4 Ways to Improve Your Dojo and Your Life

No. 1: Make "Yes" Your Favorite Word.

Try to never say no. The reason is obvious. Yes is positive, and no is not. Yes propels people forward, and no does not. Yes tells your students that they're exceptional and that they're leaving "run of the mill" in the dust. No does none of that.

Still, many people love to say no. Sometimes it's because they're just used to it. Sometimes it's because that's the way they were taught. Occasionally it's because they believe it gives them a sense of power and control.


In the dojo, some people reflexively say things like, "No, you must wait until I tell you it's time." The question the student posed could have been about earning the next belt, learning a new kata, competing in a tournament or getting a drink of water. It's not surprising that "no people" usually have a low student count.

In the 1980s, I read a popular self-help book titled Don't Say Yes When You Want to Say No. While that book had nothing to do with creating a martial arts business plan, "no" managed to find its way into my dojo's day-to-day operations. That never should have happened.

Much later, I learned that saying yes often leads to hard work but that work almost always pays off. It sends the message "I will go to the ends of the earth to help you." In contrast, saying no sends the message "I don't get paid enough to do that."

From the student's perspective, it's totally understandable. People don't want to be told no when they're paying for something they choose to do. Of course, as school owners, we're responsible for the solvency and success of our businesses, but there's much more. We're also responsible for uplifting our students, guiding their progress in the arts and helping them go from humdrum to humming along nicely with respect to fitness, self-defense prowess and life in general. One of the best ways to pass on these benefits to everybody who walks into our schools is to say yes more often

No. 2: Start Using "Let's" and "We."

These two words complement "yes" and therefore should be used frequently. It's one thing to say, "Now I want you to do 500 kicks." It's totally different to say, "We're going to do 500 kicks — and let's do the last 100 better than the first." Saying the latter is guaranteed to elicit a "Yes, Sensei!" from every student.

"Let's do three two-minute rounds on the bags and really burn the last one!" "Yes, ma'am!"

"Let's do all our kata two times each." "Yes, sir!"

When a student's mother asks if Suzy can be on the demo team, your answer should be something like, "Yes, when she gets to green belt, she can join the demo team. Let's make sure that she keeps up her grades at school since good grades are required to be on the demo team." "Thank you, Sensei."

No. 3: Say "I Can Help You" More Often.

You should view helping people get what they want as a personal challenge. Take pleasure in doing that even when it doesn't directly benefit your business. Example: A woman comes in and asks about lessons for her 2-year-old. Your minimum age is 5, which means you have two choices.

The first: "Well, ma'am, I know some people who teach 2-year-olds. I can help you get in touch with them."

The second: "I suggest 2-year-olds start their sports career with tumbling. Here's a place you can go for that. We'll be happy to help you enroll your child here when she gets closer to 5."

No. 4: Institute an "Everyone Can Do It" Theme.

In most dojo, the hard system is still the norm. Problem is, it gives you no wiggle room. This old-school system is all about requirements: You have to kick this high. You need to do a 540-degree spin kick. You must break three boards.

The soft system follows more of an "everyone can do it" theme. It allows you to tailor your programs and requirements to the individual based on things like motor-skill development and attitudinal maturity. It helps you make it possible for every student to reach his or her potential. This brings us back to the first bit of advice.

Yes, we will get you that letter of recommendation for college.

Yes, our staff will sign off on your child's PE school requirement form.

Yes, you can use me as a reference on your Sheriff's Department application.

Yes, we will conduct a self-defense class for your Girl Scout troop.

The more you empower others, the more your student count will expand, your students' skills will improve, your kids will feel safe and your staff will thrive. These things will happen because people will enjoy being around you. Your positivity will encourage them and inspire them.

Reminder: Outside the Dojo

The importance of saying yes in the dojo was driven home by something my wife said to me at home. I used to say no to my two granddaughters all the time. Sometimes I would overhear them saying, "Grandpa always says no, no, no." One day, my wife said, "No is what our grandkids are going to remember you for. Let their parents be the bad cops; you be the good cop."

Her insightful comment was all it took. Now when my grandkids ask for a Barbie, I say, "Let's clean your room, and I'll get you two each."When they ask to go out for pizza, I say, "Let's add some salad, and you each can get your own personal pizza."

When they ask to go to the beach — which I'm not crazy about and seldom have time for because of my teaching schedule — I say, "Let's ask so-and-so if she can take you."

Like so many things in the dojo, the advice I've outlined here pays big dividends at home. It's helped me make both places more pleasant and more conducive to learning and development.

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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