5 top tips for taking your martial arts business online.

The Covid-19 panic has unfortunately meant that many martial arts instructors around the world have been left in the difficult position of having to close their academies and take our business online.

For some, this is an inconvenience – we’re all martial artists, we want to get to the dojo or academy and we want to train with people and pass on any knowledge we have.

For others however, this is a much more serious problem, as their income and survival depends on their academy and students. For the first time ever, well established and successful martial art schools, through no fault of their own, are facing the possibility of never opening again.

A pretty somber thought right?

We are martial artists however, and when times get tough, we tighten our black belts and solve problems. Determination and success through adversity is what we teach right? Time to walk the walk as well as talk the talk.

Let’s look at the positives. 10 or even 15 years ago, we would have been in a much more dire situation. Why? Because the technology wasn’t around for us to reach our students from wherever we were. Before the rise in technology which was a comparatively short time ago, if you wanted to train with someone, you had to physically drive, walk or even catch a plane there! Now however, we have this wonderful thing called the internet and wonderful technology that allows us to reach out to our students and provide them with tuition, even in the crazy times we are now facing.

Many martial artists are already doing this, moving their physical academies to online within a matter of days – and that truly is incredible. Some however are still a little reluctant, or even scared to learn this new skill, and yes it is a new skill! Teaching online is most definitely different to teaching in person where the buzz of the class and atmosphere can raise you up and give you that drive.

For those a little bit reluctant, here are 5 simple tips for taking your martial arts business online and making it a success. These tips are based on what I’m doing at my own academy where we are lucky to have a fantastic community. The vast majority of my students have stayed with me during this crisis and are engaging online with us. Yes because our community is strong, but also because we are providing the right content for both now and when we get back training.

Start off simply…

A big mistake I made when we first moved our academy and business online was doing too much, too soon. I wanted to provide everything for my students and was desperate to keep them when the academy closed. After all, this is my job, it’s my passion and it’s what I want to do for the rest of my life. No students = no academy = no income = no training = no happy Dan. See the progression?

Therefore, I immediately went into overdrive, planning everything from kids activities to last 30 days, to adult 30 day challenges, to social events, to live classes, to pre-recorded material, to Instructor training, to Junior Instructor training, to guest sessions and more. The result? I got a lot of half jobs done and very little full jobs completed.

I realized this, and realized I was burning myself out and couldn’t keep going at this pace for the sake of my health and mental well-being, as well as the quality of the lessons I was teaching. So I looked… What is the main thing I want to achieve here?

I want to keep my students happy, keep them progressing, and keep them training on a regular basis. Right, how do I go about that?

I looked at my timetable while we were at the physical academy – what nights were most popular for adults and kids? Tues and Thurs. Okay, so step 1, let’s put on sessions every week for kids and adults Tues and Thurs, keeping the same times as physical classes.

1 live class each on a Tues, and 1 pre-recorded class each week on a Thursday. This will get people training, get them engaged with us, get them used to moving online and also get me used to teaching online.

Start off simply. Don’t try to do everything. Once the Tues and Thurs were in the diary every week, our students were notified and the classes were planned. Only then did I move onto step 2 – offering more. 1 job at a time and keep it simple.

After our first online workout…

Keep it fun and know your worth

With the current climate as it is, we all need a little bit of light relief and fun in our lives. We wake up, read the news, regret reading the news and then spend the day trying to avoid social media posts about 5G turning us all into mutants because Bill Gates is a reptilian lizard man owned by the super rich 1% who want world domination… or something.

We need to lighten the mood, and your online business and classes can be a great way to do that. Keep things light, keep things fun and realize that you are providing a great service in this time. People are craving some semblance of normality right now. People want to be connected to others and your classes are a way of doing this.

Our kids all got invited to join our online superhero training academy when we closed the physical academy. The world needed them to battle the evil Dr Heisenberg (think I was watching Breaking Bad as I designed it…) but they had to go through the superhero online training first. This consisted of weekly workouts, challenges and jobs around the house. See the angle? Keep it fun and entertaining, the kids loved it.

For those already teaching, how many parents or adult students have messaged you thanking you for doing what you’re doing? Whether this is keeping the kids occupied while they do your classes, to providing some stress relief and fun in your adult sessions.

Know your value and realize you’re doing a great job even moving your business online! Many people and businesses still haven’t and are just waiting for this to blow over…

Plan, plan and…. plan

Plan your classes! Especially as you start out! Even if you have been teaching for 30 years physically, teaching someone online who is on their own is a completely different ballgame. Your energy needs to be THROUGH THE ROOF and you need to over plan! Why? Because you need to account for the fact they won’t necessarily be changing partners!

Some people are lucky enough to live with people they train with, awesome, they can pad feed each other, or work through the drill. What about those that live on their own however, or with people who aren’t interested in training? We need to account for these people too and so we need to over plan. The first few classes, you will think the 45 mins or hour has gone by only to look at the clock and find its 20 minutes into the lesson…. shit! Time to get inventive!

Option 1… Huge magnets….
Option 2…. Online classes!

Plan your classes or workouts and over plan if anything, especially as you get used to the online format.

Also, as a side note – test your live classes before you run them! Our first session I got carried away, forgot to look at my clock and we cut out of a zoom meeting after 40 mins right in the middle of a workout. Oooops. Since then I’ve paid to upgrade so I don’t have to clock watch but it was a lesson learnt.

Mix it up!

Mix it up and keep it fun! Add some new concepts or skills you haven’t looked at in class before. Take the time to investigate areas you don’t usually have time for. Go back to the basics for everyone. This is exactly what we did when we first started our online sessions, we went back to the basics.

This meant not only did I as an instructor get to ease myself into the online format, but the students got to revisit some fundamentals on stance, striking, covering etc that perhaps we hadn’t looked at physically for a while.

For the kids, add games, props and activities both during class and after that they can do. Think of a 30 day challenge they have to complete every day. Use props in classes such as a sword they have to virtually jump, duck and bob and weave out the way of as you slash towards the camera. Keep it engaging and it’s not only fun for you, but fun for the students.

Keep the students guessing and interested and engaged. Have a technical session, then next session have a fitness session, then have a grueling pad work/shadow boxing session, followed by a theory session. Mix it up and engage with your students….

Engage with your students!

See how well that followed on!

We need to engage with our students at this time and make sure they are getting what they need from the classes and the sessions. Do they want more fitness? Do they want more technique? Do they want to see less of your face on camera (It’s was a legitimate request)?

Ask them what works for them and what doesn’t. Some of my students wanted more fitness. So we added 3 half hour workouts into our timetable a week. No we have family members who previously had sat and watched classes, actively involved in the workouts with us and helping the kids with their punches. Therefore, guess what, we’re keeping the online workouts when we get back to physically training in the academy!

We now have a full weekly timetable including intro slots for new members to come in for a private 1-1 session. We run live classes for kids, adults and families as well as 3 workouts a week and a stretching class every Sunday taken by my very talented girlfriend all the way from India! Think outside the box and use your imagination.

To sum up…

These can be really difficult times for a number of reasons, but don’t let your online business and academy be one of them. Keep it simple and built up. Don’t overthink it, just get your students moving and having fun. You are all amazing at that I’m sure, so just translate it to online. Once you’ve got that sorted, think outside the box as to what else you could do at this time. How about social events for the adults who are no longer at work, but are at home with their kids all day? Maybe they need some adult time so suggest a virtual night at the pub for your members! Quizzes, or video challenges work great and really engages people. Think what you would find fun, and do it! Chances are your students will find it fun too.

So go, enjoy and let’s hope it’s not too long before we’re back training at our physical academies but keeping some element of online business maybe! The man to talk to on moving your business online is Matt Chapman and you can see our interview with him on online training here

Has Covid-19 changed the Martial Arts forever?

I’ll be honest everyone… I’m a little concerned right now and the reason for this is Covid-19…

I’ll be the first to admit that 5 or 6 weeks ago, I was definitely in the “corona-what” camp. The mindset of it’s no worse than the flu, it will all blow over in a few weeks and we were making a big deal out of nothing. I’ll also be the first to admit that I was proven wrong as time went on…

There is no doubt that the Corona pandemic will go down as a moment in history. This is the biggest world problem since the end of the second world war and those who are not a little concerned, no matter what the reason, must be living a different day to day life than the majority of us.

The health risks are for sure, very real, and potentially very scary, but the economic uncertainty is also at the forefront of people’s mind – and rightly so.

Nearly everyone has been affected by Covid-19 in some way. This could be personally, through contracting the virus, or knowing someone who has, or financially through the furloughing or jobs, or closing of non-essential business. The topics, debate and implications of Covid-19 could easily be a never-ending blog site in itself, but this is a martial arts blog and so the topic must obviously be how this industry has been affected and may even be in 2 parts! Let’s see how badly I word vomit all over this blog post!

Covid-19

On Friday 20th March 2020, the UK government announced the closure of all restaurants, pubs, non-essential shops and gyms in order to try to contain the spread of Coronavirus. For some martial arts instructors, this was a shock, for others, it was only a matter of time.

In my own academy, we had been expecting this and so had made every effort to film our pre-recorded content, establish our online members group and keep all our students in the know about the next steps. Some instructors however, were most definitely caught with their pants down when this happened.

Regardless of this however, as an industry, I feel we should be incredibly proud of ourselves in how we have managed our schools, adapted to the situation and in most cases, made the best out of a really crap situation.

After all, is this not what being a black belt is about? Is this not what we try to teach and instill in our students? Overcoming adversity, adapting to change, staying positive and focusing on solutions rather than problems. Time to practice what we preach perhaps!

In a matter of maybe a few days or a week, the vast majority of professional martial arts academies had moved their schools online. Needs must. We all love being at the academy, we love interacting with the students face to face, and we love the atmosphere of a busy class. This is no longer possible right now though, so what do we do?

There is no other option. Either give up and wait for it all to pass, hoping on the goodwill of the students to keep you afloat. Or up your game and serve your students the best you can – online.

Online training is something I have been looking at, admittedly for a number of years, but have never really prioritized, preferring to build a physical academy before focusing on a virtual one. I also questioned to what efficacy martial arts could really be taught online and I know this was (and for some still is) a major concern.

Before the crisis, virtual/online training and academies were almost sneered at within the martial arts community. Words like “selling out”, “mcdojo” and “lowering of standards” often came up, not all the time, but definitely some of the time. I admit that, I myself even struggled to see how people could effectively learn martial arts online.

Respected martial artists I knew were heading for the online platform model or were already well established – most notably Matthew Chapman, who sold his bricks and mortar school and now runs completely online through his fantastic Mittmaster courses – several of which I have purchased and regularly use (insert shameless backlink to a review I did of his stuff…here). He is now helping other instructors launch their products online with great success through his Teach Your Passion Online page – something I’m sure we are all very grateful for during the Covid-19 pandemic.

And so my question is – will this pandemic change the face of Martial Arts forever?

For some – online training is a tool to be used at the moment when there is no other option. As soon as they get given the go ahead, they’ll be straight back into the dojo/academy and Zoom classes will be a distant and painful memory.

Others however, myself included, are seeing this as a possibly new way of ADDING to our physical locations. I still have reservations that you can learn martial arts from scratch as a white belt – purely online. I think as already experienced instructors/martial artists, online training can supplement our own training. It can give us new concepts or ideas to work with and new material to teach, but to learn purely online, from white to black grade, may be a stretch I personally feel.

Adding an online element to our existing academies however, I feel is a fantastic way to provide value to our students and also show we are moving with the times. The owner of G Force Martial Arts Academy, and business coach Gordon Burcham is world class at picking up on new trends and establishing them in his business to great success. Online training is a great example of this. He has a PHENOMENAL full time academy, which he has now moved online, booking new 1-1 intros online, providing value, and ensuring people still benefit from the many benefits of martial arts.

I think that now is the time when martial arts are needed the most. Kids are at home, bored and perhaps needing some structure, discipline and exercise. Adults are also at home, raiding the fridge, midday drinking because the sun is out and gradually expanding! This is where our online training can help both physically and mentally during Covid-19 and lockdown.

Physically to release some endorphins or feel good hormones, as well as lose some weight and learn some new skills! Mentally, to feel a part of something bigger than just the confines of your own four walls. Connecting with people has never been more important than it is at the moment and this is a great medium for this – even if it is online!

Can we or should we grade online? Personally, I think not. I know my classes have been far more fitness based than technique in our online classes.

Firstly because even though technology is a great thing and the students can see me and I can see them, some aspects of martial arts, you simply need to feel and be there physically for. Secondly, although a purely technical class can be good and is definitely needed, it simply doesn’t release the same feel good vibes as a high intensity class. You don’t leave a technical class sweating but smiling. You may have learned something, but this is more for the further advanced grades. At the moment, I feel people need to sweat, smile and feel they’ve worked hard.

It’s up to each individual school owner to decide the best way forward for their academy in these unprecedented times and no-one can judge I feel. For me though, a grade needs to be earned in person. You need the nerves, the adrenaline, the pressure which I feel may be lacking in your living room while your mum, dad, brother, partner etc is cooking breakfast in the kitchen next door!

Can online martial arts training have a place both now and in the future however? Most definitely and I would argue that online training is not only viable right now, but also completely necessary. In part 2, we’ll question what will happen when this pandemic ends (and it will end people). We’ll ask some leaders in the field their thoughts on the future and what the next few months hold and who knows, maybe we’ll try for some video interviews too if people are up for it!

For my own sanity I’ll be looking to reconnect with some martial artists I know around the world at this time and relaunch this blog which I let drift a little in the past year or so. The Covid-19 crisis seems to be a perfect opportunity for this so here goes! If you have any thoughts, feelings, ideas or things you’d like to discuss, feel free to get in touch.

We don’t know when, but we will be back punching each other and we’ll remember the Covid-19 Spring of 2020 when we all got told to sit indoors and save the world.

Stay safe everyone.