Starting over is scary. Experience doesn’t really make it easier. In the past I’ve always relied on the help of others to get me through the tough stuff, or even to do the things I didn’t want to do. This time I have to do it all myself. I don’t have to if I don’t want to. I know I could ask for help and get it…and I probably will be asking later…but sometimes you have to do things for yourself. Picking up the phone and making calls for myself will make me a better person. …Assuming I don’t procrastinate til summer. Which I’m likely to do. Failure is scary. Being intimate with it makes it even scarier, and makes it really damned hard to stick your head up again and take another chance.
Moving on doesn’t mean forgetting about the past, it means viewing the past differently. Memories collect a powerful emotional overlay, and that overlay can become more important than the memory itself. If I think about old heartbreaks and get all broken-hearted, I’m thinking about the bad feelings…the rejection, the feelings of failure, betrayal, anger and all the rest. The memories become triggers for those emotions. Which means I’m losing access to the content of those memories. Getting lost in the feelings of the soundtrack means you stop watching the action on the screen. If I look at an old heartbreak as if it was taking place in a silent, black and white movie, stripped of emotion…I can see what happened better. I get a view of my own actions, and the actions of others. I can do a frank analysis of what happened, and this turns my old memories into a rich storehouse of lessons instead of excuses for a good bender.
So looking at my past history of running martial arts schools, I’ve got a good series of lessons to draw from. I know my strengths and weaknesses, and I know the market. So I can plan. Planning is important. You need to know exactly where you want to go before you start. You don’t need a day-by-day, dollar-by-dollar plan as much as you need a vision or theme to keep you consistent. Things always go sideways and that’s okay, but you need to know how to get back on track. Keep the grand vision in mind, and then start to build up some priority steps to getting there. What are the things you really want? What things are nice, which are needed, and which are really just window dressing you only think you need? Get all that down, and then start applying reality to it.
This is important even for me, when all I really want to do is have a place to teach that’s covered and dry. One of most important thing about teaching is that you acknowledge the responsibility you have to your students to provide a safe and comfortable environment to learn in. Martial arts is a demanding thing to learn. When a students agrees to take more than one class from you, there is a tacit understanding that your relationship will be one that lasts years. This is binding on both parties, but mostly on the teacher. The teacher is the one who has to be there for the student to take lessons from. The student can take days off for life reasons, but it is understood that the teacher will always be available. This is why we charge money…the relationship is unbalanced in expectation. Money is usually how we balance out things these days…I am a fan of barter, too.
So the student pays me…now it’s up to me to ensure that I am available to uphold my end of the bargain. I have to uphold my end even if the student is lax in paying fees, or takes time off from training. The practical effect of this is that I need to be a businessman. Not the sleazy sales type…the accounting type. I have to market for new students to offset the gradual decline (hopefully through graduation) of students, so that the training environment can continue. I should manage the culture and training of the school so that it can continue in perpetuity sans me. I should manage it’s finances so that it makes enough money to cover future downturns as well as expansions. None of this can be skipped, it scales up and down for every size of school from a few people in a garage to an international organization.
So…yeah. Now that I’ve announced I’m doing this, I’m immediately feeling a smidge anxious. That’s the emotional overlay from past experiences. If I strip the overlay off…Wow. I have had some incredible students. I’ve seen my students develop in ways I didn’t think was possible. I’ve made friends and been part of a community that feels more natural to me than anything else in life. I can see where I made good and bad growth decisions, where I made good and bad teaching decisions, I have all those lessons in front of me. And reviewing those lessons changes the feeling of anxiety to a feeling of anticipation.
So first few steps are find a location, find out the upfront costs. This is going slow. Not getting any return calls, and I think I am not finding all the right locations. One more day of trying it on my own, and then I will start looking for help. Worst case I can go back to old locations, but I’d rather start with fresh mojo.
Another important thing is establishing my vision and goals for the school. These are pretty modest to start, but you can’t skip this step. I did a lot of marketing studies in the previous school. One thing I noticed is that Vancouver is flooded with a huge variety of martial arts schools, but the potential market of students is under-served. There are more than enough potential students to go around for any size of school that anyone wants to start in this town. So, even as a tiny bare-business outing, I don’t need to be competitive with anybody. It would be better for me to be as co-operative as possible. The more the community grows, the more my small part of it will grow. So our school should be friendly and work hard to promote all aspects of Western Martial Arts training in Vancouver. We should absolutely train to be the best, but in partnership with everyone else.
And that’s enough of a vision to start building on. Every club needs a good brand (because brands are fun!), and I can start to build up a brand around that. I know I will have a good crop of students to start with, but I also know those students will be depending on me to bring in new students, so marketing is a day one concern. I’ve got the curriculum worked out already, and enough lesson plans for six months. So…find a place. Make it a home. And then start to grow…
The featured image for this post comes from a series taken by Holly Mclaren for Justin Ring’s upcoming book “Steampunk Self-Defense.” You can find him on facebook if you want details on how progress is going.