Letting Others Talk You Out Of Martial Arts Business Success

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Want To Fail Fast? Make Every Decision Based On What Other People Think…

Recently in one of our groups, a member who is just getting started asked if she should start teaching three year olds.

Apparently, she is good at it and likes teaching that age group. And, there’s a demand for it in her area.

Here’s the thing… she was worried about what other people would think if she started teaching that age group. Of course, this created doubt in her mind regarding the best course of action for her to take in her business.

Thankfully, one of the members of the forum who has been in business for a few years stepped in and told her not to worry abut what other people think.

And I agree with what he said, completely. Running your business according to what other people think is the surest path to failure of any that I’ve seen in over two decades of teaching.

You may disagree with me in this particular instance, but bear with me… I am going to use it as an illustration of why you need to make business decisions based on your own judgment, and not on the opinions of others.

Getting Back To The “Teaching Three-Year-Olds” Dilemma…

Here’s the thing about this particular example – it just makes good sense from a business perspective for her to start this class.

For starters, she is just starting out. In this economy, and especially when you’re launching your school, you just can’t afford to turn away business.

Also, there’s a serious lack of competition in this niche. Think about it – no one wants that age group, and I mean no one.

And the best part is that it’s a hot market if you can handle it and you enjoy doing it.

Personally, I tried running a three and four year old class, and I hated it. But, that’s because I wasn’t good at it. I had plenty of interest though, and if I happened to be good with three-year-olds, I’d have stuck with it.

Would some instructors look down on me for it? Sure, but they aren’t paying my bills.

And, I’ll tell anyone – although I suck at working with three year olds, I greatly enjoy teaching the slightly older 4-6 year old group. In fact, they’re my favorite age group to teach.

So what if other instructors think I’m doing a romper room routine when I run that class? I could care less. I am doing something I love, providing enjoyment for those kids and their parents, and making a living doing it.

Let me tell you – there is NOTHING wrong with that.

Besides, It’s All Relative

When you think about it, anything under age 7 or 8 is just prep for the older kids classes, and any classes from ages 7-8 to teen is just prep for the adult classes. And, adult beginner’s classes are just prep for the advanced classes.

You know… where the “real” martial arts instruction takes place.  Wink

It’s all relative… so who said you have to meet someone else’s standard of what a “real” martial arts class is in your school?

Don’t get caught up in that – it’s the quickest way to worry yourself out of business.

Who Makes The Rules On What A “Real” Martial Art School Is, Anyway?

Ten years ago, you’d have never seen a BJJ or MMA school with a kids program.

Now, every serious full-time BJJ or MMA school has some sort of kids program. Why do you think that is?

Obviously, it’s because we all deal in the same reality when it comes to running a business. What goes up must come down. The sun comes up in the east and sets in the west. Hot in summer and cold in winter. Businesses operate on cash. It’s just common sense.

Personally, if I want to learn combat sports or self defense, I am going to find the most qualified person around to train with. Then, I am going to try a few classes to see if I like that person… if I “click” with them, in other words.

If they are a world champion jiu jitsu player and a good instructor, what the heck do I care if they run a three and four year old class or an after-school pick-up program in the afternoons to make ends meet? How is that any different from them working a part-time job outside of the school to help pay their bills?

Personally (and professionally as well) I think it makes more sense for them to be making that extra income in their school rather than by working a part-time gig.

Why? Because that means their focus isn’t split – and that is going to make the school better because they are going to be able to be 100% committed to running that school.

So Before You Pass Judgment—Check Yourself

So, before you go passing judgment on a martial art school owner for teaching a program that you wouldn’t touch – let me give you some advice… check yourself and remember that you aren’t paying their bills.

Besides, someday you may be in their shoes… and you’d be surprised at how your opinions change when you have to make the rent on a full-time martial art school every month.


  1. JB on March 11, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    Excellent advise! I would rather be successful than prideful when it comes to teaching :)

  2. Mike Massie on March 11, 2010 at 1:42 pm

    Jeff, you are right on the money… no pun intended!

    When I first started teaching fitness classes, other instructors said I was becoming “just like the gyms.”

    When I started teaching 4, 5, & 6 yr. olds, they said I was doing “romper room stuff.”

    When I started doing an after-school pick-up program, they said I was “becoming a day care.”

    But all those programs allowed me to teach my adult classes how I wanted, when I wanted – in other words, I didn’t have to worry about how I was going to make the rent!

    I just looked at all those additional programs as my “part-time jobs.” The only difference – I got to work my “other job” in my own school. :)

  3. Richard ~ Goju Ryu Bushido Karate Academy Australia on March 11, 2010 at 5:36 pm

    Mike ~ surprisingly 3 & 4 years olds eventually turn into 6 & 7 etc years olds ~ this wise Instructor is building a Student base for the future ~ we wish her well.

  4. Mike Massie on March 11, 2010 at 8:31 pm


    Good shot, Richard!

  5. Brent on March 11, 2010 at 9:17 pm

    Hi Mike,
    I agree with pretty well everything you said. I would just add one caveat or word of warning…
    I wonder about that grey area where one ends up just teaching for the money. I know you are not promoting that. And I am guessing you are addressing this issue in your forums. But from outside looking in, some people might misunderstand what you are saying in this article.

  6. Mike Massie on March 12, 2010 at 6:46 am


    Unless you’re teaching for free, you’re a business owner. So, virtually every martial arts instructor has to consider their bottom line when it comes to their business.

    As far as I know though, only myself and Jim Mather address business ethics in our materials. In fact, I credit Mr. Mather for influencing my in that regard early on in my career.

    So, yes… I do address that in my materials, in the forums, as I coach clients, etc. I won’t work with someone who is just interested in making a buck. There’s enough of that crap in our industry already.

    Thanks for bringing this up – it does need to be addressed for folks who don’t know me.

  7. Javier on March 12, 2010 at 10:20 pm

    Good stuff Mike.

    It’s funny how even other businesses outside of the MA Industry get caught up in the game of “what is my competitor gonna think of me now.”

    Who cares… It goes back to our Black Belt Principals we teach our kids all them.


    You gotta have confidence in what you are doing, and sometimes you will have to walk to lonely, narrow, long, and deserted road…

    But in the end, you can be as prosperous as you choose. I hope SAMAS member goes forward with the 3-4 years old b/c she could create a pretty strong following!


  8. Mike Massie on March 13, 2010 at 8:30 am


    The road less traveled can often be the pathway to success.

  9. james on March 23, 2010 at 2:08 am

    Great points!

    Don’t get caught up in that – it’s the quickest way to worry yourself out of business.

    Check yourself and remember that you aren’t paying their bills.

    I look forward to your new posts! Keep it up! God bless!~

  10. Mike Massie on March 23, 2010 at 8:50 am

    Glad you liked the points in the article, James.

    By the way – nice logo on your site!

  11. Clovis on November 30, 2022 at 11:39 pm

    I was in that position where I was worried about what others thought about me. I opened my martial arts class and kept it micro and did my thing. I’m happy to say I’m making a good sum of money and I’m doing what I love and working with what I can. I got the business running to be sustainable and actually created enough systems to keep it running where I can babysit and do my classes.

    Back to what others think. Those who speak negatively they’re always going to be some. Stay true to you. Also people whom I considered friends ghosted me for opening my classes, and guess what I don’t miss them.

    Do what you love and yes I agree 3 to 5 year olds I wish I could do it, because the dojo I volunteered at. That was their biggest class and were desperate for help. Sorry Mike I rather make less and keep my sanity.

  12. Mike Massie on December 7, 2022 at 7:46 am

    Yeah, I hear you regarding the tiny tots classes. Also, things have changed a lot since I wrote this. I stopped teaching kids for a while because I got tired of dealing with their parents. I started again a few years back, and found that I no longer enjoyed it, because I do not like working with today’s children. In the decade between when I stopped teaching them (in the late oughts) and when I started again (early 2019) kids had changed drastically in behavior and attention span. Whereas in the past I’d have one or two kids out of twenty that couldn’t focus, now the numbers are flipped. Also, kids became way more sensitive and emotionally fragile in that timespan. I blame it all on social media and mobile devices, 100%. Dr. Jean Twenge predicted it, and she has tracked the trend since around 2010. If you haven’t seen her work, it’s worth checking out. Bottom line is that I’d rather run an adults-focused school now, and this is coming from a guy who made it his life’s work to teach children when he opened his first dojo. Go figure.

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