Friday, August 11, 2006

Martial Arts Industry Booming, Changing

TDA Tournament circa 1995
This article from a Connecticut newspaper reminded me of how different the industry is today. I started martial arts over thirty years ago as a kids with a couple of lessons, then, as a teen, began assisting at a local Taido/Aikido school, and teaching "karate" to my friends out of my living room when my parents weren't home. It wasn't until I was about 24 and started working for a Master Kim in Baltimore, that I realized just how much money you could make in the business, and within two years, was a part-owner of three schools. At the time, we tried everything to make it a viable business, and combined, we had 800 students in the three schools. I learned that:

  1. You have to control expenses - keep your rent and labor costs as low as possible.

  2. Build a community network by participating in neighborhood events like festivals and parades. Practice and show goodwill by giving away free women's self-defense, and holding charity tournaments and kick-a-thons for free publicity and to build your name.

  3. Continually advertise via direct mailers, good signage, yellow pages, and word-of-mouth/referrals.

  4. Despite all that, it's tough to make it.

Once I found out that my wife and I were to have our first child, my whole mindset changed, and I realized that I didn't want to be working 10-10 almost every day. Eleven years ago, I got out of the business, and, gradually, back into teaching for the love of it. I put my white belt back on and took classes from other instructors, and seminars- things you have no time for as a full-time instructor/owner. I enjoy it just as much, and am a much better martial artist, though my technique isn't the same and I am forty pounds heavier!

One thing that my former partner told me was that the classes themselves don't really make up the bulk of his income anymore - he now runs "camps" after school, and all day during the summer which make up most of his income. He also charges more than we used to, about $115/month per student, and folks are willing to pay it. Anyway, I am happy for him, as he's making the money we always dreamt of, and I am actually doing and learning more than I used to, while being with my family at night, and not worrying about making payroll, rent, and inventory. Life is good.

Read the whole article. Here are some excerpts.

Martial Arts Industry Flexes Muscle

Once a cottage industry, martial-arts schools have become big business in Connecticut and beyond

by Melissa Nicefaro
Just over 22 years ago, a movie was released that ignited an entire industry. Ralph Macchio made karate trendy like no one had before. In the wake of The Karate Kid's blockbuster success, interest in the martial arts surged in the United States, jump-starting what previously had been a cottage industry.

"When that movie came out, it shifted the industry in a tremendous way," recalls David Shirley, owner of 11 Villari Studios in Connecticut. "The change was huge. Almost overnight, the business had doubled. Since then, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers have lent one influence after another and really drove the children's market."
...Williams' Academy of Kempo Arts caters to children, teens and adults with varying degrees of commitment. Roughly 50 percent of people stick with it for a while, while the other half lose interest or move on to something else, according to Williams.

"When it comes to children, it depends on the discipline of the parent," he notes. "Some kids rule the household."
As Joseph Moscatelli, district manager for the United Studios of Self Defense's Connecticut schools, explains, instructors need to graduate from the United Studios of Self Defense and the Academy of Professional Martial Arts Instruction in order to teach at his schools.

"Someone who's an instructor with United Studios had to go through a training process on how to teach and run a business," he explains. "We look for students who want to make the transition from a student into a full-time career."

This is Moscatelli's 26th year in the business and he says it's not unusual for martial arts studio owners or managers to be the business for a long time.

"The fellow who runs my Newtown store has been training for six or seven years," he notes. "The person who runs our Ridgefield has been training for 13 years. It becomes more of a career or a lifestyle, where we're very involved in getting as many students as possible who may eventually want to make a career of martial arts."
Moscatelli knows that the industry of martial arts is in a state of constant evolution.

"There are many things that might have been appropriate for someone 100 years ago, but our focus changes to what people need to focus on in the current time," says Moscatelli. "So many studios are mom-and-pop schools and their hours may be limited and run by someone who works a day job and goes in and works a few hours in the evening."

Bob Liedke is a "pop" in the truest sense. He has run the American Institute of Martial Arts in New Haven for 28 years. He admits that summers are slow for business, but he always manages to get through the times of the year when it seems that nobody wants to train.

"I have a cadre of older people who are regular in their habits and therefore I stay in business, where a lot of the other schools will close because students don't come to the classes," Liedke says.

"As you might notice, 90 percent of the students at karate schools are children," Liedke says. "That's where the money is made. You can make $1 million a year in a martial-arts school, but never convey to your students what the martial arts are all about."

He trains in the base martial arts of judo, jiu jitsu, Aikido and karate. The central focus is on self-defense in an atmosphere where everyone is relaxed, there is no aggression and nobody gets hurt. He teaches techniques for diaphragmatic breathing, balance and spinning back and forth so that a student develops balance and movement. Liedke's student roster includes a number of police and correctional officers, doctors and attorneys.

"It's not a large school, but many of the large schools have many kids," Liedke says. "Making kids six or seven years old black belts is laughable. I have made 92 black-belts - but they're not children."

"When students get a black belt, they want to go out and open a school because now they can make money," Liedke says. "That's not the way it goes. Students themselves suffer in the large schools because of the number of students in a class. If you're one of 50 people on the floor and you try to follow the instructor, it is difficult to learn. If you're in a small school, with maybe 50 students in the entire school, there are ten people on the floor.

Read it all.
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