Necessary Background to Start a School?

Koshiki

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Hi All,

Question for you all. Somewhat of a personal question. What would you say you would look for as a minimum time/age for an acceptable head of a school? Obviously, it is experience, understanding, and knowledge, and most especially the ability to teach which are the ultimate guidelines, but leaving that aside...

The past couple years, the powers that be in my system have been hinting at, and then gently suggesting, and then openly recommending, and then good-natured-ly pushing me towards opening a school, especially now that I have moved to an area out of range of our other schools, with a very sparse martial arts culture. At this point, I have the Sensei of my school/branch, the Eldest/ranking student of the system, the current head of the system, and the original, retired head of the system all trying to get me to open a school, every time I see them. It's kind of getting to the point where I have to very directly say, "No, absolutely not," or actually just open a school. I *would* just say no, if it wasn't pretty much the thing I've wanted most since I was about 13 years old...

Anyway, I'm 24 years old, and I've been training for 13 years in my style. I can honestly say that I am pretty decent, technically, and that I am a fairly good teacher. I just don't see 13 years as enough experience, and I know if I walked into a school with a 24 year old kid running the place, I wouldn't have much faith in the quality. The rest of my style doesn't seem to see this as a problem.

Just wondering what you guys think. I know that *I* wouldn't take me seriously, if I met me as the head instructor of a school! So what do you think? What are your personal minimum age/years training expectations?

Many thanks,
-Zack
 

lklawson

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If the ranking and authorizing body of your organization has deemed you ready, as in instructor, to open a school, then you're probably ready.

To be impolitely blunt about it, either you trust their judgment or you should quit and go find a different martial art to train in, taught by people you do trust.

Most likely you're experiencing the quite understandable and generally reasonable feeling of "I'm not ready, I don't know enough, don't have enough skill, don't have enough reputation, am too young in my art" &tc. That's to be expected. It's reasonable in a lot of ways too. Yes, there are people who know more than you. Yes, there are people who can kick your butt. Yes, there are people with better reputations and more depth in the arts. Your goal as an instructor is not to be unbeatable, to know everything, or to have the reputation of Musashi. Your goal is to spread the art to new people and to be a good instructor, helping your students grow in understanding and ability of the art.

If you do decide to open a school, your real hurdles will most of the time be financial or come back to financial concerns. How to I pay for the rent, the electricity, the insurance? How do I get enough students to make the school self sustaining? Why do students keep quitting?!?! Don't they know I'm trying to keep the @#^@!% lights on?!!!

It's hard to get into the YMCA any more. TKD has a strangle hold on it (used to be Judo and Boxing had the strangle hold). But some Y's have room for more than one martial arts program. There are also a growing number of "share the space" clubs. You know, TKD on MWF, Kung Fu on TTS, and BJJ in the evenings with MMA classes following BJJ. That sort of thing. They often have a slot or two for one more art if you are willing to share the expenses of keeping the lights on and can fit your teaching into their schedule.

This sort of stuff is why Garage Dojos are still so popular (with instructors).

As for my advice on how to approach the guys pushing you to do so, explain to them that you have these concerns and ask them what they can do to help you out. If they're as committed as I think they are, they'll probably help you search for rental space or existing clubs willing to share. They'll probably agree to help do occasional demos and seminars to help drum up interest. Ask them advice on all the nitty gritty boring "run a business" details like insurance and what works to drum up new students (fliers? mailers? demos? val-pack coupons?) and what works to keep existing students (who, statistically speaking, tend to leave in the greatest masses right around yellow belt). Ask them what days of the week and times of the day are best for getting new students to show and if that's different from when long term dedicated students prefer (so you can have separate newbie and advanced classes). Tell them that, while you have experience as an instructor, you're inexperienced as a "dojo owner" and ask them to help you get it set up as much as possible. If you can try to get them to "mentor" you through the process for at least a year (longer is better).

Oh, and don't be afraid to charge a bunch of money. Western civ. is weird in that we foolishly equate higher cost to greater desirability. Also, offer private lessons and don't be afraid to charge a really bunch for 'em.

Good luck.

Peace favor your sword,
Kir
 
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Zero

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Commercial (cold light of day) quesitons:
You say your system have been "encouraging" this:
- are there affiliation fees/charges/franchise costs you/your dojo would need to pay into the system to be a "member/operating affiliate?
- if so, are such fees/costs fixed at a set amount, or on a sliding scale, such as determinable on the class size, monthly/yearly "takings" of your club?
- would such fees be all inclusive, ie cover affiliattion/use of IP/logos/system name etc, linking to website, etc?
- again, are there any other yearly (or other) charges you would need to pay your system?
- are there any performance criteria, ie number of students over a period, number of belt promotions, number of attendees at extra-curricular (ie weekend/away camps/seminars) put on you that you need to adhere to? Any ramifactions or penalty charges for not meeting such?
- what degree of freedom do you have in teaching the art, is there a rigid framework or "system" you need to adhere to?
- are there any tie-ins or ramificationsd if you seek to leave the affiliation, shut "your" school?

Suport:
- what support are you provided by the system?
- free or assistance with website or linking to master website?
- use of kit/provision/loan (at no cost) of equipment to help you set up, etc?
- can you get equipemtn, ie floor mats etc at discount, part of system bulk buying?
- mentoring/someone to turn to (ie you are only 24 (which is cool) but what do you do if a kid comes in a says, "hey, such and such touched me in the changing rooms"), there may be certain situations you just don't have the life experience to deal with yet.
- what will the situation be re use of training facilities/location/dojo?
- what other overheads?

Those are just a few as I don't have much time right now (killing time between meetings, also hungry, thinking about grilled chicken).

Perception:
From a commercial perspective, it is not so much about "what would an experienced martial artist think or how would the guys on MT that have been training for 30 + years think if they walked in the door and saw some 24 year old dude heading the class". It is more "what's the joe-average Ma and Pa going to think or individual with little MA experience going to think when they walk in and see me or hear of me by word of mouth?"
When I did judo as a kid I was lucky my dad put me in a school with a very experienced and capable teacher. However, when I started TKD as a 13 yr old in high school, the head of that club was probably only in his early twenties (I think he could just manage to grow some half decent stubble). On reflection, he was an ok technically skilled TKD guy but not the greatest of teachers and not the best at controlling senior/junior dynamics and discipline in the school. But i never told mum any of that and she kept paying my monthly subs until I chucked it in for karate (after going through most of high school, and having a lot of fun along the way and becoming a pretty decent kicker (that's about it)). His classes almost always filled the hall as well, so for him (or whoever owned the show), result!!!$$$ (maybe...)

If you have confidence, (hopefully, but not always a prerequisite) ability, look the part (decent skills) and are good enough at imparting knowledge and herding a class of wild cats (ie kids), you may well be ideally suited right now.

Honestly, if it was me, the only reason I would pay to train with you would be on a cherry picking basis if you were execptionally good at a particualr skill or technique I wanted to master that I thought I could learn from you. A lot of older guys with a lot of tournament or real life expereince probably are not going to be queing up to join your school, but that's ignoring all of the above. And hey, in ten years or so time when you have the experience under your belt and some credible senior students that will change in any event.

As long as you are improving in your style along the way so you can continue to learn and pass that on as your own students progress and get to grips with the foundations (you are hopefully able to impart) then things could work out just fine.

Those top quesitons set out above, if you don't know or can't easliy get the answers to, are the kind you go about getting in a low key/friendly but professional manner but are definitely ones you want answers to before any decisions are made or anything signed/entered into.
 
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Koshiki

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To be impolitely blunt about it, either you trust their judgment or you should quit and go find a different martial art to train in, taught by people you do trust.

Bluntness much appreciated! I almost entirely trust their judgement, as much as I trust anyone's judgement. I do think, honestly, I could do a pretty good job of it, just, I don't know. Last year I would have thought the same thing, and the year before, and each year, looking back, I think to myself, "Dear golly-gosh, you taught it like THAT!?!?? What were you thinking???" I don't want to look back in two years and realize I have a bunch of students of whose training I don't approve!

Most likely you're experiencing the quite understandable and generally reasonable feeling of "I'm not ready, I don't know enough, don't have enough skill, don't have enough reputation, am too young in my art" &tc. That's to be expected. It's reasonable in a lot of ways too. Yes, there are people who know more than you. Yes, there are people who can kick your butt. Yes, there are people with better reputations and more depth in the arts. Your goal as an instructor is not to be unbeatable, to know everything, or to have the reputation of Musashi. Your goal is to spread the art to new people and to be a good instructor, helping your students grow in understanding and ability of the art.

Actually, I think I have one of the biggest egos of anyone I know, as far as I can tell. I always think that *I* will be great at what I do, that *I* will have inspiring ideas, that *I* will effortlessly achieve great heights. ...I try to temper that with a little rationality, with the intellectual, if not intuitive understanding that I'm probably missing/misinterpreting/butchering quite a lot of stuff, and in a little while either I or someone else will show me up.

It's not so much that I think an instructor needs to be perfect and the absoltively, posolutely best-est; I just feel incredibly irresponsible potentially taking almost sole responsibility for someone's introduction into the martial arts. My teachers were all in their 40's-60's, or SOMETIMES in their 30's, with decades of experience. I feel like they had plenty of time to make sure they weren't teaching bull-schmucky... I'd be the youngest instructor/owner I know from any school of any system. By well over a decade, in most cases...

If you do decide to open a school, your real hurdles will most of the time be financial or come back to financial concerns. How to I pay for the rent, the electricity, the insurance? How do I get enough students to make the school self sustaining? Why do students keep quitting?!?! Don't they know I'm trying to keep the @#^@!% lights on?!!!

Yaw. We have five clubs. One just shut down, actually, so four. Most have 15-30 regular students. One has less. None of them make much money at all. That, I won't lie, is a huge concern for me. I don't care whether or not I make ANY income from a school, but I don't want to try it for a year and a half, close, and end up trying to pay off loans, or something. That said, I'm pretty sure I'll have an extremely helpful support group from the other dojos. Very close-knit, friendly group.

Ack. I don't know.

Many thanks for your input!
-Zack
 
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Koshiki

Koshiki

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You say your system have been "encouraging" this:
- are there affiliation fees/charges/franchise costs you/your dojo would need to pay into the system to be a "member/operating affiliate?
- if so, are such fees/costs fixed at a set amount, or on a sliding scale, such as determinable on the class size, monthly/yearly "takings" of your club?
- would such fees be all inclusive, ie cover affiliattion/use of IP/logos/system name etc, linking to website, etc?
- again, are there any other yearly (or other) charges you would need to pay your system?
No fees. We'd add a branch to the website, no charges or anything, and that would be that. The head of the school is, financially, among the worst businessmen I've ever met. Part of what I respect about him!
- are there any performance criteria, ie number of students over a period, number of belt promotions, number of attendees at extra-curricular (ie weekend/away camps/seminars) put on you that you need to adhere to? Any ramifactions or penalty charges for not meeting such?
No charges, requirements, nothing. The only requirement would be providing quality training and instruction.
- what degree of freedom do you have in teaching the art, is there a rigid framework or "system" you need to adhere to?
Well, there are obviously specific kata/techniques/rank requirements and expectations that would need to be met, but aside from that, I'd have a great deal of freedom. So, there's a core framework, but I can build on that as much as I like, realistically. Again, assuming the quality of instruction is good.
- are there any tie-ins or ramifications if you seek to leave the affiliation, shut "your" school?
Yeah, there will be lot's of pouting and "please don't close, how about we cover rent for a month to get you back on your feet?"

I have absolutely no doubts that, should I open a school, my organization will be only helpful and supportive. Formal requirements and such are, literally, non-existent.

Suport:
- what support are you provided by the system?
Probably mostly hand-holding and advice. No-one in the system has any cash...
- free or assistance with website or linking to master website?
Linking to master website, such as it is. My dad's a web-designer, I keep hoping they'll let him take over the site and redesign it; he does nice work!
- use of kit/provision/loan (at no cost) of equipment to help you set up, etc?
Probably some scraped together loans and cheap second-hand stuff that can be spared or scrounged.
- can you get equipemtn, ie floor mats etc at discount, part of system bulk buying?
Eh. Maaaaaybe? I doubt we would ever, as a group, have cause to buy enough to get bulk discounts. The original head-instructor's century account is old and gets some sort of discount though, which we get to use. Students and instructors get everything at cost through his account.
- mentoring/someone to turn to (ie you are only 24 (which is cool) but what do you do if a kid comes in a says, "hey, such and such touched me in the changing rooms"), there may be certain situations you just don't have the life experience to deal with yet.
See? That's another kind of thing I worry about; I'd just be out of my depth with. I've had a fair amount of experience confronting people, when need be, but that's a fair amount for the average 24 year old. I'm still a baby. But yes, there are a number of senior students/instructors I could easily go to for assistance.
- what will the situation be re use of training facilities/location/dojo?
Do you mean, can I go to class at other schools? Yeah, anyone who teaches any regular class gets free classes at all the branches.
- what other overheads?
Scaaaaaaaarry. I'm not exactly rich. Or even middle-class. (Although I creep closer every year!) I might get the odd bit of support, if it was absolutley necessary, but none of the other schools make any money, either...

All in all, I suppose I have a pretty great backing, organization-wise, except for the possibility of financial support. Still kind of intimidating.

Thanks a Mucho,
-Zack
 

Stargazer

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Hi Zack, it sounds like you would be a great teacher and are thinking of all the right things.

Opening a small business is something that takes preparation and market savvy as much as martial arts skill. Most Chamber of Commerces offer free small business advisement to people thinking of opening a small business in town. I've used it before and it was really helpful. You can have someone who has been there review legal or market plans, check your cash flow strategies, look for hidden fees that could ding you, etc. If nothing else, they can refer you to solid counsel in the area. I wouldn't open a business without doing the necessary homework and it sounds like you are. Good luck!
 

James Kovacich

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Hi All,

Question for you all. Somewhat of a personal question. What would you say you would look for as a minimum time/age for an acceptable head of a school? Obviously, it is experience, understanding, and knowledge, and most especially the ability to teach which are the ultimate guidelines, but leaving that aside...

The past couple years, the powers that be in my system have been hinting at, and then gently suggesting, and then openly recommending, and then good-natured-ly pushing me towards opening a school, especially now that I have moved to an area out of range of our other schools, with a very sparse martial arts culture. At this point, I have the Sensei of my school/branch, the Eldest/ranking student of the system, the current head of the system, and the original, retired head of the system all trying to get me to open a school, every time I see them. It's kind of getting to the point where I have to very directly say, "No, absolutely not," or actually just open a school. I *would* just say no, if it wasn't pretty much the thing I've wanted most since I was about 13 years old...

Anyway, I'm 24 years old, and I've been training for 13 years in my style. I can honestly say that I am pretty decent, technically, and that I am a fairly good teacher. I just don't see 13 years as enough experience, and I know if I walked into a school with a 24 year old kid running the place, I wouldn't have much faith in the quality. The rest of my style doesn't seem to see this as a problem.

Just wondering what you guys think. I know that *I* wouldn't take me seriously, if I met me as the head instructor of a school! So what do you think? What are your personal minimum age/years training expectations?

Many thanks,
-Zack

There's another way to look at it. You will be "the" instructor and technically not the "head" instructor until you've trained new instructors. By the time you do that, I'm sure you will feel better about it.

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terryl965

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Let me just say this Zach running a school is one thing but running a business is what most teacher/instructors forget about. You should have a good understanding of marketing, taxes, profit and lost plus area to open a school. The business side is the hardest if you believe you can handle the business side than your org has all ready have faith in your ability to open. Best of luck on your decission.
 
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Koshiki

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Opening a small business is something that takes preparation and market savvy as much as martial arts skill. Most Chamber of Commerces offer free small business advisement to people thinking of opening a small business in town. I've used it before and it was really helpful. You can have someone who has been there review legal or market plans, check your cash flow strategies, look for hidden fees that could ding you, etc. If nothing else, they can refer you to solid counsel in the area. I wouldn't open a business without doing the necessary homework and it sounds like you are. Good luck!

Good pointer, thanks!

There's another way to look at it. You will be "the" instructor and technically not the "head" instructor until you've trained new instructors. By the time you do that, I'm sure you will feel better about it.

Aha! And I've been an "instructor" for years! Wordplay can be so comforting...

Let me just say this Zach running a school is one thing but running a business is what most teacher/instructors forget about. You should have a good understanding of marketing, taxes, profit and lost plus area to open a school. The business side is the hardest if you believe you can handle the business side than your org has all ready have faith in your ability to open. Best of luck on your decission.

Every member of my family, saving myself, is self-employed/owns their own business. I've seen a hekkuvvalotta struggling to stay afloat. It's no small consideration, that's for sure... The business side is where my organization reaaaally falls down.

Thanks for the advice and insight, all...
-Zack
 

Daniel Sullivan

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Good advice all around. One observation: many teacher that my kids have had weren't that much older than you. Some looked like they were barely out of high school, though in talking to them, it was apparent that they were older than their looks. I worked retail for many years and knew some excellent managers who were in your age range. I also knew some terrible managers who were in the age range that I now occupy.

What art do you teach and what organization are you connected to?
 

Grenadier

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13 years of training in a decent school / system is plenty in terms of knowing how and what to teach, if you have had a good number of those years teaching in the current school. If your current school is successful, then it's fairly safe to assume that your instructor has a tried and true method that works, and you would do well to keep that as a solid framework for your own teachings.

At the age of 24, you're a full fledged adult. If you have the teaching skills and know how to teach to a variety of ages already, then your age isn't going to be a factor here. Just be a good teacher, and the flow of the class will handle itself.

If you want to start out with a low risk venture, just so that you can take some time to build up your class sizes, there are all sorts of fitness centers out there that have aerobic exercise rooms, and most of them are quite willing to rent out space to you at a relatively cheap cost. You can always move later if you start getting too big for your britches.

If the authority figures in your system are encouraging you to do so, then they have faith that you can do it, and that you do have the required knowledge when it comes to the system.

The big issue here, though, as Terry pointed out, is that it's still a business, and you'll have to do a lot of on the job learning when it comes to bookkeeping, balances, bills, collections, etc. I've known many fantastic instructors who have excellent teaching skills, excellent martial arts technique, but horrible business practices, and sadly, they usually don't get very far when it comes to building up their schools.

This would probably be a great time for you to sit down with your teacher (if he's the owner of the school), and discuss what business practices he uses. You don't have to copy his methods exactly, but keep in mind, he's stayed in business for a good reason.
 

EddieCyrax

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"- again, are there any other yearly (or other) charges you would need to pay your system?
No fees. We'd add a branch to the website, no charges or anything, and that would be that. The head of the school is, financially, among the worst businessmen I've ever met. Part of what I respect about him!"

Do you have or know a lawyer? Everything and I mean everything you could possibly think of needs to be in writing related to supporting efforts, affiliations,etc. You need to think of this as a business first, school second.

If you just want to teach, continue on the way things are.

If you want a school, you need to treat all your relationships with the business in mind. This is your capital at risk.

A good owner is a business man first, so your admiration for the lack of these skills will make you bankrupt and broke quickly.

Sounds like you are still very nieve in the business world. I would seek council outside of your circle of MA from people who run "successful" businesses. I define successful as profitable.

I am not suggesting becoming a McDojo as there are many great business models that provide excellent instruction, but you ultimately have to feed yourself.
 

EddieCyrax

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Sadly, based on your own description, I would run away from this opportunity with all my strength.

I would train under this organization, but would never tie my personal financial well being to it......

Way too many red flags here for me.....but that is my $0.02
 

jks9199

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If you're going to run a business -- you have to run it as a business. There's an old joke about making a small fortune in a lot businesses, and martial arts certainly qualifies: How do you make a small fortune in the martial arts? Start with a large fortune...

You might be better off running a sort of non-commercial (note, not necessarily non-profit!) club. Look into teaching at a fitness club or community center,possibly even as part of the programs offered through their catalog. If and when you reach a reasonable level, and if you so desire, you can look at going more commercial.
 

Carol

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Hi All,

Question for you all. Somewhat of a personal question. What would you say you would look for as a minimum time/age for an acceptable head of a school? Obviously, it is experience, understanding, and knowledge, and most especially the ability to teach which are the ultimate guidelines, but leaving that aside...

The past couple years, the powers that be in my system have been hinting at, and then gently suggesting, and then openly recommending, and then good-natured-ly pushing me towards opening a school, especially now that I have moved to an area out of range of our other schools, with a very sparse martial arts culture. At this point, I have the Sensei of my school/branch, the Eldest/ranking student of the system, the current head of the system, and the original, retired head of the system all trying to get me to open a school, every time I see them. It's kind of getting to the point where I have to very directly say, "No, absolutely not," or actually just open a school. I *would* just say no, if it wasn't pretty much the thing I've wanted most since I was about 13 years old...

Anyway, I'm 24 years old, and I've been training for 13 years in my style. I can honestly say that I am pretty decent, technically, and that I am a fairly good teacher. I just don't see 13 years as enough experience, and I know if I walked into a school with a 24 year old kid running the place, I wouldn't have much faith in the quality. The rest of my style doesn't seem to see this as a problem.

Just wondering what you guys think. I know that *I* wouldn't take me seriously, if I met me as the head instructor of a school! So what do you think? What are your personal minimum age/years training expectations?

Many thanks,
-Zack


Zack, you are fairly new to the board, but you've shown in your posts here that you have a decent head on your shoulders. IMO, you're also showing a bit of maturity that some folks with a decade or more time on earth could learn from :asian:

It sounds like you have a great support system in place with your current organization. If I were to walk in to your school, I don't think I'd be looking at your age so much as I would be looking at how you interact with me. Can you teach me what I want to learn? Can you teach me in a way that I can learn?

It sounds like you have a lot of passion for the arts. If this is what you've wanted since you were 13, and its now been more than 10 years and you STILL want it badly, I'd think its time to move forward. :)
 

Hyoho

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Minimum level Rokudan (6th Dan) if your in Japan. Maybe you can guage from that.

I have seen the most qualified teachers in the world turn up to 'no students'. It is supply and demand. If you are a good instructor they will come. If not? You might be on your own.
 

WaterGal

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It's true, some people will think less of you because of your age, like "how can this young guy be a mentor to my kids?", or they may doubt your professionalism. But I don't think that necessarily should stop you from opening a school.

If you have 13 years of study (which I think is respectable), at least a few years of teaching experience, "the powers that be" think you're good enough of a teacher to do it on your own, and you really want to teach, then think about it. But don't start a school because your teacher wants you to. That's the worst reason to do it. Even if you're just teaching out of a gym two nights a week, or out of your garage or whatever, it'll still be a whole lot of work for not a lot of satisfaction. And if you're planning pn making it your livelihood, you need to be 100% committed and love it.
 

Stargazer

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Zack, I agree with the above comments. You'll be a fine teacher and if you're good your age shouldn't matter that much. One of the best teachers I know started when he was 22-23.

A few questions- What do you mean when you say your teacher is a bad businessman?

Did they give you any paperwork/contacts to sign?

You mentioned your family owns businesses. What is their advice?

Are you owning, renting, borrowing dojo space?
 

Jaeimseu

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I wouldn't let age be the deciding factor in your decision. Certainly, some people will feel a person your age is "unqualified," but so what. If you intend to run a MA business, then learn how to be a business man and do it. The alternative is to sit around and wait until you're in your 30s. Why put your life on hold for people who aren't going to be your students anyway?

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EddieCyrax

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Kentucky, USA
For the record, my comments had nothing to do with your age and ability to teach. I think someone your age could easily run their own business.

My fear for you is as you described the support, it is all word of mouth from self admitted non-business thinking individuals, who are either breaking even or losing money. I may also be jaded with all the things/people I have witnessed in my years, but I would suggest you take a deep look at your circle and ask "Why are they pushing so hard here?" Everyone and I mean everyone has personal agendas. What do they gain from your school? What do they lose if you go on your own? Again, I would want a clear expectations of support and joint agreements in writing.

Even the best of friends change once real money is involved. You will want to ensure everyone understands and agrees should things turn to the dark side. Sadly, this happens every day in all lines of business and industries.

Even a great teacher can not transfer their knowledge if they can not keep the doors open.

Success in business means more than being a great instructor. That is definately part of the equation.

You seem like a good young man......just food for thought.....
 
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