When it comes to watching television these days, most people are desperate to find programming that’s interesting, meaningful and fun for the whole family. They aren’t looking for another video game; they want something real. This is good for school owners because we’re seeing more martial arts on the tube, and the added exposure can be a boon to our businesses.
It’s important to stay aware of all this exposure so you can devise ways for your business to benefit from it. If you’re skeptical, consider the dance and gymnastics industries. For decades, they have banked on the Summer Olympics to bring in new students, and it always works. If you own a school, you should be doing the same — with everything on television that’s related to martial arts.
Covered here are just six of the many avenues that can lead martial arts schools to increased success. Some, like the Olympics, are televised in homes, restaurants and sports bars across the country. Some, like Cobra Kai, are bona fide hits online. Others become popular on a certain platform and then fade away. All, however, can be good for business.
Let’s start with the Olympics. In general, the Games are perceived by the public as a wholesome sporting competition. It’s your job to point out to those who don’t know that the Olympics now feature one more martial art.
OLYMPIC KARATE: The new kid on the block at the 2020 Games was traditional karate. No doubt it introduced countless people around the world to the intricacies of kata and kumite. Imagine you’re a kid who’s heard about karate but never really knew anything about martial arts beyond what you’ve seen in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. You’ve always been interested, and now you’re watching the Olympics and liking what you’re seeing. There’s a good chance you’ll ask your parents if you can take lessons. My school has had numerous kids come in with similar stories.
Action Items: Your pitch to prospects who walk in your door may need to be updated to capitalize on this. Consider explaining to people that you teach Olympic-style sparring and/or Olympic-style kata — assuming you teach these skill sets. In the past, we karate-school owners never could say truthfully that our art is an Olympic event, but now we can, so we should let the public know.
When most people hear “Olympics,” their ears perk up, so frequently use the word when you’re doing exhibitions. Tell people, “Karate made its debut in the Olympics this year, and we’re going to show you what some of it looks like.” Demonstrate sparring and kata. The kata can set you up to perform bunkai (practical applications) that relate to the techniques.
OLYMPIC TAEKWONDO: This martial art has been in the Games since 1988. It’s evolved into a unique style of combat in which the foot is the primary weapon and the head is the primary target. Many dojang have embraced this modified method of fighting and the training that goes with it, and they teach it exclusively. Even if your taekwondo school hasn’t done that, you might be able to add Olympic-style sparring to your curriculum so you can help people who want to try it because of the exposure provided by the Games.
Action Items: If you opt to offer classes that pertain to Olympic-style taekwondo, talk it up. Mention it when you converse with parents in your lobby, as well as with prospects outside your school.
OLYMPIC JUDO: The grappling art has been an Olympic sport since 1964, and it remains popular. No doubt judo schools see a spike in enrollment every four years because of this.
Action Items: Do the same things mentioned earlier in demonstrations and dojo conversations. But don’t hesitate to tell students who show a deeper interest that aiming for the Olympics will require them to obtain specialized instruction and training elsewhere at some point.
ALL OLYMPIC MARTIAL ARTS: Find ways to educate yourself about the Olympic versions of these three arts. Watch some of the competition on YouTube. Listen to the commentary. That way, when parents come to you and mention their children’s Olympic interest, you’ll be able to speak intelligently with them.
Whatever your personal views, don’t adopt a negative attitude about the Olympic martial arts/sports. No one likes to walk into a seafood restaurant and hear the server say, “I don’t like seafood” when asked about the catch of the day.
AMERICA’S GOT TALENT: The World Taekwondo Demo Team based out of Seoul, South Korea, recently made it to the finals of the NBC series America’s Got Talent. At the semifinals, the judges — Heidi Klum, Sophia Vergara and Simon Cowell — all said taekwondo was the winner. Cowell even said World Taekwondo was his favorite act. Comments like those carry a lot of weight.
Action Items: If you operate a taekwondo school that teaches this style of acrobatic moves and aerial board-breaking, mention it to people. World Taekwondo has a track record of performing on television, so taekwondo schools will continue to have opportunities to benefit from the exposure.
KUNG FU: This reboot of David Carradine’s 1970s TV series is set in present-day San Francisco and features a female star/kung fu practitioner named Olivia Liang. It’s available on the CW Network, as well as Hulu and YouTube, and it’s introducing a new generation to the Chinese martial arts.
Action Items: Watch a few episodes of the series to determine whether you feel comfortable recommending it to students and prospects. (It’s rated TV-14 because of language and situations.) If you think it’s appropriate — maybe your class is adults only — highlight any connections between what’s shown on screen and what you teach.
COBRA KAI: If you owned a school in the ’80s, you remember how The Karate Kid brought people into your dojo to inquire about taking lessons. The sign-ups weren’t guaranteed, however. If you carried yourself like sensei Kreese of the Cobra Kai school, it would turn off some people. If you showed humility, avoided arrogance and taught quality classes, you were almost guaranteed to increase your enrollment.
During the decades that ensued, plenty of martial arts films came and went, but none has had the lasting effect that the exploits of Mr. Miyagi, Daniel-san, John Kreese and Johnny Lawrence have had. Fast-forward to 2021. We now have the ongoing adventures of Daniel, Johnny, Kreese and even Mr. Miyagi (through flashbacks) to spur interest in martial arts. The Karate Kid universe continues to energize our industry.
Action Items: If you teach karate, make mention of any relevant connections between your curriculum and episodes of the series. For example, one episode of Cobra Kai featured the sai. If you teach it, let your students know about the show. For a kid, having a connection with a hit series can be a cool thing to talk about at school. If you regard this as outside-the-box thinking, it is! But it’s one of the best ways to become more successful as a business owner.
Floyd Burk is a San Diego–based 10th-degree black belt with 50 years of experience in the arts. To contact him, visit Independent Karate Schools of America at iksa.com.
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