What makes your school better?

 in Bradenton - Ancient Ways Martial Arts Academy

What makes your school better?
Oh my, I dislike this question and it comes up way too much. On top of that, way too many school owners will cave to this and start slinging mud about their competitors, proving that they lack the humility and modesty that all martial artists are supposed to have.

I know only what I hear second and third hand about my competitors. Occasionally I’ll share a lunch or breakfast with one or two of them, but it’s rare. When we do, it’s all polite, laughing about the kids and the problem parents and for the most part, very friendly. I will say that one instructor said to me years ago, “I heard you said that your school was better than mine?”

My reply was, “Well, I definitely didn’t say that, as it is not my style, but I will say this to you. If I didn’t think my school was better than every other school, would I be much of a martial artist or school owner if I wasn’t doing everything in my power to be better?”

Look, I can’t tell you about other schools or instructors, but let me say a few things about our school, and I’ll put humility aside and tell you a bit about myself too.

My first martial arts school, Sun Arts Fighting Academy was established in the early 1980’s and existed until the mid 1990’s. I started by teaching for Manatee County Parks and Rec inside several elementary schools, after school release. I also taught at G.T.Bray and for a local health club, called Westbay Athletic Club. This left me time for college and other jobs. During that time, I earned my Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and worked many jobs. From lifeguard, to camp counselor to mechanic. I also taught in several areas, internships in 2nd grade and 4th grade, I taught swimming at two YMCA’s, I trained lifeguards for the Red Cross, I taught sailing, windsurfing, in-line skating as well as martial arts. I want to be clear, that I believe my most valuable skill today is my ability to teach. With very few exceptions, a great scientist who becomes a teacher is probably a pretty poor teacher. Likewise a great martial artist who begins to teach is probably in the same boat. Teaching is an art and a science as well, and requires intense study to learn and develop.

At one point, while lifeguarding at the Sarasota YMCA, I was suckered into a job as an acting Recreational Therapist at a brand new psychiatric facility called, Lakeside Pavilion. It was a part of Sarasota Memorial Hospital. At first, I had no idea what the place was, they said they needed a lifeguard. The Recreational Therapist on staff was my boss, Debby, but she was an administrator of the facility so couldn’t do the job, so I did it. I grew interested in the field and started my Master’s studies in Recreational Therapy. It’s funny, I finished that degree after I had already quit working there and lost interest in the field. Psych is a high burnout field. It’s like being a teacher, but most psych patients don’t really get better, you just treat them forever. On the other hand, students improve and develop. Teaching is far more rewarding.

Most patients in a place like that are just like you and me, they struggle a little more to cope with life’s challenges, and need some help. That’s what we did, try to help. Some people though, are dangerous. During my time working at the hospital, even though I was a therapist and a care giver, I had tons of real life, hand to hand altercations with some of the patients who were intent on hurting me, themselves or someone else. This isn’t like being a cop, with the gun, Tazer, back-up, K9, baton, pepper spray and helicopters. This wasn’t like sport martial arts which is consensual, with a single opponent, safety equipment, a referee, and a basic agreement that if they knock me down they won’t then murder me. This was real, against people, sometimes multiple people, who had killed before or attempted to do so. We held the really dangerous patients for only a short time before sending them to the state mental hospital, the one in Arcadia that closed down because insurance companies decided not to pay for long term mental healthcare anymore. You might ask what happened to those patients. They now walk among us.

My first week working there I was hit by an ex-Vietnam vet who was also an ex-golden gloves boxer. Before that, I had been hit and kicked in competition thousands of times, some very hard, but none that hard, none that hurt like that, none that affected me like that. That one punch changed everything. In that moment I realized my instructors were teaching based on theory and not on reality. They had not prepared me in the least for the emotions, pain and necessary skills and attitude to survive a real self defense encounter. From that point forward, I began redesigning everything I did as a martial artist and as an instructor so it would really help, really work and provide a true sense of confidence over the false one many instructors provide.

Years pass, I had opened a location on SR 64, moved it to US 41 and still wasn’t making a living. I started doing some computer work for IBM and then got drawn into corporate America and closed my school for a number of years. This was during the tech boom and money was great, co-workers were fantastic and my managers were all promoted way beyond their capabilities (typical corporate America). I worked for many companies, usually doubling my pay with each move. I still taught martial arts a little every week and trained myself too, growing my skills in several styles. I learned about business, how to do it and how not to do it, working for smart people and even some very bad people. I met Jamie and got married. Before Brennon was even born the idea of leaving the IT world and getting back to teaching martial arts was growing. I was fed up with the lack of common sense and with the full-on corruption I was seeing in the corporate world. I knew too, that it would be better for my health and that the dojo was an environment I wanted my family raised in. Brennon was born in 2000, Jannel 15 months later in 2001. Ancient Ways opened in 2002. I still worked my day job for a year or so, but quickly grew to no longer need it, thanks to my mentors, family and awesome students.

Over 15 years later, Ancient Ways is considered one of the top 2% martial arts schools in North America by the Martial Arts Industry Association (MAIA), and continues to grow. We’ve repeatedly won the Gold Award from Century Martial Arts not to mention all the local civic awards from schools, businesses and even recognition from our governor. Our instructors are certified not just by me, but by ProMAC (Professional Martial arts College, now becoming Satori Alliance), as well as Millennium Training and HYPER. We are martial artists, it is our focus. Would you go to a doctor who made sandwiches for his sub shop between seeing patients, or do you want a doctor who has 100% of his focus on being a doctor?

I can’t tell you about other schools, but I can tell you about us. No-nonsense, practical self defense training, taught by real teachers and child development specialists, with the ethics and character development needed in today’s world, in a safe, clean and modern facility. No video games, no babysitting, no clowning around, no extra programs to distract us from our core, just great martial arts training. I don’t think we are better than other schools, we just offer something different than they do. Our school doesn’t meet the needs of everyone and we get that, and for that, I am glad my competitors can provide those services and upon occasion, we recommend one of them to those looking for something we don’t provide.

Just know this, there is no license needed to run a martial arts school. You can buy a Black Belt online and start your school tomorrow. I know of two individuals in the area who are living that lie. However, even if you did earn a legitimate Black Belt, does that make you qualified to have the influence you are bound to have on your students? Does it make you a professional life coach? Are you suddenly a child development specialist? 
At Ancient Ways, we are.

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