Do you expect your black belts to start their own club?

That is the question I posed to you in an email recently – and I was surprised by the volume and range of responses received.

Below is some of the feedback.

It was difficult to come up with an edited version – so there is quite a bit of reading here, but I hope you will take the time to browse over these interesting insights and stories.

ps Thanks to everyone who sent in emails… I could not possibly include all of the emails here – so I apologise if I have not included yours. Your response was much appreciated. Please leave any other thoughts in the comments section at the bottom of this page.

My original email

I just finished uploading a list of people going for their black belt grading to our website here in New Zealand, bring the number of candidates to 90 this year!

So it got me thinking…

We have good numbers of people getting their black belt or higher degrees, but very few of them are starting their own clubs. We have fairly stagnant numbers over-all, and I fear if we don’t do something, the numbers will begin to decline.

So how much pressure do you as an instructor, or as an organisation place on your black belts to open a club? Should it be “expected” of them to do so at some stage, and if so, when?

Back in the day – it was almost the standard thing to do when you got your black belt – and we all felt we had to do our bit to get the martial art off the ground. Today – not so much.

I wonder if we are not encouraging our black belts enough, not giving them the tools, or not even asking them to consider becoming instructors.

I would love to hear your thoughts.

Master Paul McPhail

Ryan Rampair
Trinidad & Tobogo

I too have had this problem many years ago and I fixed it.

First, there are 4 groups of students:

  • Kids
  • Teens
  • Adults
  • Older Adults

The group you focus on to become instructors are the teens and young adults (if they are not academically inclined).

How it’s done:
From they are green belts they need to help with the white and yellow belt kids classes. As they get to red they help with green and blue belts. By the time they are Black Belt, you will be able to identify who has the proclivity to teach as not everyone does but by then they will have solid teaching skills.

Why teens, because teens are looking for something to identify with. If they start at 13 and get to green at 15, TKD now starts to define their character. Add some sponsored trips to Foreign country and you have them hooked on TKD for life. It now becomes the thing they brag to their friends about. This can be expensive but worth every cent long term. Once they get to 18, 19 OR 20 (and 1st Dan) start a primary school club for them, that they run themselves once a week and they get the income. Coupled with that an inter primary school tournament league and you they will be more hooked.

PS: to find teens, start an ”instructor training program” (yes call it that) in high schools, preferably in the poorer neighborhoods. Don’t charge them but they must do something to “pay” to train. Like clean up, charity work etc. these kids need father figures. Approach the school administration   and make an offer teaching a career building skill and offer that you can get them work when they graduate as an instructor. You want their most difficult 11-14-year-olds.

 Andrew Hunter
New Zealand

Personally I don’t know if opening more clubs would increase our numbers over all. I think the best way to increase numbers is purely by spreading the ITFNZ name and growing the clubs we already have in place.

 Anon
Name withheld by request

My instructor pushed me to start my own club. They told me plenty of the good stuff about having your own classes, but nothing about the things I had to sacrifice – like time with my family for example or my other commitments. However, I do not deny that my instructor has helped me a lot when I first started out.

Even though I enjoy teaching my classes, the expected commitment to having my own club was way too high – to a point that despite my extremely tight schedule and other important commitments, I was still forced without a choice to attend to Taekwon-Do related things, meetings or tasks. I usually do so, but I don’t think I was ever given a chance to actually choose what I want to prioritise first. It was always Taekwon-Do, Taekwon-Do, Taekwon-Do. No excuses.

I kinda wished my instructor had told me what I was getting myself into so I could consider it better.

My instructor dedicates their life to Taekwon-Do and considers it their main source of income. And they expect their students to feel the same way and commitment to Taekwon-Do. Which is pretty intense because most of us are just starting out in life, still searching for our purpose in life, career interests and what not.

I think for any instructor considering asking their black belts to start their own club should put all those into consideration and give them a fair, unbiased chance to decide whether they want to open their own clubs or not. Also, it’s important to prioritise their ambitions, interests and dreams above yours. I think mine had their dream of expanding their club at the top of their head when they first asked me to open my own “club”.

And for any black belts considering starting their own clubs, I think you should really think it through in the long run. Is that where you see yourself for years to come? Can you commit to all the classes? Do you have any plans to travel the world or be mobile? What’s your fallback plan in case you decide you can’t go on with it anymore or that your interest all along was to only train and not to instruct? Where would your students go? And more importantly, as these resources are not available where I am: are there any training programmes you can enrol yourself into to make sure you are able to teach effectively?

When I first started, my instructor told me teaching Taekwon-Do was easy. But little did I know, I knew very little about proper training & exercises, especially ones for different age groups. And it clashed badly with my principles.  I wasn’t one to teach for the sake of it or for the money. It felt like I was cheating the parents in a way as I wasn’t effectively shaping into capable martial artists, nor was I giving them the proper medium to reap the benefits of Taekwon-Do/martial arts. Not cool.

C. Tomás Garrott
Chile

Most clubs focus primarily on sports competition, leaving aside the importance of moral culture.

This has caused the student to focus on obtaining medals, developing as an athlete and not as a taekwondist, that is, only feeds his ego. Just look at social networks to account for it.

All this has led to divide more than add, create rivalries, drop out of students because they think they are not good, etc. Forgetting the real sense of practicing Taekwon-Do that is the DO and that our mission as students of this beautiful art is to make it known to the world to help people strengthen both physically, psychologically and emotionally.

While all students should form a school, not everyone is capable or ready to do so. I think that one makes that decision when it is the right time for one.

In my case, no matter how much my instructor suggested and told me that I was ready or rather that I formed an academy. I had to go through a great storm in my life and once that happened, I felt the “CALL” and there I made my decision.

The road has not been easy, in fact I left my engineering company to form my academy, sometimes I think I waste time, when I have noticed that my academy does not grow in students and I do not have enough money to buy food, but when I see To my happy students, even if I am one who comes to train, I realize that what I am doing is the right thing to do.

As I do more I do Taekwon-Do more I want to do it and surrender to this path.

Peter Graham
New Zealand

A black belt does not an Instructor make!

I can appreciate where you’re coming from on this but I personally feel too much emphasis on the ‘expected’ requirement could have a detrimental effect on things at this point.

I guess, todays lifestyle is a bit different from that of 15 or even 10 years ago and, whilst I would do everything possible to get them out there opening clubs.

I agree it is in the organisations best interest to put in place whatever incentives we can to make this happen – both financial and support wise, but sometimes just having a black belt doesn’t make you a potential instructor.

I think it could be worth the Board looking at building in some incentives whereby an instructor gets a reduction in outlays for things like attending seminars, camps, gradings and anything else that may have a participation cost attached to it.

I would envisage it would need to be something like at least a 50% across the board reduction to create enough incentive for someone to make the commitment to start a club.

The shortfall would be made up by the Foundation (because, ultimately, they would be the ones who would benefit financially).

Master Anthony McKenna
England

I’ve run many instructor courses over the decades and my conclusion is that we have to convince potential instructors of the financial benefits of running their own club in order to make it a career choice.

Business planning therefore has to be done in stages so there isn’t a huge cliff to jump off. In my own case I built up my business so it was an easy transition from being in full time employment to being a full time instructor.

Kevin Kinsella
Ireland

I agree that there is a reluctance in a lot of black belts nowadays towards opening and running a club of their own. I’m not really sure why. Maybe life has just got ‘too busy’ and people just want to be part of a club rather than have the perceived headaches of running one.

Here in ITA, black belts are encouraged to open new clubs and are assisted by an Association expansion package:

  • ITA Club membership (€300) is waived for the 1st year.
  • ITA pay Irish Martial Arts Commission( €100) fee for the 1st year.
  • ITA provide 5000 A5 full colour flyers.

The school must be approved  by the ITA board in order to qualify for the package.

Master Peter Wong
Australia

You post an important and challenging question. Naturally, times have changed from the old days when we become Black Belts and when TKD was in its developmental stages when we have a ‘duty’ to promote our Art. We are facing the same problem of expanding and promoting our Martial Art due various reasons.

Personally, I do not pressure any of my Black Belts to start a club not like many other Instructors for obvious dubious reasons. As you know, not many Black Belts can become a ‘ genuine/good ‘ TKD instructor who can commit their time and effort to promote the Art for the right reasons. I always encourage and train my Black Belts to be an Instructor and one day start their own club if they wish to do so. However, as you know there are many reasons why they are not prepared to start their own club.

We can only encourage and show them by example how we can run a ‘ successful and rewarding ‘ club for all the right reasons in promoting our Art.

Ron Claassens
Australia

This is been my dilemma for some time, its a troubled time and martial arts participation is at an all time high, where we once had the monopoly now we are the minority. We have so much more competition with the plethora of styles available to the punter.

Instructing used to be a very prestigious position, to a lot of people you are just another coach. They see a lot of hours and commitment and to most they just want to train and have minimal responsibility. They will fill in classes for you whilst you are sick or on vacation but  thats predominantly the way it is sad to say. We groom and groom but loyalty isn’t as it was.

Master Mikko Allinniemi
Finland

I have concentrated for a long time in all my teaching that all my students should learn – that all the black belt degrees are “teaching ranks”. Most difficult is sometimes to get  the difference (in terms of taking responsibility and mental attitude) between 2nd and 3rd Dan, but I think we have it now. For the 3rd degrees I always keep a speech for the next step being for them kind of turning to a professional. To be come real teacher and instructor: “Are you ready and willing to step in to the serious game technically, as a Sabum and even politically in federation and in ITF”.

I even demand that all our color belts should slowly learn how to teach, not only just how to do. This is really a must in some smaller places with long distances to the other people and the clubs. Red belts also have to have some experience about teaching before they can go for the first Dan. Some of the students can be – for a while – spending time as a competitor, but at some point they will have to teach and pass their knowledge and their learnings on to the others.

We have tried to get together new rules and practices that would get us more people and more clubs to the ITF Finland. In addition to the ITF By-laws, and the technical things we have the following extra requirements:

Requirements for I dan

  • acting as an assistant supervisor or supervisor weekly (at least one season)
  • TOK 1 (national Taekwon-Do coaching course)
  • D-judge course (if age allows)
  • at least 13 years of age

Requirements for Dan II

  • acting as an assistant supervisor or instructor on a weekly basis (full minimum time for preparation)
  • TOK 2  (national Taekwon-Do coaching course)
  • C-Judge Course (if age allows)
  • Playing a role in club activities and / or federation activities

Requirements for Dan III

  • acting as a supervisor on a weekly basis (full minimum preparation time)
  • VOK 1 (any VOK 1)  (national coaching course)
  • Playing a role in club activities and / or federation activities

Requirements for IV Dan

  • acting as a supervisor on a weekly basis (throughout the minimum preparation period), experience with different level groups (e.g. beginner courses, lower color belts, upper belts)
  • VOK 2 (any VOK 2)  (national coaching course
  • B-judge course
  • Playing a role in club activities and / or federation activities

Requirements for V dan

  • acting as a supervisor on a weekly basis (full minimum preparation time), own club or division / division
  • TOK 3  (national Taekwon-Do coaching course)
  • Playing a role in club activities and / or federation activities

Requirements for VI Dan

  • acting as a supervisor on a weekly basis (full minimum preparation time), own club or division / divisio
  • Playing a role in club activities and / or federation activities

Requirements for Danes VII-IX

  • Your own club or clubs where you are an active teacher
    A-judge course
    Playing a role in club activities and / or federation / or ITF activities

Daniel Perez
Australia

We are progressing approximately 6 or so to black belt each year. We have 5 branches with 3 senior instructors taking these classes and 6 assistants(teens) taking kids classes. I have just sent an email to the next batch of instructor hopefuls stating that they will be trained up in 2020. Of course, that is if they decide to do so.

Each senior, or branch instructor is supplied with a bag of 5 shields, a bag of 10 paddle targets, a flag/banner and a training & grading syllabus. Where possible, we liaise with the school or centre management, to leave these items and if possible mats, on premises all week. Once numbers rise, they will receive another bag of 5 shields.

Every club runs on the same training syllabus and our grading syllabus would be very similar to other ITF clubs. Our training syllabus is based on three levels based on the ideal that the average student will be at each level for 12 months.

All students have access to a table so they are aware what will be taught in any given class.

I have told you all of this this so that you can understand that I have taken out all the worry for new instructors. I recall quite vividly my first class back in 1988 as a young black belt. I was given no plan to work, just the experience of training under different instructors over the previous years. I made out a plan, and when my plans finished after 15 minutes, I grew very nervous and just did anything that came to mind. So I know that by taking out the worry of “What will I do or teach”, people do not find the idea of teaching such a scary thought.

So the answer to your question,
“So how much pressure do you as an instructor, or as an organisation place on your black belts to open a club? Should it be “expected” of them to do so at some stage, and if so, when?”

No pressure, no expectation, but actively train them to be an instructor through our regular classes and the odd workshop. Unlike my club in the 90’s where I couldn’t motivate any of my seniors to teach, I have seniors now asking me if they can teach one day.

Oh, and the last thing, is that if an instructor does take on a branch, I pay all the costs involved and let them know that if they are unable to attend a class, no matter the reason, I will always have someone to cover their class for them.

Jamie Cameron
UK

There is a lot of dilution nowadays in the martial arts space. Lots of generic ‘black belt academy’ type clubs about. Often the latter teach a bespoke blended martial art, based around the club instructors / organisation leaders experience.

So my gut feeling is there is more competition these days making it harder for new clubs to embed and be successful.

Carlos Machado
Taiwan

I have been living in Taiwan for almost 9 years, and I am a foreigner in this land. Until now I haven’t see any local black belt open their own school. I feel is because money, sometimes time schedule, or sometimes those black belts they already have a main job. As you said, I even don’t know if we are providing the right tools, advice or encouragement.

Leigh Ann Gilmore
Ireland

Strangely enough I had a similar conversation with my Instructor just a few days ago.  He felt that people feel so pressed for time, so stressed by work and family commitments that the idea of opening a club is too daunting for them.  My own opinion is also that, many people who get their black belt, train in a club close to where they live….that would mean that they would have to open a club further away so as not to compete with their Instructor’s club, again, another deterrent.

I am a 3rd dan and parents have asked me if I intend opening a club myself but I am always quick to say no.  For many reasons, but chief among them is the stress of running my own club.  I love being an assistant instructor under an incredible Taekwon-Do Master.  His club is very big and requires a number of black belts to teach at each class, so it is always interesting and engaging, and the students get to experience different types of instruction depending on which black belt takes which group on a given night.

Thomas Dickson
UK

In my opinion, there are many reasons why the creation and running of a Taekwon-Do club is not as popular an aspect of TKD as the area leaders would like.  I agree that we need to continue the General’s efforts by signing up and retaining more members.

1.    Structure and Locales [1]

The structure of TKD in Western society[2] is Pyramidical[3] and it is the higher ranks who determine the effectiveness and evolution of their feeder clubs.  The locale is generally headed by a cabal of senior Black Belts whose mission is to spread General Choi’s Art for whatever reason[4].  They benefit from turning Novice Black Belts into Instructors so that the Seniors will gain more students and their locale will grow.  This means that the new Instructor has to find an area where there is no brother club and perhaps is trying to break into another Martial Art stronghold.

2.    1st Dan – inexperienced & other commitments

In order to set up their own Dojang, a potential instructor needs to locate a centre where there is a potential demand outside the area that they trained in initially, this usually incurs a longer journey to training venue(s) thus taking more of their spare time.  They need to find suitable accommodation to house the Dojang which is readily available throughout the year at a regular time.  They need to have requisite technical knowledge not just in TKD, but also knowledge of Instructing, First Aid, Book-keeping[5], Child Protection and Safety, Administration, Communication, Advertising and much more.  The newly anointed 1st Dan will not necessarily have that kind of knowledge.  Many 1st Dan practitioners are too young/inexperienced to take on that kind of responsibility.  The more mature 1st Dans may have young family and are unable to commit the time required to run a Dojang.  Many even more mature 1st Dans may have working careers which require them to dedicate more time to their employer.  The net result is that only a few are capable of dedicating their time to the building of a successful Dojang.

3.    Finance

The costs involved in setting up a new Dojang are quite high, hire of venues, travelling to a different area, advertising the Dojang, Insurance and other ancillary costs make this quite a large commitment for the start-up.  Added to that is the costs of equipment for example Kick Pads, Focus mitts, breaking boards ….. all this just after paying a good deal of money for their own Grading, all this without financial help from the Senior Grades.

4.    Promotion & Cover

When a new instructor begins a new Dojang, their own development must take a back seat because the commitment they had previously demonstrated at an established Dojang must be given to their own[6] Dojang.  The question then arises, how will the Instructor advance their knowledge whilst committed to their students.  When will that Instructor compete in tournaments when they often have to look after their charges?  Who will cover the classes if the Instructor cannot, for whatever reason, take the scheduled class?

5.    Pyramids

The instructor is a foundation of the pyramid which forms the locale, the fees for gradings, costs of uniforms and training equipment, seminars and competitions are all sucked into the top of the Pyramid so that the Senior Grades benefit more from the work of the junior grades.  The class fees are retained by the club, but this will usually be little more than cover the Instructors expenses.

6.    Standards

If the new instructor has recently qualified as a Novice Black Belt will they be sufficiently aware of standards[7] and up to date with developments to pass this onto the students.  If they do not then the standards will fall below the desired level.

7.    Club interface

The New Instructor will inevitably face a changing relationship with their own instructor and their former clubmates.  Those with whom they used to train are no longer part of the novice Instructors world, and no matter how hard they try, that camaraderie will be dampened.  The roles will differ.

A good club is like a family and those bonds are forged over many years, through many tears and triumphs, the club becomes strong although it becomes top heavy the good clubs retain people past blue belts – which seems to be the watershed.

New clubs are a boon to the Pyramid people, but they let Taekwon-Do down by not supporting them through their first year.

I would suggest that before encouraging novitiate Black Belts to become instructors perhaps the thinking should go into support,

  1. Joint ventures with two or more novice instructors mentored by a senior, this can be expanded to other clubs in the area by the same team of novice Instructors.
  2. Advertising and pamphleting supported from inside the Pyramid and paid for by them[8] perhaps penetrating previously researched areas. Thus, creating a better chance of success.  Posters, Demonstration Teams and Banners would also help.
  3. Free seminars on running a club and finance to make it viable prospect, seeking those who show an interest in setting up their own club prior to the grading and giving them a specially tailored guidance from experts.
  4. Pay commission to the Instructor, they can use this compensation to help to offset the costs of running a new club or buy new equipment or a weekend away to appease the wife!
  5. Regular visits during year 1 by a Master or above
  6. Many years ago, in Adelaide, I was a green belt when a Korean Gentleman came into the Dojang and joined the ranks.  He was so good that we were all intimidated, however, over the passing years, I realised that C.C. Rhee was just giving help and mentoring our instructor who was then a 2nd Dan.  I think it helped him, it really impressed me.[1] This is my name for a collection of clubs under an association or group (for example PUMA, T-UK, GTUK, RHEE TKD …)[2] I can only speak for clubs in UK, USA and Europe which I have practical experience.[3] Run by a small cabal of senior Black Belts who make the rules.[4] This is usually stated to improve standards, but may be more to do with making money.[5] It is a business venture and will need to be regarded as such.[6] If it is to succeed[7] These are constantly changing as the ITF Technical Committee monitor and seek to improve TKD[8] It will be an investment in the future rather than leaving the novices struggling with all the costs at setup.

 

Yavor Tasev
Bulgaria

For sure the main matter is the personal motivation for starting an own school. As an instructor I try to show to my advanced students not only the glamorous part of Taekwon-Do in the gym or during competition. They need to be in aware that running an own gym or club is not only kicking and punching.

We all know in modern times there are many rules and regulations by different state institutions which can be severe obstacle to our activity. There is a lot of paperwork related to this and not
everybody is ready to do it – some of them don’t know how, some of them simply don’t want to…

It is completely different thing to treat equally with all students and additionally to deal with their parents. Working with people is always the most difficult thing.

I currently have some experience with some students who want to continue their studies in Sports university in Bulgaria but don’t find support in their families. All over the world parents want their kids to be lawyers or doctors, to be able to buy expensive cars, houses… But they disregard the fact that they could not achieve it by themselves.

In Bulgaria people who are dedicated to sports (martial arts) have not so good prestige, and it is considered they don’t earn enough to support their families, which is completely untrue.

David Monaghan
Scotland

When we have students that achieve their blackbelt we go through a probationary period of 6 months to ensure people don’t just get a blackbelt and leave. Is this probationary period we get the students to continue their learning with patterns etc just like normal but also get them to take a 1 hour class which could be at any moment we decide.

They have to have lesson plans ready for an under 8 class, a junior class and an adult class also have plans ready for it being a big or quiet class. This gives our blackbelts an insight to what running a class feels like.

Some don’t like it at first but their confidence grows through your their class others thrives in it and now runs classes that we unfortunately can’t make. We have also looked at instructor courses, and run through how to run your own club as it is sometimes daunting for some to consider opening their own club.

Kim
USA

The school where I train is an independent school established by my instructor. We get the opportunity a few times a year to train with his instructor and others in their family, usually at our black belt exams when his teacher and others come in to sit on the board, but the schools are all independent and are from a couple different styles.

I think there is an expectation for us to volunteer in some capacity at our school once we reach black belt, but there are no expectations whatsoever that I can tell for any of us to open our own schools.

My instructor is a 7th Dan and the school is his full-time job. All of our adult black belts pursue Taekwon-Do as a hobby only– currently we have 4 active 4th Dans, myself as a 3rd Dan, 1 2nd Dan (until February), and 2 1st Dans (one who is a college student and the only employee of the school), and a few others who are away at school and train when they are home but don’t teach. Some of the younger teen black belts assist in juniors classes as well.

We had to take an instructor exam, or lead a class that was evaluated, in order to become instructors. The 2 first Dans are trainee instructors out of necessity just because we do not have enough certified (2nd-3rd) or senior (4th) instructors to lead classes (we have classes 6 days a week). Based purely on my experience at the school, I cannot imagine my instructor giving anyone under 4th Dan his blessing to open another school, whether it was connected to his school or not, and I definitely do not feel qualified to lead a school at this rank.

Tadgh Conery
Ireland

In my experience, instructors have taken black belts, in their schools, and involved them as assistant instructors for junior classes. This allows them to build up skills and confidence for years before they branch out and establish their own club or taking over as chief instructor in the school.

It’s actually quite hard to set up a club in Ireland, as most towns have one, or more, already. This approach, therefore, is the most viable here for the student to gain any teaching experience.

I have found though that unless a student is seriously competing, black belts do tend to drop out unless they are involved in instructing or coaching.

Roman & Seida Scholl-Latour
New Zealand

Not too long ago we had a rule that for grading to 4th degree and higher, BBs had to be an Instructor. This certainly created a motivation to become an Instructor. As to now many people take their advancement in rank for granted – as long as they have completed the necessary training time and know their syllabus – “they are due”. This may result indirectly in shifting the main interest of some BBs to their next belt instead of having as main interest furthering the Martial Art and the organisation.

As you point out we have plenty [maybe too many? and too young?] BBs, but not enough BBs who are ready to take on the commitment of becoming an Instructor or even not an Assistant Instructor.

Do we need BBs whose only goals are to win medals and to cultivate their ego, but who are not prepared to do the not always so easy work at the basis? These goals are short lived and in the long run many of these students will not serve the Art.

Once more we are getting into the conflict: Do we want TKD to be a Martial Art or a Sport.

If we steer TKD more and more into a Sport, not only will we have more and more competition from other sports that may even be more fun and that do not have the “inconvenience” of the DO. In today’s society, unfortunately, people seem to become more and more demanding and presumptuous. In TKD we see more and more students who are less prepared to train by themselves, to put effort into learning and improving their skills, but instead they ask for special treatment.

As Master Hutton stated, people are coming to us – to a Martial Art – to be educated. We should emphazise this point and teach all our students – in the spirit of Martial Morality – to learn to give back and not only to receive.

Maybe we should reflect on the following words of concern expressed by GM Leong:
“he is saddened to see the extent of degradation the arts has suffered through commercialisation and unhealthy competition. His empathy and concern are justifiable since these prevailing situations are bringing out the worst in a student as well as the teacher. The all-encompassing need to win, achieve fame, success and money obscures all other thoughts until it becomes an obsession which is entirely against the principles of the martial arts. It is time for the martial arts to revert to its original objectives”.

Mr Vince Pygott
New Zealand

This is why I think people are not becoming instructors. There are a number of factors involved:

  1. Age of the blackbelt – if the blackbelt is under 18 then they can not open their own club and those that are 18 – 24 are transient / undecided as to where they will be working or living so they do not want to commit to a permanent instructors position.
  2. Number of higher Ranks – in the 80s – 90s there were not many senior dans. Master R when I started was 2nd Dan, and I think you might have been the same (1984) or 3rd dan. In the late 80s you got your 4th Dan and graded everyone. So being a 1st or 2nd dan seemed the right rank to be going out and being an instructor because almost all instructors where the same rank.
    Today most head instructors are 3rd – 4th dan or above, so being a 1st or 2nd dan does not feel right to become an instructor of your own club.
    Many are happy to instruct at the same club – hence the growth of the megaclubs with many instructors/assistant instructors at the same venue.
  3. Most of the current instructors are in their 30s+ so being in your 20s seems, to them, too young to star your own club.

On the plus side gender is no longer a problem.

So I think the target market for becoming an instructor has shifted.
The person most likely to become an instructor and start their own club today is someone who has a settled job and either has no children or has older children.

My experiences:
I have tried several times to get people to open their own clubs.

  • 3 were starting at university, they did not want to. I even offered to pay them, good rates, to instruct.
  • 3 early-20s & 1 mid-40s took over clubs I started up for them. 1 ended up going overseas. The other 3 tried to run their clubs as a business but it did not work out for them.
  • 2 mid to late 20s people also took over clubs I helped to start or took over. These clubs are still operating.

So, from my experience, I think our organisation needs to focus on blackbelts who have stable jobs. They need to see themselves as being committed to staying in the area, at least for a few years.

The current instructor needs to be committed to providing help to the new instructors. Not just being kicked out and told to open your own club … which is sort of my case … Master R said, “you will go and help Mr Lee start up Mt Albert & Avondale”, “Yes Sir!” After 2yrs of assisting (2 instructors at Mt Albert, 1 at Avondale) I decided to start my own club as I was moving to Stillwater.

I spent a couple of years before going it alone. Maybe that also needs to be considered. How consistently have the prospective new instructors (of their own club) been assisting for. You must have a few in that category.

The other question is what is our organisation considering to be its own club?
The organisation has a single desire … increase numbers while maintaining quality of instruction/practitioner. Whether that is by forming large individual clubs with many instructors under the same roof (1 club) or have more clubs.

The ‘larger club’ model needs to have a venue that can accommodate more classes with their own instructor/assistant instructor. These instructors can be younger and more transitory and thus needs to have a good replacement model. The larger club needs to consider assisting those instructors/assistants, who moving or stopping instructing at the club, into their own clubs located at where they are going too.
The ‘more club’ model needs to target the type of person I’ve mentioned above, older with a stable job and has been assisting at their current club for a while.

I believe our organisation should assist / invest in both growth models to develop an optimum growth rate.

Those are my thoughts so far.

Mr Hans Rombaut
Belgium

I have been thinking about your question here, partly because it took me 18 years since grading for I° dan to finally get to this point, where I feel capable of running a school. Also, partly, because as a certified social worker and ICF coach-in-training I’ve been studying social trends, communication, human behavior and how to stimulate/alter that behavior for the better. How to make people find purpose in what they are doing and faith in their own capacities, for instance.

The starting question, as I interpret it, is: why do black belts nowadays feel less eager to start their own school? And then, secondly, how can their instructors influence them to open a school?

In an earlier e-mail you wrote about imposter syndrome, and I think this could be one reason why new club-owners are becoming a rare breed. I suspect that there’s a lot of black belts who think they just aren’t skilled or prepared enough for the task at hand.

This generation of black belts is the generation that grew up in a VUCA world . VUCA – “Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous” – is a military concept that found its way in the field of psychology and coaching. It simply means that the world is changing at an ever-increasing pace and a lot of people feel like they can no longer keep up, because there is no fixed skillset, degree or diploma anymore that will prepare you for whatever the future beholds. This results in higher depression and anxiety rates, but also I believe, imposter syndrome. In her book called “Ready Or Not” psychologist Madeline Levine writes that a lot of parents “feel unequipped to cope with a world of disconcerting unpredictability and upheaval”, and also educators of all sorts “have difficulties to meet our era’s uncertain and escalating demands”.

As ITF instructors (or “educators”) it’s no longer enough to just know ITF style Taekwon-Do to open your own dojang (if it ever was), you need to have a sense of sports science, injury prevention, mental/mindset coaching, marketing, digital intelligence, entrepreneurship and the list goes on and on. On top of that, the demands for very good “soft skills” gets bigger too. A clubowner needs to be an excellent communicator and an empathic listener. Someone who can operate in groups, preferably someone with an ego strong enough to say “your idea is better than mine” (even when the idea came from a yellow tag, or a parent!) but still a leader.
It’s quite a set of academic and foundational skills you need to gather in order to be successful. A skillset that expands and shifts constantly too, because who knows what new knowledge will be needed and what knowledge will have become obsolete five years from now? A lot of black belts might find that daunting. After all, VUCA has created a generation of natural born doubters.

So how do we communicate our wishes and beliefs to our black belts? How can we make opening a club sound feasible and even wonderful to them? How can we make them have faith in their own knowledge and talents? Of course in dealing with humans, there is no clearcut answer. But if my studies in social fields have taught me anything, it is to put faith in the power of insight and self-awareness to change behavior.

Surely we are practicing a traditional martial art with a strong sense of hierarchy, and we are used to “instructing” people in a top-down manner, but I believe that establishing a horizontal relationship with a strong sense of mutual trust and honesty will be vital in getting the best out of people in this VUCA reality. In that sense I applaud you Sir for being honest in sharing your own experiences with imposter syndrome. You destroyed a taboo right there, you told the ITF-community that you don’t have to be perfect in order to try and do what you love. That is extremely powerful, coming from a Technical Committee Master!

Authenticity like that has the potential to open up a line of empathic communication between instructor and student and will, in my humble opinion, make more people consider ITF TKD as a career path than making opening a club mandatory in order to become IV° dan (for instance).

Janice Wong
New Zealand

That’s an interesting question you ask, here are some of my thoughts.

  1.  Even though I am a black stripe now, I don’t think I know enough to open a club.  Someone once told me that reaching 1st dan is just the beginning, we have just learnt the basics to start real training and understanding of the martial art.
  2. Most of the black belts help out with teaching in their own club under the supervision of a master or a higher degree.  Personally I don’t think we are good enough to open a club until we reach 3rd dan.  Expectation is higher now from the students as well.
  3. The lifestyle has changed.  In the older days, most people go home from work, they have all the time to themselves for their interests/hobbies.  The jobs nowadays requires longer working hours, after hours work/preparation, emailing/administration, or shift work.  Family structure has changed too, there are more solo parents or composite families.  Children are needing more attentions as well, parents have to make sure that the children are not going off rails.  People feel that they are not able to commit the time needed to open a club.
  4. I have seen many people who reached their black belts and then stopped training.  They may feel that it is their goal and so after reaching their goal, they are not interested anymore.  Some may decide to learn other martial arts as different martial arts offer different aspect of training/fighting skills.  Many MMA fighters are often practitioners of a few martial arts.  Someone has quoted that about 1-2% of all beginners would reach black belt, and 0.5% would get to 2nd dan.
  5. The clubs are getting bigger.  I presume that in the old days, there might be 10-15 people in the club.  But nowadays there may be 60-80 students in a club.  Transports are more convenient, so there is no need to open 2-3 clubs in one town.  It is also more advantageous to train with others of the same grade or higher to learn from each other.  Although I see the advantage of being in a small club as you get more attention from your instructor.
  6. The NZ society is changing.  In the old days, there were many small towns and so there was need to open clubs in small towns.  However people tend to move to bigger cities and so cities like Auckland, Tauranga are getting bigger but small towns like Levin or Paeroa mainly consist of ageing population.
  7. In the old days, Taekwon-Do was not as well known in NZ, so there was a real need to spread the martial art.  However there is a threat of reducing quality if the art is spread too fast.  There should be a balance of the quality of the Taekwon-Do teaching and the quantity of the TKD clubs in the country.

That’s all I can think about, of course, they are my personal opinions, not necessarily shared/agreed by others.

Thanks to everyone who responded. Sorry I could not include all of the emails here.

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