Against all odds…

I just finished reading “The Endurance, Shackelton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition” by Caroline Alexander.

This is the astonishing account of the 1914 sea voyage that nearly claimed the lives of its entire crew multiple times, but against all odds Shackleton and his men survived 2 1/2 years in the Antarctic. 

What struck me the most and the reason I’m writing this post is their relentless pursuit for survival and their “can do” attitude.

The first chapter is appropriately titled, “The Heroic Age” and talks of times when men took on the impossible, smiled in the face of the unknown and took calculated risks to achieve greatness. Despite all odds fear wasn’t something that held them back.

They floated on ice for months, were marooned on the icy wind blown Elephant Island in the middle of nowhere in temperatures as cold as -70 F and winds up to 100 mph. They became sick from an all meat diet and some became frostbitten. They desperately tried to reach civilization in makeshift boats crossing the world’s most perilous ocean…

It’s truly an extraordinary story.

Yet today I hear so many reasons why people can’t do this, and can’t do that. They say they don’t have the knowledge, don’t have the skill, don’t have the time, don’t have the money, don’t have the [insert whatever excuse you like here] to make an attempt to conquer their fears or pursue their dreams.

Too many people are afraid to get up in front of a group of people and teach a karate class despite having the skills. Some of the most seemingly confident and gifted people are too frightened to take the next step to open their own dojo. Some black belts just become so paralyzed by the fear of failure that they quit before they even begin…

It’s an incredulous thought that so many people have so many excuses for undoubtedly far less challenging tasks than Shackleton and his crew faced nearly 100 years ago.

But not you my friend… like Shackleton and his men, you’ll stare the unknown in the eye and take the next step. You’ll conquer your fears and pursue your dreams. And unlike Shackleton you have the tools and resources readily available to make it happen right now.

Ask yourself what’s your next step? What’s the one thing you can do right now to set your ship sailing, and conquer your own ocean?

Paying Attention to Your Students…

For most of us what makes it enjoyable as instructors is to have students who enjoy attending our classes and seeing their skill sets develop.

However there’s one major factor that delays many instructors (particularly those new to teaching) in achieving teaching success…

If you want your classes to grow in numbers, become a better martial arts teacher, or simply just make sure your sailing is smooth, there’s one thing above all else you’ve got to do… and that is to be sensitive to your student’s abilities and limitations.

What do I mean?

I mean it’s important to pay attention to each and everyone of your students. Pay attention to the little details. Realize that each student is unique and has different obstacles to overcome. They may possess stronger skills in one area and weaker skills in another.

Some may have flexibility issues, old injuries, mental and/or physical disabilities. And some require motivation, reassurance or simply need to toughen up. And as sure as the sun coming up tomorrow you can count on the fact that you’ll have people who learn and process information in different ways.

A savvy instructor realizes all of these factors affect not only how they teach, but their student’s training routine.

Novice instructors often overlook this and take the drill sergeant approach… my way or the highway, you don’t like it, leave, etc. When what’s really required is some sensitivity from us as instructors to know our students and know them well.

If someone isn’t performing to their ability, it’s your job to figure out why. The easy cop out is to say, “They’re just having a bad day” or “I showed them how to do it. It’s their fault if they can’t.”

Really? Is that it? Could it be the way you’re teaching?

Next time you teach, take note of whether or not you’re paying attention to the individual students or are you trying to throw a net over all your class and treat them all the same?

Until next time…

– Jason

When Opportunity Knocks…

Five years ago I was teaching karate part time at the local community center.

My student numbers were growing and my program was expanding, to the point where I had classes running there every day for 3 to 4 hours. One day one of the parents of my junior students approached me and said, “Hey, have you ever thought about opening your own place?”

“Yeah, but rent’s expensive and I really don’t know how to get started”, I responded.

“Well rent doesn’t have to be that expensive. We manage a small business park and have a vacancy. We know the landlord well and can get you in there… if you want?”, John said. “Why don’t you come look at it?”

I was hesitant but thought, “What have I got to lose?”, so John showed me the vacant unit.

It was small.

It was nasty.

It was in a bad part of town.

And it was cheap… around $700 / month.

It was also in really bad shape and needed a lot of work before we could even imagine teaching out of there. John told me not to worry, and that he’d help me get up and running. He told me he’d help with the construction, trash removal, and getting my business set up.

BEFORE

After some consideration, I accepted his proposal and have never looked back. John did everything he said and we worked hard to transform that place into somewhere where I could teach. And that decision allowed us to grow my student base even more.

AFTER

My club wasn’t an overnight success. It took effort. It took persistence. And it took patience. I didn’t instantly quit my job and open a school… it was a gradual transition, a sliding scale if you will. I worked my day job until my first school was successful enough that I could let go of it.

However, that first dungeon dojo was the stepping stone to the fantastic dojo we have now. And had I not answered the door when opportunity knocked, I’d still probably be teaching out of the community center. But instead that decision changed my life and led me to more and more opportunities. In fact we’ve moved our dojo twice since to bigger and better places.

I wanted to share this with you to show you that all it takes is one good decision that can change your life. I went from teaching part time (and getting a part time paycheck) to owning and running a full time karate school.

And there’s no reason why you can’t too…

Sure you’ll be nervous…

Sure you’ll have doubts…

But if you’ve built your student base to where it can cover your expenses (including paying yourself) and you offer great service, the only thing that is stopping you is the story you’re telling yourself.

When opportunity knocks on your door will you an answer it? Or will you let someone else get it?

Until next time…

– Jason

P.S. If I was starting all over again, there are many things I’d do differently to avoid all the mistakes and pain. Had I known about it at the time I would have instantly grabbed a copy of Mike Massie’s martial arts business strategy guide, Small Dojo Big Profits. Read more about it by clicking here…

Pretzels and Sticks…

A few weeks ago I shared with you a simple way to check the geometry of your student’s stances by using a stick, and I promised to share another way you can use a stick to help your students with their kata.

( I know I said I share this with you “next week” all those weeks ago, and now it’s been a month.  It wasn’t intentional to keep you waiting. It simply slipped my mind in all the craziness.)

Anyhow, here is an *extremely* easy way to get your students to get their angles and directions precise for their kata… but before we get to that, let’s talk briefly about the problem.

Let’s say a student has their left leg forward and has just made left oizuki (lunge punch) in zenkutsu dachi (forward stance). Let’s also assume the next move is a 90 degree turn to the left into the same stance with a downward block.

Have you ever noticed that beginners have the problem making the turn all the way? They might step across to their left with their left foot but only go about 75-80 degrees, and try to turn their body the full 90, ending up more twisted than a stale pretzel?

I’m sure you know what I mean, and it doesn’t matter how many times you explain that they must maintain width in their stance and avoid placing one foot in front of the other, some students just don’t get it. They have a hard time joining the dots between what you’re saying and what their body is doing.

So just use your bo staff to help them. Simply lay the staff on the ground at exactly 90 degrees to their first position and tell them that when they step, that their front foot must step to the other side of the stick. This gives your students a visual guide, plus also creates an obstacle to navigate with their step. It will help them pick up their feet and place them correctly.

Have your student practice their stepping for the particular move 10-20 times or however many repetitions it takes for them to get it right. Of course you can use this trick for any angle in any direction in any stance to ensure correct foot placement.

Try it out…

Until next time, keep using sticks on your students.

– Jason