How to Build a School

What a difference a couple of months make.

The period between Thanksgiving of 2010 and about 3 months ago was the worst in the 4 year history of my martial arts school, Central Florida Systema. The prior 2 years saw a steady, albeit it slow rise. The numbers were consistently moving in the ideal direction — upward. Then for unknown reasons, the bottom fell out. During this time, I seriously considered closing the school as attendance was virtually nil. A class of 1 or 2 was common. I suspected the end was near, except for the small voice inside my head saying, “Make no move for the rest of this year.”

The small voice. Volumes of books have been written about the “small voice’ — what it is, what it means. While theoretical debate is entertaining, I also knew it would behoove me to listen. So I did.

The bigger voice. I also had many conversation with my wife, Lisa who helped clarify what I truly wanted and what I wanted was to teach, to share my experiences and information so as to help other improve their lives via the martial arts. It was a deep desire, a calling that could not be ignored.

Jump ahead a couple of months to the present and I am most happy to say, We are booming! Our schools is now the biggest it has ever been and we are continuing to grow at an unprecedented pace. Best of all, I feel a deep sense of rejuvenation and a happiness for an art and activity that I absolutely love.

For me, the real value of martial arts today is not so much self-defense as self-growth. This experience itself, qualified as a major growth opportunity and lessons are being learned. Here are some of the notions so far:

1. Follow your heart. I (re-) started taking other martial arts (like Silat, Dim Mak, Cane Fighting) classes simply for the experience and pleasure. I may or may not incorporate some of the principles and movements into Systema but that is secondary. I just love it and this feeling brought more good feeling. . .which then attracted more positive energy. And new students.

It all begins with one of the oldest principles in existence — do what you love.

2. Quit blaming the economy. Yes, this is a horrible economy and current policies are making it worse. But not for all . . . . .

“It’s because of the economy” has become a phrase used to justify poor service, pricing, value and other variables. I found myself using this as an excuse for poor attendance. Mind you I stopped posting flyers, making contacts, updating our site, setting up new programs and a number of other steps that are required to build and maintain a quality school.

Working hard and working in a smart fashion will always trump what ever the “economy” is doing.

3. Everyone matters. When someone stops showing up, I want to know why. Most people will either return my inquiry via email or phone and describe exactly the specifics. If there is something I can do to improve, I jump on the opportunity. Ironically, the last 11 people who signed up for classes have remained.

I realize that when you go out of your way to let everyone — regardless of skill, experience, age and every other factor – know that they matter, only good comes from this.

4. Have a support team. I rely on Lisa and my inner circle of 3 friends for feedback. I know I can count on them for direct, blunt, not-always-what-I-want-to-hear-but-always-what-I-need comments. Sometimes, it is humbling. Sometimes it is irritating. All times, it is valuable. Follow these steps:

Find ego and stuff in back pocket.

Find ears and turn them on FULL VOLUME.



Repeat as needed. working being grateful into the mix as well.

Find your core group or at least 1 person who loves you enough to be direct and truthful. The information is invaluable, both for business and more so for personal growth.

If you follow the above, I would anticipate these or better results, as they are universal principles for success.

Some people dream of success. I finally woke up and work at it.