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06 September 2013

On Certified Ranks and Others

In my last post, I mention that I only intend to hire certified brown belts or above to coach at my dojos. Most judo players in the United States have no difficulty with that concept, but I know quite a few who might have some qualms with that. I’m addressing that situation today.

I “grew up” in judo outside the national organizations by the deliberate choice of my father and his judo beliefs. I started in 1989, took a break in 1995 while I served in the United States Navy (couldn’t find any judo schools during that time), and restarted in 2001. I finally achieved a black belt in 2005, but it was not a sanctioned belt until 2008. Since that time, I’ve been promoted to third degree black belt under the auspices of the United States Judo Association. Now that my history is out of the way, I’d like to talk about what growing up in such a way was like.

I’d never heard of sanctioning bodies until I got back into judo in 2001. My dad never mentioned it and he was my go-to guy for judo for a very long time. As long as he or his students were around, rank and learning were never an issue, or so I thought. In 2003, I traveled to Florida to work for Walt Disney World. Prior to my departure, I signed up for USJA because there were no Yawara clubs in Florida and if I wanted to practice (Duh!) I need to be a card-carrying member of the club. It was a great time and a wonderful opening of my eyes to judo outside of Yawara, but then I went back “home” and didn’t need to worry about it again.

By the time I was up for black belt, I’d not been paying any attention to USJA and so my points and promotions got out of line. “No worries,” I thought, we’ll get it all lined up and ready when I need it. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen the way it was supposed to for a variety of reasons including moving away from the club at my college and my dad dying in 2008. Syncing rank when there’s no one around is difficult under normal circumstance and impossible when one irritates one’s “instructor.” So, by 2012, I had been condemned to remain a Shodan for life.

Finally, in 2012, after numerous clinics, events, and two clubs that I run, awarded my Sandan. I, point-blank, refuse to let my students suffer under the same weights that I suffered. While I admire my dad and value every rank he ever signed off on (my shodan and nidan awards are my most prized rank certificates), once he died the organization he established lost its way and the cult of personality began. My students will never have to suffer that fate because their ranks will be certified.

Enough of my personal judo history and feelings regarding that!

The certified rank: Is it really better? I don’t think it’s better or worse, but it is recognized nationally as a minimum standard of competence. I think that the knowledge behind the rank is more important than the rank itself because the rank is only recognition of your knowledge. If you are demonstrably over-ranked, you and your students suffer from the stigma of insufficient knowledge and excessive rank. If you’re demonstrably under-ranked you and your students will have a hard time progressing and may be accused of deliberately under-ranking for competitive reasons. Neither situation is good, but I’d rather be under-ranked than over-ranked.

Teach your students well. Provide them with excellent learning opportunities and excellent coaching. If you do your part right, their rank will show through. Others may suggest that you or your students are prepared and ready for their next rank. If those others are well-respected and well-qualified, they provide good backing and external verification for those promotions. Don’t let your students suffer because you have an issue with the national organizations. Maintain your certifications and rank for their sake.

Let me know what you think of this idea, post in the comments below or e-mail! Don’t forget to like the Roswell and New Mexico Military Institute Judo Clubs on Facebook!



04 September 2013

Part Three: Coaches: What do you need? (Third of a Three-Part Series)

I’ve talked about the instructional staff in general and instructors, specifically, so far. Now it’s time to cover coaches.

Coaches are different than instructors. Even if your coaches are instructors as well, in their role as a coach the outcome is different. A coach is not there to teach a student how to perform a technique; the coach is there to help the student perform their techniques better.

Better is kind of a nebulous term so let me clarify with respect to judo. Judo teaches students how to use physics effectively to vanquish a partner through a variety of techniques. Competitive judo requires less breadth and more depth with regard to the amount of judo a competitor knows. The competitor must have a family of techniques that works together smoothly and the competitor must be able to apply these techniques at will with speed and power.

The coach of any judo student, whether the student is a competitor or not, aids the student in developing smoothness, speed, and power using a variety of drills and supplemental skill development tools. In a novice student, this may include concentrating on repetitions for basic skills development or movement drills to encourage application against a moving partner. Advanced student should have chained drills that flow from the seven components of a technique (Approach, Grip, Set-up, Entry/Attack, Execution, Combination, and Transition to Ne-waza).

SIDE NOTE: I actively discourage novice students from competing in most tournaments because I want my students to be prepared for the variety of negative aspects that come from trying to win at all costs that can occur in some tournaments. I actively encourage novice students to compete in tournaments/divisions that are designed for novice students.

So, with all that said, what should a dojo owner look for in a prospective coach?

I look for a few things in a coach. Obviously, you want reliability and other basic elements of a dedicated employee. Above that, however, I look for someone who has a competitive bent and works well with students. I want someone who understands that people are different and working with each person is a unique exercise. As for judo skills, I push people to take courses in coaching no matter who gives the course. I especially encourage USJA coaching courses. I also won’t let anyone who’s not a certified brown belt or above (USJA, USJF, USA Judo) coach judo for me.

Now, those are the basic qualifiers. Is that it? Absolutely not, unfortunately some of the other elements are less tangible for me to describe right now. I like to get an idea of the person who wants to coach. Mostly, like any employment situation, my concern is how well they fit with the environment of my dojo. Does their personality complement the personality of the dojo or will discord arise. A dojo should be harmonious; clashes create discord and that brings the whole thing down.

Why do I emphasize certified brown belts or above? The simple reason for that qualifier is because the students who get their coaching compete. Their coach needs to be able to sit matside (even if they don’t actively coach during a match). If the coach is barred from sitting matside because they aren’t credentialed, the competitor is disserved. I’m not going to go into whether the Big Three are right, wrong, not the only place to learn judo, or whatever in this post because it’s a subject for a different place.

Remember the goal of the coach is the refinement and enhancement of performance not the instruction of new skills. The coach’s success shows by improved results not by new skills. That means that a coach should monitor, track, and analyze performance results over the course of a competitor’s career. Data gathering is a necessary component for the coach!


Let me know what you think of this idea, post in the comments below or e-mail! Don’t forget to like the Roswell and New Mexico Military Institute Judo Clubs on Facebook!


26 August 2013

Part Two: Instructors: Buy or Build (Second of a Three-Part Series)

Wait a minute! Buy or build, what do you mean? I can imagine some people are saying just that right about now. I promise, I’ll explain!

Part one talked about the differences between the two main types of instructional staff and even touched on the term sensei. Part two’s only talking about instructors and how you get them. You can hire them from outside sources (Buy) or you can train them yourself (Build) from your own students. Both methods have advantages and disadvantages; it’s up to you to decide which you want. I’ll talk about just a few.

First, if you don’t run a martial arts school and you’re not a martial artist and you don’t know any martial artists, you need to learn a martial art first. If you do run a martial arts school or you are a martial artist, this is decision time. Do you really want to run a martial arts business or will it just be a club where a bunch of people get together, hangout, and do some martial arts? If you want a social club, this can help. If you want a business, pay attention.

Instructor qualifications are critical. Decide on the goals of your business, layout what you need, and fill that instructor position to further your business goals. So, what are good qualifications for a martial arts instructor? Simply put, the instructor has to be at level where he or she can teach, usually a black belt but some arts (like Brazilian Jiujitsu) have instructors as low as Blue Belt; he or she has to be able to successfully transfer knowledge form instructor to students, yes plural you don’t want a private instructor as your primary instructor for a business; he or she has to be able to develop lessons and use standards to guide the program. In other blog posts (here, here, here, here, here, here, etc.), I’ve talked about some of the ways to develop lessons and program schedules.

Now, how can you evaluate an alleged instructor to know if they’re telling you the truth or if they’re sunshine salesmen? The truth is, like any employee you don’t know in advance, it’s very difficult. I suggest having them tryout and run a class to show you their instructional style. When you interview them, ask them to bring sample lesson plans or training programs they’ve developed, especially if they’ve implemented them and can tell you about how well the plans actually worked. Question them about their philosophy of instruction for youth and adults (a hint: if they say they’re the same, they’re the wrong people to hire!). Of course, check their credentials with the right sources (national or international governing bodies, previous schools, even martial arts fora like Bullshido, JudoForum, and others).

So, the meat of the post is buying or building, what is best? What is the difference? Buying is basically hiring someone you didn’t teach at all and having them teach your martial arts classes. Building is training someone to be an instructor for you and hiring them to teach your martial arts classes. Let’s talk about those a bit more in depth.

Buying an instructor is an ideal solution for the first time martial arts school owner who doesn’t know much or can’t teach but has the money to start a business. In this case, you can hire a qualified and competent instructor to teach the classes while you handle the background aspects. Unfortunately, if you hire an instructor like John Kreese from The Karate Kid (that’s the bad sensei), you’ll end up with a lot of injuries and probably some lawsuits. Or, perhaps you hire someone who’s made up their own martial art (this happens a lot in the U.S.). Either way, eventually your reputation will be ruined. Sometimes, you’ll need to buy an instructor to teach something you can’t, say a competitive class for national and international level competitors or maybe to add a martial art (like adding Brazilian Jiujitsu or Karate if you don’t teach them) to your school’s offerings.

Building an instructor takes a long time. Even if they started somewhere else and are almost ready to teach. The biggest reason it takes so long is because you have to know how to teach people how to teach (that looks repetitive, but it’s not). If you can teach people to teach, you also have to teach them the way things need to be done in your school and, most importantly, WHY! I’m a big believer in understanding why things are done a certain way because, if you know why, you can modify everything to accomplish the task without sacrificing the underlying character of the school or yourself and the student learns what they are supposed to learn. If your school has been around long enough, you should be building your own instructors pretty easily, but if it’s newer, it’s hard.

Again, building or buying is your choice. Think about what you need, whether you can provide it, and whether what you want is available at a price you’re willing to pay. Then make your decision.


Let me know what you think of this idea, post in the comments below or e-mail! Don’t forget to like the Roswell and New Mexico Military Institute Judo Clubs on Facebook!


23 August 2013

Part One: Instructional Staff (First of a Three-Part Series)

Since I didn’t really talk about instructors last time, today (and the next two blogs) are about instructors and coaches. Every martial arts dojo has to have instructors (coaches, sensei, whatever you call them). Without instructors, perpetuating the arts is a very difficult task. Today is a general discussion about instructing, coaching, and whatnot with regard to what I’ve seen and what I think are good.

I was at a United States Judo Association (USJA) national coaching certification last year and one of the guest clinicians was Hayward Nishioka. For those of you who don’t know Hayward, let’s just say that there’s almost nothing in judo that he hasn’t done (written books, competed/coached/refereed at the international level, taught, etc.). Hayward mentioned that teaching and coaching are two very different things and I wholeheartedly agree.

So, let’s look at the difference between a coach and an instructor. Coaches are for sports and their goal is winning. Instructors teach and their goal is transference of knowledge from the instructor to the teacher. Instructors may coach and coaches may teach but their reasons for doing so are wildly different. If you run a club that does any competition at all, you need both. If you don’t, you should have both.

An instructor should be your first your first hire in a martial arts dojo, especially if you are starting with no clients. He should be able to teach fundamental concepts, principles, and techniques to your students whether the students are 6 or 60. He doesn’t need to be an Olympic or international champion, but he does need to understand how to relate to any student and help them learn. I’m in favor of a teacher that thoroughly understands the fundamentals at a basic level over one who knows a few things really well.

A coach should be your second on-the-mat hire regardless of whether your students compete or not. The coach’s job is to help your students master the techniques in practical applications. Drill and repetition under a wide variety of opportunities help the students develop their techniques differently that a regular instructor will teach them. If your students are competing, the coach can help them understand the rules of the tournament and develop specific strategies and tactics for competitive success.

Over time, your school grows and gains many more students. As you grow and gain, remember that large classes with extremely high student-teacher ratios limit real student growth, especially in grappling arts where seeing what’s being done is difficult. As a general rule, I like to keep my adult student ratio at about 1:10 and my youth student ratio about 1:6. If you have a striking art and you can teach larger groups and see everything, I encourage you to maximize your ratio, but too much isn’t good.

You’ll notice I said nothing about sensei or any of the other (Chinese, Korean, etc.) terms usually used for the teacher. I, personally, don’t believe that everyone who is a teacher or even a black belt is a sensei for martial arts. Certainly, the term is used generically in Japanese educational classes, but for a martial artist, it bears a peculiar meaning. The term also starts being overused and, in some cases, begins to deify the teacher. When an instructor is looked at as being infallible and the students feel they can’t ask questions, you begin the process of forming a martial arts cult rather than a school. On the other hand, when students only question and never do what they’re instructed, you have a debate club rather than a martial arts school. In both of these cases, your instructor needs better training in running a class. May I suggest Harry Wong and Fred Jones? They worked wonderfully for me!



Let me know what you think of this idea, post in the comments below or e-mail! Don’t forget to like the Roswell and New Mexico Military Institute Judo Clubs on Facebook!

21 August 2013

Staffing for Judo

Gerald Lafon commented on Monday’s post saying “The key will be staffing and good equipment.” I absolutely agree with that. That’s what we’re discussing today: Staffing at the martial arts dojo. I’m putting this in the perspective of the business owner not the customer.

A martial arts dojo is like every business because it has employees. The big difference is that some of its employees are teachers. Most dojo seem to think that the most important people in the dojo are the instructors, that is why the business exists, right? Napoleon, in discussing logistics, said, “An army travels on its stomach.” A business, similarly, works because of its support people.

Let’s start with the instructors. Every instructor brings a unique perspective to teaching the martial arts to students. Some instructors are ultra-traditionalist while others go to the other end of the spectrum and teach only to compete. Finding someone who can find that middle ground is difficult. Cultivating your own instructors, while seriously time consuming, is a good way to develop the right fit for your organization.

Next up is the background staffing. The professional martial arts dojo needs to be a professional environment. That means having someone who can manage the office. Whether you have a big dojo or a small one, having someone that knows how to make an office run smoothly will make the instructor’s job easier because he or she isn’t busy trying to do every other thing. Your office manager should understand basic bookkeeping, customer relations, retail management, and employee relations at a minimum. He or she doesn’t need to be an expert at any of them, but they shouldn’t be completely ignorant of them either.

So what does the office manager in a dojo really do? They run the shop. Imagine a typical day at a business: appointments, schedules, ordering, invoicing, collecting, banking, bill paying. These are the primary tasks of an office manager. That person makes sure all the calendars, schedules, and appointments are getting taken care of so the business has a steady stream of students and classes for the instructors which is where a large volume of income comes from.

The retail side of the business (ordering, invoicing, and collecting) are where the money comes in and goes out to support operations. The retail side of a business consists of tuition and scholarships, uniform and equipment sales, and other income from operations (books, dvd’s, etc.). Tuition really has nothing that needs ordering because it’s the training and your instructors teach that. Uniforms, equipment, and other orderable inventory have to be tracked, stocked, ordered, and so on to make sure that enough of everything is on hand to make sure that new students receive their uniforms so they can start judo in uniforms and customers who want to buy things don’t have the chance to change their minds while the product is on order. All of this needs to have a coordinator; that’s your office manager.

After the office manager, you could have as many other positions as you want. I suggest small staffs to start out and grow as your business does. For example, if you have to have a lot of retail sales for uniforms and equipment on a regular basis, have a retail clerk, but if you don’t, don’t.

Finally, for today, training is critical. Every person in you dojo has to know what the programs are and how to find the prices, that’s a gimme. But more important is customer care and service. Your staff has to know how to interact with customers, potential customers, family members, and friends. That takes a lot of work and a lot of it continuously. Take the time to train them on the best ways for interacting and paying attention to every single person that comes in the door. Friendly is the goal, hovering is not. Language use is critical so pay special attention to helping your staff members understand better ways of communicating with everyone.

Let me know what you think of this idea, post in the comments below or e-mail! Don’t forget to like the Roswell and New Mexico Military Institute Judo Clubs on Facebook!


19 August 2013

Fast Food and the Martial Arts

Last time, I mentioned fast food and consistency. This time I’ll go into a little more depth.

The fast food industry is amazing. In most cases it’s decent food and ultra-simplistic service yet it is huge! Their brand recognition is amazing and they are a $160 billion dollar industry. Most martial arts schools, and especially judo schools, are making barely enough to keep the doors open, just like a lot of the small restaurants.

So, what is the difference between mom-and-pop operations and franchises? At the core, they both perform the same functions. The individual restaurant has recipes, staff, and so forth. If the restaurant has good food, charges accordingly, and manages their expenses correctly, profit comes about. The biggest difference is scale.

With only one location, a restaurant can only profit one time. If a restaurant has two locations, the profit is double. With three, triple and so forth. Of course, this all assumes everything works smoothly and we all know that is an ideal situation. The other aspect of this scale is suppliers and how much less they cost you if you have a stable relationship with them. Credit terms become better and, perhaps, even less expensive.

Let’s recap, a single location that is run well can be just as profitable or more than a franchise operation’s single location but, because of scale, collectively it will be less profitable.

I know what I’ve thought, “Sure, franchise is great, but that only works in retail.” Today I think, “I want to franchise but how?” Simply put, it’s hard work, but if you do it right, profitable. Here’s the way I’m looking to make this work:

The first step for me was actually getting involved with teaching judo. I started at the local recreation center with a very low price-point. Over the past 7 years the price has been steady as has the growth. The biggest issue is student retention, especially through the summer.

My next step is the new storefront location. This will give me full access anytime I want and I’ll have no restrictions for when I can hold classes, clinics, birthday parties, and whatnot. This provides a chance to host classes as many days of the weeks I want and at times I want to have them. I plan to broadly expand my schedule once I have my own location.

The following step comes by stepping back and allowing my assistants to begin being lead instructors. This develops new instructors and helps me to enjoy the programs and develop newer ones to build the growth. It also begins to generate the possible franchisees for the expansion to a second, third, or more locations.

When it’s time to expand, I’ve multiple people, marketing plans, capital, and the next location all lined up. With everything in order, the new location opens, the best lead and a few assistants go there and begin operations. As a wholly owned franchise, I now have two revenue streams for judo flowing to the business. Eventually, following this cycle, the expansion can exponentially expand or by a trickle, whichever is best for the business.


Let me know what you think of this idea, post in the comments below or e-mail! Don’t forget to like the Roswell and New Mexico Military Institute Judo Clubs on Facebook!

15 August 2013

Judo as Business

The title’s combination of words were anathema to my dad and many of the students that learned under him. For a long time I felt the two were irreconcilable. One of the last things my dad told me about judo was, in essence, “it is good to teach judo, but don’t pay for the privilege.”

That’s a very odd sentence construction for an English teacher, as far as I’m concerned. Parsing it, prima facie, implies that teaching judo is good and it shouldn’t cost you to teach, but nor should you make money off it. Originally, I took this to mean that running a judo school should be a zero sum game where everything pays for itself and I end up doing this great charitable work and feeling good while holding down another job to pay for all my other expenses. Unfortunately, even this plan is expensive and doing it right involves dedicating a lot of time to developing a lot of background and doing a lot of work; it is running a “business” even if it is a non-profit.

A few years ago, I pursued a Master of Business Administration degree to help me understand how to run a business. During the course of that program, I learned a lot about business administration and a little about what I would need to do to build a business. I also learned that if I was to do a judo business, my best bet was to run it like a for-profit business and follow the lead of other martial arts and even the fast-food industry if I wanted to enjoy doing judo. By the end of my MBA program, the idea of running a non-profit judo school had almost completely faded away. Today that idea is gone.

 Everyone in the martial arts community has heard the term “McDojo.” If you haven’t yet, a McDojo is a “school” that offers a martial art and “teaches” to generate income rather than develop solid martial arts skills. Frequently McDojos are called “belt factories” because their students are over-ranked or earn their promotions because they’ve been at the school a long time and their payment checks keep clearing. I think McDojos are one of the worst things to happen to martial arts ever because they convince their customers that they are learning martial arts when they are just a source of cash flow.

My personal belief is that franchising, if you want to make money and build a good reputation, is the best way to do it. To lead on from the fast-food industry, let me talk about a few things that they have going for them. The first and most important thing to think about with fast food is consistency. I don’t care if you live in the United States or the United Kingdom or China or anywhere in the world where beef is available; if you order a Big Mac, it’s going to be the same. That’s consistency. In the world of martial arts, consistency is king.

 Judo has been extremely lucky that the names for the major techniques are consistent around the world, i.e. a seoi nage in Japan is basically the same as one in the U.S., Russia, the U.K., France, etc. Unfortunately, the teaching of these techniques is not consistent. I’m not suggesting that biomechanical differences are unimportant. I am saying that every technique should be taught the same way when introducing it. For example, the first time a class is presented with seoi nage the general form and shape of the technique should be the same, in every class! As students learn more and become more comfortable, adjustments need making, but in the beginning, they should be taught the same.