Just after I turned 18 my father sat me down and asked me if I was ready to run a Taekwon-Do school.
He had a school in north central Phoenix and another program (where I taught) being run out of a very high end health and fitness club in east Phoenix. That program had grown to the point where it was time to move out of the health and fitness club and into it’s own location.
I had been teaching for years, I was on the U.S. ITF Taekwon-Do Team, I was running that program three days a week, it was doing really well, and I had been in and around Taekwon-Do for nearly all of my life… so OF COURSE I thought I was ready to run a school!
I had practically been running a school up until this point so I figured, how much harder could it be? So we began the process.
After doing our research, we found a perfect location and started making preparations for transitioning all of our students from the health club to the new school.
It was a very, very exciting time. I was ecstatic knowing that I’d be running this school and the students were just as excited to be a part of something that was growing and succeeding. I would spend time designing what I wanted the school to look like, thinking about all the extra time I’d have to train, imagining a room packed with students, friends and family for testings, and thinking about how great it was going to be to actually be doing something I loved full-time, for a living!
As the school started coming together it was like Christmas time! Everything was new. There were new mats, new kicking bags, new walls, a new front counter, new mirrors, fresh paint, new class schedules, a new cardio kickboxing program, and I could go on and on.
Soon classes began and I was loving it! The students loved the new location and you could tell that there was a sense of pride that they took in having their own school, they viewed it as theirs as opposed to some program they attended that was being run out of another business.
Then, after about 8 months, the honeymoon phase abruptly ended.
Business had slowed down for the summer months and it seemed like no matter what I tried, that there was nothing I could do about it. All the anticipation, joy, excitement, and boundless energy was being slowly consumed by worry, concern, fear and anxiousness.
I discovered very quickly that it didn’t matter how many medals I had, how many U.S. Teams I’d been a part of or how good my flying two direction kick in Juche was – If I didn’t find a way to bring more students in the door and enroll them in our program, there would be no Taekwon-Do school.
Lesson #1 – How good you are at Taekwon-Do is meaningless if you can’t effectively market and sell Taekwon-Do.
My landlord, the power company, the phone company, my internet provider, and all the other entities that sent me bills every month didn’t care how good I was at Taekwon-Do, they provided their service and expected to be paid, regardless of what circumstances I was dealing with at the time.
We made it through the summer that year and didn’t have to shut down (and my dad had obviously been through this before), but it sure scared the hell out of me!
I remember thinking that year, that, there had to be another way, a better way to operate a Taekwon-Do school without having to go through that feeling, that emotional roller coaster that eats at your soul. And so I began my search to find out how the most successful school owners across the country operated their businesses.
Another aspect of the “end of the honeymoon” was that I was getting really tired. I was going to school in the mornings and teaching 4-5 classes a night, plus cardio kickboxing classes each night (which were huge at the time) and classes on Saturday. It was about 30-35 classes per week, plus cleaning the school, scheduling new student appointments and so on. Even though business had picked up, I was wearing out.
I remember being so tired on Monday nights that I’d go hide in the changing room between the cardio class and the Black Belt class. With the school packed with people and me still dripping with sweat from the last class, I would go into the changing room, sit down, close my eyes, count to 30, then quickly change into my uniform and go teach. Obviously 30 seconds of rest isn’t enough for anyone, but it was enough to give me a mental break and shift gears to go teach the last class of the night.
Lesson #2 – You can’t do it all yourself.
There are plenty of people out there that will tell you that you can do it all yourself and be successful, but what they don’t tell you is that they often have someone who does their books, their billing, cleans their school, and often have assistant instructors that can help warm-up or teach classes. Don’t get me wrong, they are still doing a lot, but they are far from alone.
I had many upper belts and (with my father) we created an instructor training course. This allowed us to teach others how to teach and would eventually be the foundation for our current KTKD Instructor Training Course. After completing the course, students were able to bow in and warm up class, allowing us 10-15 minute breaks between classes and greatly cutting down on the daily physical demand of teaching.
The other two things we did that made a huge difference were getting someone else to clean the Taekwon-Do school and finding a company that could handle our monthly billing. These few things freed me up to spend more time and energy on the things in the business that really mattered, like taking care of the students who are already there and bringing in new ones!
Lesson #3 – You are responsible for everything!
Many, many things can and will happen in the life of a Taekwon-Do school owner both good and bad. You will meet many new and great people, you can make lots of money, you’ll make a difference in the lives of countless people, you will become a pillar in the community and an example of how to live a physically and mentally fulfilling life. But, you will also have people who quit on you, people who don’t pay, people who had a bad experience, complaints about class schedules, landlords and others who don’t keep their agreements, vendors who mess up orders, kids who fail a testing, upset parents and many, many other issues that I don’t have room for here.
The point is that YOU are responsible for ALL OF IT.
It doesn’t mean that it’s always your fault, but you have the opportunity to declare yourself responsible for the things that happen in and around your school. Some of you may be thinking that sounds like a bad idea. But declaring yourself as the one responsible actually puts you in a position of power.
Think about this. There are many things that happen in and around your school that don’t necessarily involve you directly, but that still have an impact on your students and your business. For a simple example, if you have two parents that don’t get along, that doesn’t involve you directly, but it does create a hostile environment in your school that may make others uncomfortable and not want to train at your school.
You could say that doesn’t involve you and when it starts impacting your business you can blame the parents. But you are still left with the dent they left in your business and you have positioned yourself as someone who is at the effect of the things going on around you. As if you are helpless and can’t do anything about it.
Or, you could declare yourself responsible for the situation, act as if it is your problem (because it really is) and take some action. Maybe you can separate them, maybe they can attend different classes, or maybe it is appropriate for them to not train at your school. It doesn’t matter what action you take, the point is that you are being responsible for what is happening, that you have a say in how things are going to go, and that you can impact the situation and make a difference.
No matter what industry you are in, running a business is a risk and an enormous responsibility. Especially in Taekwon-Do where you are not just selling a product, but you are dealing with people’s lives, and their children’s lives. The things you say and do in your next class could be something that sticks with them for the rest of their life.
I acknowledge you for taking the chance and being a Taekwon-Do instructor, fulfilling your passion and making a difference for others. We are definitely a rare breed.
How did you get started with your school? What challenges were you surprised with? I’d love to hear about your experience, please share in the comment section below!
About the Author:
Mr. Karstadt is the founder of 1 TKD Consulting and owns the longest running ITF Taekwon-Do school in Arizona, Karstadt Taekwon-Do in Phoenix, AZ with his father Master David Karstadt. He has been training since 1984, earned his Black Belt at the age of 8 and is currently an internationally renown intstructor teaching the culture, discipline, leadership and business skills of Taekwon-Do in classes and seminars to Instructors around the world. He has been a member of eight U.S. Taekwon-Do Teams and has traveled to 14 different countries competing in Taekwon-Do winning numerous medals at the World Championships and in international competition, most notably winning the 2004 World Championships in South Korea with two gold medals and the Men’s Team All Around Trophy. Mr. Karstadt currently resides in uptown Phoenix, Arizona with his wife and three children. Mr. Karstadt can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org