Martial Arts Business Priorities, Pt. II

Balancing The Pursuit Of Your Passion And Playtime With Being A Business Owner

“My experience has shown me that the people who are exceptionally good in business aren’t so because of what they know but because of their insatiable need to know more.”
– Michael Gerber

Every instructor and school owner has their idea of what’s important to them about the martial arts. For me, it was always street self-defense, women’s self-defense, child safety, and making sure my students could protect themselves if need be.

For others, it may be competition, the faithful preservation of a particular style or art, learning a myriad of techniques in multiple arts, or perhaps learning as much as possible about a single particular subset of skills in the arts.

I believe it’s important for an instructor to pursue their passions within the martial arts, and certainly doing so should be a priority in their career, for obvious reasons. Without having a passion for training and teaching, no instructor will last very long or go very far, and it’s often our own individual interests that continue to spark that inner fire over the long haul.

Practicality Should Always Take Precedence Over Play

Somewhere on the savanna a lion is planning his next meal

While these zebras play somewhere on the savanna a lion is planning his next meal…

Even so, as business owners we must remember that practicality should always take precedence over play. Sure, it’s fun to go do “that thing” we most enjoy, be it cross-training, performing, competing, or research.

But when we begin to allow our “playtime” to take precedence over our role as business owners, we lose sight of the fact that in business we must constantly be improving… or we run the risk of allowing our competitors to gain an edge over us.

And, don’t kid yourself – we are competing with a whole lot more than just other martial arts school owners. There’s a whole industry devoted to adult fitness and health that is chomping at the bit to take whatever market share we hold and call it their own.

Case in point: The keynote speaker for this years CI09 health club industry exposition is Mark Mastrov… you know, the Mark Mastrov that built 24-Hour Fitness into a huge billion dollar a year company… who is, incidentally, the same Mark Mastrov that is partnering with Dana White and the UFC to launch the UFC Gym concept.  This show he’s speaking at is a huge training and industry event for the health club industry that dwarfs any martial arts industry event you’ve attended. If you don’t find that significant, check your pulse…

The Drive For Achieving Excellence… In Business

Here’s the thing… you know that same drive that makes someone the best fighter or competitor? Well, there are plenty of people in business who have that exact same drive when it comes to edging out (and, when possible, completely crushing) the competition in business.

  • They’re the ones who consistently spend their time and money on business education.
  • They read business books, articles, and publications… constantly.
  • They network with other successful business owners.
  • They study the arts of management, marketing, and selling.

And, when given a choice between playtime or learning something that will make them a better business person, nine times out of ten they’ll pick the latter.


Because they have their priorities straight… and they realize that playtime is only possible when the bills get paid.

Final Thoughts On The Topic of Martial Arts Business Priorities

The middle of a recession is not the time to be playing around. This business owner stuff, it’s serious stuff… and even in good times you can lose your shirt in a heartbeat if you allow yourself to start slipping.

Me personally? For me, the middle of a recession is time to pull out the stops and study everything I can that will give me an edge in this market.

And if my competitors goof-off, dilly-dallying at some event that isn’t going to help them put students on their floor and food on the table?

More power to ’em.


  1. Jeff on August 5, 2009 at 8:10 am

    Great article Mike. I totally agree. I with your help has spent a huge amount of time retooling and making things better. I have had to make some hard choices but in the long and short run will pay off.

  2. Mike Massie on August 5, 2009 at 9:46 am

    Jeff, I did a lot of things in my schools in the past for reasons that were based on emotion and nostalgia.

    However, after I adjusted what I was doing based on my core values and what was fiscally sound, my satisfaction in what I was doing skyrocketed.

    Hang in there, it will be worth it.

  3. Dan Cosgrove on August 5, 2009 at 10:53 am

    Many people forget that business studies and marketing are an integral part of success in any field, regardless of passion for the subject.

    Good article!

  4. Mike Massie on August 5, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    I absolutely agree, Dan.

    Whether you’re a worm farmer, doctor, musician, or a martial arts instructor, business skills will be more likely to determine your level of success than your technical knowledge (sad to say, in some cases).

    Thanks for the comment!

  5. Brent on August 5, 2009 at 8:14 pm

    Hi MIke,
    Nice article. And so true.
    If the “good guys” don’t do the right things (the serious stuff, the business stuff, the important stuff), you can be sure the fly-by-night places will. They are there to make a buck and will take it from those who are just leaving it out there for them.

  6. Mike Massie on August 5, 2009 at 8:51 pm

    Darned good point, Jeff.

    I have been fond of telling my staff that it’s a moral obligation to make sure we beat the competition… because if we lose someone to a “rip-off” school, it’s partially our fault they got ripped off since we dropped the ball on getting them enrolled.

  7. sean russell on August 27, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    Great article. I teach an art that only teaches practical, street applicable martial arts. I have noticed that the schools in my art have 3x the adults than children. I am beginning to see that I do not need MMA or jiujitsu in my school to attract a GOOD student base. I am able to teach real street fighting through a 2000 year old system of combat and not deal with the chip on the shoulder wanna be cage fighter.
    Thanks Mr. Massie.

  8. Mike Massie on August 27, 2009 at 4:53 pm


    Glad you’ve come to that realization… MMA is great, it’s a lot of fun, and the training helps build usable fighting skills. But, it really does only attract a fraction of the population.

    There will always be large MMA schools, and it is something that some school owners will benefit from should they add it to their programs…

    But it’s not the panacea we’ve been led to believe it is.

    Like I told a friend of mine, “Knowing how to defend yourself will NEVER go out of style!”

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