Some Reflections on Improving Our ITF Schools
This message is addressed especially to those of you who own ITF Taekwon-Do schools, although I hope others will find it of interest as well, particularly our Black Belt holders.
It is summer in the northern hemisphere, and in summer time we generally have more time to think and plan, so I thought this would be a good time of the year to write about ways of improving Taekwon-Do schools. Also, in many places, new sessions of Taekwon-Do courses start in September, which makes it a good time to introduce new ways of doing things.
I hope you will find these comments and suggestions both thought-provoking and useful.
As teachers of Taekwon-Do, we all have the same goal: to promote ITF Taekwon-Do.
Think back to when you started in Taekwon-Do: Perhaps you were curious about the martial arts. A friend recommended Taekwon-Do, and you thought you would give it a try. You took a course and really enjoyed it, so you continued to take courses. You started to get serious about training. You may have participated in Taekwon-Do competitions. I’m sure you became passionate about Taekwon-Do. And at some point you started to share that passion by teaching Taekwon-Do.
For many of you, the next logical step was to have your own Taekwon-Do school. However, making the transition from teaching to operating your own school is not easy. When you set the goal of operating your own Taekwon-Do school, you were taking on a big challenge!
You may recall that I wrote about making Taekwon-Do your career in my message of September 2006: A Successful and Fulfilling Career in ITF Taekwon-Do. (Click here to read this message.)
You have made Taekwon-Do your career, and owning your own school is your dream. Of course you want your school to be a success, but success is not limited to how much money you make. We teach our students the techniques of ITF Taekwon-Do, but we also have a responsibility and a mission: to guide our students so that they become better people and good citizens. A successful teacher sees the results in his students.
A Family Business
Very often, an ITF Taekwon-Do school is a family business. Especially at the beginning, everyone in the family pitches in to help.
However, you cannot expect that to continue forever. No one likes to feel taken for granted, so it is important to let your family members know how much you appreciate their support. You will want to pay them a fair wage as soon as it becomes possible, and don’t forget to pay yourself a reasonable salary as well.
Are you missing an opportunity?
Over the last six years the ITF has made efforts to improve the structure of the organization, the services offered, and the image of our organization. I am very proud to look back and see all that we have achieved. We now have official policies and rules that are applied and respected in ITF-affiliated organizations around the globe.
International Instructors Courses give teachers around the world the opportunity to update their techniques and teaching methods. The Technical Instruction Committee has worked to put a good uniform technical standard in place.
After including an introduction to teaching the Do in several IICs and consultations with many ITF teachers, the working group is now finalizing the basic program for teaching the Do. I am pleased to say Level 1 will be officially introduced in 2010. To see the PowerPoint presentation about Teaching the Do, click here.
I believe these achievements have made being identified with the ITF a great asset for Taekwon-Do school owners, instructors, and teachers. However, I have noticed that many schools have no visible signage, exterior or interior, indicating that they are affiliated with the ITF. They are not taking advantage of the opportunity to benefit from the positive image the ITF has built in recent years.
Are you missing the opportunity to benefit from identifying your school with the ITF?
Society continues to evolve
The ITF is a solid, forward-looking organization, and ITF Taekwon-Do is an excellent product. However, we can no longer be the “sitting stance with punching” schools of twenty-five or thirty years ago. Society evolves as each successive generation comes along, and we need to adapt. If we continue to do as we have always done, we will be missing opportunities to promote Taekwon-Do.
Know your product
What would you say if I asked you to sell Taekwon-Do to me in just one minute?
I would say something like this:
Each of us will have his or her own way of “selling” Taekwon-Do, so you probably wouldn’t use the same words. But the basic information should be the same, and it should be clear that the goal for students is self-improvement through making Taekwon-Do their way of life.
What is the public image of your school?
I suggest you start by asking yourself questions like:
It is also a good idea to consult some people who know your school. What do they think about the public image of your school? What is about the physical environment? Do they feel the atmosphere is welcoming? Ask how you could improve, and listen to all comments and suggestions. Of course when you ask for advice you have to be ready to hear negative comments as well as the good ones, but I am sure you will learn something from this exercise.
The best way to improve the public image of your school and differentiate your school from the others is to offer top quality courses.
Developing various markets
One size does not fit all! We need to develop different programs for different groups:
Emphasize the benefits
The martial arts are better known now than in the past. However, they still tend to attract mostly those who are looking for a physical and mental challenge. Most other people are intimidated by the thought of having to learn hard training combat techniques, so your marketing plan must include innovative ways of getting the message about the benefits of Taekwon-Do to them.
Your marketing plan should emphasize the three reasons why we practice Taekwon-Do: physical and mental conditioning, self-improvement by applying the Do, and self-defense.
While I believe everyone can benefit from learning self-defense techniques, I also know very well that most people will never be in a situation where they need to defend themselves or someone else against physical aggression. On the other hand, Taekwon-Do training offers benefits that prospective students may not worry about.
ITF Taekwon-Do has two technical particularities: the sine wave movement and the breathing. The sine wave movement requires physical and mental relaxation at the beginning of the movement. By relaxing, you avoid straining your body and make the most efficient use of your strength. It is essential that teachers ensure that their students are doing the sine wave movement correctly. Breathing appropriately increases the amount of oxygen in your system and gives you the ability to perform the techniques properly. Breathing well has a positive effect on your overall health as well.
And we mustn’t forget the Do. The Taekwon-Do philosophy formulated by General Choi Hong Hi provides an ethical structure expressed in the five tenets: courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, and indomitable spirit. The Do serves as a guide to living a principled life: the Taekwon-Do way of life.
We practice Taekwon-Do and we have all experienced the numerous positive effects on our lives. The important thing is to express this to our students and prospective students.
Acquire the skills you need
You wouldn’t expect anyone to teach Taekwon-Do without the necessary knowledge and training, and the same applies to operating your Taekwon-Do school: In order to be successful you need to acquire a whole new set of skills.
Whether you are just starting your school or have been operating for a number of years, you need to know how to prepare a business plan, how to prepare a budget, how to do the bookkeeping, how to manage your employees, how to promote your school, how to find new students, how to get positive media coverage, and how to deal with your local authorities. At the same time you will be teaching classes as well as making sure the school premises are properly maintained and that the atmosphere is always positive and welcoming. As I said above, it’s a big challenge!
No matter what your previous experience, you will probably need to acquire some of these skills and many others that I have not mentioned. You can learn a lot from consulting more experienced school owners, and I encourage you to seek them out. It is also a good idea to look into courses that will give you the skills you need. For example, many local colleges offer courses to help you develop your management skills. There are also courses specifically for small business owners. These courses can be worth your time not only because of the knowledge you will acquire, but because they give you the opportunity to meet and talk with other small business owners who face many of the same problems.
Click here to read a survey produced by Master Ung Kim Lan from Germany.
Click here to read a survey produced by Mr. Mariusz Steckiewicz from Finland, now teaching in Vietnam.
Click here to read a survey produced by Mr. Harry van Schaik from the Netherlands.
Click here to read a survey produced by Mr. Kurt Ottesen from Canada.
There are many methods you can use to promote your Taekwon-Do school, but the difference between success and failure in marketing is very small. So it’s essential to start with a well-thought-out marketing plan. Here are some points to consider for your marketing plan:
The Worldwide Web has become an essential marketing tool, and every ITF Taekwon-Do school should have its own Website with a link to the official Website of the ITF www.tkd-itf.org.
In many ITF schools there is no signage to identify their affiliation with the ITF. This is regrettable because the ITF now has an excellent reputation and these schools are not getting the benefit of that. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to publicize your school’s ITF affiliation?
Teaching Taekwon-Do is generally a good fit with your local education system. Why not approach the principal or head of a school in your community? Give them a professional presentation about Taekwon-Do, your school, and the ITF. Ask for permission to give a demonstration for the students and/or parents. At the demonstration, you can hand out a flyer offering “try it” classes.
Demonstrations can be an effective marketing tool. Here are some points to consider:
As I mentioned above, it is often worthwhile to take a course in public relations or media relations. Such courses may be offered by a local college or by the Chamber of Commerce. Once you know how the media function and you learn how to attract their attention, you will generally have positive results and free publicity for your Taekwon-Do school!
Newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations are businesses. They want to attract the most readers or viewers possible so that they can sell advertising pages or airtime. They certainly do not want to have blank pages or “dead” airtime! So if you give them an interesting story, they will probably use it.
It is essential to prepare well for interviews with the media. What is your goal in doing the interview? Don’t be shy to ask the people around you for pointers about how to act and get your message across effectively during an interview. Ask them to evaluate your performance and make suggestions about how you could improve. Record radio or television interviews so that you can review them later and identify any weaknesses.
If you have a budget for advertising, plan to spend it wisely. An ad in a national newspaper may seem prestigious but it is also very expensive and won’t necessarily reach your target clientele. An ad in your local newspaper is much less expensive and much more effective at reaching the local people who are your prospective students.
If you do buy an ad in a newspaper or magazine, you must take care of every detail. Choose a publication that will reach your target clientele. Make sure there are no errors in your ad and that it is placed in an appropriate section of the publication. Where would an ad for a Taekwon-Do school be more effective: on the fashion page or in the sports section?
Remember: Marketing and sale are important, but too much emphasis on commercial aspect can push people away.
If your school has a positive public image and a reputation for quality, backed up by the credibility of ITF black belts, it will attract new students. Word of mouth is still the best publicity, and you can’t buy that.
Treat your students well
Many martial arts organizations make efforts to find new students but can’t keep them. The key to retaining students is that teachers must take good care of their students. Offer top quality teaching along with plenty of encouragement. Adapt your teaching to your students’ needs. Teachers need time to work one on one with their students. A Taekwon-Do school should provide a welcoming “community” that has a good influence on its students. Be accessible for your students. General Choi taught us that we need to follow protocol and we should always maintain a line between teachers and students, but teachers must not be arrogant. Spending time with students outside the dojang will make you seem more human to them, and this will increase the respect they already feel for you as their teacher.
Try to avoid practices that could make your school and your marketing appear overly commercial. Here a couple of examples:
The ITF does approve some products but they should be sold at a reasonable price and be safe for the users.
To treat your students well you need to continuously work to improve your technical skills and teaching methods. During my visits to ITF Taekwon-Do schools, I have noticed that some teachers are still using techniques from thirty or forty years ago when Taekwon-Do was taught as a new introduced martial art. Back then, students at all belt and age levels learned and trained together. This was not good pedagogically, but we didn’t have enough people and the resources to do otherwise. Today that is no longer the case.
To teach a subject you need to have the up-to-date knowledge but you also need to know how to teach and make it interesting. So you need to acquire the knowledge and get the appropriate training so that you will be able to teach effectively.
Finally, I would like to remind you not to forget to thank your volunteers and do so frequently. Most Taekwon-Do schools rely on volunteers, and you need to show them how much you appreciate what they do.
Society is always evolving. Many people today have more leisure time and are more interested in the health benefits of physical conditioning. ITF offers a quality product that will help fulfill those needs.
To sum up my suggestions:
And yes, it is possible to find a balance between teaching Taekwon-Do for the passion and making a living.
My purpose in writing this message was to communicate some ideas about how to make your Taekwon-Do school better. I hope this message will encourage all school owners – as well as everyone who is planning a career teaching Taekwon-Do – to think seriously about how we can best serve our students and achieve our goal of promoting Taekwon-Do.
If you have any comments or if you would like to share your experiences with others, please feel free to write to me. Click here to open a pre-addressed e-mail form.
Grand Master Trân Trięu Quân
Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam
August 12th, 2009