Martial Arts Consulting – How to Choose The Right Consultant For Your School

martial arts business consultants

I suspect that there is no other industry on the planet with a higher consultant to business owner ratio than the martial arts consulting industry. For better or for worse, you can’t swing a cat in this industry without hitting one or two self-proclaimed business experts.

And although I do provide martial arts business consulting services (actually, I prefer to use the term “martial arts business coaching”), admittedly I never intended to become a consultant in this industry. So how did I end up here?

Almost two decades ago I wrote a book called Small Dojo Big Profits. Many of the people who bought it ended up coming back to me for one-on-one advice, which I initially gave for free.

Eventually, I had to start charging for my time, because it was taking time away from my own career as an instructor. And here I am today.

Even so, I make the majority of my income from providing business resources and services that are tangential to the products and services that most martial arts consultants offer… you can make of that what you will.

Regardless, there are more consultants in this industry than you can shake a stick at, and I swear they reproduce like tribbles. The bottom line is that consulting is expensive, and while many martial arts school owners need it, they’re also usually the ones who can’t afford it.

If You Can Afford It, You Probably Don’t Need It

Sadly, often those school owners in financial distress who do come up with the money are less than satisfied with the services they receive. I know this because a) I was on that end of the stick at one time, and b) I hear this from clients who end up with me after a negative experience with another provider of business coaching services.

So, I decided to take a break from all the free martial arts marketing information I’ve been providing you over the last few weeks, in order to pull the curtain back on the martial arts consulting industry.

Hopefully, by sharing this information it will help many of you choose more carefully and wisely, should you decide you need to avail yourself of the services of someone who claims to be an expert in this business we call the martial arts industry.

Let’s begin.

How to Choose the Right Martial Arts Consultant

There are three things you need to consider in order to avoid wasting your money and time on the wrong consultant:

  1. Their Experience – Have they actually done what you want to do?
  2. Their Skill – Can they teach what they can do?
  3. Their Approach – Can you live with following what they teach?

I’m going to go over each of these considerations one at a time, and reveal just why you need to consider each of these three points carefully before you decide to hire a consultant to help you grow your martial arts school. Let’s start with the most obvious, experience.

You Can’t Give Someone What You Don’t Already Have

Many years ago I was conversing with a very successful school owner and consultant about how I don’t take clients who want to grow exceptionally large schools, no matter their current level of business growth. My reasoning for this is that I’ve never operated a large martial arts studio (and by large I mean over 250 students) so I wouldn’t have the faintest idea how to coach them on all the pain in the ass things you have to do to run a studio of 300+ students.

He agreed with me and told me something he’d learned from his own mentor:

“You can’t give someone something you don’t already have.”

Sure, I can show any black belt with half a brain and a ton of heart how to grow and run a highly profitable school of 150-200 students. And, I can show anyone with said requirements how to grow such a school from scratch, with no credit or start-up capital to speak of at all.

That’s because I’ve done it myself. And this is where I part ways from probably more than half of the folks who offer business coaching in this industry – I don’t offer coaching on anything I can’t do and haven’t done myself.

See, I have a real problem with consultants who have never been school owners. Maybe they worked on staff at a large school, and maybe they sold a lot of memberships during the course of their employment. Fine, they can coach people on selling memberships.

But when someone who has never been a business owner, and who has never started and owned a successful martial arts school puts out their shingle and presents themselves as a martial arts school start-up and management coach, they do their clients a great disservice. The reason is that nothing can prepare you for teaching others how to start, run, and grow a successful martial arts studio, except having done it yourself.

I don’t care if you’ve seen someone else do it; that doesn’t cut it in my book. As a medic and an ER tech, I watched numerous emergency surgical procedures done by highly skilled physicians. However, that doesn’t qualify me to teach surgical procedures to future doctors in a medical school.

So, I suggest you find out whether your chosen consultant has actually been the owner of a circus, or whether they were just the monkey, before you hire them to help you start the next Ringling Brothers of martial arts schools.

“Great, You Can Do a Flying Armbar – But Can You Teach It?”

As I’ve said many times, the most talented martial artists often make the worst instructors. The reason? Well, when someone is a natural, they often perform at a very high level of skill without ever having to figure out subtle nuances of how a certain technique is done.

See, it’s the struggle of having to work and work at something to figure it out, and then practicing it over and over and over again that leads to a much deeper understanding of the principles behind mere technical skill. And, once you can apply principles, you don’t need “techniques” – because you can create your own techniques on the fly by applying basics and principles.

That’s why people who have to struggle to learn things often make the best instructors. They can teach the principles that make the techniques work, and they also often have a system to pass on that allows others to learn how to duplicate their own success.

Now, I’m going to tell you a little secret about some successful school owners. Many of them couldn’t reproduce their success if their lives depended on it.

I’m not just talking about teaching others how to do what they’ve done, I’m talking about starting over from scratch and reaching the same level of success twice. And here’s why; they are successful because they won the martial arts school lottery.

Here’s what I mean by “winning the martial art school lottery.” Let’s say 100 people decide to open martial arts schools. Out of those 100, we know that 80 will fail within the first five years based on the success rates for all small businesses. Now, out of the 20% who succeed, 10 will succeed by force of will and hard work, 5 will succeed because they had enough start-up capital to make it through the tough times, 3 will succeed because they had a system to follow…

…and one or two will succeed through sheer luck and circumstance, and despite any real understanding of what makes for a successful business. Usually, this amounts to getting a really great location in an affluent area, combined with opening a studio at a time when the economy is on the rise.

Even a blind squirrel will find a nut every now and then. The question is, can you teach someone how to win the lottery? Of course not, and likewise you can’t teach someone how to duplicate your success when you didn’t have a system that got you there in the first place. (And incidentally, lack of a good location isn’t a deal breaker – read Small Dojo Big Profits for more on this.)

That’s why I encourage you to look very carefully at whether or not a particular business coach has actually taught other people how to do what they’ve done. If not, keep looking and find someone else to hire for business coaching.

Can You Live With That?

What if I told you that I have a business strategy that would allow you to put thousands of dollars in your pocket by noon tomorrow, and with very little work involved?

And, what if I told you that you could repeat this strategy, time and time again, as often as you liked, and get similar results each time?

Would you be interested in hiring me as a consultant?

Now, what if I told you my “business strategy” involved robbing banks?

Still interested?

Look, there are a lot of approaches to becoming wealthy, but not all of them are honest. Unfortunately, more often than not I’ve observed that the business tactics and “systems” taught by some extremely successful school owners lack a certain… integrity in the approach they take.

I’m not about to get into all the sleazy tactics that are taught in martial arts business seminars – I’ve detailed that extensively in my book, Small Dojo Big Profits. However I will say that, just as in your personal life, you need to consider very carefully from whom you choose to take counsel in your business.

An extremely wise individual once said, “You will know them by their fruits.” Ask yourself, what fruits has this person produced?

  • Do they have an excellent reputation in their community? How about their business reputation? Is it sound?
  • Who do they associate with? Do they have a history of criminal activity, or are they connected in some way to people with that sort of background?
  • How’s their personal life? Does it reflect as much success as they have financially?
  • Would you let your students hang out with them in a social setting, or do they “let it all hang out” when they’re not at their studio?

These questions are just a start, and the answers will often point to whether or not said person will display integrity in the way they conduct their business. Remember, “you can’t give someone something you don’t already have.” And, if a person can only make money through dishonesty and manipulation, well, you can assume that’s all they’ll ever be able to teach you.

Choose wisely, because you are going to have to live with whatever that martial arts consultant teaches you. And, I can tell you that the temptation to justify certain actions in a Machiavellian manner will be that much greater when you start hanging out with school owners who seem to have it all.

Or as they say, “if you lie down with dogs, you will rise with fleas.” And those are the sort of fleas that tend to stick with you for a long time.

Questions? Comments? Something to Share?

As always, I welcome your feedback. And, if you have a martial arts consulting story or experience you’d like to share, good or bad, by all means post it below. All I ask is that you refrain from naming specific persons or companies, as I do not want the comments here to be used to post unwarranted attacks on anyone’s character. So, play nice or I’ll have to delete your comment.


  1. Kirby on March 8, 2013 at 11:39 am

    I have found the advice given by Massie extremely valuable and if I had followed some of the advice from others, my school wouldn’t be here!

  2. Mike Massie on March 9, 2013 at 9:31 am

    Thanks Kirby, hope you succeed in all your endeavors.

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