Martial Arts Business. The Folly of Running a Cash Up Front Martial Arts School

(From my Facebook page, this Morning) Lessons in Business for Martial Arts School Owners Interested in Lessons and Open to Ideas About How to Improve:

My brother Bill Callos and I started a new business in Sacramento just a little over a year ago, The Safe and Vault Outlet ( Now my brother is an astute and hard working business man who has been in the security business in Reno for 35 years. I started in the business with him, when I was in my late teens —and then went on to teach MA full time, and Bill took the business and ran with it, turning it into one of the most successful of its kind in the nation. 

We decided to open a store in Sacramento due to the fact that we knew I’d be here at least 4 years, with my daughter going thru High School, all the numbers looked good, and it’s been a time when people are locking up their things. 

This isn’t a business I opened out of pure passion for something, like my martial arts schools, this was strictly a business / commerce decision —and one I risked due mostly to my brothers comprehensive knowledge of the business —and the company’s uber-successful financial portfolio / history. 

One of the many things I’ve learned and/or been reminded of since I started this project, that’s perfectly relevant to the operation of a martial arts school, is that IN RETAIL, you can’t sell the product for less than you pay for it —and make a profit. 

In this, the first strictly retail business I’ve ever owned, it’s very straight forward: If the product costs you $1000, you’re going to have to know that, mark it up appropriately, and sell it —-or you’re going to kill the business. No money, no profit = no business.

In a martial arts school (and you know I’m a consultant, as in owner of a consulting firm / brain trust:, most owners are not acutely —or even haphazardly —aware of what their product is costing them —and so they, more often than not, are selling lessons at a loss. 

There’s even a school of thought in the industry that if you sell your lessons and get enough cash up front, you can make up for what you lose by selling another membership, up front, thus procuring more operating capital. No, that’s bad —-that’s a bad idea if the product you’re selling is being sold at a price that is below what it costs to get and maintain it. 

If I have 100 jewelry safes to sell, which cost me $200,000 to buy, I can’t sell them for $180,000 cash, paid-in-full today and make money. Yes, I’ll have $180,000 hot little dollars in my pocket; I’ll FEEL rich and solvent for a time; I’ll buy a nice car, I’ll eat well for a time, and I’ll brag a bit ———but at some point the reality of selling for less that cost is going to slap me in the face. 

Should I sell some more paid in full’s for less than cost? Can I keep the wheel turning if I bring in enough cash —and then more cash —and then more? 

This is what many are doing in their school businesses —and it’s a method of operation some “consultants” (very short sighted ones) advocate. They brag about school owners “WHO DOUBLED THEIR GROSS!” Who almost overnight went from $8000 a month to $50,000 a month. Yeah, well, they’re selling tomorrow’s lessons, for money today. They’re flush. They feel rich. 

But my friends, it’s bad news in the school business. If you don’t know your cost and you just keep cashing out for cash’s sake, at some point you’re going to hit the wall.

In retail, you can’t sell the product for less than you spent on it. In the school business, you can’t do that either. The first consulting session you and I will have, if/when you get to a place where you want real help with your work, is going to be about numbers. You have to figure your expenses before you price your lessons, before you sell your courses ——or you may find yourself suffering and struggling. 

There are other things too, of course, but step # 1 is to establish the true cost of operation, everything, so you don’t think you’re making a profit, when you’re not.


  • Pat Worley This is a concept that a LOT of schools never grasp. And, they pay for that lack of understanding.
  • Tom Callos Yes, well —I should have noted too, yes, that when you’ve got that “180k” in your pocket and go buy the new house, the new car, and start living like you’ve got 180k in the bank, all those things affect your overhead, thus reducing actual profitability all the more. That’s what so many people I’ve worked with do ——they cash out, cash out, cash out, and increase their spending in tune with the new cash flow —-and then BOOM, at some point in the future reality comes a’knocking. But there’s something even WORSE that the reality of thinking you’re making real money when you’re not:
    Tom Callos What’s worse is what paid in fulls does to the culture and climate of your school. Like it or not, intended it or not, you and your minions / employees / and mindset become primarily (all) about SALES. GET MORE LEADS (My f’n God, more leads, more leads, more leads, get more leads, get a ton of leads, generate leads, get leads, get a flood of new leads, funnel those leads, get leads, make a lead generating machine, leads, leads, leads). You put SERVICE on the back burner —as service doesn’t make the cash flow that a new sale (or the quick transition to the all powerful cashed out UPGRADE) does. Read: Self-detruct, read “grind,” read: Unsustainable.
Martial Arts Business, The Path Less Traveled

"You don’t fit the foot to the shoe; you fit the shoe to the foot."

That’s how I like to work with martial arts school owners and teachers. I don’t seek to “sell” them “the system,” —I like to know what they’re passionate about, you know…what they live for. If it’s money and things, I let ‘em know I’m probably not their man; if they have a mission, then my job becomes “helper” or “participant," and sometimes, "coach." 

This work is, for me anyway, far more stimulating and interesting than one size fits all. Some instructors carry the banner, for a period of time or forever, of “bully prevention,” or “suicide prevention,” or “health and wellness,” or “self-defense,” or for things that are so far out of the mainstream martial arts world that you have to smile at them —-for their vision and bravado. 

My opinion is that the “business” of running a school, the brass tacks, is an all-out 2 year course of study; stats, phone calls, marketing basics, staff meetings —-if you really dive in, you’ve covered it all, twice, in 24 months or so. My complaint about “the industry,” in general, is that they seem to keep returning to the same material year after year, as if we had to suffer thru the freshman and sophomore years of college forever. I started The 100. for school owners who had the basics down and were ready to do something with their schools beyond running a machine that produces more income than it spends. 

I confess however, it’s very hard work —as it seems very difficult for martial arts instructors, not all of them, but a lot of them, to break out of the box that currently defines what a teacher does —and/or doesn’t do for —and in —his or her career and community. We are, nevertheless, making headway.

Harder still is to get people to band together and pool resources for the greater good. It’s easy to get people to do things for their own benefit, far more difficult to get them to do things for the benefit of the martial arts community —and beyond.

Martial Arts Business: It Starts from The Top Down


So let’s say you want to run an extraordinary martial arts school.

Let’s say you want to run a school that’s a “10” on a scale from 1 to 10. 

This might be, then, your checklist:

1.   To run a 10 school, look to the head, the master teacher. Fit? Super-fit? Diet? Perfect diet (a perfect diet is one that’s purposeful, conscientious of where the food comes from and why it’s consumed)? As diet is THE most important element of self-defense in today’s world, you’re not a “10” unless it’s addressed with a master’s level of understanding and thoughtfulness. 

2. To run a level 10 school, the lead team must be as outstanding as the head person; is the lead team super-fit? Diet focused? If not, the school is less than its best, period. The best school in the world would be a school where diet was discussed, where a conscientious diet was practiced, and where diet was so connected to “self-defense” that the two were acknowledged as inseparable. 

3. To run a 10 school, the master teacher must be an extraordinary student —of the martial arts, of history, of the world, and of life; humble, peaceful, aware, and engaged. The master teacher who doesn’t study history, doesn’t know much at all. 

4. To run a 10 school, the lead team, the staff and/or senior students, must be students-extraordinaire too. Look to their reading/study list, look to what they know of history, and you will reveal their ability to understand, lead, teach, and engage. The master instructor with the most brains is the one who consistently leads her team to a deeper understanding of history, community engagement, and compassion. 

5. To run a level 10 school, sales tools must be learned and mastered the way one learns to operate and maintain a vehicle. Then, once put to memory and practice, the level 10 school must not mistake the vehicle for the trip. Where the vehicle takes its passengers is more important than the vehicle itself. Sales methods, as in the offer, the intro, the sales process, and the close, as in the changing of retail displays, sales on sales-heavy days, advertisements, window dressing, and all the tools of salesmanship are the mechanics of running any business —-but they are not the heart and soul of a school. 

The man or woman who lives in the right house, drives the right car, wears the right clothes, watch, rings, and who eats or is seen at all the right places, is not necessarily the man or woman with the deepest understanding, not necessarily the spiritual guide, the most clear, the most dedicated to that which is genuinely of value in and to the world. 

To run a level 10 school, the practice of the master teacher and his/her staff must be one that causes deep and meaningful introspection. There’s no anger, no illusion, no manipulation, no resentment, no unhealthy or debilitating ego, and no aspect of living in today’s world that isn’t relevant to what is taking place in practice. 

6. To run a level 10 school, I would first look at the master teacher. Where the master teacher and his/her staff go, so goes the school. 

Assignment (should you be so inclined):


As a master teacher, you need to live by certain tenets; expressing those tenets, clearly, and in a way that promotes cognition / understanding and that inspires people to look more deeply at their own tenets, is a deeply rooted part of your practice. 

So express them. Express them 1000 ways, 1000 times a year. Express them, turn them over, re-write them, live with them until they’re true, until their not just words any more, until they are “your marketing,” as there is nothing as important and powerful as having your work sell itself. 

Your study is your pitch; your work is your marketing; your results are your pitch; your portfolio of activities are your marketing; what you inspire in others is your pitch; what they accomplish due to your inspiration is your marketing. 

Martial Arts Business: Some Thoughts on Your Web Presence (Sites)

Some Thoughts on Your Web Presence (Sites)

I do not believe a website specifically designed to make sales is the kind of website I want representing my life’s work. I don’t believe canned images, poorly written copy designed to “increase my conversion rate,” and formulaic “act now” buttons is the key to having a website that tells the story of who I am, what the work is about, or that touches those who find it in a way that has them calling me for the reasons I want someone inquiring about my work.

A canned website, built by some Internet “guru” not really in-tune with what my school’s about —is, I agree, better than nothing, but it’s not me, it’s not my work, it’s not the stories of my students, it’s not what’s really happening, it’s not my community, and it’s not coming from my center —but from a canned, lazy, two-dimensional, use-this-formula place that simply isn’t the best work I can do.

The Web, today, gives the school owner every chance to be real, to be their own media company, to show, authentically, what happens to the people in the space that is overseen by someone with 10, 20, 30, 40, or 50 years of dedicated, educated, engaged martial arts practice.

What a real master teacher does, in and for the people around her, is so much more important, so much more authentic and genuine, than the words marketing people claim trigger the sales impulse, the generic photo of the perfect model-of-a-student, and the gibberish describing the course that was written by someone out of touch with the heart and soul of the work.
40 Years Ago, I Was Molested by a Martial Arts Teacher

When I was 11 or 12 years old there was a black belt instructor at the school I went to in Reno, Nevada, his name was Carl Fernand (might not be the right spelling) and he molested me. It happened over one school year and summer; there were 5 to 10 or so events (I honestly cannot remember, a gift of emotional trauma), which ended when I started taking special care to avoid him and his offers of transport, food, money, or “special help” with my lessons. 

I was the perfect target for a pedophile, as I had a troubled home life; my father was working to support 7 children, my mother lived out of town, and my step-mother was not a friendly or helpful person. I would go to school without lunch money and in the summer I was locked out of the house from early morning until the time when my step-mother would go into her bedroom for the night. Essentially, I was completely unsupervised. The martial arts school I went to had a key attached to a string in the front door’s mail slot, so I could go there when I couldn’t go home. 

I was often unwashed and dirty, hungry a lot, the only money I had I earned doing yard work, and my family, due to my step-mother’s personality, didn’t have any friends I could turn to for help. I loved the school and my martial arts lessons and the people there were more like family than my family.  I wanted to attend classes, the school’s events, the second location my instructor started, and I needed a place to be, when the only other place to hang out was the library. 

Carl started by paying attention to me. He was complimentary. He frequently gave me money for food and he offered me rides to events, tournaments, and places I might like to go. And one day, he stripped me down and molested me. 

I was ashamed and embarrassed. I felt I had caused it, brought it upon myself. But Carl was thorough in his approach and he kept help coming when and where I needed it —and 1 event turned into multiple events. 

Now, 40 years later, I’m completely clear about what happened and how it happens, but for years I carried some weighty shame. My most damaging memory of that time was not from this twisted adult, but the memory of walking with my father, now deceased, and how I felt that holding his hand made me wonder if people thought he might be something other than my father. That hurt —and I still tear up thinking of it. What shame and confusion for a child to bear. 

I’m talking about all of this as I want to remind others that molestation is a terrible crime —one that cannot be tolerated or ignored or kept a secret. This coming month I’ll be interviewing a friend who works for Child Protection Services —and I will outline, for the martial arts industry, the specifics of what must be done when a child is molested by a trusted adult. 

It is not OK. It is not OK to keep pedophilia a secret, not when other children are then put at risk when people aren’t warned. 

To my friends in the international martial arts community:

The video, above, is an example of a project that a martial arts student, Ms. Chrissy Scott of Sacramento’s Zen Martial Arts, chose and then attached to her martial arts journey, her “black belt test” if you will. She decided to take on the project as a manifestation of the idea of “Out of the dojo and into the world.”

It’s one project, but it represents an entirely new school of thought about what the martial arts are about, what students do to earn rank, and what the new role is for the martial arts teacher in today’s complex and challenging world. 

I’m proud and honored to know that The 100. is, in part, the catalyst for this change, today, although it leans heavily on the work of hundreds (if not many thousands) of conscientious, hard working, men and women of the past —who saw their martial arts training as a tool to help improve the world and make change when and where it was needed.

Hats off to Chrissy, to Mike Oliver, the Sensei overseeing Zen Martial Arts, and to the example this project offers hundreds of thousands of other up and coming martial artists who will, someday, launch projects of their own design. 

Martial Arts Business: On Being Poor

Martial Arts Business: On Being Poor and Not Having Many Resources
In the practice of the martial arts we often embrace opposites. For example, when the punch is coming at the face, our mind says “flinch and cringe,” but our training says, “block.” When we face a sparring partner some part of our brain might whisper (or yell), “run,” but our training has us stepping back, raising our hands, and engaging the opponent.
It was a martial arts teacher who taught me that when something is bad, it might actually be good; he taught me that a lot of how we perceive things depends on how we choose to look at them. Finding the good in the bad is, I was trained, a fairly powerful form of self-defense.
So I’m here to tell you, Mr. or Ms. Struggling Martial Arts School Owner, that being poor is, in many ways, actually better for your business than being wealthy. That struggling with limited resources can, sometimes, serve you better, believe it or not, than having more than enough money.

Let me explain how it works.
When you have a lot of money, it’s easy to get lazy. When you’re operating with a bare-bones budget, you have to tap into your creativity, you have to become resourceful and inventive. When you have a lot of money, to advertise for example, you might buy the same ads everyone else does, in the same way. But when you’re poor, you have to choose methods of promotion that don’t rely on the almighty dollar, but that often depend on inventiveness and/or face-to-face interaction.
Oh, and money can make you really stupid.

Some of my friends who make a lot of money go crazy for stupid things like cars that cost $50,000 or more than they’re really worth. They buy clothes that cost 10-times what they should —and they think they look really smart wearing them!

Unlike my friends with less “disposable income,” my friends with lots of money have houses that are too big, furniture that’s a waste of money, and they often travel to expensive places to stay in expensive hotels that insulate them from the very places they went to go “see.”

They often buy ridiculously expensive watches, spend too much of their money on greasy food and pretentious wines, and generally insulate themselves in a cocoon of status symbols and designer brand names.

Being cash poor isn’t necessarily about being “poor” (and “poor” in the Western World today isn’t really being “poor” at all) it can be a license to look more carefully at the world around you. It’s an opportunity to embrace simplicity, which is often a far better thing than the complications that come with hoarding wealth. Being not-rich requires one to get creative, to invent, and to take advantage of the abundant resources around us, resources that often get ignored by folks who are looking for status over function.

One of my favorite reminders of the advantage of not having a whole lot of money to create genius and art (in life), is in this blog by photographer Chase Jarvis. The blog is called “Care, Time, and Vision Beat Budget Every Time.” It’s about the beautiful project, “The Ice Book.”

The Ice Book (HD) from Davy and Kristin McGuire on Vimeo.

It’s a reminder to me that working with a tight budget doesn’t have to mean “no magic.” If you’re a school owner with a less-than-abundant budget to operate your school —and life —on, I’d like to suggest you embrace the opposite: See being tight as a good thing, maybe even a great thing. 

Make it force you to look at what you DO have, at the resources you don’t have to pay a lot for, and let it cause you to invent and create. Create a world for yourself where less is actually more. 

It wouldn’t be the first time we (martial artists) embrace an idea that, at first, seems like the opposite of good judgment. 

The 4 Corners of The Dojo, Martial Arts Philosophy From Kai

In the picture above the fellow standing to my right is S. Kai Li of Hawaii. Kai is a lifelong martial artist, a military man, and a member of the Ultimate Black Belt Test who’s helping to keep the whole program going while I labor with the project that is The 100. (, a new martial arts association / college). 

Here’s a link to a video of Kai and I in Alabama doing work with Pam Dorr and HERO Housing (we’re in Alabama every year renovating / building houses and buildings for the community in Greensboro, the home of one of my heroes, Samuel Mockbee).

This morning Kai sent out a very fine essay on “The 4 Corners,” which he wrote as a tribute to a sister who passed on recently. I pass it on to you here (Thank you Kai):

Saturday, December 4th, FOUR CORNERS

The Present of Space

As a boy leaning Judo and Jujitsu one of my favorite memories involved the four corners of the Dojo.

Professor Henry S. Okazaki taught that each corner of the Dojo held a certain significance and was there as a reminder to teach us something special. He had combined Japanese Judo & Jujitsu, Hawaiian Lua, and Chinese martial arts to create arguably the first truly culturally “Mixed Martial Art.”

He also broke ground by teaching people of good character regardless of their ethnic, cultural, religious, or social differences. Amongst his students were pioneers like Sig Kufferath, Bing Fai Lau, Raymond Law, Wally Jay, Charles Kenn, my maternal grandfather and his two brothers, and my father’s teachers Sam Luke Sr and David Nuuhiwa Sr.

He carried on techniques and cultural traditions from various influences and integrated them in his own unique fashion. One of these unique contributions was the assignment of an important Hawaiian principle to each corner of the Dojo.

1. LOVE & HARMONY: Only the first corner carries more then one word. This is because in Hawaiian culture the two concepts are so closely inter-twined as to be inseparable. Taken together in Hawaiian they are expressed as Pono A Me Ke Aloha. By freely sharing Aloha (love) with others and our environment we will almost magically find ourselves in Pono (harmony) with humanity and nature. When we feel this relaxed state of harmony, we find ourselves better able to love and be loved.

2. RESPECT: The second corner represents Hō'ihi (respect). As children we are taught to respect the rights and opinions of others and follow the guidance of our parents and teachers. As adults we tend to feel respect has to be earned. With maturity I have found that the child like view is healthier. By definition respect entails both the holding of others in “high regard” as well as “to refrain from interfering with.” Inherent to true respect is a depth of humility; so to be true to our best selves we should uphold both definitions.

3. GENTLENESS: The third corner of the Dojo represents Mālie (gentleness). Gentleness is not just a compassionate virtue; it is a sound tactical strategy. If we are kind and gentle to all we meet then our chances of getting into an unwanted confrontation or physical altercation go way down. To “take the high road” as my grandfather liked to say is just plain common sense! In the gym it makes perfect sense to exhibit gentleness and self-control. Otherwise you will soon find yourself with no one to assist you in learning the martial arts! This is also true in life off the mat. If we are abusive to others, who will assist us in learning the art of living?

4. AWARENESS: The fourth, and final corner represents ‘Ike (awareness). My senior student Pat Campbell has always been fond of saying “awareness is survival.” To the real dangers of serious threats in the streets and war zones of the world this is certainly true. It is also true in subtle ways such as listening to your body to maintain your health, keeping your mind sharp and active, knowing your heart so as not to allow anger or fear to destroy you from within, or molding your spirit to build your awareness of your relationship to your creator and all life around you. There is a saying in Hawaiian Lua: “Maka’ala No Ka ‘Ike Papa Lua”, which translates roughly into “Be aware of the second sight.” We can have a 360 degree awareness of all the hidden knowledge of life if we are open to it.

Having awareness can also take you full circle through the four corners to ensure you are living in the moment with Love, Harmony, Respect, Gentleness, …and Awareness. =)

What is perhaps most fascinating about the “Four Corners” is that few seem to remember them. There is nothing that pops up on a Google search and I have never seen them in any book. They are one of those special gems that is passed on quietly from teacher to student.

Professor Okazaki’s concept dates back to the early twentieth century Hawaii. There were no computers or televisions and most teaching were passed personally. This was not only the Hawaiian way, it was also an integral part of how secret truths were communicated in Asian culture. What few teachings were written down were done in Kanji on scrolls. Without the legacy of people who went forth and continued to teach them, these words of wisdom might have been lost forever.

Uncle David Nuuhiwa certainly taught them to both my father and later to me. Professor Wally Jay passed them on to Sensei David Fairfield and Sensei Ron Beatty, who taught them to their students at Alameda High School. Olohe Charles Kenn and Professor Solomon Eli taught this to my Hawaiian Lua teacher Dr Dennis Eli.

My maternal grandfather knew them in a way that is somewhat humorous. If one of his grandchildren was bad, he wouldn’t just send you to a corner for a time out… He would send you to a SPECIFIC corner to learn the appropriate lesson!!!

Thanks to my grandfather, the lesson of the Four Corners of a room transformed my life. I was never able to look at ANY room the same way ever again. Every room became suddenly more interesting and I made it a habit to take notice of what occupied the space not just in martial arts schools, but in every room I visited. I came to realize that to have a space to make your own is a valued gift in the human experience.

As an alter boy, I remember noticing how well they applied to the church I grew up in. The first corner of Love & Harmony was occupied by the choir. The second corner of Respect was occupied by the meditation chapel and the confessional. The third corner of Gentleness was reserved for the elderly and handicapped. The final fourth corner of Awareness was where we, the alter servers, had our station. We had to be consistently aware so as not to err in performing our duties for the mass. This may have all been a mere coincidence…but it didn’t feel like it when I was ten. It felt meant to be.

On Friday I went to visit Senior Grandmaster Rick Alemany’s home. He has a Dojo in his garage that inspired me to build my own home Dojo two years ago. His gym is a testament to the journey of his life. Photos of trusted friends and students, faded certificates from his teachers, gifts he has received over the years, and the list goes on and on…there isn’t a blank space to be found anywhere.

My Jeet Kune Do teacher Sifu Richard Bustillo said something similar when he came to visit my gym. “Good job Li, you have a living museum here!” Though the place is only two years old, it looks like it has been there since World War One. I have the Army helmets of my great-grandfather, grandfather, and father up above bookshelves laden with a library of material on every art I’ve studied all over the world and symbolic childrens toys my nieces and nephews have felt were somehow relevant to have a presence in Uncle Kai’s “Dragon’s Lair”.

By stark contrast I taught most of my life in parks or sparse military gyms with zero decorations. In the park we didn’t have actual corners…and yet the space was somehow still defined in an emotional and spiritual way by the arrangement of trees and the way the sun would set over the mountains.

Not far from SGM Alemany’s is the largest population of homeless on the island. As part of my service this year I have spent a fair amount of time there this year. One of my childhood friends lives in a tent and I often visit to share a meal and help him out in small ways. Though a tent may seem a temporary environment, he has taken care to define the space as uniquely his own. He even has a framed photograph of his late father in the first corner.

On the streets of large cities, any corner can be someone’s home. To live in harmony with nature and share space in this world with each other is truly a gift, and one that always deserves our deepest appreciation.

There is a Native American saying that we as human beings can never own land; we can only take care of it for the next generation. We should treat every space, indoors or out, as if we are preparing it to care for many generations to come. 

It is my humble prayer for this day that we can all grow in our capability to show Love, Harmony, Respect, Gentleness, and Awareness everywhere we go.

Malama pono,

Bruddah Kai

Martial Arts Business: In 1 Years Time

This post and the following ideas are completely and totally brought to you on behalf of The 100. I am actively looking for martial arts school owners and instructors who are ready to shed the nonsense and trivial pursuits of the status quo in the “martial arts industry” (birthday parties, VIP passes, sleep-overs, self-defense courses that don’t teach self-defense, and the endless pursuit of more, more, more, while creating less value than ever before, etc.). 

Someone has to step up for change —and a change of direction for the martial arts. If the following piece speaks to you, you are invited to a 1 week trial of our on-line campus, think tank, and center for change and improvement in the international martial arts community; click here:

—Tom Callos

In 1 Year’s Time

In 1 year’s time you could:

  • Get in the best shape of your life —-and bring 100 people with you.
  • Learn enough about food and the food industry to add a legitimate “dietary self-defense” component to your curriculum.
  • Produce 365 (minimum) videos depicting why you are a teacher / person worth studying with.
  • Write 365 blog posts explaining what it is that makes you and yours any different from them and theirs.
  • Teach 10 others how to blog and film about their own martial arts journeys —and in doing so produce 10-times the content on the web, explaining to people what it is that makes you and yours worth the time and energy.
  • Completely ingratiate yourself with your local public school system.
  • Produce THE most comprehensive bully-prevention website in your community’s history.
  • Record 100 “Bully Stories” to accompany the site.
  • Increase your student count by at least 100 students.
  • Design and implement a system for listening to —and communicating with —your students and the people in their sphere of influence, in a way that decreased your student drop-outs by at least 50%.
  • You and 40 others could log 100,000 acts of kindness, which would represent a community PR and promotion campaign worth $100,000.
  • Create and populate an on-line campus that supports and enhances what you teach on the floor (and in a way that NOBODY in your community has ever done —or will do for some years to come).
  • Create a full and realistic plan for financial freedom and any sort of retirement you dream of (more of less).
  • Save 1 child’s life.
  • Learn about and embrace domestic violence education, rape issues, gender discrimination, environmental self-defense, diabetes awareness, hyper-masculinity and violence education, and 10 or so other subjects that would make you a teacher who has taken his/her self-defense study to a new and relevant level.
  • Own “Self-Defense (Your Community)” —and teach real self-defense, relevant to today’s world, better than anyone has or does within a 100 mile radius of you.
  • Be almost exactly where you are today, 12 months from now. Same amount of students, nothing new learned or implemented, and searching the martial arts billing services and “consulting” firms for “new” ideas about how to get and keep new students.
Three Martial Arts Business Concepts that Could (Should) Change Your Life


I’m Tom Callos and I run The 100. , which might best be described as the “alternative radio station” of the martial arts business and management world. I don’t play the oldies, those tired classics (Free Bird!), or those songs that the other stations keep playing over and over, despite the fact they weren’t that great when they first came out (like Ebony and Ivory).  

The 100. thinks wrong (thank you John Bielenberg). It stands as the alternative to everything the status quo churns out like so many strip malls, chain stores, and franchises. We’re against the grain, against the formulaic, and against old and tired traditions, methods, and practices that just don’t make sense any more.
With that in mind, here are 3 business concepts we do, indeed, stand for and promote:
1. Your Self-Defense is Bullshit
I really wanted to state that differently, but after several attempts I realized there was just no other way to write it that would express my viewpoint with more clarity. The approach to teaching “self-defense” taken by 99.9% of the martial arts industry, in general, is as dumb as dirt, outdated, tired, and so inadequate it’s a joke.
The list of the top 10 killers of men, women, and children in the world don’t have “down block,” or “palm strike” on it. The kind of hand-to-hand self-defense training most martial arts schools pass off as self-defense instruction is about as relevant to self-defense in today’s world as the stone tablet is to the IPad2.
Change your idea and understanding of “self-defense” and “self-defense instruction,” and you stand a good chance of changing your own life —and the lives of many others.

The environment, one’s attitude, diet and where food comes from, diabetes, heart disease, relationship issues, hyper-masculine behavior, patriarchy, and other relevant-to-today issues that swirl around these subjects have 1000 times more to do with actual self-defense in today’s world than the stone-age self-defense most instructors promote today.

Of course, tackling self-defense instruction intelligently means the “industry” would have to get off of it’s gimmicky, high-pressure-sales bandwagon and embrace authentic, meaningful instructor education. Don’t hold your breath. It’s coming, but  if recent history is any indicator, it’s going to take the powers that be a long, long time to get up to speed.

That’s why I started The 100. 

2. Your Business is Your Path to Personal Mastery

Unlike a lot of other businesses (like, for example, locksmithing, laundry services, dog grooming, and selling tires), the business of martial arts is something that has the potential to be about achieving some kind of clarity-about-life, which might also be called “enlightenment.”

I mean, after all, the overcoming of fear, the practice of self-discipline, the embracing of philosophies that deal with empowerment, and the mental focus required to practice and teach the martial arts “like a master,” are not the kind of subjects that  9 out of 10 other business people have to think much about.

Of course, owning and operating a martial arts school can be as black and white as owning a Curves or a Popeye’s Chicken franchise. You can turn a profit by going by the numbers. You can systematize the business of running a school until you can actually sell your system to people who don’t have the wherewithal or patience to figure it out themselves.

OR, you can look at the business of running a school as the business of becoming a true and genuine Master. You can be Colonel Sanders or Thich Nhat Hanh. You can model Donald Trump or Martin Luther King. You can play the game of collecting the most things —or you can take the path of a Bodhisattva.

You get to define the role you are going to play —and the role your school will play in your community. If you choose to make the running of your business about the kind of spiritual mastery of, Oh say __________ (add the name of your favorite Master here), I personally think it deals with a whole lot of worthwhile issues in one fell swoop.
If the purpose of running your business is to become a Master, then you stand to, truly, change your own life —and serve as one heck of a role model for a lot of other people.

3. You’re Not a Great Teacher Until You Transcend The Subject

I think my mission is to transcend the subject matter; to take my martial arts out of my dojo —and put it to work in the world. I think you’re a good teacher when you teach the best martial arts you can, but I think you become a great teacher when you break out of the confines of conventional martial arts instruction (“your subject”) and start teaching about life.

What good is the block and the counter if not applied to one’s state of mind? What value does sparring have if not applied to management or relationships or education?

Well? A block is valuable when it keeps your nose from getting broken and sparring is fun and good exercise, yes? But for things that really matter, in the world, in the long run, for the things that bring peace of mind and happiness, it’s a great thing to be a great teacher, one who transcends the obvious  (and not so obvious) limitations and artificially constructed barriers of the subject at hand.

If and when you become a teacher of the art of life, you take a quantum leap in skill —and value —than does the teacher who teaches some less-useful or comprehensive subject.  In other words, don’t help me with my taekwondo, help me be a better person, someone with more clarity of thought, and someone who values contribution over kata, simplicity over system.

Martial Arts Business. I am a Student of Chase Jarvis

OK, Chase Jarvis is a martial arts business genius who, I don’t think, knows anything about owning or operating a martial arts school —or anything in particular about “the martial arts industry.” Chase is a pro photographer and creative. Nevertheless, I am a student of his work, as I have found more instructions, directions, and wisdom in his writing and work in the year I’ve been following him that I have in the “martial arts industry” in the last decade. 

Take, for example, the article, below, that I have completely and blatantly ripped off from Chase’s blog. The original piece, aimed at photographers is here. It speaks so clearly to what I’m doing in The 100., for martial arts business professionals, that I had to repost the piece below, substituting “martial arts” for “photography.”

Chase, please send me a note if you disapprove, but know that I am paying close attention —and despite being in the martial arts world, what YOU do in the world is a lot like what I am doing in the world (and am seeking to do better) —and your piece transcends the boundaries of photography. 

Here’s my adaptation: 


As a matter of opinion, it’s time to get some cojones. Or whatever clever slang you’ve cooked up for the female equivalent, or whatever will help you understand the following point. Sure there’s plenty of good things to honor about the past of our martial arts industry. A lot of the trails have been intelligently blazed by those before us, a lot of ditches have been dug. But…ahem…generally speaking status quo in the martial arts industry doesn’t know which way is up. Surely you’ve noticed.

So I ask.
What is your martial arts teaching vision?
What is your brand vision?
What is your business?
What is your marketing?
What are your effing goals?

This is not a fluff piece. This is truth: there ere are a bazillion martial arts teachers / school owners in the safe little ‘status quo’ bubble that will keep the status quo quietly marching along. So many that, in fact, it will be just fine without you.

Which is precisely why you should leave it behind.

What does that mean? It means take a chance. Or Three. Charge away from convention. Break shit. You can always go back to the status quo if you get scared or get knocked around a bit, because the reality is that it’s not going anywhere. You’ll be told that they won’t take you back if you leave, but that’s a scare tactic. In reality, they’ll take you back in a second, because…  the SQ voice depends on numbers. If you don’t have what it takes, it will always be there waiting with open arms saying, “We knew you’d be back” or “I told you so.”

But the funny thing is this: I’m banking that when you push it, when you leave the status quo behind, and make some new in-roads, some new habits, that you might just get comfortable with the new you, and lo and behold you’ll be ready to push it again. That’s when the magic happens. That’s what we need. That’s what–I’m guessing–you need. —Chase Jarvis (original piece here). 

Martial Arts Business: Thinking Like a Master Teacher



Next week.

Two weeks out.

Next month.

90 Days from now.

6 months from now.

Next year.

Two years from now.

5 years from today.

Your career.

7 generations.

This is how I’d like to get you to think about your marketing, curriculum, staff training, money management, education, and contribution to your community and beyond.

I don’t think any one of the 12 viewpoints above are any more —or less —important that another. These viewpoints should / could guide your thinking and actions about everything that makes your school, your career, and your life successful (fun) and, more importantly, meaningful.



Next week.

Two weeks out.

Next month.

Too many instructors —and, far too often, the martial arts industry —live in the awareness of the immediate. “How fast can we do this?” “What are we going to do this month?” and “Who do we have scheduled for next week?” are all important aspects of school management, but they can cripple you in the long run, as they don’t promote the cultivation of plants with deep roots.

Short term thinking can (especially with marketing) sometimes, end up being flashy, focuses on immediate gratification, and often relies on gimmick, hyperbole, and a sense that “this had better work fast, as we NEED the business now!”

90 Days from now.

6 months from now.

Next year.

Immediate and “now” focus is very important, but not any more important that planning 90 days to a year in advance. In a year one can make a huge impression on a school system, become a force in a PTA group or in the Chamber of Commerce. A year-long promotion campaign stands a good chance of getting paid attention to, rather than ignored.

Note: VERY few [ if any ] of your competitors / peers have the patience, intelligence, vision, self-discipline, and foresight to think about a marketing / promotion plan that takes a year to cultivate and execute.

In my own schools, I held the belief that the business we were enjoying today came from things we had done 90 days earlier. Likewise, if prospective member inquiries and sales were off, I’d blame it on the fact that 90 days earlier we hadn’t been aggressive or smart enough with the advertising “seeds” we had planted.

Two years from now.

5 years from today.

Your career.

7 generations.

Here resides a rare wisdom. A mature wisdom. To think ahead —and to plant and nurture crops today that won’t fruit until long into the future…well, doing this puts you in a very rare and select group of people with vision and wisdom. None of it is more or less important than today, but future-thinking requires a lot more self-discipline, courage, and vision.

Where do you spend the majority of your thought and action energy?

In my martial arts consulting firm / association for martial arts school owners, and teachers, where martial arts business blends with master teacher training, I work to focus both on the immediate —and the future. For a week-long pass to our on-line campus, click this link (school owners or future school owners only):

10 Levels of Teaching (for Martial Arts Teachers)

On a scale between 1 and 10.

A “1” teacher is unprepared, lacks the skills, and shouldn’t be leading a class, nevertheless, he or she is, indeed, “leading the class.” You’ve seen them, yes? At one time you might have been a “1” teacher —I know I was.

A level “10” teacher is someone who doesn’t just give you a workout, doesn’t just teach you excellent, effective, valuable technique —-a “10” teacher reaches you with something more than words.

As a result of his or her class / influence / teachings / reminders / example, you walk a little taller, your heart is bigger and more open, you see more clearly, you are inspired to be more, you are open to growth and change and improvement, and some-how, some-way, a teacher like this resets your mind and spirit.

You might not at first recognize it happening, but when you’ve been around this kind of teacher, open and ready to learn, it’s as if you are given something that is now yours —-and because of this person’s influence you are a better, bigger, simpler, smarter, more compassionate human being. 

A “1” is like a bad smell; you can endure it, but if at all possible it’s something to avoid. 

A “10” teacher is like a visit from someone you love deeply, someone you treasure, respect, and admire. A “1” experience is quickly put behind you. A “10” experience is something you hold dearly, like a child, like a magic stone, like a rare book, like the finest of your memories. 

A level 5 teacher has a good grasp on what makes a masterful class; it’s a knowledge he or she has, but is not living. A level 5 teacher tries very hard, but because the lessons are in the head —and not (yet) in something owned through long-term, disciplined, spiritual practice, the level 5 teacher is not a master teacher.

A “5” can look like a master teacher. A “5” can move like a master teacher. A “5” might think he/she is a master teacher. A “5” might even talk like a master teacher, but knowing something and living the practice are two very, very different places.

To move beyond a “5” (and good businesses can be —and are most often —run by level “5” teachers, I know —as I was a “5” for many years), you must be educated and possibly a bit weathered. For sure, you have to study your own ego —and get a grasp on how it can cripple/color your awareness and viewpoint/outlook. 

A level “6” and up teacher doesn’t have to be famous. He/she doesn’t have to be well known in the world of martial arts. But a teacher moving towards “10” both embraces the tools of the kitchen, the make up of the food, the care in its preparation, the particulars of its presentation, the environment it is served in, the people who eat it, and what it means beyond the necessity of feeding one’s body.

A level 10 might be compared to the saying that the Iroquois based their most important decisions upon: 

What it Takes

I think to be a “10” you might be born with it, like Mozart was born with music, like Bobby Fischer was born with chess. But if not born as a prodigy of mastery and connection to the great awareness, you might be awakened to it by a great teacher or teachers, you might have 1 or more epiphanies caused by the birth or death of loved ones, by illness, by something you read or see or experience.

I really don’t know exactly what it takes —-but I do know that the path to mastery ought to be intentionally pursued (by people like us). The question of what mastery is —and how to make it the fuel that drives your machine (your love, your business, your diet, your training, your reading, your writing, the way you deal with the inevitable conflict in your life, with your children, your loved ones, the problems of others, and your martial arts journey) is the question that ought to be asked at the beginning of each of our actions —maybe at the beginning of each breath. 

If we had a “10” awareness and intent at the beginning of every endeavor, well…I can’t at this time in my life imagine anything more indicative of the kind of mastery I think of when I ask myself, “What is mastery?”

As you may know, I am a “business consultant.”

But I ask myself, “How important is business? How complete is the person who achieves a culturally acknowledged level of ‘success?’ Is there something more valuable to everyone involved, than ‘business?’ And so, as a result, I can’t define myself as a “business” consultant, as that title just doesn’t fit the scope and scale of the work I admire the most, from the people I consider to be “10’s.”

This is why, in part, that The 100. is what it is, looks like what it looks like, and sounds like all that it sounds like. The 100. in the longterm, may not be important to the martial arts industry —or the world. Nevertheless, I have to behave and think and be what it I would be if it was important. I don’t see any other way. What is mastery is what is 10.

Advice to Martial Arts School Owners, Worth (I Estimate) $100,000 or More Over the Life of a Career

I can’t make it simpler than this: Measure your management (and especially your marketing) in quantities of 100.

That is:
100 acts of marketing
100 posts discussing a topic you intend to dominate or own in your community
100 daily efforts in defining and re-defining your school’ curriculum or marketing campaign or black belt testing program or whatever it is that you do that requires more than the occasional effort.

Now note this: I suggest 100 to you, but it should be known that my personal number is 1000. If I really, really want something, I tell myself I will make 1000 attempts. If I am unwilling to give it a 1000 tries, then I have to accept that it is (whatever “it” is) not that important to me.

This is a rule I embrace in my teaching, learning, parenting, marketing, relationship, training, and business development.

Note this too: If and when you ever come to me with failure upon your lips, if you haven’t earnestly tried 100 times, first ——that is, 100 efforts worthy of a high ranking black belt, then you can expect me to be semi-sympathetic, but know that I would also be looking at you and thinking “someone, somewhere along your martial arts path, has failed to teach you what commitment is.”

I believe that most people give up after 3 to 10 whole-hearted, earnest, pedal-to-the-metal attempts. The person who is willing to go at something with a level of commitment that stipulates 100 (intelligent) attempts, rarely (or never) fails to succeed.

If you will measure your marketing effort 100 “acts” at a time, then reassess and begin again, you will start to see results you aren’t currently getting.

The same goes with:

TRAINING STAFF MEMBERS. 100 training sessions.
PENETRATING THE COMMUNITY WHEEL. 100 meetings and involvements.
SERVICE PROJECT. 100 community service projects.


This is the best advice you will ever get from me —and, I estimate, worth $100,000 or more over the life of your career.

Tom Callos

The 100. A Revolution in Thinking? Maybe

I’m just one person, like you. I have a house I live in, I sit at my computer. I go practice at the dojo. I eat too much. I read a bit. And I’m trying to figure out how to do my work in a way that is living my life with passion and purpose.

I don’t pay much attention to trivial pursuits, although I participate in some.

I started this association, The 100. with the idea that it would stand for something important. That I would make my work about elevating THE work. I recognized that the role the martial arts teacher was taking on wasn’t a negative thing, it just didn’t involve much “vision” —or reflect the ideas and actions of the people I most respected.

If you’re a part of the 100. —you can treat it like a commodity (I pay this much, I get this back); but you won’t be around for long.

No, I’m looking for people who might treat the work as if it were sacred. As if we were all connected to accomplish something extraordinary.

I’m thinking we can completely re-craft our roles, or work —and we can make being a Sensei something important, something meaningful.

The key, is first to get your own game on.

You have to be connected to what’s happening in the world, especially the problems, if you intend to be a part of any kind of solution.

You have to educate yourself. You have to recognize this effort doesn’t model NAPMA or MAIA or EFC or MEMBER’S SOLUTIONS or any of the businesses in the industry. This is a movement in and of its own. 

We want to create a “thing” that when someone sees it, anyone, they break out in tears. They are moved by it all. To do that we have to be strong, be gentle, be beautiful —in the way we treat our practice, our students, our communities, and our roles.

Maybe you came to The 100. looking to get something (I hope you find it). But I came to The 100. to lift the martial arts world to a new place; to bring something rich and valuable to your career; and to make a measurable difference in the international martial arts community —and the world.

Start with yourself. Be an extraordinary thinker, reader, artist, studier, teammate, and teacher.

Turn and give your family the best of yourself. Nurture them. Expand out to your students. SHOW THEM the way through your own journey. Take it to all the people in each of your student’s “sphere of influence” —and beyond that to your community.

Make an impact on the international martial arts community by living as —and documenting your own path as an example; and think globally while you take all this action to be a master teacher, locally.

The 100. can stand for nothing —or it can stand for the best work you’ve ever done. That’s how I see it.