Martial Arts Business, Marketing, and Change; The 100. and The Teaching Revolution

That’s me, Tom Callos, on the left. I’m the bald guy wearing the Hawaiian work boots (slippers) and talking to a group of my students and friends about teaching the martial arts. I do this sort of thing just about 24/7 –and have been for the last 25 (plus) years.

I teach instructors how to sell their services using their own personal mission and their quest to improve the quality of their own education, as opposed to adopting clever marketing strategies and formulaic selling gimmicks (as in “your ad should be this size, have these colors in it, and say these things”).

Martial Arts
Martial Arts

A Funny “Industry”

The martial arts “industry” is a funny one, as we claim to teach self-defense, but there are but a handful of teachers I’ve met in my 25 years teaching teachers and 40 years training who genuinely address self-defense training at a level that makes sense or is, in my opinion, relevant to today.

When I talk about self-defense I talk about it conceptually, as I don’t have a self-defense program to sell my audience, I don’t offer a course, nor do I claim to teach the ultimate self-defense system. I talk about anger and anger management as a subject of self-defense. I talk about diet –and beyond diet, I talk about food production, as in my eyes these are subjects as relevant to self-defense as blocking a punch to the nose. I talk about violence and non-violence, about hyper-masculinity, about girl-on-girl violence, and about prejudice. I talk about being a member of a community –and about taking the martial arts out of the dojo and into the world. I talk about the top 10 killers of men, women, and children in today’s world (and note, “kicking, punching, and grappling” are not on the list).

The martial arts “industry” is a funny one, as we claim to teach/promote fitness, but you’d be shocked at just how little fitness training, as in real educational material, is offered to instructors through the leading organizations in the martial arts community. We claim to have a “philosophy” that has some considerable value, but if you interviewed 100 martial arts teachers I would wager that 99 of them haven’t had one term paper’s worth of training in anything “philosophical.” Emerson? Lao Tzu? Buddhism? Christian philosophy? Well, if you looked over the class schedules of the last decade’s worth of conventions and seminars in “the industry,” you’d have innumerable hours of training in how to upgrade memberships, write ad copy, and give birthday parties, but philosophy wouldn’t be found on any of the course descriptions.

Problem –or Opportunity?

I’ve come to realize that what’s missing in “the martial arts industry” isn’t a problem, it’s an opportunity for me, my friends, and quite possibly for you too. “The industry” can only do so much –and it has to sell things to you (and me) to survive. What you and I have to do is raise our own standards. We have to self-educate. We have to form a community dedicated to educational improvement, to noble intention, to filling the gap between tireless promotion, non-stop marketing, and “paying the bills,” and the quest to make the practice and teaching of the martial arts something beautiful, important, and valuable. Oh, and let’s add relevant to today’s world to that list as well.

In my project, The 100., I’m seeking to bring together 100 pretty-damn-proactive martial arts teachers for the purpose of setting an example for our industry; for the purpose of conducting experiments; for the purpose of talking the talk –and walking the walk –of the modern “Master” of the martial arts. The question is: What does that mean?

That’s why I’m talking in the picture, above –and that’s why I’m sitting at my desk writing this to you. I’m sort of a “man on a mission.” Is all my talk doing anything? I think it is. I think it can be measured in the projects members of The 100. are thinking up and executing; projects involving environmental issues, community improvement, suicide prevention, anger management training, feeding the hungry, dietary programs, growing food and sustainable living, truth in media, girl’s self-image issues, hyper-masculinity, and all sorts of subjects that aren’t being covered in our trade magazines, at the conventions, or in our industry’s seminars.


I think it can be measured in the activites of instructors who are NOT members of The 100., but who are, nevertheless, being affected by our members; being influenced to try new things and to embrace some of the ideas we’re championing.

It’s my opinion that our industry, infatuated, if not obsessed, with marketing, sales, and the pursuit of wealth, has lost its way. I believe it is education and activism that will drive students to our schools in the future –and keep them there. When instructors of the martial arts are more than just athletes and/or salespeople, when we are educated teachers of subjects with relevance to today’s world, subjects of substance, we won’t have to resort to tricky sales letters, cleverly worded membership contracts, implementing auto-responder e-mails that “lead to the close,” or most all of today’s car-sales-strategies that promise “floods” of new students and seven-figure incomes.