Belonging to a martial arts organization is something all of us will consider as we progress in our martial arts journey, especially if we become instructors.
Martial arts organizations are often the only way to get certified in some way at higher belt ranks, if you care about that. People can and do self-promote, but it tends to be frowned upon by the wider martial arts community. Thus, to be "legit", you have to be promoted by someone else, and that's one major reason organizations are useful.
BUT... I think martial arts organizations could do more than just certify ranks. Today's post is about what I'd love to see in an model martial arts organization.
Just a side note here: there are plenty of "organizations" that award each others high ranks based on payment or just reciprocity: "Promote me to 7th Dan in DudeBro BJJ and I'll promote you to 7th Dan in Super Security Tactikool Ryu" arrangements.
Those are dumb. Don't do that.
For this post, I'm talking about legit organizations that aren't rank mill pay-to-play circle-jerks.
This post is based on my personal experience as as student, a martial arts instructor, and now, as a martial arts school owner. This is how I think a martial arts organization could work and provide a lot of value for membership.
So let's dive in:
Curriculum or Curriculum Advice
This is probably the most common thing you'll see in most legit organizations. Usually these groups are organized around a single style or set of styles so they can have a standard curriculum in member schools.
However, some groups I belong to are NOT single-style specific, and I actually like those a lot, even if they can't help me in the nitty-gritty details of my curriculum as they might be able to in a single-style organization. I have found that multi-style groups can be very helpful to find experts in offerings that you aren't as familiar with, like certain weapons, you'd like to add to your school. It's also nice to have people to commiserate with, even if they don't enjoy the smell of burning rattan like I do. Teaching kids, fundamentally, is teaching kids, no matter the style.
A model martial arts organization will facilitate all of this.
School Operations Advice & Support
I think it behooves any martial arts organization worth its salt to share those tips and tricks to being a successful training group or school with training group organizers and school owners (and aspiring school owners) within the organization. That should main benefit to membership in the group for such people.
This is especially important today, with so much conflicting advice out there. A model organization will help with business plans, marketing plans, budgeting, legal issues, software choices to run the member group, help out with marketing tools & process for members - both in teaching the members how to do it as well as doing some things for them like disseminating easily customized social media content - and a model organization will absolutely do everything it can to support the member schools.
I can imagine an organization really on top of its game helping member schools with business insurance and even help create groups that can seek out health insurance for employees of the member schools. I bet a model martial arts organization can help schools band together to get better prices on equipment, uniforms, and weapons.
A model martial arts organization will actively help its membership start up and maintain their training groups and schools.
Signal Boosting: Marketing & PR
A well run martial arts organization should be constantly looking for opportunities to promote its members, NOT only promoting its leadership.
That signal boost includes widely promoting member events (tournaments, seminars, charity events, etc.), making sure to mention member schools as much as they can in social media & advertising, and listing them prominently on the organization's web site.
That absolutely means promoting member-created content - seminars, videos, class pictures, etc. - in the organization's social media channels, as well as the members social media channels.
How often do you see any martial arts organization post about such-and-such member school's YouTube channel (Facebook page, Twitter feed, Instagram, TikTok, whatever), and how everyone should subscribe? Speaking for my own experience... not terribly often.
A model martial arts organization will have someone in the group tasked with monitoring this info, or a well-thought out and easy way to tag the organization to share content, or both. If there is concern about appropriate content, then the model martial arts organization will write a social media and style guide document & provide guidance to members on the topic.
Continuing the Organization Beyond the First Generation
Many - maybe most - martial arts organizations fall apart after the founder(s)/leader(s) die or retire from the organization.
If a founder wants the organization to have an expiration date, that's fine, they should just make it clear. "When the founder/leader dies or retires, the organization is done, y'all do your own thing" is a perfectly acceptable approach to take.
But usually, most founders/leaders say they want the group to continue. If that is the case, it's very difficult for organizations to live on past the founder(s). Most don't. There are fights over who should be in charge, and how, and why, and people jostle for authority and seniority, and it ends up a big political fight that kills the group as a whole, and it splinters into backwaters here and there.
It doesn't have to be that way, and in a model organization, it isn't.
The model martial arts organization will have a structure and a plan for leadership changes so that all of the money, effort, good will, reputation and time put into the organization isn't wasted.
The model martial arts organization is working hard to avoid arguments or fights on who's supposed to run the group. Anyone who disagrees can leave, of course, but there won't be any debate about it inside the group.
This process of transfer of new leadership should happen well before the founder(s)/leader(s) quit or pass away, as the authority of the old leader(s) will bolster the new leader(s) as they get established.
Not a One-or-Two-Person Show
People outside of the martial arts world might be surprised to learn that most (not all, but most) martial arts organizations are usually run by one or two really dedicated people, often the founder/leader of the group, or a member who is the main administrative person in the group (the leader's "right hand" when it comes to the organization).
All of the institutional knowledge, process, tools... concentrated in a very few hands.
No wonder so many groups die when these key individuals die or leave! Nobody knows how to do anything!
This concentration of responsibility and work happens for many reasons.
A common one is that the founder/leader wants to keep involved in every single detail of the group. This could be a major side-effect of a group being so very closely identified as students of that founder/leader, so that leader feels the need to be involved in everything as an extension of themselves and their own personal reputation.
I'm not necessarily saying that's control freakish... but...
That control freak... um, I mean, totally selfless person working tirelessly for the group... might be that admin person that the founder/leader delegates everything to. The admin truly loves and relishes the role - they're good at it, and it creates a special relationship between the group, the leadership, and the admin.
Here's the problem, as relatively efficient as this concentration seems: that one or two people concentration is a bottleneck in the operations of the group.
If the leader/admin does everything, then if there's a problem or an interruption or something else that requires that person's attention, then the group suffers. Memberships aren't processed. Emails aren't answered. Web hosting goes unpaid and you lose your domain. Products promised and paid for aren't delivered. Seminars and camps are less successful because all of the details weren't nailed down early enough and the advertising didn't happen when it should have.
For founders/leaders, I would argue that doing every administrative task and being involved in every organizational detail is not the best use of your time. There are only so many hours in the day, and a group/organization coalesced around you for a reason. Make videos & write books, teach seminars, inspire and develop the membership. Develop a group of admins (or even hire some) and delegate those details.
Admins are absolute gold. You risk burnout when you one person do everything, especially if it's a volunteer position and not something they get paid to do (which is common). Lose a great admin person, and your organization will suffer.
The model organization has most of the administrative functions of the group divided up and responsibility given to several different people. A very good one has those functions cross-trained across the group so people can back one another up at a minimum.
The model martial arts organization has the process and procedures for the organization written down, documented, and in a place accessible to the organization as a whole.
Most martial arts organizations hold annual events - camps, seminars, etc. - and may organize tournaments. That's pretty common.
The only thing I wanted to say about this topic is that in the case of tournaments, the model organization will be very transparent and up-front about tournament rules and judging guidelines.
There you go, that's the aspects of what I think would be a model martial arts organization. I can think of several groups that meet these criteria, but the vast majority are missing one or more things that would make them ideal.
Did I miss anything important about a model martial arts organization? Do you disagree with what I think is important? I'd love to hear about it!