Big schools, small standards

J. Pickard

Green Belt
Joined
Jun 8, 2020
Messages
145
Reaction score
130
So lately (past month or two) I have been communicating with and traveling to other martial arts schools that also run as a full time business trying to get some insight into ways to run a business without sacrificing standards and I noticed an unsettling trend. Every school bragged about how they had high standards and every school had between 250-450 students. All but maybe a dozen students per school, to put it bluntly, sucked. They had their floors full but nobody on the floor, not even some of the instructors, had any semblance of good technique. The schools had 6 year old black belts, some with 2 stripes on their belt, they had 3rd dan and 4th dan black belts that couldn't throw a basic round kick without loosing balance, none of them had any focus or semblance of discipline, no effort or power in their forms, their sparring was sloppy and low effort, and many of them didn't have an understanding or ability beyond what I expect from my yellow belts. Conversely there is a Shorin Ryu school in my town that has maybe 80 students at most for all programs (kids, adults, and fitness classes) and they are GOOD! They have white belts that after a month are more skilled than many black belts at these bigger schools. They have way more discipline and focus after a week than the black belts of the larger schools.
So, Million dollar question: Is it possible to run a school with 300+ students at any given time without actually sacrificing high standards? Can I have a school with 300+ students and still have the same or higher standards as the small schools tend to? These big school owners keep telling me it's possible but it is clear that their idea of "high standards" are less than mediocre.
 

Steve

Mostly Harmless
Joined
Jul 9, 2008
Messages
19,517
Reaction score
5,059
Location
Covington, WA
So lately (past month or two) I have been communicating with and traveling to other martial arts schools that also run as a full time business trying to get some insight into ways to run a business without sacrificing standards and I noticed an unsettling trend. Every school bragged about how they had high standards and every school had between 250-450 students. All but maybe a dozen students per school, to put it bluntly, sucked. They had their floors full but nobody on the floor, not even some of the instructors, had any semblance of good technique. The schools had 6 year old black belts, some with 2 stripes on their belt, they had 3rd dan and 4th dan black belts that couldn't throw a basic round kick without loosing balance, none of them had any focus or semblance of discipline, no effort or power in their forms, their sparring was sloppy and low effort, and many of them didn't have an understanding or ability beyond what I expect from my yellow belts. Conversely there is a Shorin Ryu school in my town that has maybe 80 students at most for all programs (kids, adults, and fitness classes) and they are GOOD! They have white belts that after a month are more skilled than many black belts at these bigger schools. They have way more discipline and focus after a week than the black belts of the larger schools.
So, Million dollar question: Is it possible to run a school with 300+ students at any given time without actually sacrificing high standards? Can I have a school with 300+ students and still have the same or higher standards as the small schools tend to? These big school owners keep telling me it's possible but it is clear that their idea of "high standards" are less than mediocre.
Check out your local Gracie Barra BJJ schools, and I bet they have 300 students or more, and also maintain high standards. Gracie Barra is an organization that has managed to embrace the McDojo business practices without compromising standards. In some ways, you could say that standardization has improved their curriculum and actually strengthened their business model.
 
OP
J. Pickard

J. Pickard

Green Belt
Joined
Jun 8, 2020
Messages
145
Reaction score
130
Check out your local Gracie Barra BJJ schools, and I bet they have 300 students or more, and also maintain high standards. Gracie Barra is an organization that has managed to embrace the McDojo business practices without compromising standards. In some ways, you could say that standardization has improved their curriculum and actually strengthened their business model.
I should have specified that I only visited Karate and TKD schools. I actually train at a Gracie BJJ school twice a week and they have about 100 students and very high standards, but they are very guarded and don't want to talk shop with me. They were hesitant to let me train with them at first when I told them I ran a martial arts school myself but once they saw I just wanted to train and learn something new they were cool with it as long as I didn't do anything to promote my school while I was at theirs which is totally fair and understandable.
 

frank raud

Master of Arts
Joined
Mar 23, 2006
Messages
1,642
Reaction score
502
Location
Ottawa, ON
I should have specified that I only visited Karate and TKD schools. I actually train at a Gracie BJJ school twice a week and they have about 100 students and very high standards, but they are very guarded and don't want to talk shop with me. They were hesitant to let me train with them at first when I told them I ran a martial arts school myself but once they saw I just wanted to train and learn something new they were cool with it as long as I didn't do anything to promote my school while I was at theirs which is totally fair and understandable.
Too far away from you, I'm sure, but Northern Karate in Toronto maintains high standards despite having an estimated 10,000 students in its various schools NKS Tradition | Northern Karate Schools I have attended multiple seminars over the last thirty years where Northern Karate students and senseis have attended, always been impressed by them.
 
OP
J. Pickard

J. Pickard

Green Belt
Joined
Jun 8, 2020
Messages
145
Reaction score
130
Too far away from you, I'm sure, but Northern Karate in Toronto maintains high standards despite having an estimated 10,000 students in its various schools NKS Tradition | Northern Karate Schools I have attended multiple seminars over the last thirty years where Northern Karate students and senseis have attended, always been impressed by them.
How many students per school though? I've seen a lot of greater organizations with thousands of students with high standards but most of their schools were hobby schools with no more than 100 students per school on the high end, and one with 12 that taught out of a church. If they have a lot of students per school I may be interested in talking with them.
 

Flying Crane

Sr. Grandmaster
Joined
Sep 21, 2005
Messages
14,056
Reaction score
3,599
Location
San Francisco
In my opinion, the larger the student body, the more difficult it becomes to maintain high standards. Even 30 or so students in a class together seems like quite a lot to me. I would be much more comfortable with my ability to maintain standards teaching a dozen or fewer.
 

frank raud

Master of Arts
Joined
Mar 23, 2006
Messages
1,642
Reaction score
502
Location
Ottawa, ON
How many students per school though? I've seen a lot of greater organizations with thousands of students with high standards but most of their schools were hobby schools with no more than 100 students per school on the high end, and one with 12 that taught out of a church. If they have a lot of students per school I may be interested in talking with them.
I obviously don't have an exact breakdown, but their website says 15 schools in the Toronto area and "several" international schools. If we assume 20 schools in total, that's an average of 500 students per school.
 

Steve

Mostly Harmless
Joined
Jul 9, 2008
Messages
19,517
Reaction score
5,059
Location
Covington, WA
If the standards are measurable and objective, and folks who engage in the training are rewarded by successfully applying skills in context, rank stops being such a huge motivator. In BJJ, it's very common for people to actually NOT want to get promoted, due to the responsibilities and expectations (some self imposed) that come with each belt promotion.

But in BJJ, folks are generally motivated by being able to apply skills in context (success in competition directly or success sparring in a school where standards are calibrated by robust participation in competition).

I am not surprised at all to learn that CMA schools that do not apply skills routinely have trouble maintaining standards.

Disclaimer, this isn't to suggest that the above is unique to BJJ. Any school where people are learning purpose driven skills that they actually use will see similar results.
 

Wing Woo Gar

2nd Black Belt
Joined
Sep 30, 2021
Messages
756
Reaction score
327
So lately (past month or two) I have been communicating with and traveling to other martial arts schools that also run as a full time business trying to get some insight into ways to run a business without sacrificing standards and I noticed an unsettling trend. Every school bragged about how they had high standards and every school had between 250-450 students. All but maybe a dozen students per school, to put it bluntly, sucked. They had their floors full but nobody on the floor, not even some of the instructors, had any semblance of good technique. The schools had 6 year old black belts, some with 2 stripes on their belt, they had 3rd dan and 4th dan black belts that couldn't throw a basic round kick without loosing balance, none of them had any focus or semblance of discipline, no effort or power in their forms, their sparring was sloppy and low effort, and many of them didn't have an understanding or ability beyond what I expect from my yellow belts. Conversely there is a Shorin Ryu school in my town that has maybe 80 students at most for all programs (kids, adults, and fitness classes) and they are GOOD! They have white belts that after a month are more skilled than many black belts at these bigger schools. They have way more discipline and focus after a week than the black belts of the larger schools.
So, Million dollar question: Is it possible to run a school with 300+ students at any given time without actually sacrificing high standards? Can I have a school with 300+ students and still have the same or higher standards as the small schools tend to? These big school owners keep telling me it's possible but it is clear that their idea of "high standards" are less than mediocre.
300?! Wow! Ive never even had 40. If I have 16 at a time in one class its a miracle. I do live in a very small community however.
 

dvcochran

Grandmaster
Joined
Nov 7, 2017
Messages
6,963
Reaction score
2,257
Location
Southeast U.S.
So lately (past month or two) I have been communicating with and traveling to other martial arts schools that also run as a full time business trying to get some insight into ways to run a business without sacrificing standards and I noticed an unsettling trend. Every school bragged about how they had high standards and every school had between 250-450 students. All but maybe a dozen students per school, to put it bluntly, sucked. They had their floors full but nobody on the floor, not even some of the instructors, had any semblance of good technique. The schools had 6 year old black belts, some with 2 stripes on their belt, they had 3rd dan and 4th dan black belts that couldn't throw a basic round kick without loosing balance, none of them had any focus or semblance of discipline, no effort or power in their forms, their sparring was sloppy and low effort, and many of them didn't have an understanding or ability beyond what I expect from my yellow belts. Conversely there is a Shorin Ryu school in my town that has maybe 80 students at most for all programs (kids, adults, and fitness classes) and they are GOOD! They have white belts that after a month are more skilled than many black belts at these bigger schools. They have way more discipline and focus after a week than the black belts of the larger schools.
So, Million dollar question: Is it possible to run a school with 300+ students at any given time without actually sacrificing high standards? Can I have a school with 300+ students and still have the same or higher standards as the small schools tend to? These big school owners keep telling me it's possible but it is clear that their idea of "high standards" are less than mediocre.
This is a big, yet fairly common question.
The short answer is no, I do not believe it is realistic to feel every person in a group that large is going to work out at a super high level. If you compare you class/school to a high school football team for example, there will always be 1st, 2nd, 3rd string players. There will always be people who are just more physically capable. This in no way means the 'less capable' people should not participate. Quite the opposite.
One of the biggest for any instructor is to know how/when to push a person. This also is different for most people.

Using myself as the example; physically I can only do a fraction of what I used to do. But I can still teach kids and adults to the upper levels of AAU and Olympic sparring and poomsae competition. Again, this level of competition is not for everyone.

Holding the standard high is an imperative. This is extremely important for the people who can reach the highest heights. But to believe everyone is going to reach the same heights is a recipe for failure and disappointment on both sides of the teaching/learning equation.
 

Mider

Green Belt
Joined
May 15, 2012
Messages
189
Reaction score
30
So lately (past month or two) I have been communicating with and traveling to other martial arts schools that also run as a full time business trying to get some insight into ways to run a business without sacrificing standards and I noticed an unsettling trend. Every school bragged about how they had high standards and every school had between 250-450 students. All but maybe a dozen students per school, to put it bluntly, sucked. They had their floors full but nobody on the floor, not even some of the instructors, had any semblance of good technique. The schools had 6 year old black belts, some with 2 stripes on their belt, they had 3rd dan and 4th dan black belts that couldn't throw a basic round kick without loosing balance, none of them had any focus or semblance of discipline, no effort or power in their forms, their sparring was sloppy and low effort, and many of them didn't have an understanding or ability beyond what I expect from my yellow belts. Conversely there is a Shorin Ryu school in my town that has maybe 80 students at most for all programs (kids, adults, and fitness classes) and they are GOOD! They have white belts that after a month are more skilled than many black belts at these bigger schools. They have way more discipline and focus after a week than the black belts of the larger schools.
So, Million dollar question: Is it possible to run a school with 300+ students at any given time without actually sacrificing high standards? Can I have a school with 300+ students and still have the same or higher standards as the small schools tend to? These big school owners keep telling me it's possible but it is clear that their idea of "high standards" are less than mediocre.
Sounds like a McDojo, too bad many in here will say theyre not. Theres a few good instructors Id love to meet who sacrifice money for quality
 

Mider

Green Belt
Joined
May 15, 2012
Messages
189
Reaction score
30
Check out your local Gracie Barra BJJ schools, and I bet they have 300 students or more, and also maintain high standards. Gracie Barra is an organization that has managed to embrace the McDojo business practices without compromising standards. In some ways, you could say that standardization has improved their curriculum and actually strengthened their business model.
300 plus? Thats hard to believe....
 

bill miller

Orange Belt
Joined
Sep 28, 2021
Messages
85
Reaction score
99
I feel that, for a school to grow large, and still maintain a high quality, they would have to start small, and cultivate good, skilled instructors and/or assistant instructors, and gradually grow. Just my thoughts
 

Wing Woo Gar

2nd Black Belt
Joined
Sep 30, 2021
Messages
756
Reaction score
327
Sounds like a McDojo, too bad many in here will say theyre not. Theres a few good instructors Id love to meet who sacrifice money for quality
Let me clarify, who are these instructors you would like to meet?
 

angelariz

Green Belt
Joined
Apr 22, 2013
Messages
157
Reaction score
36
Location
CT
So lately (past month or two) I have been communicating with and traveling to other martial arts schools that also run as a full time business trying to get some insight into ways to run a business without sacrificing standards and I noticed an unsettling trend. Every school bragged about how they had high standards and every school had between 250-450 students. All but maybe a dozen students per school, to put it bluntly, sucked. They had their floors full but nobody on the floor, not even some of the instructors, had any semblance of good technique. The schools had 6 year old black belts, some with 2 stripes on their belt, they had 3rd dan and 4th dan black belts that couldn't throw a basic round kick without loosing balance, none of them had any focus or semblance of discipline, no effort or power in their forms, their sparring was sloppy and low effort, and many of them didn't have an understanding or ability beyond what I expect from my yellow belts. Conversely there is a Shorin Ryu school in my town that has maybe 80 students at most for all programs (kids, adults, and fitness classes) and they are GOOD! They have white belts that after a month are more skilled than many black belts at these bigger schools. They have way more discipline and focus after a week than the black belts of the larger schools.
So, Million dollar question: Is it possible to run a school with 300+ students at any given time without actually sacrificing high standards? Can I have a school with 300+ students and still have the same or higher standards as the small schools tend to? These big school owners keep telling me it's possible but it is clear that their idea of "high standards" are less than mediocre.
I only run classes with 5 or less people. Obviously I do not make much money but people that come to train get trained to my standard. So I will never be a "successful " gym but the people leave with my best efforts to train them to defend themselves.
 
OP
J. Pickard

J. Pickard

Green Belt
Joined
Jun 8, 2020
Messages
145
Reaction score
130
I only run classes with 5 or less people. Obviously I do not make much money but people that come to train get trained to my standard. So I will never be a "successful " gym but the people leave with my best efforts to train them to defend themselves.
Our school was previously run for 27 years as a "for profit business" but the owner worked a very well paid full time job besides running the school so 100% of the school's income went to paying bills to keep the doors open. For that time we never had more than 30 or so students max with about 8-10 on the floor at any given time (broken up by age). We had very high standards during this 27ish years to the point that many students would go a year or more without testing for the next rank because they just weren't putting in the effort to make changes. Our rule has always been that you don't have to be gifted or be an A+ student but you have to at least make noticeable measurable changes based on the feedback given by the instructor. If those changes weren't made then you didn't test so a lot of our 10 years and up age group don't last more than a year because they can go to the school 12 miles away and literally just pay $40 for a new belt every 2-3 months. I took over 3 years ago as the owner and head instructor and want to try to run the school as a successful business while maintaining our standards but for every one student that actually tries it seems like 4-5 quit because they can get the belt at the "Taekwondo" daycare on the other side of town. This is not an exageration, I had a mom of a 12 and 14 year old ask me why her 12 year old daughter was eligible to test in 2 days but her son wasn't. Her 14 year old son puts in no effort, clearly doesn't want to be there and is always disruptive to the point of having to send him off the floor frequently during class. When I (as tactfully and respectfully as possible) told her this and that we need to see changes made she actually said, and this quote will forever be burned into my memory "well the *name redacted* taekwondo school on the south side gives the students new belts every 3 months. If its just a matter of payment I have the money." It really seams like this is how the "business" of MA is run.
 
Top