Thursday, August 27, 2015

How To Choose A Martial Arts School

Choosing the right martial arts school. It can be an intimidating thing to do, especially if you do not have any experience in the martial arts. With numerous schools popping up in any given town (there are at least 6 in Natick) there are no shortage of choices. But how do you know which one is a good fit? Below is a great article written by professional martial arts industry consultant Tom Callos to help guide you in finding the school that is right for you.

Choosing the right martial arts school

The first thing to know about choosing a martial arts school is that you already know how to do it. You evaluate a martial arts school the same way you would evaluate any school you would take your child to. Just because you’re thinking of joining a school that teaches the “ancient arts of self defense,” doesn’t mean you don’t apply modern day scrutiny to their professionalism, teachers, and facilities. 

Being a black belt, at any level, is not a sign that the wearer is a good teacher or that he or she knows how to run a business. Just because someone is a good athlete, doesn’t mean they are going to give you your money’s worth when it comes to lessons. Parents should use their good judgment when choosing a school, as just like in the martial arts, there aren’t really any secrets, it’s all about mastering the fundamentals. If you’re looking for a good school, look for one that’s proficient at the fundamentals of customer service.


Just like any business, the way the facility looks and its cleanliness (or lack thereof) says something about the attitude and aptitude of the owner. A martial arts school doesn’t have to look like a Starbucks, but it ought to be clean and organized. If a school doesn’t look professional, chances are it isn’t.


Just like you would expect from any business, the staff of a martial arts school should be courteous, professional, and personable. They should treat you (and/or your child) like a paying customer. If you can go to a department store and get better service than you can at your local martial arts school, then spend your money at the department store.


Bad attitude = bad school; if you get a weird feeling, a sort of “attitude” from the staff or owner that rubs you the wrong way, then you shouldn’t become a customer of that school. If the attitude of the owner is superb and his or her staff exhibits a similar attitude, then you’ve found a school worth a second look.


When shopping for a martial arts school, the “style” the school teaches is secondary to who teaches the classes and how they teach them. A good instructor will make you feel good about what you’re doing. He or she will help you stay healthy and take an interest in why you’ve joined the school. If you’re a complete novice to the martial arts, don’t shop for a style or method, shop for the best teacher or teachers (read: the best people) you can find. Find the right teacher and you’ll love the martial arts. Find the wrong teacher and it won’t matter what style they teach.


Lots of intermediate and advanced students in classes? Chances are you’ve found a school that knows how to enroll and keep its students; that’s a good sign. If you go to a school that’s been in business for a year or longer and it’s still empty, something’s not right with the school. Most martial arts teachers think their classes are the best classes --the way that most restaurateurs think that their food is the best food. If the parking lot is empty, it’s a sign that the customers have a different opinion.

THE FINANCIAL arrangements

Many martial arts schools will ask you to sign a contract for a certain number of lessons and/or for a certain amount of time –and that’s ok, as a school has to sell its wares and generate cash flow just like any other business. You shouldn’t think twice about signing a contract with a school, under the following conditions: 

1. You’ve had adequate time to witness and experience the service the school provides. Most schools have a great sales pitch, but some aren’t able to follow through with the level of service they promise. Nine out of 10 schools will allow you to try a month of lessons, maybe for a reduced price, before you agree to enroll for a certain number of classes or months. If you can’t negotiate this trial period, it’s a definite red flag. Bonus Tip: Some schools will have a Pay In Full option on membership. It’s ok to pay for your membership in full, but make sure you know the school thoroughly before doing so. Most schools will have a no-refund policy. 

2. The contract you sign should spell out, clearly and exactly, how you leave the program should you have to leave or if you become dissatisfied with the service. It’s ok to pay a little exit fee or some other penalty should you decide to leave before fulfilling the terms of a contract, but the penalty or penalties shouldn’t be unreasonable (and some are, so check carefully). Nine out of 10 schools will, if you insist, write a special “exit clause” on your contract spelling out the terms of your departure and they will also be willing to strike out parts of a contract if you don’t feel comfortable with the verbiage. Bonus Tip: The way the owner or staff member treats you should you try to negotiate a trail period or a change in the school’s contract will give you a very clear idea of what the school’s service is really like, after the sale. If you’re not treated with respect, go elsewhere.


There’s service, then there’s good service, and then there’s excellent service. Just because the owner or staff member of a martial arts school has the ability to make you beg for mercy with his or her baby toe, doesn’t mean they have the right provide you with anything but the best service they can muster. If you visit a martial arts school and you don’t see or feel a reasonably high level of customer service happening, raise that suspicious eyebrow, step back a bit, and do some further analysis. 

The feeling you get when you are there and when you leave

Are you having fun? Do you leave the school feeling empowered and taken care of? If you go to a martial arts school and leave feeling better than when you arrived, you’ve found a good thing.


Always go with your gut instinct when choosing a school or instructor. If your intuition says something’s not right, something’s not right. If you’ve found a good school, you’ll know it (especially if you’ve read this article). 

Friday, February 7, 2014

My Time In Thailand

As my flight got into Bangkok I couldn't really wrap my head around the fact that I was on the other side of the world. Even though cab driver to the gym not did not know english and all the signs looked like abstract art I was just too tired to really process it all. When I finally got to the gym it was 2 am  and all I wanted to do was sleep. There was training at 6:30 am and I was wondering if I was actually going to have the energy for it.

A few hours later I hear a rooster signaling the sunrise. I briefly thought about sleeping in as not many people would blame me for doing so. Then I realized I came to this place on a mission to learn and now was as good a time as any to jump into the experience head first.

The only way I can describe the look/style Sitmonchai is to say that it is simple. They have what they need, nothing more. It is located in Tha Maka in the Kanchanaburi provence which is a fairly remote area. There are two boxing rings, a few heavy bags, a small matted work out area, and a bunch of pads for all the trainers. Its not dirty, but it's definitely no five star resort. The gym is outside and covered by a metal roof. The small accommodations are located right off the gym area. There is no hot water (not much of a problem after a good work out), there is wi-fi but it doesn't work most of the time, and most of the Trainers speak little to no english.
They don't have much, but they have what they need. 

I wasn't sure when it was going to hit me. The fact that I was on the other side of the planet, in a foreign land, where I didn't know the language, training with people who live it everyday, hadn't really sunk in. At least not until I took my first few steps outside my room. Then it hit my like a tidal wave! "Woah, I'm in freakin Thailand!"

Without much time to wrap my head around it, it was time to start training. I had just missed the start of the morning run so I warmed up by skipping rope while chatting with some of the other people who had travelled to train at the gym. To my surprise almost every non-Thai there was either a return visitor and/or had been there for an extended period of time. All of that confirmed that I had picked a great gym to come to if I was serious about learning good technique.

Kong Fa, My trainer!
My training there at the gym was some of the best Muay Thai training I had every received. They were sticklers for technique and never let you get away for doing something even slightly wrong. Even though there was a huge language barrier a lot was able to be communicated through body language and facial expressions.

While the training was intense, it was never forced. If you wanted to go easy you were supported and if you wanted to go hard the trainers would push you. Kru Kongfa and I developed a good rapport with each other since he was my trainer everyday I was there. They make sure they consistently keep you with the same person. It helps the trainer know your capabilities, push you, and stay invested in your progress.

The food alone is worth coming to train here. 
After training each day we would have a meal prepared by the matriarch of the gym "Mama Lek". She was very sweet and genuinely cared about all the people there.  Lets just say, after coming home, that I haven't had any Thai food that has even come close to comparing to what I ate at the gym. I think I am a bit spoiled now.

 My time at the gym was so valuable even outside of just the training. The few days I spent in Bangkok was also really interesting. Oh and Phuket? well? It was smelly, dirty, crowded, and I was sick the whole time I was there. haha! There is a lot that I could write about my time in Thailand but it would take many pages to go through all the experiences and observations I had while I was there. So i'll sum it up the rest with a few things I learned from my journey

  • You don't need much to be happy. We have so much here and people around the world are just as happy, and sometimes happier, with much less.
  • Spicy fried ants actually don't taste that bad!
  • That you can always push harder than you think you can.
  • That there are a few things you should learn how to say wherever you travel or you may find yourself in a tight spot. "Bathroom" being on the top of that list. 
  • A lot can be communicated with body language and a smile.
  • Even the Thai's think I have a pretty mean roundhouse kick! I'm honored!
  • Some of the most beautiful places are the ones most people don't travel to.
  • I am very fortunate to have what I have, and will do my best to be thankful every day for it. 
I am so glad I pushed myself to go in this trip. While I am glad to be home, there are definitely things o miss (like sticking a straw in a coconut and $6 Thai Massages) It is the kind of experience I would encourage everyone to have. There are many other places in the world I want to see, but I believe Thailand will get a return visit someday. 

If you would like to see more pictures just follow this link:

Friday, January 10, 2014

I Am Who, I think, You Think I Am

This is a re-post from a year ago, but with a message that is timeless.

I have many little “sayings” that I use to help guide me as I teach and help the assistants that I train. I almost look at them as rules. If I stay true to them, they will always point me in the right direction when I have to decide how to approach a certain situation. One in particular that I was recently reminded of is: “I am not who I think I am. I am not who YOU think I am. I am who I think, you think I am”. Yes, it may get your brain going.

I have a student (lets call her Sarah). Sarah is 9 and has been training with me for a number of years now. During a vacation with her family she decided that she wanted to continue learning how to snowboard. She did fairly well, but after a day of falling and picking herself back up, she was physically and emotionally exhausted. On her last run her parents noticed she was slowly crying her way down the hill. Remembering a “Mat Chat” I had with the students one day about “Hitting the Wall” (Also Separate Post), Sarah’s mom went over to her and said:

"This reminds me of Sensei's mat chat about hitting a wall.  You're tired, you've worked hard learning to snowboard all day, you’re cold - it's like hitting that wall Sensei was talking about.  He said, 'we all hit walls from time to time but it's how you respond to it that defines your character”.  She leaned in softly and said, "this isn't who you are"

She gave her a hug and skied ahead, giving Sarah some time to let it sink in.  As Sarah caught up to her mom she took her time, carving some cautious but nice turns and no longer crying.  She made it safely down the hill with her head held high, proud of all she accomplished that day.

Sarah’s-Mother’s response, in my opinion, could not have been more perfect. That last line “this isn’t who you are” was key! By hearing someone she trusts say that, it helped her find that belief in herself that she could, indeed, push through.

We all know that people can be their own worst enemy. No matter how hard they try to avoid it, doubt, frustration, fear, and other negative emotions can sink in 
during those most stressful times. It is during those times that people look to others for guidance (even if they won’t admit it). They want to be shown that these emotions they are feeling are not totally true. It is those times when remembering that saying comes in handy. When you are working with someone (student, child, employee) during a challenging time, keep that saying in mind.

They way people think you perceive them can have a huge impact on their ability to overcome life’s challenges.

I know that if I can show my students how much I believe in them, they will be able to achieve amazing things.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Post-Alabama Buildvention Post

Sorry for the Delay on this everyone. I can’t believe it has already been a month since the Alabama Buildvention. I have to say it was an amazing experience. I met some amazing martial artists from around the country, made some great friends, built a house, sweet talked some lumber guys into cutting us a deal, did some training during a tornado emergency, and even played volleyball some mennonites who had hosted us for dinner (and we totally got our butt kicked!).

First I want to say Thank you!!!! Thank you for all coming together and contributing to the project! With your help we raised enough funds to pay for the entire house build.

As a school we were able to raise just over $3000 for Hero Housing. All the money went directly into the budget to build a home for Ms. Georgia Woods. The total we raised between everyone who went was just under $20,000.

Imagine if we could come together to do something like this within our own community. We find a need and we come together as a school to make it happen. The possibilities are endless.

Amazing things going on in Greensboro

When you drive into downtown Greensboro (population 2443) and it is an interesting site. Almost all the retail spots are abandoned/in shambles. But there are a few spots where HERO Housing has made their mark. Hero Bike and the Pie Lab are two such places that Hero has brought to the community. They provide great services and help Hero fund other restoration projects in the town. As you drive around town, most of the houses are also in pretty bad shape. But every so often you see a modest but great looking house. It serves as another symbol of HERO's amazing work in the community.

A short drive from downtown we saw a park that HERO renovated. They were able to get Tony Hawk to design the skate park. There is even a playground made out of recycled mouthwash barrels donated by Colgate (it actually has a minty smell when you walk in). They took the leftover barrels and made them into huge rain barrels that power the toilets in the bathrooms. HOW COOL IS THAT!? And they get college level design students to donate their time to design everything.

And the head of HERO - Pam Dorr? Well lets just say you can’t meet that woman, hear what she is doing, and feel like you ever have an excuse to not get something done. She is quite amazing!
The House and more!

The house build went extremely well. A tornado warning delayed our efforts a little bit, but we were able to get the majority of the house done. We all had varied experience with construction work, but everyone was able to play a part. Many of the more experience builders took the time to mentor everyone else as we were building. Everyone was patient and helpful and made the whole experience extremely enjoyable.

Because of the amount of people there we were also able to help on a couple other restoration projects HERO had going on.

In the 3 days we were able to frame the whole house, side it, build a porch, and complete the whole roof. We also painted a massive ceiling, laid down a hardwood floor,

I am happy to report that Ms. Georiga's house is now finished and she is moving in this weekend!

What I learned

This section could be long as I learned so much, but I will try to sum up.

-Giving back to a community in need is an amazing feeling
-We are so fortunate to have so many things and we take much for granted
-You can always do more than you think you can
-We should all strive to leave every place we go a little better than how we found it
-We should always strive to set the bar as high as possible in everything we do.
-I have some pretty amazing students

And much more!

We are definitely going back next year. April 9th-12th. I hope more of you will join us!

I also need to give a shout out to our two junior assistants Brad Palmer and Owen Mahoney. They were two of the most popular people at the event. They worked hard, took initiative, never complained, and really represented themselves and the school incredibly well. I remember waking up one morning around 6am. I looked around and didn't see Brad or Owen anywhere. I walk into the kitchen off the gymnasium we were camped in to get some coffee. I see them running around helping to make everyone breakfast! This was one of the many of their impressive moments during the whole trip. Thanks for making me look good guys! haha!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

What Would A Black Belt Do?

Lets imagine, for a moment, that being a Black Belt is being the best version of yourself possible. Now let me ask you - How would you, as a Black Belt, walk/talk? How would you eat? Would you be fit? Would you have integrity? Would you give back to the community? How would you treat the people most important to you, or even the people least important to you?

I bet if you gave it a little thought you would could come up with the answers.

I understand that not all people will associate a Black Belt with those things, but it can just be an example of the kind of mindset that moves you forward. Often times, the ability to be what we want already lies within us. We just need to be more mindful of as it has not yet become habit. Sometimes if you just imagine what the best version of yourself would be like in any area of your life you can start to make steps towards becoming that person.

I write this as I wait for my flight to Alabama for the Buildvention. I am excited to be around a group of forward thinking people who ask themselves every day - What would a Black Belt do? Then they take action to make a positive impact on the world. It is a great example of what a group of people can achieve when they hold themselves to a higher standard.

So, What does the “Black Belt” version of you look like?