Hakan Manav, 5th degree Taekwondo black belt and world martial arts champion, shares his life journey of success and their thriving martial arts business.
IN THIS EPISODE YOU WILL LEARN:
- How to deal with the constant pressure of being ‘The Master's Son'
- The truth about martial arts skills that improve coordination in other sports
- How business principles discovered in tertiary education lay the frameworks for a successful martial arts school
- Getting everything you can from TV publicity (Australia's Got Talent)
- Business growth hit the ceiling? Do these 2 things to breakthrough to the next level
- The training schedule of an elite world class martial artist
- And more
*Need help growing your martial arts school? Learn More Here.
It all started back in that day, we went overseas, we opened our eyes, we invested in ourselves, we sought knowledge outside of the martial arts industry, as well as within the industry, and then it was just one step at a time and consistent growth.
Hi, this is George Fourie from martialartsmedia.com and welcome to the Martial Arts Media Business podcast, episode number 14. Today I have a very inspiring, very versatile, talented young man on board and this gentleman is truly, truly a gift of multiple talents, and what I mean by that is, first up, he's born into martial arts, he is an amazing martial artist, his skills are just beyond, it’s another level. If you follow any of his social media accounts, he spends most of his time in the air. His tricking ability is beyond this world, his skills are just phenomenal, you've got to see it to actually absorb what it is he is capable of.
And when it comes to the business side, their family own and operate one of the most successful martial arts schools in Australia, if not the most successful. And that, of course, depends on how you measure success, but what I can tell you is that their main location has a total of 1450 students, they have another 5 set locations of 200 students each approximately and they have systems and a staffing in place that allows them to operate 7 days per week.
So whether or not that is your goal, look, there's value in what these guys have learned along the way. And the guest that I'm talking about of course, after much suspense, Hakan Manav. Hakan shares his journey from humble beginnings, having to live up to the expectations of his dad's reputation, Master Ridvan Manav, and just his journey going from where they started out with basically nothing and building up this organization and feeling that pressure from a young age and dealing with that.
We also touch on his moving career, how an Australian talent show opened multiple doors for him, so much to share in this conversation on multiple levels. As always, depending on where you're listening to this, you can find the show notes and everything else mentioned within this podcast, you can find at martialartsmedia.com/14, the number 14. And that's it for now, I want to get into this interview – enjoy, and welcome to the show Mr. Hakan Manav.
GEORGE: Good day everyone, today I have a guest with many talents with me today and that is Hakan Manav. Now, I'm really not sure how this conversation's going to go because we can talk about movies, we can talk about being featured on Australia's Got Talent, we can talk about his martial arts career in general, but we'll see where this goes. So welcome to the call Hakan.
HAKAN: A pleasure to be here George, thank you.
GEORGE: All right. So, for those that are not familiar with you, let's start right at the beginning: who is Hakan Manav?
HAKAN: Well, let's go back to when I was born. Basically, my father established the Australian Martial Arts Academy well over 30 years now, I think pushing on to 35 years soon, I think 34 years. I'm currently 28, going onto 29, so I was born into the family, born into the martial arts from a very young age and I grew up with it and I had many fantastic experiences, because of the martial arts. I've been very fortunate, there are photos of me in the nappies starting out in martial arts.
GEORGE: That's way back!
HAKAN: Yeah, many many years ago.
GEORGE: So what came first? You grew up in martial arts, how did things evolve? Was it just a given that you're going to become an instructor?HAKAN: Well, my dad was heavily involved, he was quite young at the time, he was active and I had that role model there from the very beginning. We were predominantly a Taekwondo tournament based school back in the days, so that was the culture that I was brought up with. And back then, the academy was part-time, in that my father had a full-time job and he did this with a passion and all we wanted to do was fight, training to fight, make the Australian team, travel and everything that came along with that.
So my young journey started with that and I competed in many tournaments growing up. There were my fond memories as a young kid, traveling to all these destinations around the world, competing, camaraderie, having fun. And then I got to a point where I completely had enough, hated martial arts, sick of martial arts and didn't want anything to do with it. So that's when my friends started to play a bigger role in my life and we had this constant struggle in the family household. But I found my way back into it, found what I loved and the rest is history.
GEORGE: What do you acquaint that struggle to? Is it sort of having plateaued too quickly, or…?
HAKAN: I think it is a culmination of things. First of all, it was the pressure, it was a pressure situation. I was always the master's son, the boss' son, so that came with a lot of pressure everywhere we went. So I always had this weight on my shoulders. So there was that and there was my friends doing other sports and things like that and then you've got the business element to it, so everything that comes with the stress, trying to ensure the members.
As a young kid, I was exposed to all of this and it all just kind of played its toll, setting up at festivals, doing the extra work, doing the makeup classes and everything, when instructors couldn't show up – all this added stress was on my shoulders from a very young age. I do remember, I do embrace it, it was a fantastic learning experience, and it really set the platform for where we are today, but it was a culmination of things.
GEORGE: Ok. I can understand how that could happen, all the pressure and so forth. How did you actually get it back?
HAKAN: I've actually been training throughout my whole life, in martial arts. There were just periods where I would train more, 5-6 days a week and then there would be periods where I only would train a minimum of twice a week. So back when I was about 13-14, at that age, just started high school, friends were cool, hanging out was cool, all my friends back then were into rugby league and all the team sports, so they would talk about their games on the weekend – none of them really cared that I was the best Taekwondo athlete in my division, for my age group in Australia, none of them would really care about that, so that was really hard for me when I would come back to school, I'd just come from an overseas trip, I want to share all my experiences and it just would've gone nowhere.
That was the struggle that I faced, but then I tried some other sports. I did soccer, I did tennis, I did basketball, while still doing martial arts twice a week, but I would always also do this and then go on their games on the weekend. So I did that and then I had a lot of fun with it and I can definitely say when we do promote that martial arts does improve your coordination, does help with other sports, I can personally say that it does, because when I did do other sports, I picked it up very quickly because of that athletic background. I played soccer for a few years and I picked it up really well.
The footwork, the agility, the dribbling, all of that I did really well, but I soon realized that I wasn't as proficient at soccer as I was with martial arts. There are a lot of very good kids that were doing the team sports and I realized that I was good, but I wasn't in the top tier that I used to be in the Taekwondo. So I went through that period, I had my fun with it, but then I realized, I think my true passion lies in the martial arts. That's what I was essentially born to do, so I found my way back into it, back when I was about 16.
I had a few years where I didn't compete, just kind of had a bit of fun with it, but then I found my way. I'm extremely grateful my parent allowed me to do that. However, we have to share this funny story with you all. As a young kid, I was super flexible. I could do splits in my sleep and I played soccer for a couple of years and then I lost my split, I lost my flexibility. I came back and I remember going to my dad, “Dad, why did you let me play soccer, I lost my flexibility!” It was just this funny family feud that we had.
GEORGE: Yes, because I think I saw a picture of you floating around that puts Jean Claude van Damme to shame.
HAKAN: Yeah, he was definitely one of my role models. I actually met him at a young age. We had photos of him, my dad also was extremely flexible.
GEORGE: How's your career evolved? I see you've been in movies and I see you're doing all this tricking stuff, which is just phenomenal, and then you've got the instructor side of things going, so what sort of the predominant drive where you're taking your martial arts career?
HAKAN: Like I said, it all started back when I came back to martial arts. I was about 16, I made the Australian Taekwondo team, our school was predominantly based Taekwondo school then. I went to Korea for the Junior World Championship and there I saw these demonstrations, they were called the Korean Tigers and they were fantastic. So I continued fighting, but I remembered the impact they had on me, the moves they were doing were fantastic, but what really drew me was the entertainment value they brought to martial arts, the wow factor.
It was something I had never seen before. So I came back home, and I continued training, and at that time I was just about finishing school and my family always stressed the importance of education. So not only did I want to be good at martial arts, I also wanted to ensure that my schoolwork was there, I wanted to get into a top university, I wanted to do a degree that I loved and during my final years of high school, I really put my head down, and I would do a minimum of three hours of study every night back in the day and also continue my training, so keep both of it up.
I received a really really good, I guess UAC, which is the HSC year 12 exam result. I went to the university of Sydney and I studied a Bachelor of Commerce, Major in Finance. I did that for four years when I was about ages 18 to 22. At that time, we applied a lot of the business principles to the academy to lay the foundations and frameworks to running a legitimate, professional business, ensuring that the marketing, the accounting, the human resource, the curriculum, the delivery – everything was laid there. All of that process happened during that time.
Around the same time, back in 2009, we saw this audition for Australia's Got Talent, so we thought we would give it a go. It was a great challenge, we entered it and it was a great challenge for me, because up until that time, I always had a great experience in the competitive aspect of martial arts, the sportsmanship, the traveling, the weight cutting and everything, the discipline, the satisfaction, the sacrifice that goes into training every single day.
So I wasn't really able to get my creative juices flowing at that point. This opportunity came along and I jumped at it. I said, let's see what we can do, let me see if I can make this as entertaining as possible. Now, throughout my whole life, I had this frustrating experience in that, anytime I told people that I would do martial arts for a living, or we run a martial arts school, it would really be looked down upon. And I think it’s because a lot of the times when people have had a martial arts experience, it’s often in the local church hall, or the local school hall, so people felt that, for me personally, people really looked down upon it, it didn't really have a positive stereotype back in the days.
So I thought, this is a fantastic experience for me if I could really get our school out there and hopefully shine a positive light on the sport. So rather than going out and doing a whole bunch of kicks and things like that, we thought, let's make it entertaining, let's make it appealing, let's add some comedy in there, let's add a bit of a storyline. So we did that and we got really far, we got to the finals and we didn't end up winning, a singer ended up winning, but we had a lot of fun with it.
And that opened up a lot of doors for me, that experience there. It just took off from there, we put our school on the map, the demonstrations increased dramatically, the demand increased dramatically for the performances, as well for the school. And then we just rode the wave. And for a few years, I did seminars, I did martial arts seminars, extreme kick seminars, just really adding this element to all martial arts schools around the country, just getting that wow factor in there. Just motivating, providing students with another element they can add to their curriculum. It proved to be successful at our school and many other schools as well.
GEORGE: Excellent. So when the Australia's Got Talent happened, you just saw the opportunity and that was it, you jumped on that?
HAKAN: I jumped in it, yeah. Look, I know there have been a lot of other martial arts schools that have also done it, but it was hard. It was hard, it was a challenge, it was definitely a challenge because there was no real benchmark and nor real precedent set that I could follow.
GEORGE: How have things evolved from that point? You guys have got a really really successful business, how's this all played a role in that?
HAKAN: Basically, also at that time, that happened about 2009, let's go back a few years, let's go back to 2005, 2006. We went overseas to the martial arts industry supershow, which is the martial arts convention that was held in Vegas. And again, that really opened up our eyes to everything that we could do in the martial arts business, in the martial arts industry. So we created our Little Dragons program, we created the Dragons program, we created upgrade programs, and we really had an experience, that major culture shift within the academy.
So when I talk about being a fighter dominated school, we really transformed that. It took a bit of time, but we really focused on leadership and cultivating leaders, assistant instructors, junior instructors, really developing and instructor program. That happened about 10 years ago now, so we experienced that. I was just coming out of school and we had some fantastic instructors who are still with us today, who are open to change, who are open to making things better, setting a professional platform, aiming for world class service in the industry.
It all started back in that day, when we went overseas, we opened our eyes, we invested in ourselves, we sought knowledge outside of the martial arts industry, as well as within the industry, and then it was just one step at a time and consistent growth. So I'm going to say back then, we would have had about 300 students at the one location.
GEORGE: OK, and you've expanded that to 1450?
HAKAN: Yeah, right now, we're actually just sitting on 1450 members in the one location.
GEORGE: What challenges does that bring, you obviously must have huge premises, but having 1450 students at one location, what challenges does that bring on a day-to-day basis?HAKAN: There are a lot of challenges definitely, but when you develop a fantastic team of instructors and you develop that leadership culture, you keep everybody happy. Everyone's got their roles, it’s definitely manageable. We operate over 120 classes a week, our academy runs 7 days a week. Everybody's got their roles like I said, we have a tier instructor system, starting with my father as the master, we have 5 head instructors. We've got our instructors, our assistants, our volunteers and so on. And everybody plays a part and we just continually ensure that everyone is looked after and make sure that we're consistently improving.
So it is a challenge, but something that we can all handle, do well, we're all young, we're hungry and we want to make sure that we keep this thing going as best we can. Some of the challenges we do face include of course staffing, that's the number one. That's the number one challenge, that's where I spend a lot of attention, ensuring that we're developing, we're training, we're motivating, inspiring the instructors to run the 120 classes a week that we run.
GEORGE: Ok. So if we go back, and this might be tough to recall, but can you recall what were the first steps you guys took? When you were at 300 students, you got back from the USA; what were the key things that you thought, all right, this is what we've got to do first?
HAKAN: It was a big slap in the face. One of the first things we did is, we needed to know our market. Our market before was fighters, people who came in, I mean if ten people come in, one or two of them were the ones that really stuck it through and were able to represent us well in the competition scene. That was kind of our focus. We then said, OK, what we want to do is, we want to make martial arts applicable, we want to make it accessible to the masses.
So how we did that, one of the first steps we did was dividing our classes. We had two classes back in the day: we had a junior class, everyone under the age of 15, and we had a senior class, everyone above the age of 15. So we divided the brackets up into some really small classes. We first started with, we looked at our membership base and we said, OK, where are the majority of our members? The majority of our members were in the what we call our ninja age group, which is the 9-12 age group. So we set age brackets into classes.
What we then did was, we developed a curriculum. We had the depth, we developed the depth in each age group. So we had the 9-12, then we went to the 6-8, then we went to the 3-5-year-old age group and we just really stuck at that for a while. As the number grew, as we started improving our marketing and our culture started to change and the instructors started to develop, we started to add more classes, more days, more age groups and more upgrade programs. So we went with the demand and that all really started from dividing the ages up into specific brackets.
GEORGE: And so at this point, you were still just focused on Taekwondo, is that correct?
HAKAN: That's right, yeah. Our base was predominantly Taekwondo, but then when we went overseas, we really were open to investing in ourselves, both in terms of business and in terms of leadership and knowledge and in terms of I guess physical martial arts skills. That's where I started going out and started learning things that we can apply to our upgrade program.
So things included the extreme kicking, the martial arts tricking element, the weaponry – this complemented our martial arts training and proved to be a further challenge to our advanced members, which then improved our retention. So not only did I do that, my father did that, and so did our other head instructors. We went out, we followed our passion in whatever field it was, we did self-defense, we did kickboxing and then we got all this knowledge embedded into our curriculum and then went from there.
GEORGE: OK, I just want to highlight that, if I heard that right. So you said that by raising the bar and making it more sort of a complex challenge for the students, that increased the retention?HAKAN: Definitely, definitely. You know, again, I'm going to give you some examples. There were some students quite a few years ago where they would get their black belt, they would shake your hand and say thank you, as in, they thought it was the end. They thought the black belt was the end. Again, this was another learning experience for us, that was partly our fault that we made them feel that way because maybe at that time there wasn't a challenge for them.
So we then figured, OK, we've got to make this curriculum deeper, we've got to consistently challenge these people and provide them avenues, be it on the extreme side, be it on the leadership side, be it through the self-defense, weaponry – we want to make sure that there's something for everybody and that includes giving further challenges but that's challenges that are manageable and broken down into small consistent goals, if that makes sense.
GEORGE: OK, so what would be that step for that black belt? Because I sometimes think I'm facing this with my son right now, because he's just achieved his black belt, and he's ten years old. He's put a good five, six years in to get it, but I need to get him to realize it's time to put that white belt back on again. Your achievement is only that for where you are at.
HAKAN: Of course, of course. And look, I think all this does come back down to the instructor, because if we keep investing in ourselves and improving our knowledge, then we can, like I said, increase the depth in our content, increase the depth in our curriculum. It's going to consistently create that “wow” factor – wow look at my instructor, he keeps improving, or she keeps improving. There're so many more things we can learn.
So firstly, I believe it has to be cultivated through the leaders and through the instructors in the academy, that's what needs to be done. At our school what we do is, once people get a black belt, they have this, as well as they're doing a physical test, they have to fill out this worksheet and one of the questions is, how has achieving my black belt changed my life, so it's a reflection on the way they've come.
And the second part of the question is, what are my goals, moving into, going into the future, now that I'm a black belt? So it gets them thinking about that from a very young age. But then, we also have a beyond black belt curriculum, which we give to the black belts and on that they still grade. I feel that in most styles and most systems when people do get a black belt, the grading period is a very long time between grading. So that could make the black belts lose motivation. Why is retention so good in the younger belts, is because gradings are often more frequent, so they get a goal to work towards.
So we created this beyond black belt curriculum for our black belts and every six months, they have a challenge. They get to improve a level or get closer to their next dan or their next level within that black belt curriculum. We test them on the weapon, we test them on knife defenses, we test them on traditional forms and we really lay out the part for them in the future. Once they've achieved their black belt and we really lay out their path and make it click for them that this is just the beginning. We use the analogy that getting your black belt is just like finishing high school and then once you get your black belt, you've graduated and now you're welcoming into the real world.
GEORGE: All right, awesome. Now let's go back to your instructors because you've got this massive organization that you're running and you've got a lot of staff and a lot of part-time and permanent staff?
HAKAN: Definitely. At the top of the ship, we have my father who is the great master. We have five full-time staff, we have seven part-time instructors that run classes, that are responsible for curriculum and ensuring that their program that they're assigned to are run well. These instructors operate between 3-5 days a week and then we also have a bunch of part-time instructors that do abut 2-3 days a week and then we have assistants and then we have volunteers, or non-paid staff, which we groom from a very young age.
We've realized that it's a long-term process and it is a numbers game, so we invite people into our leadership instructors program, and then hopefully, we funnel them out and we train and we groom the right instructors and this process does take time, but this industry is a long term game. It's a marathon and we understand that.
GEORGE: And how do you sort of define a career path for you instructor?
HAKAN: Again, we lay out the path for them. So we have I guess, a module, an instructor-developed the module that's got all the T's clearly written out in it, in terms of their roles and responsibilities and what needs to be done. They have a log and they have to do a certain minimum of hours on the floor, then they have to get checked off by somebody on top of them, so by an instructor of that day or that class who checks off and provides them with their feedback and that's how we go about doing it through that. Then we have obviously consistent training that we do and so on.
GEORGE: All right, awesome. Alright, so last few in the business: you have 1450 students – what's the next level for you guys?
HAKAN: Yes, that's 1450 in the one location. We have 5 other part time locations as well throughout Sydney and they have about 2 staff and they have about 200 members in each location there. And we're also in about 3 schools that we teach as a school sports program, as part of the intra-sports curriculum as well. I guess the next step for us is to continually raise the platform, continually develop instructors, as well as raising the bar, keep learning, keep developing, keep going on, keep following the trends as we know, for example, technology is constantly changing, so being on top of all of that… My personal goal is to ensure that we provide well class service, provide best practice service in the martial arts industry.
GEORGE: OK, excellent. Hakan, how about you? I've seen a few movie reels from you and so forth: how's that side of your career evolving?
HAKAN: Yeah, definitely, let’s go back to that. Again, the Australia's Got Talent put my team, put myself on the map. That opened up a lot of doors for me personally as well, so that opened up a lot of opportunities for short films, feature films, stunt work. So what I did do is, I didn't throw myself completely into that field, I didn't my burn my bridges and say moved to LA per se, because I enjoy the martial arts business side, I enjoy teaching and that was still my passion throughout that time.
So when these opportunities did arise, I had the flexibility to go out and do it. I did a 6-week show in Dubai, a live theater show, which was a massive production and a fantastic experience. So for me, it's all about enjoying it, enjoying what the martial arts offers, be it through the entertainment, be it on the business side, the teaching side, giving back. I'm living a fantastic lifestyle that martial arts do offer. So for me, it's always been about challenges, opportunities, experiences and just really enjoying the life that martial arts brings.
GEORGE: OK, great. And then, I have to know: you're training schedule and so forth, the type of things that you're able to do with all your spinning kicks and stuff that I'm not even going to try and pronounce yet. But how much time and work go into developing that level of skill set?
HAKAN: Yeah, look, again – I have to be thankful for the discipline and the consistency that martial arts training has offered me from a very young age. So for me it's no biggie, it's what I grew up doing, it's all I know really, so I train about 7 to 12 sessions a week. 7 to 12 sessions a week: that includes weights training, that includes bodywork, calisthenic type of training. That includes Taekwondo, boxing, Muay Thai, as well as the flipping and the tricking as well. So I like to really mix it up and keep it interesting for me because I feel that's the way to grow.
So I always try to find ways to be a little uncomfortable and this tricking side is like that, the flipping side is challenging because it's consistently overcoming fears. I remember when I learned my first backflip: the fear of going backward was very tough. So I try and keep my training consistent, no matter what we go through, no matter how busy we are, I always ensure that I get my sessions in, weekends, weekdays, late nights, early mornings – who cares, it doesn't matter for me, I've got to find the time to do it because it's who I am and it's what I love to do.
GEORGE: That's awesome, so embrace the discomfort.
HAKAN: Exactly, and that's what I look to do. I'm going, pushing onto 30 now, I feel great and I always try to keep in shape, work on my flexibility, work on my stretching and just keeping on I guess.
GEORGE: Awesome. Hakan, it's been really great to chat with you. Where can people find out more about you, because I know there's so much to what you offer for the martial industry – where can people find out more about what it is that you do and offer?
HAKAN: They can contact me directly through Facebook, Hakan Manav is my name, so they can contact me through there. I guess all my videos and the program that I offer in terms of seminars and things like that are on my website at www.hakanmanav.com. And for more information about our academy, it's basically www.australianmartialarts.com.au.
GEORGE: All right, excellent. Thank you very much for speaking to me this morning Hakan.
HAKAN: Not a problem, not a problem George, it's my pleasure, thank you for having me.
GEORGE: Thanks, we'll speak soon, cheers.
HAKAN: Thanks bye.
GEORGE: All right, there you have it. I hope you enjoyed the interview – how good was that? So many things to learn and besides the business value, if you head over to his social media account, look for Hakan Manav on Facebook, on Instagram. I will have links to that in the show notes, martialartsmedia.com/14 and think back to the fact that Hakan mentioned that he was scared about doing a backflip at one stage! It just shows once you push those barriers or fear away, what is humanly possible.
Thank again for listening, we'll be back here next week. If you want to support the show, it's a little effort on your part, not much. All that we ask for is a good review with iTunes. This helps us rank within the iTunes directory system, whatever you want to call it. And it gets the word out. It gets the word out to martial arts school owners like yourself, and what I'm finding interesting is that a lot of people are listening to the show that aren't martial arts business owners, but they are finding value in just the transformational journeys of top martial arts business owners.
And for myself as well, the value that I'm getting is just tremendous, because the information shared where I initially started and thought it's all going to be business: it's not, it's the deeper things behind the business. It's the mindset, the transformations and the philosophies that come strong from martial arts that just makes the podcast valuable, and obviously, the information that is being shared. So if you want to help out the show, martialartsmedia.com/itunes and just leave us a review. Five-star reviews boost our rankings, but an honest review would be awesome.
That's it from me, we'll be back again next week with another show. Thanks again for listening, I'll speak to you soon – cheers.
*Need help growing your martial arts school? Learn More Here.