benefit of us, it was to better reach our students and be able to have a better product and whatnot. So we spent hell of a lot of time and resources investing in learning. As Phil pointed out, we certainly didn't know a lot, so we would invest in coaches to keep us accountable, we would learn this, we would learn that, and surround ourselves with people who are experts in their field.

People come to us because we're experts in martial arts. They may be an expert in something else, but we certainly went right – who can we help with our marketing or branding or vision? What about our computer systems? So that was something that we were always willing to do, instead of paying ourselves an additional income, we go, “Bugger that, that money that we've got as a surplus now is back into investing.” And, you know, I believe that the best investment you can possibly make in this world is in yourself. And if you up-skill yourself and up-skill your knowledge, it'll pay dividends down the track.

GEORGE: That's a big obstacle just in any business, the one you just addressed, where there's this whole DIY, you've got to transition from doing everything yourself, and then putting the ego aside and realizing, “OK, I obviously can't do all this, I've got to get some help with this.” And you mentioned a lot of people say that you're selling out the system and so forth- why do you think people are saying that? I mean, you do coaching for martial arts schools as well. I guess that's gotta be one of the biggest hurdles, people have got to come over, mentally and emotionally.

GRAHAM: Like I said, fear. Fear is one of those things, and you know, that's how it used to be done. Anything that's, something comes in new, is always ridiculed, it's always like, witchcraft and this and that. Look, we just didn't care, we just didn't care that they thought that was a sellout. We still have that, we still have people saying, throw the phrase around, McDojos, and so on. And I'm like, “Guys, we're a professional organization, and we can provide a professional service, therefore, we have better students- why wouldn't you want to be better?” You don't have to run yourself out of a dingy shed in a school hall and think you're a die hard martial artist.

If anything, you're doing them a disservice, by not providing the best quality possible. So we just went, “Bugger, we're gonna break the mold and test it out.” But a lot of it is ego and fear. Ego, to sort of prove to themselves that they don't know everything. And I know that, from a martial arts perspective myself – always, always enjoy going into a new class and putting on a white belt and just being that beginner. And have no issues with somebody going, “But you've done this forever and you're a white belt.” Yeah. Man, we're always learning. There's a lot of people out there that don't do that, they've stopped learning and they have a fear of being able to expose themselves and going, well I actually  don't know everything. So, fear and ego is probably the big one, and also, not knowing where to start. Who to ask, who to get the help from and, you know, that's just to cover things I've certainly noticed over the few years now that we've been consulting and coaching and helping out.

GEORGE: All good. Ok, so let's jump up a notch. Right. So, we've addressed all these obstacles and hurdles, you know, you've grown the school, the… Where we're at now, Greenwood. And so, you reached a point where, before you got the second one, before you opened the second school, how many students were you at, can you recall? Was it about 800?

GRAHAM: No, I think it was probably about the 700 mark, a 700 mark there. We thought… Honestly it was more a system check, a system test. If we do this, and we can grow the school to 700, and we were operating well, let's test our systems, let's test the model. Again, Phil mentioned that, we look at different companies, and go, right, how did they scale their business, how do they replicate this so that it can work on the other side of the world, work in a different area completely. So we thought, right, let's really start from the top down and make sure that we check every system, that if someone wants to walk into a brand new space, they could operate a WAIMA school, by just following the recipe. And that was something that we thought, right, let's make sure we've got everything locked down first and foremost. And let's give it a shot.

PHIL: I also think we got to a certain point of success in our business, right? The two of us did a great job, we had cars for the business, we had staff. And it was sort of like, well, what next? You know, we can just keep doing what we're doing and be comfortable, or we can try and push the boundaries. And I think, at a conversation that Graham and I did have at some point in that journey was something like, almost a challenge to ourselves – did we get to this point because we took over an existing business? And I was like, hmmm. let's challenge ourselves. Are we as good as we think we are, or, are our systems as good?

Have we got to this point because of us or was it because of the the kickstart we got? And it was a challenge for us, not that it's to prove anyone wrong, but it was a little bit, it was to show all the nay sayers, to guys that have been in the business for 25-30 years and still only have a 120 – 200 students, who were putting their nose up at us, and going, “They just took over a school,” and all that stuff. So we were like, nah, we're at a point, let's test our systems, let's test our knowledge, let's test our ability, let's test everything that we've got done to get to this point and then start up a brand new school. I started up a fresh school, my challenge was a hundred students in a year, we got that, and that's pretty darn good. So we challenged ourselves to double that for our new school and current one and I think we did 250 members…

GRAHAM: It was close to 300 in 12 months, and from an income value, I don't know, this is just for the guys out there, it was close to $750,000 we made in the first year.

GEORGE: Turnover.

Graham McDonnellGRAHAM: Turnover. So, the idea behind it was, we didn't just get the students in by having $10 a month fees – it was that we were charging a premium, top dollar, so quite expensive in the stock standard view of martial arts pricing. We think it's actually quite cheap, but others look at that and think otherwise. But for 300 members in 12 months, and an income at that, it really did validate, like OK, we've got something, and we certainly have, not sacrificed on being about the factory, not sacrificed on making sure it's all about the money, because money was irrelevant. It just happened to be that we focused on the client and really making sure that we surpassed their needs.

Put them first and the rest will follow. And that was a huge thing. But it was really nice to know that we were able to create this, we had a manager run a school from day one. Myself and Phil, we're guests at the school, we would walk in, it wasn't something that we had to drive ourselves and it was nice to look back after 12 months, and think, “Wow, the systems are working, the staffing is working.” You know, we definitely pressure test our systems on a regular basis to make sure that they're up to standards, because if you don't maintain things and you think they're OK, three years ago, they might have been OK, but now things may have changed. So, it's all about making sure you maintain those systems and the way you approach things.

GEORGE: What are those key systems? You keep on referring to the systems you've implemented. Can you give me a little bit more information?

PHIL: You've got hours or what?

GEORGE: I guess just briefly. Like, let's say I'm a martial arts school owner and I'm toying with the idea of how do I do what you guys did, how do I open that second job?

PHIL: I'll raise a red flag first, for any of the guys out there who are thinking of going from one school to two schools. it's tough, it's not easy, but most people fail, because as the school owner of one school wants to open up another one, they open it up and then they go back in the business and they work really really hard, it's like they're back to square one again. And they've got to build it up and it's all on their own back. And what we're getting at is, we didn't start out second school, until we had the right instructor to run it without us. So we didn't have to jump back in and be like, you know, trillion of hours a week, to get that business to operate. And we also didn't start our second school, until we worked on all the systems, as Graham was saying.

Graham's written down here a couple of things, so the systemization of your marketing, the systemization of your enrollment, from enquiry to the join up. And all the statistics that go in there, so the stats. You've got your curriculum, your lesson plans, so that theoretically, Joe off the street can come in and as long as he knows what a left hand a a right hand is, it should be described well enough so that anyone can come in and pick up where you left off. And your staff training as well.

And within those sort of things that we're talking about, were systems, systems within systems within system. And when it comes to stats in particular, we may have thousands of types of ways of reading the statistics. But actual fact – your school should probably have about a magic five. I mean, take for example flying an airplane. If anyone's seen the cockpit of a big plane, there are a lot of dolls, lot of switches. But I dare say there's probably five that are really really really important. The fuel, the altitude – I don't know, I'm not a pilot, but you get what I'm saying. And if you're gonna start a business, you wanna make sure that your magic five – we had the five, magic five that we work on, that if those statistics, if you're reading them right, if they're scaling well, if you're improving these five things, your business will consistently grow.

But, to go from one school to a second school, I would say – people might argue this, but I would say, you want to already have your instructor team ready to start that straight away. You wanna have some capital ready to go, to be able to sustain a year's’ worth of the wages and the marketing that needs to happen there. So do you need to get a loan out, do you need to remortgage your house, like you did for your first business? All those sort of things, do you have cash in the bank, I don't know. And you have to have your systems down, your one school has to be running so systematically without you, that you can then run another school without you as well.

GEORGE: So your first test is really your own school, and seeing are you able to be gone on a holiday and come back and everything still functions.

GRAHAM: Couldn't agree more George. And I know that if someone was to walk in here, or even have a helicopter view of the WAIMA organization, they would just think, “Oh my goodness, what a complex machine.” But realistically, it all started from simple systems, and then we just built up on that and built up on that and built up on that. And again, we really tried to make sure we take the guesswork out of it. We've had plenty of people in the past ask how did we get to this point. What we wanted to do was, we wanted to really think about, we need to take what's in our head and get it out and put it into a place that's digestible for our team. And that is something that's important, that it's not just from the mind of us and something that's very easy to follow.

Yes, we can review and refine as you go forward, but if your team don't know where we're heading and it's not easy to follow, it's gonna make some real challenges for you. So that's what I said,  simplistic systems can build on to being complex down the track.

PHIL: I'll just say this because George, you just brought up an actual reality fact. One of the moments we knew we had some good systems was,  Graham and I went to a trip to America for a month. And we didn't check in, we didn't know what was going on, and we came back and our school grew. And for us, that was like the tip of the hat, high five, we can leave our business for a month. And in that trip we went to America, and we saw other martial arts schools, we educated ourselves and brought some stuff back . But if our schools could grow within a month without us, we feel that our systems and procedures were fairly well nailed down, that our staff could run our ship without us.

GEORGE: Did you ever feel the need you have to check in?

PHIL: Oh look, when I say that we didn't check in, we have a system called end of day reports. So, at the end of each day, all our managers will report to us on their school, all the managers employees will report to them. So we just see the manager's’ reports. So yeah, at the end of the day, they will send their reports. So they'll all align. There were some early mornings, with the time difference in America, where we'd just flick to the end of the reports to make sure everything's alright, and got thumbs up, or hey, don't forget this, type of thing. But, essentially, we didn't have much input in four weeks, and that was really a lesson or a point in time where we went – we're ready.

GRAHAM: But George, there was a question I asked one of our, well, a couple of our sort of key managers, who run the sort of 800+ school, and ask them, you know, how did we get to this point? How do you now run a multi million dollar school? And they just go, what did we do for you that got you here? What sort of, what did we do, because sometimes we question, sometimes we do things automatically that you look back on later, how did we get to this point? And we asked them. And they said, “The fact that you trusted that we could do it. You believed that we could do it. And by the fact that you let us run your company with the belief that we can do it, and if we failed or made a mistake, it was OK.

Because it was a part of the learning lesson.” It was really powerful for them to go, “Wow, they trust in our judgment to make the right decision.” We didn't micromanage them, and therefore, as we've grown in schools, we did similar to what a parent would do when you first teach your kid to ride a bike. You let them fall a little bit, you dust them off, you pick them back up and push them on the bike again. And before you know it, they're riding by themselves, doing wheelies and having a great time. Same thing with this. You know, we're not reckless in pushing a manager forward and pushing them up to the play. We're there to support them,  but we also want them to experience both the highs, the lows, the scuffs, the injuries that go with it, and chat about how they handled it, rather than trying to run in to save the day. That was a really interesting point that they brought up, which is cool.

GEORGE: All right, cool. So trust – and I just wanna emphasize that, trust and allowing mistakes, not being with the hammer on the head every time that something goes wrong. The trust too.

GRAHAM: Yeah, yeah. Phil's got a great approach, and we do this very much as well too – whenever we deal with our team and they've got certain results, we ask the question why? Why did this happen, you know? And for them to explain their decision making process. And well offer some advice towards the end  – “Look, if it was me in that situation, I probably would have done a, b, c.” Great that you guys gave it a crack, well done, you've learned from that. If it arises again, now you've got the education sort of process, so they may make a slightly different decision, rather than jumping in and – don't get me wrong, we're not gonna let them do things that are critical, that you go bankrupt, but enough that they can learn from experience.

And really, if you think about it as a human being, what makes you a person is the experiences that you have, both the good and the bad. So if someone's there only to shield you and only give you the good, well, what happens when you get the bad happen? And I guarantee, there's gonna be ups and downs in every part of life. So as a key business owner, and a manager, someone running a school, you gotta allow them to deal with the challenges, you gotta allow them to deal with the headaches and see how they handle that, but know that they're not hung out to dry, they're not there by themselves. So we're there in the background to guide, if it's required.

GEORGE: Ok, great. So for staff – behind your instructors, who's the first person you employed behind actual, full time instructors?

GRAHAM: Oh, OK. Thinking back now, we did definitely have a… Their position has changed, but someone who was definitely more in an administration role behind the scenes. Our instructors are extremely capable in their strengths, and that is teaching awesome classes. But when it comes to processing of agreements, or dealing with creditors or stock, dealing with billing companies and all the rest, we had somebody that was really quite skilled in that area. So those were a 9-5 jobs, whereas our martial arts instructors are almost like a 12 pm start, till 9 o'clock at night sort of start.

You've got the engine room working the numbers, and the mechanic in there just dealing with that, and then you've got the guys who are at the front, having a good time, just pumping those great classes, which is really what we do. I dare say, there was probably more that full time admin person, was probably one of the first ones. It's obviously built from that, but they did certainly handle a little bit more in that role.

GEORGE: Ok. So, now I don't wanna give away all your secrets, but you guys are basically grooming instructors from the get-go, because you have a fantastic leadership program. And I know, my son just turned ten, and it's something he's been talking about for the past two years in his martial arts journey, that… Because ten years old, that's sort of the benchmark where he can enter the leadership program. So can you elaborate a little bit more on your leadership programs and how's it sort of ingrained in the system that the kids are so excited to step up their journey of becoming instructors?

PHIL: I'll let Graham talk more about that, because he's in there, doing that more. But what I will say before we get to that point is, that there was a key point in the growth of our business, where we realized that if we wanted to grow, we had to step aside. Because, even though there's two of us, there's only a certain amount of classes, a certain amount of hours in the day. And what most martial arts business owners fall into the trap is, that they become the only person that can run their classes and their school. It becomes personality driven, so people come there just for them, and if someone else taught that class, they'd probably leave. So when we first took over, we branded our school, it was the Phil and Graham show. Our faces were on the walls, you know, it was all, Phil-Graham, Phil-Graham, Phil-Graham. Which was great, but for long term growth and for us to get to the position where we are today, that had to change. So the photos went down. It wasn't then talking about Phil and Graham, it was us empowering our instructors more. It was putting them on the pedestal, and saying, “We're just a step behind them, we're pushing them going, these guys are the face of our business,” to some degree.

People will still come for our culture and our ethos and all that sort of stuff. We will still push that. But we needed to take a step back. We needed to remove ourselves from classes, little bit by little bit and put our guys out. And when we're walking through the school, talking to someone, we say, “Look at Andrew, look at Bree, look at our instructor there, haven't they grown so much, aren't they amazing? How well they're dealing with your child, how's your training grown since they've been in your class.” And it gets the client's thinking, “Yeah, they're amazing, they're amazing.” And eventually, they sort of forget about us a bit. And yes, they see us as the owners, and run the business and sort of steer the ship.

But it's that whole stepping out. But in saying that, when we did that early on and we focused on who can we have to step in, we fell into another trap that a lot of martial arts school owners have, and that's – we need instructors, let's look at the black belts. And we all know, if you haven't identified your instructors by black belt, they're probably not the right personality. And I'll let Graham talk about what we hire on, versus skill level.

GEORGE: Ok, I'm going to pause that right there. Next week, we'll continue the conversation with Phil and where Graham left off, talking about what's the one key thing that new instructors must have before they hire them. And the answer is probably gonna surprise you. We're also gonna talk about what it means to really  make a difference in your community, cost versus investment – are you charging too little? This is a topic that comes up a lot, about prices and are you charging too much, too little and are you just entering a price war, where students are shopping for price. Well, here's a great little exercise you can do with your students to justify that cost – investment rather, in their martial arts education.

So that's it for this episode. You can head over to martialartsmedia.com/2 – so that's the number 2, martialartsmedia.com/2. And we have all the transcriptions thereof the show, so if you wanna download them. And if you can, I'd very much appreciate it if you could head over to iTunes, there's a link on this episode if you go to martialartsmedia.com/2. There's a link to iTunes. If you could head over and leave us a great review, a 5 star review would be much appreciated. It helps us get our show up in the ratings and get the message out there to other martial arts school owners. So that's it for now, thanks again, I'll talk to you next week – cheers!


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1 – WA Institute Of Martial Arts’ Journey To 3 Dojos And 1600 Students With Phil Britten And Graham McDonnell Part 1

Graham McDonnell and Phil Britten from The WA Institute Of Martial Arts and The Institute Of Martial Arts (TIMA) share their journey to 3 dojos and 1600 students.

WA Institute Of Martial Arts


  • Who is George Fourie and the twist that got him started in his Martial Arts journey
  • How Graham McDonnell and Phil Britten got funding to buy their martial arts school now known as The WA Institute Of Martial Arts (WAIMA). You can use some of these resources right now to open a martial arts school
  • The one thing you must have before going full time with your martial arts business
  • Why having your back against the wall is the best place to be for your business
  • Communicating your value and identity through your brand
  • Why losing your top students is not necessarily a bad thing
  • and more

*Need help growing your martial arts school? Learn More Here.



GEORGE: Hi this is George Fourie, and welcome to the first official martial arts media podcast. Now, this is a big adventure for me and I'm sure it's gonna be one for you, because my goal with this podcast is to be interviewing top martial arts business experts, from around the globe, and dissecting their methods, their strategies, their frameworks, their mindset – everything that it takes for them to be successful.

And I'm gonna be going from, spoil the journey, from the beginning, how they got started, how they got the money, how they made the transition from part time school owner, or just martial arts student, to a martial arts business owner, and going through that process. And this first episode is really going to set the benchmark, because I am interviewing two industry experts, that run a top school – a top organization I'd rather say, because they've expanded from one school the day I met them, to now three, worth 1600 students all up.

And whether that is a goal for you or not, to have such a large organization, I can tell you what – they share some gold within the interview, which I'm  gonna have to break up into three parts, because we're in for a good hour and a half, going back and forth and learning their journey of how they got to where they are today.

But before we get into that, I want to give you a bit of background about me and how I got started with this whole podcast journey. A little more than five years ago, I was just a parent, sitting inside the dojo, on the side of the mats, watching my son go through his martial arts journey. At that point in time, I was not involved in martial arts whatsoever, although I've always been fascinated by it, I've always been impressed by the discipline, the methodologies around martial arts. And attending all his classes, I sort of had the opportunity to work on what was important to me, which is of course my business.

Doing digital marketing, building my online business and marketing my products online, and everything that I was doing at that point in time. And spending a lot of time at the dojo, I couldn't help but notice what they were trying to do with their online marketing. Getting their message out on Facebook, and social media, and they were trying blogging strategies at the time. And having a lot of experience with this, I thought, “You know what, these guys obviously need help – let me offer my advice.” And I went to the guys and said, “Look, there's a few things I think that you could really optimize and improve.

Why don't I just come see you guys and I'll just give you free consulting and such.” I had a meeting with them, and about a half an hour in, they asked me, “Look, could you just do the stuff for us?” And it was something I never contemplated, doing my marketing stuff as a service. I already had a growing business at that time, and I wasn't really looking to take on any clients.

But after some consideration, I decided, “You know what, this is gonna be a learning experience for me as well, so why not just take it on?” And I started doing all their – well, not all, but a couple of the digital marketing activities that they needed help with. As I got more involved with doing stuff for the club, I asked myself a question – why am I not doing martial arts? I had all the objections, maybe I'm too old, and I don't know if I'm fit enough and so forth, but after some quick consideration, I decided, well, why not?

I've always looked for something that could keep me fit, keep me healthy, maybe help with a bit of confidence, and just being a bit more active with my body, while learning a few self defense skills of course. So I started to train, and I gotta tell you, my first class, I was hooked. That was it. I started training twice a week, then it was three times, four times.  And my passion for martial arts just grew and grew. Along the side with that, the martial arts club where I was training just started to grow as well. They had about 600-700 students at the time I started training there.

And then they decided to open another school, then the third. I know at this point in time, they have 1600-1700 students. So, with all this happening, their demands for marketing their school grew, and my passion for martial arts grew, and we reached a point where, this part time gig, I either had to let it go, or turn it into a business. And of course, the logical step for me was, having two passions unite to do this and see how can I help other martial arts school owners do the same. 

Now, doing all the stuff for them really discovered a few things that really worked. Some strategies that we implemented, that would generate 29-30 sign ups in a single week, and we just kept on evolving and testing things and started to form sort of real world type formulas, that we knew would work with other schools. And that's really what led it to this and made it a full time business for me, helping other martial arts school owners.

And that leads me to this interview, because this is really how it all got started for me. This was it, this was a club I started training at, this is where my martial arts journey started. I watched these guys evolve from one single school with 600-700 students, duplicate that model, more than doubling in size from the time that I was with them and witnessing what these guys have done and the strategies that they've implemented and the frameworks and systems that they have in place, is just phenomenal. And I can guarantee you, you are gonna get a lot from this interview. This is gonna be broken up into three different episodes, for easier listening, do keep a lookout for the future ones coming.

So for now, let me introduce you to Shihan Phil Britten and Shihan Graham McDonnell, from the WA Institute of Martial Arts.

All right guys, welcome to the show, the first show. I've got here with me Phil Britten.

PHIL: How are we going guys, it's all right?

GEORGE: Cool, and we've got Graham McDonnell.

GRAHAM: Hey guys, ready to rock, lets go.

GEORGE:Cool. So, first episode for me, and very appropriate of course, cause this was the start of my martial arts journey. Just being a parent, sitting on the side and watching initially and then got more involved in the club and started training myself and then thought of helping the guys with some marketing. And just seeing sort of where the guys have evolved. I'm sitting right now actually in what's called the head office, which next door was actually the dojo. So you know, when I started training here, there was one school – I can't recall, I think it was probably about 700-800 students?

GRAHAM: Maybe not even that much George, how long have you been with us now?

GEORGE: It's been about four years?

GRAHAM: Four years, so I reckon we probably would have been about, maybe 500 to 600 mark at that stage.

GEORGE: Yeah, OK. So that was sort of the beginning. And I'm sitting now with… Where you guys are at, which is three different schools, different locations, with about 1600-1700 students?

PHIL: Yep!

GEORGE: Right. And were not sitting in the dojo anymore, were actually sitting in the head office location.

PHIL: Oh yes! Forever growing and evolving mate, forever growing.

GEORGE: So, lots has happened. So, what I'm gonna try and do here today is go down the whole journey, just find out a bit more about Graham and Phil, where they sort of started, how they got going with all this and the obstacles they faced getting to where they are today, what they've done, the processes they've had to implement on the way, the changes they've had to make, their personal growth and all the rest. So, I guess, just to rewind the clock, let's start at the beginning. Phil, just a bit of background – who you are, where you started?

PHIL: Yeah. So, you know, long story, sort of short I guess, I grew up in a country town, Western Australia, Exmouth. And you know, my passions was really just sport. I wasn't  very well educated, or edumacated as they say. Definitely was not book smart or school smart, that just wasn't my thing. I was a sporty type guy. My direction in life really was just to play professional football – that was it. But at the age of 16, I was playing quite a high-level, but I wanted to get the edge.

And so I started martial arts, for two reasons: one, to get the edge, but also, what little kid didn't want to be bloody karate kid, you know? So I was trying to tick a couple of boxes there, I grew up with…You know, my mom's dressing gown, pinned around my waist as my black belt, did all that stuff, which I'm sure most of the listeners did as well. But yeah, martial arts for me was a tool to get the edge in sport.

But then I hit a bit of a road block and got injured and doctors said not to play football again. So I took up martial arts a bit more seriously and from sort of that day there, through to the year 2000, where I got my black belt, I was 20 years old. And it was at that point there, that I also… I guess, I think it happens a lot, especially now, being an instructor and a school owner, you see a whole lot of people hit that black belt level and then quit or move on, because they feel like they've achieved their goal. And I was a victim of that too, I actually did that. But I did that because my injuries got better and I was going back to play football. Two years had passed, with no martial arts and just playing football, and then, the story is that I was in the season football trip and got blown up in a terrorist attack.

I was there with nineteen of my friends, seven of them lost their lives, I got burned to 60% of my body and, needless to say, life was very, very tough. So, one thing that happened to me in my recovery was that, you know, I called upon, I guess skills that martial arts taught me, that I never knew I had.

Breathing techniques and mental strength, you know, all this sort of stuff that, as a young guy doing martial arts, it was probably never even in the forefront of my mind. But yet, I called upon it in my time of need. Then, in my recovery, I was really just trying to get back to normality, so I took up martial arts as a student. It sort of snowballed a little bit, you know, I fell back in love with training and training more and more often. And it just so happened that a staff member at the school where I was training went on holidays, so I filled in, just as a thing to help out. And it sort of kept happening and I just ended up starting teaching, and that's how I became an instructor, basically.

GEORGE: Excellent. There's a few things I'd like to go back on, but Graham – over to you.

GRAHAM: So, my martial arts experience started a little earlier in life. I was born in Ireland, and moved over to Australia, probably when I was just shy of six years old. And my very first encounter on this lovely country we have, was being punched square in the face by this other kid – for the listeners listening, I've got red hair, at the time I was a little weedy, you know, 20 kg, wet sort of kid, white skin and… Yeah, you know, funny talking accent. So I got punched in the face and pretty much knocked out four of my front teeth. And as a kid at six years old, just on, it's not too good a look when you've got your front teeth missing.

So, my dad pretty much took the active step – new country, new place, you're gonna have to learn to protect yourself. Forget the stigma, you're a redheaded little kid that needs to learn how to fight, but hey look, I did take up that journey. And for me, it just was another outlet, just another activity to do in a place where I was in a foreign land and really just became a part of a lifestyle. I very much trained consistently for ten years in that system, that first initial traditional karate system.

Unfortunately, I sort of hit a point there, where the school didn't allow me to grow any further from that. Again, being just on 17 years old just about, I had decided I wanna go explore something different, a different style. And happened to come across a school in Greenwood, the one that we now operate out of. And started just training and again, becoming addicted with something a little bit different and was fortunate enough that on my journey forward, I got an opportunity to be a part of an instructive course, never with the intention to ever be an instructor, but just something different.

And geez, wow, once I found the joy of helping others, it had become, not just a habit – it became a ritual part of me. Like breathing in and breathing out. And that's where, on that journey forward, as Phil sort of mentioned in his story, he came back and started training and our paths crossed. I was working in a part-time capacity, sort of full-time/part-time and  managed to bump into this buddy that sits beside me now. We really didn't have a hell of a lot to do with each other at the time, but as we've grown together going forward, he obviously jumped on board as an instructor and then we crowned our friendship from there. The starting of our company is a completely different story, but that's really sort of how we ended up training and starting a journey together. But it's been a while. I think I'm just pushing 30 years of training at the moment, so it's a lifelong journey, which is pretty cool.

GEORGE: That's awesome. So, both of you have mentioned that you sort of fell into this whole instructor role, accidentally. And it sounds like it wasn't really planned, but you just start doing it and then you got hooked in, sort of helping people and it evolved from this. So what is that hook that really got you stuck into… What is that satisfaction that you got from instructing?

Phil BrittenPHIL: I think for me… I was always a big believer, if you wanted to be really good at something, you've got to be able to verbalize it, you've got to be able to teach it. And that was something that I learned as an instructor, but the feeling you got from empowering or helping or teaching someone and seeing them improve – wow, that's addictive, that's like a natural drug. You know, that's just something that you can't get enough of, just seeing progression and growth in others. And in doing that, that also helps you grow as well.

And I think that's the – for me personally, that's what appealed to me is, I get to do something that I love, I'm passionate about martial arts. I stay fit and I'm healthy. I'm always growing and getting better as a martial artist and as a person. And I also get to help other people, which then, in turn, helps me again. So it's like, as I said, it's like a drug, you just can't get enough of it. Once you're hooked on teaching, and if you love doing it, you just can't get enough. And I think that's what kept coming back – for me, kept coming back as an instructor and growing from a part-time to a full-time to then wanting to jump into business.

GRAHAM: For me, I think George, initially, I had no idea of the major benefits of sharing and helping people. It was more like an extended family, that clan, that comfortable place where you're around others. And when you've done martial arts, you can just… You can do a technique for example, that somebody looks upon and goes, “Wow, that was pretty cool! Can you show me that?” and you sort of share with them, whether you like it or not, that's instructing, that's sharing things.

And the more that people ask, the more you go, “Wow, actually, this is pretty cool, you know, I quite enjoy doing this.” But then you go with learning how to communicate better. Then you really do see the penny drop, when you share something with somebody, they get it and the joy and watching them start their journey is, as Phil pointed out, it's addictive, it's something that you just really love. So, I think it's been nothing better than improving yourself internally, externally, but also sharing and helping others is an amazing thing to be able to do.

I know that…Jeepers, I've got the numbers in my head, I know them myself and Phil. But just thinking back now and even in the instructing journey, we've, together, probably had contacted and helped and shared with over a million people in our martial arts journey, we've actually had an impact in their life. And that's an epic number.

GEORGE: That's huge.


GEORGE: All right. Ok, so the friendship started and you both trained at WA. So how did it happen that you guys became the owners, how did that evolve?

PHIL: Well, when Graham and I were working together, under our instructor, Graham was always 2IC (second in charge). He was, you know, the golden child of the school, and I knew I wanted more, and at that point, and I think it was 2006, I really thought, “I don't just want to be an employee, I want to give this a crack, I want to open up my own business and give it a crack.” So, in 2006, I started toying with this idea of opening up my own school. Came across somebody who also wanted to do the same thing, his name is Mike. And we started building this ideal of opening up a school together, and we did that in 2007.

So I sort of left Graham as partners in employment, and opened up my own school with a business partner in 2007. And I dropped everything, and the stories of people opening up schools, literally – I dropped every bit of income that I could, to do this business. And my girlfriend at the time supported me. I had my own house, bills. So she said, “I'll support you in this journey, I know how much it means to you,” and I was like, “Wow, you'd do that for me?” So I had this dream, you know, within 12 months, I have to make this profitable. And in that, sort of first 6 to 7 months. I worked really really really really hard. And, you know, as time went on, like anything, and this is I guess what we'll talk about later, is partnerships are a tough thing to do. And as time went on in that year and our business, we went very well, I think we grew to a 100 students in the first 12 months.

It was profitable, so we hit all the things, but something was missing for me. And it was at that time that  Graham, and he can probably talk about that story as well, it was about that time that I was having these feelings and still training, along with Graham and catching up with him, and he was like… Our instructor and his boss was saying, “Look, it's time for me too, you know, like I cannot keep being the 2IC (second in charge), I want my turn too, so either step aside type of thing, to some degree, you know, without being too blunt, or I wanna go and pursue this passion too.

GRAHAM: Definitely. Just to sort of go on with this George, the real catalyst there was obviously, myself and Phil, we're still great mates, even though he moved on in pursuing something different. The real stickler for me that sort of forced the hand, was that my wife was pregnant with our first child and I'm like, “I'm gonna make this happen.” And at the time I think, you know, from a career perspective, there was just no room for me to go on financially, there was just no way that I was able to do this of  a lackey's wage basically.

So I sort of said to the owner at the time, it was pretty much sort of, you know, dare I say, just run down from having 25 years in the biz, and just been tied. It was probably the stars aligned, I just said, “Hey – I need to step up or I'm gonna go step out.” and he just said, “Look, did you want to buy the school?  You know, I'm willing to sell it.” And at the time I was saying, “Holy s__, I can't do this by myself. I would love to have someone there, that we could work hand-in-hand together.” So, having chatted with Phil plenty of times, I said, “Mate, there's an opportunity for us to sort of, you know, bring it back home, so to speak, and for us to break this model apart and put it back together the way that we think it should be.” And in 2008, we took over this school, which was under a previous name and WAIMA, the WA institute of martial arts was born. And my goodness, what a ride it has been since then.

GEORGE: Excellent! So just heading back to Phil quickly – you mentioned that you had support from your girlfriend financially. And I guess, for somebody starting out, that's probably the biggest barrier to cross. Because you're probably in a full time job, maybe you're part-time instructor and so now, you've got to get over this hump, financially. So, financially, and you've got to obviously make sure that, you know, if you've got a family or you've got somebody else in your life, or if you're about to have a kid, which is probably the biggest pressure point for any entrepreneurs, you know, to get your stuff together, it's gonna happen. But how did that conversation go? How was your conversation with you girlfriend at the time, to get behind you and support you?

PHIL: You know, I think the lesson here, and this is what I practice and preach to anyone in this boat, that is looking to go full time, or even part time, is: you need to actually have a plan and need to make sure that all your expenses are covered. Meaning, if you've got a house, you've got to be paying your mortgage. You've got your bills to pay, so you can't just go out on a whim and start a business and think it's gonna be great. Cause that's, you know, the statistic is, how many businesses do fail in the first year?

That wasn't an option, because, you know, I sort of burned the bridge, so to speak, the boat, you know. And I knew that, with her support, financially, that we could survive, although it was really, really tough. And then, you know, in that year as well, although the business wasn't making money, I was working tirelessly, doing PTs, private training sessions, you know. I had maybe 6,7,8 clients a week, all 60-90 minutes you know, and I was charging quite well, so I was getting some cash. I hope the tax man's not listening, but that's probably one of the ways that martial arts instructors can get a little bit of, you know, hit money, in the pocket.

And that's sort of what helped us get through that time, was just that we agreed, we'll give this a shot for a year, we're willing to battle it out. We've got enough finances to be able to cover the expenses and we're literally gonna burn the boat and just go hard. And that's really the decision that I made hit and that would be the decision I would ask others to do as well, is, if they're gonna make that jump, don't do it stupidly, don't do it uneducatedly. You've got to make the decision that, yes, my bases are covered, and I'm gonna give this a red hot go for 12, 18, 24 months, that's how much we've got, and we're gonna go hard, we're gonna burn the bridge! You know, and if that point comes, and you're not there yet, then you make another decision, you know – what's the worst thing you can say?

Live a life of regret or say, I gave it a shot and I failed, but, you know, I'm wiser and I'm more educated and I'm stronger as a person and a business person for doing that. So, there are no quick wins, there are no easy things in business or in life, but you can stack the odds in your favor and set up a plan. And then, you know, at the end of the day, my thing is, well – why not? Or, what now? We hit that point “What now,” let's make a decision now, we go left, we go right, we go straight.

GRAHAM: Just in that tune George, I know that, coming on board and creating this new company WAIMA, the unknowns, you know, I remortgaged my house. I was barely making enough to pay the repayments anyway, but to remortgage your house and take that leap of faith, having a new baby come on the scene, where your wife now no longer brings any income into the household. The unknown, whether you can pay the bills. But you've got to back yourself.

You've got to believe that you're worth it, you're good enough, having a good plan is vital, and I know that Phil was in a very similar boat, coming on board with a different partnership, you know, moving from one that he left behind, to a new one, was again another risk, you know, financially. We both had put some money, invested in, that was a good chance we would lose it, if we didn't work our butt off. And I guarantee you, there was not a waking moment in a day that we weren't both driven to make it succeed. That's a big drive, when you've got your back against the wall, you've got to fight for something, and that was something I think we found ourselves in that situation, where there was no option to go backwards.

Failure wasn't an option, you know, probably a cliche sort of there, but that's pretty much where we're at and I guarantee you, we made it happen. And, you know, we've got some great numbers and stories from how we made it happen and what we got within that first 12 months and the next 12 months. But a big part was, believe in yourself and as Phil  sort of said, you burn the boat, you can't go backwards, you can only go forwards.

GEORGE: Excellent. And I guess I just wanna go back and emphasize that, because I think, you know, every instructor has that opportunity, if they want to pursue it.


GEORGE:You know, if that's the way they want to go, you know, they've really got access to an audience to do those part-time, you know, PT instruction gigs and to help fund… I guess help cover the majority of the expenses and just push forward with the classes and go for it.

GRAHAM: It's like bungee jumping or skydiving, there's always that risk of – is it gonna open? Is the string gonna break? You know, it's that gap, that fear of, you know, the security and Phil will talk all about comfort zones and whatnot. And most people will only ever live life on the edge, not even the edge of their comfort zone, they sort of stay in that center, where, “I can't do this, I can't do that.” You know, they're in a comfortable place and not willing to take that leap of faith and give it a go. And they can be quite surprised at, you know, how close they are to succeeding. But yet, they don't take that opportunity, that chance, so, that was something we did, bugger, we go and we check if the parachutes are in the backpack once we jumped, so…

PHIL: At the end of the day, there's no reward without risk, and that's what Grahams getting at, you know. Yes, we all mortgaged our houses, yes, we had families on the way, Graham had his child, I had probably one on the way at that time. You know, we worked day in, day out, 6 days a week. And on the Sunday that we didn't work, we were still thinking about work. You know, we'd come home at 10, 11 o'clock at night, and wed be at work at 10 in the morning, 9 in the morning. So, you kind of have that pod dream that everythings gonna be rosy straight away. If you want something bad enough, you've got to do whatever it takes to make it succeed.

GEORGE: Brilliant. Can you recall that first plan? You mentioned that you had a plan that you're gonna go, can you briefly describe what that plan was?

GRAHAM: Right, we were gonna make a truckload more money. Truckload more students, and were gonna do it this way. I think it was really just getting back to… Having an existing business in the shell there, the engine needed to be rebuilt basically, from the ground up. And we really did have a good look at the systems that were in place, there were some that were functioning, some that were just naturally outdated. Again, there was the culture of the school needed to change for us. And again, it's just then identifying what we wanted to brand ourselves as and market ourselves as. And that was a huge one, when you're looking to, I guess re-identifying yourself as a different entity, when you've stepped into a shell.

Graham McDonnell WA Institute Of Martial ArtsSo, we certainly did have quite a few things that we needed to do, and first and foremost was getting our identity and who we were and what we stood for. So, it allowed for us then to be able to market that image, that brand, that standpoint. And again, the energy that we brought to it, it was just really letting people know who we were and what we stand for, and that we would surpass all expectations in everything that we delivered, both quality of product, but the experience that you have, from the minute you speak to us, to the moment you walk out the door. So everything… We really pride ourselves on providing excellent service in everything. And that's sort of where the start point was. There's so many little factors that are in there, but it really was getting that clear vision on what we wanted to deliver and making sure that everything was in alignment with that.

GEORGE: OK. So, all right. So, you guys stepped in. What was the… So you kind of wanted to establish your values.


GEORGE: Ok. Was there any obstacle in doing that? Cause obviously there was the previous owner and, you know, things were set in certain ways.


GEORGE: And in you guys come, although you're not new to the whole school, because you're the instructors. But were there any sort of stick points, you know, that happened, was there tension or anything at that point, when you guys took over?

GRAHAM: Yeah, we lost a ton of students, we lost a ton of our senior black belts, because we were… You know, the guys that were trained under the previous instructor were loyal to them and they certainly knew us. But when it came to us, making the decisions and steering the ship, for various reasons, they decided it wasn't the path they were gonna go down. I say this often, you gotta crack a few eggs to make an omelet, simple as that. You know, you gotta lose some people. An that was something that, as crappy as it was, you know, again, we're talking about finances here and were talking about struggling, and we're losing students.

But we knew that we would, the ones we had left, we were gonna share the vision where we were heading and that we would grow from that. So you gotta weed the garden to let the flowers bloom. Plenty of those phrases that you hear coming out, but really, that's sort of where it was at. We needed to get rid of things that weren't in alignment with where we were heading at. And unfortunately, that was sometimes students, sometimes it was staff, systems, so it was really just getting clarity on where we wanted to be in that 12, 24, 36 months, whatever it may be. 

PHIL: I think, for my point of view, and to go on quotes with Graham, a snake's gotta shed her skin. And, you know, we knew that, in our style, it takes about 4 years to get a black belt. So, one of our goals was to have our own black belts, through and through, so the day that we took over, when someone joined, you know, that would be the first line of black belts, that were trained purely by us. So yeah, through the journey, there was always gonna be people who dropped off and we knew that, but we got into that business, you know, head down, bum up. And just, like Graham said earlier, we rebuilt the engine, you know?

We put our stamp on it. We changed the name, the branding, the niche client, the systems and procedures. So, we really did change the business in a way that we, we knew we were gonna drop people, but we did it on purpose, because you don't make changes in your business for the students you have – you make changes in your business for the students you WILL  have. The effects will affect the people who you currently have, but I'm thinking about… What about the guy who joins, or the girl, or the kid that joins now, what are they gonna be like in four years time?

Not the black belt now, because, you know, they've done their journey. So I wanna make sure that the changes I have is a long-term effect change in my business. And one of the things for Graham and I was like, we took over the business, we were on a certain wage that was gonna get us by. But we, again, we burnt the bridges and we said, we needed double numbers, you know. I think we took it over at about 300. So, you know, it's quite a decent sized school as well, but it wasn't enough for two people, two managers, to take the wage that we needed to survive. So, in that first year, to give you a bit of a background, after all the changes, after getting in there with enthusiasm, we're off going hard, hard.

We doubled student numbers and tripled revenue within 12 months. So we went from 300 to 600 and, you know, we don't need to throw numbers in monetary value, but, you know, we then went from almost a single persons wage, to a double persons wage, plus being able to employ more people as well, within the first 12 months.

GRAHAM: Some of the things George, that we really did and we focused on, prior to rewarding ourselves, was to reinvest back in the school and back in our students. So, there was a lot of things that didn't contribute to students and getting students, but getting new pads. Getting, you know, new coat of paint and this and that and the others. It was all those little things that was an expense going up, but it was for a  reason. It was that branding, it was that rebirth, rather than just stepping into the same shell and just trying to call it something different, it wasn't. It really did need to have that knock down and rebuild. Within reason, obviously, we couldn't knock the building down, but we pretty much gutted everything else out.

You know, that was something that we really wanted to be mindful of, really reinvesting back into our marketing, back into our systems, investing in our team and our staff, not taking shortcuts just to get that quick win. Because the thing is, if you took that shortcut and you're only there for the money, you probably would have reached that point, but there was no growth past that. So we really invested in building a really solid foundation to help us to grow into the hearts and lives that we wanted.

And I talk about this often with other people: if you look at a residential home, the slab or the foundation is only like 10 cm thick, on a single-story. And you can only, from that thickness, build a single-story house. If you want to build a skyscraper, it's almost… You need to go twice the depth of a skyscraper as it is going to be high, to make sure you can build that solid platform, so it's not gonna fall over.

In other words, we invested a hell of a lot back into the foundation of our business, before we focused on the growth. But it actually came almost secondary, the growth was just happening anyway. It just meant that we're up to a sustained growth, without getting too a point and having a catastrophic failure, by having too many students, and not enough staff and so on and so forth. So, that was a real big one that we wanted to do, we didn't wanna skimp on doing the right thing for everybody internal, and also mainly the students as well too.

GEORGE: That's the end of part one of the three parts series with Graham and Phil from the WA institute of martial arts. Tune back for the next episode, well be going a bit deeper down the journey and we're gonna be talking about opening up the funnel, why you should ditch your ego, why being the grand guru will kill your business, how to reach a bigger audience, why investing in coaches is imperative to your success, following a recipe and the number one thing you need to do before opening up your second school. So to make sure you get notified about the second episode, you can go to our website MartialArtsMedia.com and if you haven't yet, download the free business plan we have for online media.

That will get you on our email list and we'll send you a short notification when this episode is ready. If not, you can also go to Stitcher, Stitcher radio, if you're on an Android device, Android phone, or you can go to iTunes and subscribe from there. That's it! Looking forward to seeing you in the next episode. I'll talk to you then.


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Testimonials that appear on this site are actually received via text, audio or video submission. They are individual experiences, reflecting real life experiences of those who have used our products and/or services in some way. They are individual results and results do vary. We do not claim that they are typical results. The testimonials are not necessarily representative of all of those who will use our products and/or services.

The testimonials displayed in any form on this site (text, audio, video or other) are reproduced verbatim, except for correction of grammatical or typing errors. Some may have been shortened. In other words, not the whole message received by the testimonial writer is displayed when it seems too lengthy or not the whole statement seems relevant for the general public.

is not responsible for any of the opinions or comments posted on https://martialartsmedia.com. is not a forum for testimonials, however provides testimonials as a means for customers to share their experiences with one another. To protect against abuse, all testimonials appear after they have been reviewed by management of . doe not share the opinions, views or commentary of any testimonials on https://martialartsmedia.com – the opinions are strictly the views of the testimonial source.

The testimonials are never intended to make claims that our products and/or services can be used to diagnose, treat, cure, mitigate or prevent any disease. Any such claims, implicit or explicit, in any shape or form, have not been clinically tested or evaluated.

How Do We Protect Your Information and Secure Information Transmissions?

Email is not recognized as a secure medium of communication. For this reason, we request that you do not send private information to us by email. However, doing so is allowed, but at your own risk. Some of the information you may enter on our website may be transmitted securely via a secure medium known as Secure Sockets Layer, or SSL. Credit Card information and other sensitive information is never transmitted via email.

may use software programs to create summary statistics, which are used for such purposes as assessing the number of visitors to the different sections of our site, what information is of most and least interest, determining technical design specifications, and identifying system performance or problem areas.

For site security purposes and to ensure that this service remains available to all users, uses software programs to monitor network traffic to identify unauthorized attempts to upload or change information, or otherwise cause damage.

Disclaimer and Limitation of Liability

makes no representations, warranties, or assurances as to the accuracy, currency or completeness of the content contain on this website or any sites linked to this site.

All the materials on this site are provided “as is” without any express or implied warranty of any kind, including warranties of merchantability, noninfringement of intellectual property or fitness for any particular purpose. In no event shall or its agents or associates be liable for any damages whatsoever (including, without limitation, damages for loss of profits, business interruption, loss of information, injury or death) arising out of the use of or inability to use the materials, even if has been advised of the possibility of such loss or damages.

Policy Changes

We reserve the right to amend this privacy policy at any time with or without notice. However, please be assured that if the privacy policy changes in the future, we will not use the personal information you have submitted to us under this privacy policy in a manner that is materially inconsistent with this privacy policy, without your prior consent.

We are committed to conducting our business in accordance with these principles in order to ensure that the confidentiality of personal information is protected and maintained.


If you have any questions regarding this policy, or your dealings with our website, please contact us here:

Martial Arts Media™
Suite 218
5/115 Grand Boulevard
Joondalup WA

Email: team (at) martialartsmedia dot com

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