Location, Location, Location

locationThe location of your club can be one of the most important factors in whether the club will be successful or not. There are lots of factors to consider;

Hiring

Types of venue

There are a huge variety of different venues that can be hired for your martial arts clubs. The obvious choices are school halls, community centres, church halls, sports centres, scout hut etc. Really it can be anywhere that is a good size with suitable flooring. You should avoid carpeted floors but wood, laminate, linoleum or concrete should be fine. As a minimum size I would suggest the size of a badminton or squash court. If you are just starting out it would be wise not to jump into hiring a huge full sized sports hall. Start small with a view to expanding later. With this in mind try to negotiate hiring terms for say 3 months at a time so that you can change your venue if needs be.

Costs

The cost of your venue is going to be the main on-going running cost of the club and so it is important to get a good deal for your room. You don’t want to be making a loss on your club so you need to think about how many students you are likely to get and ensure that the price they pay per class will cover the venue hire. Ideally you want a surplus to build club funds to buy martial arts equipment and to give a small buffer for weeks when fewer than expected students come to class. When agreeing the terms for hiring the venue it would be a good idea to suggest paying on either a week by week basis or to pay at the end of a term. You don’t want to pay up front for a long term hire as that would be a large outlay right at the start before you have any money coming in.

Opening hours

When hiring your venue make sure you find out when the room is available. If you are hiring a school hall you need to know if you can get in the hall outside of term time. Having no venue for the school holidays is one sure way to kill your club off. Also check out how you can gain access to the hall. If you are reliant on a key holder or caretaker it could also mean that the venue becomes unavailable when they are not around. Ideally you want a venue that is open year round with easy access or better yet where they trust you as a key holder.

Proximity to other clubs

Have a search for other martial arts clubs in the area. This will be your competition. If you open a club in the same village or town as other clubs then you are going up against established clubs to try and grab a share of the available students in the area. Sometimes this is unavoidable and to be fair most places have at least one martial arts club in operation already. If the other clubs are completely different styles then you will not be in too much conflict but if there are clubs doing your style then it might be an idea to look elsewhere. Some associations try to ensure their clubs do not encroach on each other and have a set minimum distance for how close clubs can be to each other. In some cases it can be quite handy to be close to another club within the same association or style as you can form an alliance and complement each other by offering instructor cover for each other’s class to cover holidays or sickness.

Catchment area

When picking a venue try to get a feel for the population in the local area. If there is a secondary school close by then there should be a large number of teenage children in the local area. Look out for other local community groups such as Scout troops or Brownies to give an indication if the area can support youth groups. A venue near a new housing development might be able to attract younger families and people that are new to the area looking for clubs to integrate into their new area. Just try to get a feel for if the location can provide enough students for your club to be a success. A village hall may be cheap to hire but if it is in a village with very few homes made up of mainly pensioners then it might be an idea to give it a miss unless of course that is your target market.

Other facilities

There are some other considerations when looking at a venue that are not as important as the ones listed above but these can make the difference when choosing between one venue and another.  These are more like the icing on the cake.

  • Parking – Is there adequate parking for students at the venue or, at the very least, a safe area for students to be dropped off and picked up?
  • Transport links – Is the venue close to good transport links? Bus stop, train station, cycle lanes, for example.
  • Storage – Does the venue have any permanent storage space where you can safely store club equipment? If you can leave large bulky items like martial arts pads, free standing punch bags, mats etc. it will save you having to transport them to and from each class.
  • Equipment Share – Does the venue already have shared equipment that can be used by your club? Some schools and community centres will have basic equipment like mats, cones, hula hoops, foam balls etc. These can be useful for training in some circumstances if the venue will allow you to use them.
  • Kitchen facilities and chairs – If you have a class for children and the parents are staying to watch the children then a venue that has tea and coffee making facilities and chairs could be useful.  If you get some parents on side to run a tea bar then you may have an extra way to generate some club funds too.

Buying permanent premises

I don’t know much about this as I would say the majority of clubs in the UK use a hired venue but I know there are some studios which have a permanent base. I have seen some clubs that have a permanent studio in a converted industrial unit on an industrial estate or clubs where a church hall has been bought and converted into a studio. The advantages of having your own permanent studio are obvious; It is yours, you can gain access easily and have classes whenever the time suits you, you can lay it out exactly as you want it and you can leave equipment set up. However unless you are wealthy enough to buy the premises out right you will need to take out a mortgage to pay for it and that means you need to be looking at class fees to cover it. It can be done but you will need a lot of students or high class fees to take care of this. It works for some but for most part time instructors hiring a venue is the way to go.

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What kind of Martial Arts Club are you going to run?

A bad mix?

What kind of club are you going for?

Class Ethos

Before opening your club you need to think about the kind of club you are starting. There are many different styles and within each style many variations and then each club has its own particular way of doing things. Here are some things to consider;

Traditional vs Modern

Are you going for a traditional martial art steeped in history and tradition such as Shotokan or Tang Soo Do are you looking at a newer sport based art such as Tae Kwon Do or MMA? In many ways the style you are teaching will dictate a lot of the way you do things. Traditional styles are often more formal than the newer counterparts with students expected to bow to instructors and call senior grades Sir or Ma’am. You need to decide if you want students to call you by your first name or for them to use your surname and title i.e. Mr or Mrs when talking to you. I think it sets a level of respect to have the students using Mr or Mrs but this may not be appropriate for less formal sport based arts.

Class Demographic

What do you expect the make up of your class to be? The type of class you run will be influenced by the types of students that you are teaching. Do you want to teach children only, adults only or mixed family groups? Are you expecting to teach both men and women?

Children

If teaching children you need to think about the minimum age that you will take them from. I would suggest any younger than 5 years old would be difficult to teach due to lack of concentration and coordination etc. There are also implications of teaching younger children.  You need to decide if you require parents to remain in the room while the class is on or whether parents can drop the kids off and pick them up later leaving you in charge of their offspring. Younger children are likely to need frequent toilet breaks during a class, for example, and they may need an adult to accompany them. You may require helpers to be able to do this while you run the rest of the class if parents are not around. You should seek parental consent if they are not going to be present for things such as applying basic first aid. You never know if you are going to have to put a plaster on a child and if they are allergic to the adhesive you need to know. In fact you need to know about any allergies or medical conditions for both children and adults and have things like inhalers on hand for asthmatics, for example. You should also be CRB checked before working with children. I write more on this subject in one of my other posts.

Children have a shorter attention span and so classes should be kept fairly short and serious training should be interspersed with fun activities. You should be looking at an hour to an hour and a half maximum class time for younger children. You may decide to have a separate class for younger children outside of the main class so you can tailor it specifically for that age group. Some associations have Little Dragons or Tiny Tigers programs which have a modified training program for youngsters so that is something to think about.

Adults and mixed Family Classes

If you have an adults only class they may expect a completely different style of training to a mixed family class. Some people come to martial arts as a hobby, to keep fit, to socialise etc. these are all good motivations. Others are coming to learn how to fight and defend themselves and expect hard techniques and semi or full contact. Most are looking for a nice balance between all of these things but your class can go to either extreme. You need to decide what your class is going to be and make this known to students when they join. If you have a family class with light contact and friendly atmosphere you don’t want students joining that are expecting full contact sparring and teaching of lethal techniques. Similarly if you are running a class for adults that give and receive full contact strikes you don’t want to bring young children into that atmosphere as it will dilute the training for the existing members and could be dangerous for the children.

Don’t be afraid to split your classes up into different groups if you find it difficult training across family groups. Many clubs have a children’s class, an adults and older children’s mixed class and a senior grades advanced class. Some clubs even run female-only classes for ladies that are not comfortable training in a male atmosphere. Split it in a way that works for you.

Other considerations

Do you plan to cater for physically disabled or learning disability students? This may not be something that you feel equipped to deal with; on the other hand, it may be that you are actually planning to specialise in teaching these students.Either way you need to know what to say and do if you are approached by a potential student with these issues. Talk to your instructor about this to find out if they have dealt with this before and find out any special considerations.

Do you have a maximum age limit? You may plan to run a class aimed specifically at over 60’s and be geared up for that but if not you need to know any considerations to put in place for older students. In theory there shouldn’t be an upper age limit and, in practice, it is the fitness of the student that counts and not how many candles they had on their last birthday cake; however you need to be aware of limitations for more mature students.

Competition and unique selling point

There are thousands of martial arts clubs across the country with probably at least one or two already in your village or town. When starting a club look at the competition to see what else is being taught in the local area. I also mention this in my post about studio location but you need to see what is out there and what you can do to differentiate yourself from the others so that students beat a path to your studios door rather than going elsewhere. As a new instructor you are already at a disadvantage to every other club because all of the others are established and have experienced instructors while you are the newbie. Don’t let this put you off, just think what you can offer that the others are not or cannot. You can differentiate on many of the points raised above; for instance, by offering a kids only class, a ladies self-defence class or an older persons class. You can offer your classes for cheaper prices than the competition until you are established. You can offer classes at a more convenient time than other groups. A children’s class run as an after school club may do well, for example, whereas a weekend class for adults might be more successful for working men and women. For my club we push the fact that we are a family friendly club as our USP and this seems to be working well for our area. I like to think that as martial artists we all respect each other’s arts so I would not suggest making your USP that your art is better than the one currently being taught in your local area. It is better to say what is good and different about your club than bad mouthing the other club.

If you are offering a different style to all of the other local clubs and as long as the area is not saturated with martial arts clubs then you should be alright to open your club in that area. You could even open in the same venue as other clubs. However I would not suggest opening a club right on another clubs doorstep if you are both practising the same style. In fact I would suggest looking for a venue that is around 10 miles away from the nearest club practising the same style. This may be hard to do in practise but if you manage it you will have your very own catchment area for students and are not encroaching on somebody else’s established area. It would be beneficial for you to get in touch with local clubs practising the same style and form a loose alliance especially if you are part of the same governing association. By doing this you can share knowledge, provide cover for each other’s classes for holidays, illness or emergencies and even think about inter club competitions.

Mission Statement

If you want to be professional you should know exactly what type of club you are going for. In business companies often create what they call a mission statement to outline the ethos, philosophy and direction of the company. I think that it is a good idea to write out a mission statement for your club. It doesn’t have to be a work of Shakespeare. A couple of lines should do it but it should clearly outline the vision you have for your new club. Here are some examples;

  1. “We are a family club with a friendly atmosphere training a mixture of children and adults in the traditional art of xxx to give them the benefits achievable by following this art”.
  2. “We are an adults only club that train hard to get the very best results for our students so that they can compete to the very highest level”.

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Are you up to the job of being a Martial Arts Instructor? – Part 2

InstructorsPersonal Traits

Being a martial arts instructor is not just about being able to do great karate moves. You also need certain personal attributes which I will outline in this post.

Confidence Game

Ask yourself this question. Have you ever seen a shy and retiring martial arts instructor? Whether the instructor is a shouter, a high energy motivator or a quiet reflective type, one thing that all martial arts instructors have in common is an air of confidence. That is not to say that you have to be a naturally confident person to be an instructor. I have to admit that I was by no means a confident public speaker before opening my club but you need to give off the impression to the students that you take everything in your stride and leading the class is as natural to you as breathing. That may be had to do when your heart is pounding in your chest but I promise that with the familiarity of teaching a class the confidence does come and the nerves subside. The important thing is the perception of the student. Speak with a clear voice, try not to stumble over your words and be confident when demonstrating techniques. Take comfort in the fact that in the early days your students will be beginners so will not know if you have made a tiny mistake in performing a move or in pronouncing a foreign word, for example. You should of course try to do everything correctly, but instructors are human too and so the odd mistake is bound to happen. The trick is not to let it put you off. Just continue as if it hadn’t happened and resolve to get it right next time.

Good Communication

It is important to be an effective communicator. If you have reached the point where you are ready to instruct you undoubtedly have a lot of knowledge stored up in your head. Now you need to find a way of conveying that to your students. Think about how your instructor described techniques to you. You will inherit some of their ways; after all they got you to where you are. You may have also found some areas where you wished things had been explained differently to you. That is fine, think what worked for you and try to use that when explaining to your students. There is no better feeling than when you have a student finally master a move that they have been struggling with because you have managed to explain it to them in a way that they can understand. When that light bulb moment occurs you know you are on the right track.

Remember that you need to be able to communicate to a large group and also on a one to one basis. Depending upon the make up of your class you could also be dealing with a mixture of ages. You sometimes need to talk differently to children when compared to adults so take this into account. You don’t want to alienate your adult students with patronising language and conversely you don’t want to leave younger students confused by using language they do not understand. If you have children in the class you also need to be prepared to be able to talk to the parents which can be another different prospect to talking to students directly.

Patience

An instructor must have a huge amount of patience. You may be fantastic at what you do and be used to working with people of a similar level but now you are going to be dealing with absolute beginners. Try to remember back to your first classes and inability to perform even basic moves that now come naturally after years of practise. Some of your students will be almost naturals whilst others will seem like they are never going to get it. As the instructor you need to show patience and never get angry or despondent with the students. Imagine the joy when they get the technique nailed.

Good Character

As an instructor you are going to be a role model to your students and to some extent be a leader in the community. With this comes a responsibility to be of demonstrable good character. If you are a drinker or a smoker you should try not to let your students see you doing these activities and you should ensure that you do not turn up to class with the smell of either on you. Do not use bad language in earshot of students. Basically don’t do anything that could bring a bad reputation to your club.

Fitness and Flexibility

The instructor should be a shining example to the students and should strive to be the best in the class. I am a great believer that the Instructor should lead by example and that you should never ask students to do something that you cannot do yourself. If you ask the students to perform 50 push ups then you should be able to comfortably do this yourself and if possible you should get down and do them with them so that they know you can. The same goes for flexibility. A lot of martial arts moves depend upon the flexibility of the practitioner and so the instructor should have good flexibility and be able to demonstrate this to the students. On the flip side if you are extremely fit and flexible you still have to recognise the abilities of the students in front of you. It is great if you can do 100 sit ups without breaking a sweat but don’t expect white belt juniors to be able to keep up and complete the same number of reps.You are there to teach, not to show off how good you are.  It is a matter of balance between inspiring your students with your ability without pushing them beyond their limits.

Can you afford the Time?

If you are at a proficient enough level to consider instructing in a Martial Art then you will have already invested a lot of time into training and have demonstrated commitment. Now that you are going to be an instructor the level of commitment is going to increase even more. As a student if you don’t turn up to class you are letting yourself and your instructor down but you can’t not turn up for your own class. This means week in, week out, for one or more nights a week you have to be available to lead a class. Unless you have other instructors that can cover for you then you will have to close the class whenever you are unavailable. Do this enough times and the students won’t come back. On top of the teaching time you also need to have time set aside for the promotion and administration of the club as well as for preparing lessons etc. It all adds up to quite a few hours a week and added to your own regular training it could end up too much for a long suffering spouse. If you can’t commit to this long term then this is not for you and you would be better off being a helper in somebody else’s club.  Anybody joining your club has the right to expect you to be in it for the long haul. It takes years of training to even reach black belt so if you don’t think you will be around for that long then it is unfair to even start. You don’t want to be in a position where you close the club leaving your students high and dry without achieving the rank that they could have done.

Decision Time

If after considering all of these things you are still ready to become a Martial Arts Instructor then great. I am glad I did not put you off. You are in for such a rewarding experience. Read on to the following posts to find out the practicalities of starting and running a successful Martial Arts Club.

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Are you up to the job of being a Martial Arts Instructor? – Part 1

Martial Arts Instructor Choice

Decide if you are up to it.

Qualities of an Instructor

The first, and maybe the most obvious, question to ask yourself is; are you good instructor material? It is worth taking a pause to consider this. Not everybody is cut out to be an instructor and those that are not up to it would be better off staying as a student rather than inflicting bad teaching on a new generation.

Experience and Ability

An instructor should have experience in the martial art that they are proposing to teach and be knowledgeable about the techniques that the art is comprised of. Students will be coming to you as an expert and a teacher. You would not expect to pay for guitar lessons from somebody who had never played the instrument and the same applies with martial arts.

Not everybody believes in the belt system but it is usually a good indicator of the proficiency of the martial artist so in my opinion an instructor should at least hold a black belt that has been awarded by a reputable association. This should ensure that the instructor has undergone a minimal amount of instruction and has demonstrated that they can perform the required techniques.

Apprenticeship and Certification

A lot of martial arts associations are protective of their reputation. They don’t want bad instructors representing them and so they have their own conditions for becoming an instructor. If your new club is going to be affiliated with an association then you need to find out what the requirements are. Some associations will expect you to have completed a minimum number of hours teaching within another class. This is a kind of apprenticeship where you have the opportunity to lead parts of the class under the supervision of another instructor. Even if this is not a requirement of the association I would recommend you ask your instructor if you can do this anyway. If nothing else it will give you a flavour of what teaching will be like and help you decide if it is right for you. Some associations may even have a formal instructors certification program with tests (both physical and written) required before you can call yourself an instructor. If this is required then take the test and get the certificate as this will give further proof to any of your prospective students that you know what you are doing.

Keep Training

If at all possible you should continue to be a student under your instructor while running your own club. This will ensure that you continue to learn and grow within the martial art and have new things to show your students. It also means that you can progress your own rank and maintain your fitness levels and flexibility. Teaching can be physically demanding but nowhere near as demanding as training as a student. I would suggest that if you teach once a week you should try and attend another class twice a week. If you teach twice or more a week I would still suggest that you train once a week with your instructor if possible.