How to Run a Successful Martial Arts Gym
Personally, I think "how to run a successful martial arts gym" is something every instructor, head coach and gym owner has googled at some point. Martial Arts schools or gyms, by their very nature, require a multi faceted approach in order to make them run well. You have to balance the art i.e. having standards, ensuring levels are met, putting out fighters/competitors who are ready etc with the business i.e. earning enough money to sustain it, understanding marketing, IT skills etc and all the myriad of other skills needed in between.
I have been to countless gyms in lots of different countries through my work on the Warrior Collective. I can tell you that most of the problems faced are exactly the same everywhere. More often than not, they are simply just scaleable i.e. to the size of the gym or business and time dependent i.e. an older gym has usually already passed through some of the issues faced by those just starting out.
This short 5 day series is about speaking to a selection of people who are already running successful martial arts gyms across a wide range of different martial arts/combat sports disciplines and picking their brains in order to help better understand their approach to making it work for them.
Day 1 - Andy Crittenden / ACMAC
Andy Crittenden is the owner and chief instructor of ACMAC Martial Arts Schools. Andy currently runs multiple Martial Arts schools (both full time and part time) in and around the Doncaster area. He is well respected around the UK and has built up a large, dedicated team of instructors to help run the 4 locations he now operates out of.
Andy started training in the Martial Arts in 1987, training in Tae Kwon Do with British, European & World Champion Kim Stones 7th Dan. Since then he has gone onto amass personally achieved black belts in a variety of different martial arts disciplines, won numerous awards and accolades for his schools/instruction and has gone onto produce a large number of British, European and World Champions.
What does success mean to you?
To me success is leaving a Legacy through my Students. If something happened to me I know that ACMAC Martial Arts would carry on. However, there are so many ways you can look to be successful. Personally this could be in your own achievements i.e. the styles you have trained in, the instructors you have learned from, the grades you have been awarded and the fights/competitions you have won.
Success as an Instructor could be anything from seeing someone through to Black Belt, training them to be a Champion or building a school/gym from scratch. I am very lucky to have 4 Schools with 400 plus students training in a range of Martial Arts disciplines across all ages from White Belt to Black Belt and from Novice to World Champion. But this did not happen overnight, I have worked hard to achieve this success alongside the team that I stand side by side with each and every night.
How do you make your gym work as a business i.e. financially sustainable?
When I opened my first School, someone told me that now I was self employed I would now only work half days! They were right, half a day, so 12 hours was the average. If you don't put the hours in then you simply cannot sustain a good business in Martial Arts. But, you have to work smart though. I am constantly working on giving my students the best standard of service and the best classes I possibly can.
For example, if I am not teaching for any reason then I need to ensure sure my staff are as good as I am so they can easily take my place. If your classes are of a poor standard then all the fancy business systems in the world won't help you. We work on retaining our members a lot and have on average a 2% attrition rate. We also put time into new student acquisition. Slow and steady is often best so that we don't put all our effort into getting a mass enrolment and then lose focus on the loyal students we do have.
I think Martial Arts Schools should give back to the community and make an impact. One, because it is our way of giving back but also secondly, as it is a good way to get known. I regularly do free school classes/assemblies, sessions with Scouts, Cubs, Young Farmers etc, Free Community Self Defence classes, attend local Gala's, support Charity events and many other types of events. When people think of Martial Arts in my area i only want them to think of us.
How do you maintain the standards of your students/fighters?
When we expanded from a single School to a multi-school organisation, one of my biggest challenges was maintaining standards across the board. There were two ways in which we tackled this, firstly, we made sure we put even more time into our Instructor Team to make sure they were the best they can be. We put different systems in place to help them continuously develop and stay motivated over the long term.
The second thing we did was to ensure that all our Gradings were done together as a group. This way all our Schools grade together in groups of just 2 Belts so we can make sure that everyone is progressing as they should be. The Head Instructors of each School and myself make sure each student is up to scratch by utilising the dynamics of the larger group. As for Fighters/Competitors, we try to compete at the best Tournaments, including those hosted by a variety of different Associations, to ensure we keep our levels as high as possible.
Our fighters have to stay on top form in order to get the results they desire. We choose to attend WKKC Events in the UK and attend their World Championships as we know theirs is always a high standard. We also attend WAKO British, Irish & Dutch Open amongst others to mix it up with different styles and groups.
What are the biggest challenges in running a full time gym?
Time management! I think I have this as close to correct for me as possible at the moment. Getting this right is key! Putting the time in is one thing but spending it wisely is the much harder thing to get right. Especially if you are juggling multiple things within your Martial Arts Business. I have been my own boss for nearly 16 years now. It's hard to stay motivated and continuously put the time in but you have to do it week in week out, year in year out to stay at the top.
What 5 things do you know now that you wish you knew when you first opened your gym?
I have made plenty of mistakes over the years but I would like to think that I have learned from them. Nothing that really stands out too much to be honest. I wish when I opened our 2nd, 3rd & 4th schools that I knew what I was doing in the way that I do now but that's part of the learning process. Trial and error is sometimes are greatest teacher.
I talk to my Instructor Team continuously about My Top 10 Tips for Teaching Martial Arts
- 1/ Consistency! Always teach great classes, the best you can. Every single class you take is important. Make sure anyone you allow to teach for you is doing the same. Your students deserve it. You are teaching them to defend themselves, to increase their fitness and potentially lengthen their life. They deserve 100%
- 2/ Remember you are lucky to be a Martial Arts Instructor, be grateful for what you do and that there are far worse ways to make a living.
- 3/ Charge something fair and reasonable for your area but what make sure it is an amount that will give you a happy life and allow you to enjoy your time away from the mat. If you are not happy then you will not perform at your best and that's precisely what your students deserve. There should also be enough money left over to look after those who help you and to maintain a good looking facility with all the equipment you need to run the best possible classes.
- 4/ Continue to learn. Be a white belt forever, remember what its like and also maintain your passion for Martial Arts or you will not be able to ignite someone else's.
- 5/ Be genuinely interested in your Students on and off the mats. Be part of their achievements and whenever they do something to be proud of, make sure they know about it.
- 6/ Work hard every day to get new members for your School, but work harder to keep the ones you have.
- 7/ Make Loyalty & Respect the core values your School is built on.
- 8/ Train your Students well as they represent you and the greatest testimony to your ability as a coach or school. New students looking at them should be inspired to be as good as them, especially the Black Belts.
- 9/ Communicate. Being able to communicate with your Students on the mats as well as off the mats is very important. Students should understand what is expected of them on the mat. Students (& Parents if applicable) must also know what is expected outside of training and what is happening at any point in the School.
- 10/ Community. Be a contributing part of your local Community so that when people think "Martial Arts" in your area, they think of you! Attend local gala's, have a relationship with local schools and other local businesses.
- ** Extra Tip If your School isn't Clean, Tidy & Safe to train in none of the above will help you anyway
I hope you have enjoyed Day 1 of this mini series on How to Run a Successful Martial Arts Gym! Make sure you check out Day 2 HERE!! Let me know what you think in the comments below!!
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