Rank Up Podcast: The 5 Martial Arts School Business Models

By Michael Hodge | Instructors

Aug 14

Listen to This Episode

About This Episode

Let’s look at 5 different business models you could have for your martial arts school. In this episode we will go over the pros and cons of each, and talk about how you might be wasting time and money running a big school, when you could be happier (and have a higher relative income) with a private academy.

  • Part-Time School
  • Full-Time Commercial School
  • Private Academy
  • Online School
  • Private Lessons Only
  • Listener Question: “How did you create your own martial arts style?” -Referring to Ultimate Bo (American Bojutsu).

The 5 Martial Arts School Models

Welcome back to Rank Up where you’ll learn to become an elite instructor and grow your martial arts school. My name is Michael Hodge. I’m the founder of the Global Martial Arts University, which is actually one of the leading online martial arts schools. We also do have an association with instructors and locations around the world. I also do operate a small kids-only private academy here and locally, which I’m going to be talking about some today.

Today’s episode is about the five martial arts school business models. So if you already operate a school or you’re considering starting one, this is a really interesting conversation because we’re going to discuss the pros and the cons of different types of schools. Most people just to go, “I run a martial arts school,” what else is there to it? You could have a mega school, you could have a private lessons-only type of school. There’s different ways you can actually be successful as a professional martial arts teacher that I think a lot of people don’t even consider.

One thing I will point out is that you have to be a good instructor for any of these to work. I mean, that’s really important. That’s why we created this Certified Martial Arts Teacher course. It helps you become a world-class instructor or world-class teacher actually. We call it teacher on purpose. The thing is knowing your business model and marketing and the management side and getting a good school management software and all of these things that sound like bells and whistles that you should have, they’re fine. At the end of the day, you are the product or the instructors that are teaching classes which you’re most likely teaching and training them, right? Ultimately it comes back to how a teacher and instructor you really are. So work on that first before you look at everything else.

This is a great conversation. We’re going to talk about the five models and let me list them first. There’s part-time school, which is just your hobby dojo, a local community-typed school that you run part-time and you have a full-time job still. A lot of people that are listening right now are kind of in that place. There is a full-time commercial school. That’s where you’re all the way in. This is what you do full time, you run your martial arts school. There’s a private academy, which a private academy I’ll talk about cause this is one of the models I currently operates. That’s actually kind of a totally different thing that a lot of people don’t even know about. Then there’s an online school, which of course the GMAU is an online martial arts school, which we’ll talk about a little bit.

Then there’s private lessons only, which how’s that a school now, absolutely. I mean, you will have people that have private lesson-only music schools and different dance schools or whatever. It can be done as well. There are definitely pros and cons to each of these and one model might fit you a lot better than you might realize. You might be currently in a model just because you thought that’s where you needed to be, but you’re actually totally wasting a lot of your time and money and you’re really frustrated for no reason.

I Have Operated 4 of these 5 Models Myself

So the reason why I could even have this conversation is that I’ve actually operated four out of these five models. So I started out with the part-time school model and then I went to full-time commercial school and I started the online school, which has been around for now 11 years. Just two years ago actually, I started the private academy model. Currently, I run two of the models, the online school model, the GMAU and the private academy model, which is called the Global Martial Arts University Kids Academy. The one I’ve never done personally is private lessons only. I’ve done private lessons before, of course, but I’ve never… That was in my only model basically.

Part-Time School

So let’s dig into part-time school. This is where most of you started or most of you will start and that’s not a problem at all. Part-time school means you still work full time or you might be going to college full time, there’s something else and you really love martial arts. You’ve been at it for a while. You obviously are a black belt in this style and for whatever reason, you just really wanted to start teaching. Maybe you are already teaching at your original school, but you wanted to develop out as an instructor in health and in more impactful way, so.

Perhaps you get started by finding a community center, a YMCA, some place where you can just rent it out or simple agreement where it doesn’t cost you that much. There’s not a lot of overhead and you can operate a couple of classes a week. You can still market it and promote it. This could still be very successful with way less overhead actually and with having to sign your own lease, paying all your own utilities and all of that. So that’s one thing about the part-time school. You might even have an actual brick-and-mortar location that you pay for. That’s what I had originally when I started actually.

When I was in high school, my dad started a martial arts school called Texas Karate Academy. I was working there and helping and teaching and doing everything I could to be a part of it. I pretty much started running most of the location when I was 17 years old and it wasn’t a huge, huge school at the time. Once I turned 18, I was legally able to sign the lease and my father actually handed it over to me. At that point in time, we had about 30 something students. I continued to operate what I would call the a part-time school. So I ran it three times a week, three nights a week as I was going to college and it was a good model. I still had the business side to run and I still have the teaching and, of course, our costs were lower. I didn’t have employees.

So it’s a fine place to be. It’s even a place you could be long term and you can really maximize your time and your success with some of the things I’ll talk about in the private academy model. You might transition your part-time school to a private academy, which is essentially what I’ve done, but we’ll go over that a little bit.

So one thing about the part-time school is that you might really want to go all in. There’s a breaking point, really the point where you need to dive in and make this your full-time profession so that it can grow to that hundred, 200 300 student-mark and easily outpaced what you’re earning in your other job, right? So that’s something… That’s really about personal development and making sure you’re in a location like a town, a place that’s big enough like if you’re in a tiny town, it’s possible that it will be hard to sustain 200, 300 students and things like that.

Full-Time Commercial School

Let’s talk about full-time commercial school. So I actually ended up going to full time commercial school. My part-time school decided to go all in and actually lease a new location. It’s a larger space and literally decided to do this full time. So I decided to do that back in 2009 and the full-time commercial school is the whole enchilada like this is it. You have to make it work because you don’t have income coming in from anywhere else.

What’s different about having a full-time school? What’s different is that you’re going to eventually grow it to a point that you’re going to need help. You’re going to have to hire people. The first hire you would make is a front desk person like an administrative assistant. This person can really help you in fielding calls and setting up appointments and taking payments and working with students in between classes while you’re rocking out really great classes and you’re enrolling students. You can actually get to a pretty good point doing all of this on your own with just one part-time front desk person.

If you really want to go past, let’s say a hundred students, you’re going to need an assistant instructor or another instructor that you hire to run other classes. That way you’re not having to run 20 something classes a week, do the marketing, do the business, do the management and do the enrollments, do everything on your own. You’re just going to be at a ceiling.

So employees as part of it, just higher costs. You’re going to have to invest more in general in marketing and making sure you have a good influx of new students throughout the month. It’s not something where you just kind of sit around and wait for a phone call or wait for a web lead. We obviously are going to talk about timeless marketing. We want to make it simple, but there’s going to need to be some outbound work done to grow and have a very good size full-time school.

When it comes to a full-time commercial school, I will point out it’s possible to become an absentee owner. There are some people who have done it. I actually did it in a way for a period of time. I’ll put a major asterisk on that though, and that a martial arts school does require the head instructor or the manager or the owner to be involved in a way that at least infuses and gives the staff the confidence and the guidance they need to do a good job. So that’s a whole nother episode.

Full-time commercial school, I ran one for four years. We got up to around 200 students. We were recognized on the front cover of MA Success Magazine back in 2012. We definitely had a really good operation going on, but actually ended up selling that to one of my instructors in early 2013 and transitioning full-time in a way to the GMAU, which is really what I do full time now running the online school, which we’ll go over in a little bit, so yeah.

So far we’ve talked about part-time school, what it is. We’ve talked about a full-time commercial school, which can clearly be very financially viable and successful. When it comes to the full-time commercial school, I will admit I rolled out of bed. I got to work at 8:00 or 9:00 AM, probably 8:00 AM, and worked until probably about 9:00 PM. So like a 12-hour day that I was doing, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday for sure. Fridays were shorter and then we also worked Saturday from let’s say 8:00 until 3:00. I definitely put in a lot of hours. The way I would explain it is that the first half of the day was about the managing, the marketing, the business side, and then the second half of the day is actually what we call it showtime, teaching, the enrollments, and everything else that happens from 4:00 PM to 9:00 PM.

So definitely something that can burn you out if you don’t manage it properly. I would say we did spend a lot of time and energy on marketing. We definitely wanted to make sure our school was very easy to find and always had an influx of new people coming in the door, which was very beneficial but can also be stressful and a lot of time can be spent on that. I wanted to point that out that in general I was pretty much working more and it was stressful in a way.

Private Academy

Whereas the private academy model that I’m about to talk about, it’s very different than that, so that takes me to private academy. What does that mean? Private Academy is a model that I’m currently using for my local school. It’s a kids-only martial arts school and I’m doing that on purpose.

Private academy is just like a private school. So I explained it to people, this is a kids-only martial arts private academy. This is a private school. I only have 14 spaces in this program for the entire school year. You have to enroll before August 31st in order to be in the program from September until the end of May. It’s just like if you go to a private school. I have reputable private school. You have to pay the yearly tuition upfront or you can pay for it in monthly payments. That’s the tuition cost for the school year. We have limited space. We only have 14 spots for this particular program for the entire year. This is why it’s because we are really the best in the area and not just the martial arts we’re teaching. It’s extremely useful, it’s fun. We’re teaching realistic martial arts. Our instructors, which in this case I’m the only instructor, so has a lot of experience.

The big thing about us is the character development and teaching our students proactive community and leadership engagement. I talked about the character development, assignments and action assignments in different things that we do and given those examples. Currently in my private academy, we’re about to get started again for a new school year in a few weeks and then my entire enrollment is full. I only have three spaces open that I have to enroll. I’m going to do some Facebook posts here and there, maybe ask for some referrals and get those filled. Otherwise it’s already full. I’m not doing any marketing. I’m not sitting around and wondering what’s going to happen. All I know all of my students are ready to return.

I did take the summer off. I took June, July, and August off this year. I’ve never done that before. Last year, I had the private academy actually ran it through the summer, so. I explained that we have the school year, which is from September through May, and then we have a three-month semester and the summer, which pretty much everyone does as well, which all of my students did.

Now you can operate a private academy even with adults. It’s the same idea. I’ll admit it makes it a little bit simpler for kids due to the fact that parents, they understand how private schools work and understand how school already works. You’re not creating some new idea for them. You’re just inserting how your martial arts program fits into that concept. This is game changing though. With the private academy, like I just said, I am not scrapping for leads. I’m not doing outbound marketing a couple hours a day, doing booths, doing lead boxes, making phone calls, setting up birthday parties just to get leads. All the things that you see on a commercial full-time school that you feel like you absolutely have to do or you’re just going to go under because the strip-mall taekwondo school down the street is marketing the heck out of you and they’re going to put you on a business or something like this.

You don’t play in that game. You’re not even in that world. You’re doing something totally different, something much better. I would put my classes and my program up against anyone. It happens to be in a very small low population rural area, which is already kind of funny cause people would never think you could operate a school that’s successful in a town of a thousand people, but I’m proving that it can obviously happen. With the private academy, again, the key is that there is a limited space. There is exclusivity. There is actual registration periods. You don’t just enroll people whenever you want. This is something that I used to do obviously at my full-time school and then most people do.

If someone wants to sign up in the middle of a cycle, let’s say you’re a month and a half in and the next graduation or test is two months from now or a month and a half from now, you signed them up anyway. The next test is three weeks from now. You signed them up anyway. It’s like a confusing improper time for them to really start their training in the middle of a cycle, but you do it anyway just like I just need new students and you just need to get them on the floor. It’s actually not as good of an experience as if they would have started right after the cycle, right? When you start a new rotation cycle right after testing ends, that’s the perfect time for new students to enroll, right?

So even if I have someone drop out for some reason in the middle of my school year, which does happen at my private academy, if it has someone that moves or something happens, I’ll already have a waiting list of a couple of students that want to be in. I told them like, “I’m sorry I have no spaces but as soon as one opens up, I’ll give you a call.” Then I do reach out to them and sometimes they’re still available. If not, I’ll just put out a Facebook post or do some other things and let people know we’re enrolling. The point is though, I don’t let that new students start until after the test.

So I have specific registration and entry periods. I have a set number of spaces. Now I’ll admit my number of spaces was because I’m the only instructor teaching these classes. I’m running on about a 600-square foot floor, so it’s not a huge space. Initially, just thought I was going to have 10 students. So what I did though is I changed it to 12 because I realized I could easily have 12.

Then I went all the way up to 14, but I’m set at 14 now because I can actually teach 14 students and my age 12-year-old program all I have enough space. It’s a little crowded, but I totally have it. What happens is that it’s very rare that all 14 students actually show up. It’s usually 12 students, maybe 12 or 13, due to the fact that someone is sick or something is happening. If you’ve been running a martial arts school for awhile, you know this. You might have that many students, but it’s kind of rare to have everyone show up to every single class.

Point is though, I have those specific spaces. I actually have two eight to 12-year-old program classes. I have earlier time and an evening time, a later evening time. Each of them have 14 students in it, so that’s 28 students. Then I have a homeschool program that can have up to 12 students in it, so basically it’s 40 students. That’s 40 students and I just teach five classes a week. I already have my curriculums organized. I spent a little bit of time planning my classes. Each month I make my new character development sheets and really it’s about walking out on the mat and teaching an amazing class every time I do.

Otherwise I spend very few hours a week on my private academy, not because they don’t care about them if they’re listening to this podcast, it’s not because I’m trying to provide a low quality environment. They know that that I don’t. They know that I walk out there. I show up and I show up and I’m ready. I’m ready with an amazing class. I’m ready with something fresh. I’m ready with a great matchup. I definitely do my preparation, but I’ve been teaching now for over a decade and with experience it does make these things a little bit easier. So that’s what I’m currently doing is I’m running private academy.

Online School

The other model that I currently run is an online school, which is the Global Martial Arts University. We started this back in 2008. Originally, we had our home study courses through DVDs and you would study everything. Then there was a manual and you would film yourself and send in a YouTube video or even a disc sometimes that we would watch watch and grade. We’ve made so many improvements since then. Many of you that are listening know what the GMAU is and some of you are actually students in it and legitimately know it works and it does. It works if these student works, right? It works if they’re actually doing real training, if they’re actually giving effort as they’re watching and following along with our classes.

Then people who are very critical of this are like, “Well, how are they getting feedback? How do they know they’re doing something wrong?” Well, that’s why we have video assignments. That’s why we have video exams. That’s why we actually watch and grade and give comments and have this one-to-one feedback. Actually, you get even more personalized feedback than you do in a school like a live school. Because when you go to a live school if you’re one of like 20 something people that’s in a class, I mean, your instructor of course will come and correct you sometimes, but you’re one of 20. Whenever it comes time for you to do your tests and your assignments with the GMAU, the instructors only focus on you at that exact moment in time. They’re watching your material. They’re grading you. They’re giving you very specific custom feedback.

So it’s very unique situation. Clearly, other critics are like how are you actually getting good at fighting and sparring. Again, if you have a training partner, if you have someone you can physically practice with, we show you how to do the practice. We show you how to do the sparring. We show you how to do that in our programs.

The GMAU if you’re interested in running your own online school or making money as a professional martial arts instructor in this area, well, for one, the GMAU is currently looking for more instructors to launch world-class courses with. We are interested in launching different styles such as kung fu or tai-chi kwon do, just different things like that, and you can always reach out to us. At the bottom of our website, there’s a link that says, “Launch a course with us.” You can get in touch with us there, that’s one thing.

Of course, you can create your own online course by filming your own lessons and classes and you could video test your students in some way. You could have them train with your videos online and then come and take test with you locally. You could give live Skype classes. You could do actual live video private lessons. There are people doing this. You can do video private lessons. There’s lots of options.

Clearly, building something like this from scratch is significantly more difficult than even just opening up a local school, especially with what we’ve done with our own custom technology and a lot of the things we’ve built up over the last decade. It’s definitely possible and it is an option. It is an option. Of course, with an online school, you can teach from anywhere in the world. You could be filming classes and grading exams from… If you’re in Canada and you’d go on vacation to Australia or Africa or wherever you go, you can still be working if you want. You can be anywhere as long as you have an internet connection essentially, right? So there’s that option.

You’re getting to connect with people who might not have the ability to go to a live class and that’s a benefit that we found with the GMAU. They don’t even live near one. They live in the middle of nowhere. There is no martial arts school or they work odd schedules. There’s no way they can make a class.

I just spoke to someone yesterday who… He wants to go to a Krav class but the only one nearby they charge $189 a month, which nothing against them. They probably have a great program, but he’s like, “I can’t pay 189 a month right now with what I earn and what you guys charge is lower on the GMAU and it’s still an option for me to actually get into this cause it’s important to me.” So we’re running an all night school or being a part of one somehow as an instructor like with us or with other organizations is another option, another way to be a professional martial arts instructor.

Private Lessons Only

Okay, so this takes us to our final model, which we’ll talk about today, private lessons only. This is a very interesting model, so not actually running group classes. You only do private lessons at your house or you have a garage dojo on your property or, again, maybe you even rent out somehow some location, some fitness center, some extra room where you do your private lessons, whatever you can work out. Your overhead should be extremely low though on purpose, or you can actually go to people’s houses. You can be a traveling instructor who goes to the student, which again, if you go to the student, please charge extra for that.

Private lessons only is a way to work with students who otherwise might not be interested in going to your group classes. They’re kind of unsure about that. They lack confidence or they have special issues or problems or goals that just don’t match with what you would typically find nearby. Or maybe the only thing nearby is taekwondo and you’re a really awesome self-protection. You used to be a balancer, you do Krav Maga, things like that. You have very specialized knowledge that you could be offering.

One way to do this is to actually have a garage dojo on your property, so. I have a 1,500-square foot building that we built on our property, which is actually where we film some GMAU material. We run the private academy out of here, but it can also be very simple. You could just have literally your garage and turn it into, right, a dojo of some sorts with mats down and make it nice in there for your own training and then you could easily do private lessons in there. No overhead. You’re already having to pay rent to your mortgage or all your expenses anyway.

Again, check into your local business laws and things like that. Sometimes within city limits, outside of city limits, some of these things could have play on what you can and cannot do business-wise on your residential property. Please check on that first, but it’s definitely a viable option. I mean, lots of people are running businesses at their house. I’ve been having headaches as of late, actually went to a massage therapist that has the massage therapy clinic on our property, right. So just another example of it. No overhead, you don’t have to drive anywhere.

With this, you can also go to someone’s house. You can set up packages. If you’re going to do private lessons for people, don’t just have them pay one at a time. Please don’t do that. Set up a package where they buy eight at a time or 16 for a month or whatever it might be. Keep in mind, you should definitely be charging like twice as much as what they would be paying if they went to a local school. Well, let’s say the average local martial arts school where you live charges 150 a month for their group classes. I mean, if they’re going to do something similar to that with you private, definitely going to run them at least $300 a month.

Again, you’ll probably price it per lesson and then give them a discount of some sort when they buy the whole package for the month or whatever. You could easily, let’s say, you even charge 250 a month for a month for a student that comes just four lessons even, or maybe they come twice a week for shorter lessons. If you have 20 people, that’s $5,000 a month with basically no overhead. So private lessons only is an option.

How do you promote this? Well, you promote it the same way you would promote a lot of your other locations. People are like how do they know where you’re at though? Because they’re not gonna see the signage. They’re not going to see the location. I’ll tell you what, with the martial arts school, you don’t have to be on a main street. This isn’t a hotel. This isn’t a gas station. This isn’t a restaurant. The internet does exist. So if you have a good Google business listing, you have it on Facebook, you make it simple. You do some Facebook posts, you do some localized radius, geographical Facebook ads. You have your Google business listing. You put it on Craigslist. You just get the word out. You start with one good student and his word is going to start to spread. You’re going to have some more students.

Pop Up Dojo

You can also do what you call a pop-up dojo. This is where you go to daycares, preschools, academic schools, summer camps. You talk to them and you say, “Hey, I’m going to come every Tuesday at 10:00 AM and I wanted to offer this special class for your students. It’s just $50 a month for them to do this special class. Once a week, I’m going to come and show up. I’ll be bringing my mitts, my equipment. If you guys don’t mind letting me use your gym or whatever.” There are people who are doing this. You could make your private lessons only business somewhat of a pop-up dojo business where we could call this a another model perhaps.

This pop up dojo idea allows you to travel to different locations. Again, you have no overhead and you can… People do this for basketball clinic things. They do it for dance and gymnastics, going to these preschools and daycares. That’s another option for you I just wanted to point that out. You’ve got to do the work that you’ve got to walk in the door and ask. You’ve got to walk in the door and offer something. Don’t be afraid. You have real value.

Martial arts are life changing, you know that. The things that we teach can transform a child or an adult and to a much better version of themselves and remember how much value you can add and how much good you could do in the world. That should motivate you to choose one of these models and to really live it out to its fullest. So I hope you learned something from this.

I think that many people go in evolutionary pattern. They might start with a part-time school or they might start with private lessons and then they go to part-time and then they go to full-time. Again, they might even realize, oh, there was no reason to have 10, $20,000 in overhead; I didn’t need this mega school; that’s 10,000 square feet; I didn’t have to have five locations in my goal; I could just run a private academy, et cetera. Again, it’s really about you enjoying your life, you’re doing what you love and also consider absolute versus relative income.

Absolute vs. Relative Income

Absolute income is like, let’s say, you make $100,000 in a year. Who cares how many hours you work. You work 90 hours a week. I don’t care, I made six figures. Relative income is how much money you made per hour of work that you did. So it’s interesting. My relative income with my private academy now is probably… Oh yeah. I mean, I know it is. It’s higher than what my relative income was when I had my full-time school. My full-time school, our numbers were a lot bigger. We had employees, we had all these things going on. Now I work a couple of hours a week for my private academy. Absolutely love every moment of it, love the teaching, love working with the students. I really see an impact happening. It’s pretty amazing when some of my students are doing here locally actually, and the relative income is actually higher, so. I definitely remember that that the amount of hours you’re spending on it and working smarter is better than harder.

Question: How Did You Create a Martial Arts Style?

That takes us to the question of the week. So this is actually a question I’m asking myself because I did not get a question of the week from anyone. It’s: “How did you create your own martial arts style?” I just have a feeling people have wanted to ask me this and they never have before and that’s just fine so I just want to tell you about it.

First of all, if you know someone who created their own martial arts style other than me, typically people think you’re like a quack job like, right, you made the style called [Emira Dotte 00:28:42] or something. Okay, oh, it’s a combination of the best martial arts styles in the world, right? Of course, so it’s going to be better than everything else that exists, so. You see this a lot. You see these crazy styles and people are mixing things together.

It’s just kind of an interesting story. I didn’t set out to create a martial arts style that that wasn’t the original goal. Whenever I was teaching in Texas Karate Academy, which I mentioned earlier, which is my father’s original community dojo, I was teaching in nunchaku class. I really love nunchaks and I had created an organized curriculum called ultimate chaks. I was running it a few times a week. My students were really liking it. I created the curriculum and we use this unique chevron patch as the ranking system.

The idea behind that was I wanted students to be able to show their rank in Ultimate Chuks on their gi sleeve while still being able to wear their belts to show their karate rank. I was like, “This is kind of cool,” because you can show your traditional rank, your core style as I call it, as you can still show your weapon style rank. I was running that class and my dad actually really like the bo at the time he was running a bo class, so.

We had two rooms. I was running a nunchaku class in one room and then he was running the bo class in the other room. It was like weapon’s time that was happening every, perhaps it was every Tuesday, Thursday, I don’t remember the nights. We were both teaching the weapons and ranking the students up and having a good time. I was like, this would be really interesting I think for other school owners and other instructors that would like to offer something. Because I was noticing that it was everyone’s favorite part of the week. They were liking the nunchaku and the bo classes almost more than the regular karate class. Not that the karate classes weren’t good or something, they enjoyed them and we had good retention. We saw that they were really enjoying those weapons classes.

So I decided to film the entire curriculum, create an instructor’s manual. I wrote it all out of the different sections of the curriculum, the different sections of what we teach, how to teach it, how to do testing, how to run classes, how to do warm-ups, how to do drills, how to do sparring with the nunchaku. I did the same thing for the bo cause I also had trained a lot in the bo. It’s just that period of time since Sensei Jon was actually running the bo class, which I started to teach that as well though.

What happened is that we created this… Well, I did a lot of it really on my own, but of course my father and some of the other people that I was working with at the time heavily influenced me. I filmed them and launched how to do it all and we put it out there. We’d put them for sell on through a company. My original company was called Hodgyma, which stands for Hodgy Martial Arts. I put a full page ad out in martial arts professional magazine. I think the ad title read Two Programs, One Ultimate Success or something like this. I had this picture of me with the nunchaku doing a high block and me doing a down thrust with my bo. That was, I think I was 17 years old at the time.

So I was starting this business on the side and I was in high school and that ad was $1,000 a month. I said this will be easy. I’ll just sell a couple of courses a month then it’ll be just fine. We really didn’t. We had a couple of school owners buy by it here and there, but it was pretty sparse. They’re like, okay, so I don’t know what to do next. I mean, okay what if I put these DVDs on Ebay and just sold it to people who are interested in learning nunchaku and bo, like my students that train with me locally I think that they would enjoy this. They did, they started to sell some, so they started to move.

It was just kind of a snowball effect over time. People were asking me, how can I earn rank in this? How can I train with you? How can I get feedback from you? Can I come to your school or what do I do? You know what? So I created this concept called distance training where I know we had a rank requirements and things you had to do and then you could sit in a video and I would grade it, give you video feedback and everything like that. That was the genesis of the distance training side of Ultimate Bo and Ultimate Chaks because they were both happening at the same time.

Ultimate Bo really started to outpace Ultimate Chuks. I think that the bo is the world’s most popular martial arts weapon. It’s very accessible. You can pick up a broomstick. You can use a walking stick to fight with. You can pick up any elongated cylindrical object and it’s fun. It’s simple to pick out for all ages, so that’s part of it.

No one has really taught the bo at this depth and breadth before, which really started to pique my interest. So it started to become a style on its own over time. Whereas originally, it started out as an organized curriculum. I really think all martial arts styles are like this, whether it be Brazilian jiu-jitsu or something like the Keysi Fighting Method or even Krav Maga. Some of these are more recent styles from the last century.

As an instructor, I don’t think you start out and say, “Oh, I’m going to create this style and then I’m going to go down in history because this is my style and everything.” You just teach what you’re supposed to teach. You teach because you want to expand your students’ boundaries. You want to expand your own understanding of what’s happening with this movement or the reasoning behind your fighting or defending yourself or going to war or whatever it is about the martial arts you’re doing, whether it’s tai chi or qigong or something about energy movement.

It’s a personal journey that you’ve been expand into a journey for your students’ sake. The way Ultimate Bo really became a style, well, officially… One of my Ultimate Bo students actually runs the Association of Martial Artists Worldwide. He actually accredited it internationally as well as the same for Ultimate Chuks and then since then we’ve got other organizations do that for Ultimate Bo. Of course, that’s one way you could say it, it became a style.

Also, I think it becomes a style because there are students and there are so many students that many of these students now want to teach it. They legitimately want to teach Ultimate Bo locally and they do. It has come into its own, something that I never expected. It’s really expanded upon itself in a way that it wasn’t originally. We now have the combat bo section. I went to Okinawa and I looked more in depth the base of our Okinawan bojutsu side of the curriculum.

Ultimate Bo is very unique because you could go to train with the world’s best Kobudo Grand Master in Okinawa or the world’s best Chinese staff instructor in China for example. You would still only be seeing one glimpse or one way to use the staff. With Ultimate Bo, we try to take all those things into account. So our combat side comes from English quarter staff. It comes from long sword movements. It comes from fencing. You’ll see elements that come from Chinese bos or Chinese staff or gun, if that’s pronounced correctly in Chinese. You also see elements obviously from Okinawan movements and mainly Japanese bo movements as well. So that’s why it’s called Ultimate Bo.

Also by the way, now it’s called American style bouitsu or American bojutsu because it truly does have an American touch on it. Myself, being the creator of the style, I am American. Then also, the forms that we teach are unique to Ultimate Bo and are actually American created.

So that has how I created the style. I just wanted to point out that it wasn’t some sort of exact science like this, this, this and this. If I just mix this with this and this ingredient, I’m going to have my own style. It just organically happened and that’s why it has been a unique success because it has organically happened. I haven’t pushed it and some odd way. I just continue to add to it and make it better for my students and they’ve really brought breathe of life into it in a way that I could never take credit for.

So I just thought that would be interesting to talk about and expand on. Hope you enjoyed the answer to that question. I really do want to get more of your questions though. So please just simply add a comment here or go to Global Martial Arts dot University, go to the contact form and just ask me a question there. Until next time, continue to train hard, keep learning, and continue to spread abundance.

Ask a Question for a Future Episode!

Simply ask your question in the comments section below, and I will do my best to answer it in a future episode. Thanks for participating!

About the Author

I am a Lead Instructor at the Global Martial Arts University. I live with my three energetic kids on a prairie in Texas. I also lead The Abundance Projects.

Leave a Comment:

(20) comments

Levi Potter August 14, 2019

Another great episode, I definitely learned some new things in this one! Again, I like that you speak from experience instead of speculation. As for next episode’s question, how about “What is the best way to become a better instructor?” This is obviously open ended, but I think that would allow you to choose your answer and really delve into it. Maybe the answer could involve the CMAT, or making sure your communication skills are top notch, or having seamless classes. Just some examples.
Anyway, thank you and I look forward to the next episode.

    Michael Hodge August 15, 2019

    That’s a whopper of a question for sure, perhaps I will use it as an entire episode! Thanks Levi and I am really glad that you learned something. A new episode drops every Wednesday morning.

Daniel August 14, 2019

Great listening to you again, great that you take these different examples and your learnings. Im interested in more deepth of succeful marketing and how your grading ideas from start to finish (handle students not manage, the system mgm, planning and setup)

Daniel(gmau student)

    Michael Hodge August 15, 2019

    Sounds good Daniel. When you say “grading ideas from start to finish (handle students not manage, the system mgm, planning and setup)” – can you be more specific what you meant. Or maybe form it as a question that I can use in a future episode? Thanks!

      Daniel August 15, 2019

      Hi Michael,

      My question is how do you plan, setup and handle grading. For example the structure of grading, pass and not pass(how handle the not pass students).


    Jan martensen August 17, 2019

    Another great episode. You are setting the bar high sensei.

    Quick question. What is your ball park figure for private academy tuition?

    Thank you for time. Look forward to next episode.

      Michael Hodge August 17, 2019

      Hi Jan,

      It really depends on where you live. My private school is in a small, rural area, a town with 1,000 people. The income level is middle class. I charge $125 a month for a twice a week program as my basic program. My Black Belt Training program is $25 more (so $150 a month). I operate the only martial arts school for like a 15-20 mile radius at least. If I ran this type of private academy in North Dallas (a more populated and higher income area, where there is an even more obvious benefit from a private academy versus the regular martial arts school down the street), I would charge a base of $200 at least per month. Thanks for listening!

        Jan Martensen August 18, 2019

        Thank you for sharing. Your openness is much appreciated. Your model makes a lot of sense. It is one I had not considered until this podcast, so thank you.

Thomas Arillotta August 15, 2019

These podcast are the absolute best. I love them! Keep them coming!

    Michael Hodge August 15, 2019

    Thomas, that really puts gas in my tank – thank you sir!

Joe Marin August 15, 2019

Sensei Michael,

How can a person continue practicing martial arts with a bad knee, is wearing a knee braces ok? What do you recommend aside from a knee brace?

Thank You

    Michael Hodge August 17, 2019

    This is a pretty expansive question, one that you doctor would be more suited to answer, just due to so many variables. If you had surgery or are healing from complications, I would recommend sticking to something like qigong/tai chi/yoga until you are recuperated. If you have an old injury that flares up, you can wear knee braces and continue training, but don’t overtax your knees by trying to get into really deep stances or kicks that cause more damage. Try to rebuild the surrounding muscle groups – that can really make a difference. Also, look up physical therapy exercises for your knee injury, and do those and proper stretching.

Paul Hornbogen August 16, 2019

Sensei M. Your business acumen I would compare to any top MBA program. Continued success.

    Michael Hodge August 17, 2019

    Thank you sir, that means a lot. My wife has an MBA, and I have a degree in GTD (Getting Things Done). Learning by doing is very powerful.

Ralph Hughes August 17, 2019


I hope all is well. I really enjoy your podcast series: “Rank Up.” I especially found Rank Up Ep. 2: “The 5 Martial Arts School Business Model most intriguing . I have been pondering the notion of offering self-defense classes for almost two years now. I have not commenced in this endeavor for several reasons. After reading episode-2 the feeling of offering self-defense classes was ignited. However, I have a few questions I hope you can provide guidance based upon your extensive experience operating various types of martial arts schools.

1. Do I really need a black belt to provide self-defense classes? I have trained in Japanese Gōjū for several years and I have been training in Krav Maga now for five years ( I have trained at a KMW certified center for three years and have been training at a different Krav Maga facility for two years, in addition to GMAU for a little over one year.
I do have extensive experience training police officers and federal agents for a total of 15 years. Although training civilians is different than training law enforcement officers, the concepts are basically the same. I believe I have enough experience in self defense to offer classes.

Nir Maman taught members of the IDF and special forces. Although he has a black belt in tae Kwon do, he offers training based upon his experience gained while in the military training commandos. I am not saying I am on his level. He acquired skills that he teaches, which I am trying to accomplish. I have numerous certifications in self defense, weapons retention, and ground fighting, to name a few.

2. Why do most martial arts schools do not offer classes on Friday’s . If I decide to train people, Friday’s work well for my schedule. I am afraid that no one may show up for training because I rarely see schools offering classes on Friday’s. I am trying to figure out if this is feasible in terms of scheduling group classes.
3. Do you think a non-profit is a good idea for a self defense school? I want to give back to my community by offering self defense classes. I want to seek donations to buy equipment, etc. for purpose of sharing self defense concepts and education to people who live in areas where martial arts schools are basically non existent. Is this a good business model?

Thank you for taking the time to read my questions. I look forward to reading your responses and learning from you in the near future.

Be well!

    Michael Hodge August 17, 2019

    Hi Ralph,

    I think it is exciting that you have the aspiration of running your own self-defense classes. This is exactly why I made this podcast, for people in your situation – to give you the confidence, tools, first-hand experience, and evidence that it can be done. And, it can be even more successful than you thought – if you think differently.

    I will probably answer a few of these questions in a future episode, but, let me also give you some replies right now:

    1. In short, no, you don’t need a black belt to offer self-defense classes. If you were wanting to offer accredited ranking to your students in a particular, established style – such as Krav Maga or BJJ, then yes, you would need to hold a black belt and instructor status. If you plan on offering a general self-defense program, without this direct ranking path, then it can certainly be done. And your background sounds very stout for this type of instruction.
    2. When I ran my full-time school, we took Friday off. Since we ran so many classes Monday-Thursday, and we also taught on Saturday, it was a great rest for the instructors. There are some schools that do offer classes on Friday. Many adults use Friday evening as their night to go out, be social, and relax after a hard week of work. Don’t get me wrong, it can be done. Starting a class on Friday will create somewhat of a roadblock, especially if it as adult class, but even for a kids class. You could always try it. But, if you can start with a different evening or even Saturday, you will have less barriers to entry.
    3. A non-profit model can work for a martial arts school. If you want to set it up this way, then you can. I encourage you to still operate it like a business. Charge tuition, fees, and sell equipment. Your profits could all be donated for example. One thing to be leery of it dramatically under-valuing what you are doing, purely for the philanthropic reasons. I absolutely love spreading abundance and donating a good amount every month to people and projects in need, but I do through from a for-profit status. What I am trying to say it, I recommend operating it very close to a for-profit, but where your profits are donated, and you can claim this special tax-status. And obviously intertwine your non-profit story and meaning into the fabric of your organization, which will also make it extra-special.

    Keep listening and thanks for the support!

Cruz Uriarte August 17, 2019

Excellent! Great ideas for when I’m ready to expand and teach.
Can you cover the typical class routine and cycle. In other words, how to conduct a class from warm up, technique breakdown, full technique, and the practical applications of the technique. I’m currently a GMAU Shotokan student and attend a Krav Maga school in Orange County, CA.

    Michael Hodge August 17, 2019

    Hi Cruz, Glad that you are enjoying this. Yes, so we definitely cover those things in full in the CMAT course. But, I will find a way to touch on these aspects of teaching at some point in this series. Thanks!

Harry August 29, 2019

Thank you sensei for explaining all things so beautifully and in an elaborate manner. I want to share martial art management software that helps to manage the admin task, payment, scheduling online. These help to run the school business models easily without any hassle.

    Michael Hodge August 30, 2019

    I am really glad that you enjoyed that, and your software looks pretty impressive!

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