Martial Arts Marketing and Being a Badass…

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Or, What Type of Student Do You Really Want to Attract?

“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” – the Apostle Paul, first letter to the Corinthians

When I start working with a new business coaching client, I can usually tell how things are going to go when I see their school logo and website. Typically, these materials will reflect the image they are attempting to project to the public; invariably, they also reflect the values that my client believes will best reflect what their art or school is about.

Unfortunately, for many would-be school owners at least, what we value as martial artists often holds little if any attraction for our ideal client.

Notice I didn’t say “average person”, because there really is no average person, and if there is I certainly don’t want them as a client. No, when I speak of the “ideal client”, I am talking about a specific sort of person that I want to attract to my studio.

Defining My Ideal Client

Ask any marketing expert what the first step is to a successful marketing campaign, and they’ll tell you to start with defining your ideal client. The reason behind this universal rule of successful marketing is simple; if you want to hit your target, you have to focus on the bull’s eye. Just aiming in the general direction of the target and hoping for the best is no way to win the prize.

So what’s my ideal client look like?

The type of client I want is a person who is financially stable, morally sound, gets along well with others, has clearly defined goals, and probably wants to take martial arts because they want to get in shape while doing something that doesn’t bore them to tears. They likely have kids (or are bringing their kids to me), and they have a large network of friends and family that also fall into this same customer profile category.

My ideal client is likely to be a home-owner. They probably have a college degree or some sort of post-secondary education, perhaps a technical degree. Or, they might be a business owner or a professional in independent practice. They are involved in civil activities, and enjoy making a contribution in their local community.

In short, my ideal client is successful, financially stable, and a pleasure to interact with and teach. My ideal client comes with little to no personal baggage (or at least they have the decorum and sense not to bring it into my studio), and they have the social skills and emotional intelligence to understand that respect is a two-way street.

What My Ideal Client Isn’t

My ideal client is not a thug.

And that, my friends, is what brings me back to the title of this post. You see, “being a badass” is all the rage in the martial arts these days. The culture has gone from being about traditional values to being about, well, being a tough guy (or tough girl, in many cases). That’s all well and good if your ideal client is 18 years old, fresh out of school with no education and no job prospects to speak of, and “wants to be an MMA fighter.”

Oh, joy.

Look, I don’t care if someone wants to play Billy Badass and wear TapOut gear, get tatted up, and live out some Walter Mitty fantasy of being the next UFC champion. More power to them, it’s a free country, and chances are once they find out that becoming a champion is a lot of work, they’ll likely find another hobby to pursue (unfortunately, those tattoos don’t wash off though).

But, the fact is that presenting that sort of image to the public is a sure way to attract the wrong element into your studio. Moreover, having that sort of client as the dominant species in your gym will likely drive away the sort of stable client I defined earlier in this article. Who, incidentally, is a lot more likely to pay their bill on time every month, as many a successful and financially prosperous BJJ, mixed martial arts, and kickboxing instructor has discovered.

Can You Project a Nice-Guy Image and Still Train Champions?

Absolutely. I have friends and associates who have built highly successful businesses off that very approach. And guess what? It’s no different from what traditionalists have done for decades.

See, it’s not that you can’t have a nice-guy image and still train champions in your studio. In fact you can, and many successful studio owners are doing just that today; they’re just doing it while promoting an atmosphere of friendship, camaraderie, and team spirit in their studios. And, they do it while remaining family-friendly and projecting a clean image to their local community as well.

You know the old saying that if you want to attract flies, you have to put out some honey? In truth, crap attracts flies; honey attracts worker bees. Worker bees pay the bills. So just remember when you project an image of “toughness” (or “thug-ness”, if you want to get right down to it) to the public, you are going to attract a lot of flies while the worker bees are going to go to your competition.

So, here’s the formula for attracting your ideal client and making a great living teaching martial arts. Be nice. Project a clean, professional image. Maintain discipline, respect, and courtesy in your studio. And, still teach good martial arts while giving your students the workout of their lives in every class.

Trust me, life will be sweeter, your bank account will be fatter, and your job will be so much easier once you drop the thug-ness from the culture and image of your dojo.

And remember, if you need some guidance on marketing your martial art school, a good place to start would be reading my course on martial arts marketing. Click here for more information.


  1. Erik Pitchford on June 13, 2012 at 11:17 am


    Great stuff right on the money! As we all sometimes do we have a tendency to think we have to be the tough guy in order to, make the cut so to speak, but as you well out it that is not what you want to project yourself as.

    At my dojo we have a number of families that participate and several of the like the fun, friendly, family oriented atmosphere, while they are learning and being physically active!

    Thank You as Always for your Great articles!

    Erik Pitchford
    Pitchford’s ATA Black Belt Academy

  2. Mike Massie on June 14, 2012 at 7:46 am

    You’re welcome, Erik. If you want a stable income, families are where it’s at… and having a culture that’s family-friendly is vital to attracting and keeping them.

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