Teaching martial arts can be fun and it can be hard work. But it’s not Hollywood.
“People have preconceived notions of martial arts training,” said Andrew Knapp, owner and trainer at Moy Yat Ving Tsun Kung Fu Academy in Coralville.
“They are stepping into another world, but they don’t realize it is a simpler world, a less technological world. What gave rise to martial arts was dedication and patience, and that looks different from the movies.”
Sifu (“master” in Chinese) Knapp started his kung fu academy in 2008 after having been an instructor in his own teacher’s school for several years. He explained there is no certification process, but rather that he was given permission from and invited by his teacher to become instructor.
“There is a personal mentorship rather than fulfilling requirements of a body of adjudicators,” Knapp said.
Lowell Anderson, owner and chief instructor at Anderson’s ATA Taekwondo, started his school 11 years ago in Coralville. He said he deals with the same martial arts misconceptions.
“Walking into a martial arts school, everyone is so intimidated,” Anderson said. “I hear people say all the time, ‘We didn’t know martial arts were about this.’?”
‘WE DON’T CHANGE THE STYLE’
There is, admittedly, a lot to learn.
Taekwondo, for example, is a Korean martial art that focuses heavily on kicking techniques. The American ATA Association — of which Anderson’s studio is a member — is the largest martial arts association in America, he said.
“If a student leaves or moves and goes to another ATA school, they can continue to train at the same level. They don’t have to start their training over,” Anderson noted.
Tournament competition is also hardy. Anderson said it’s not uncommon to have 600 to 700 students competing in any one ATA tournament.
Kung fu, on the other hand, is a Chinese martial art that is less athletic than others and focuses on cooperation with those around you. Knapp teaches ving tsun (pronounced “wing chung”) style in the moy yat family tradition — named for the famous kung fu practitioner who brought ving tsun to the United States from Hong Kong. He said those traditions are of utmost importance.
“An important part of teaching is not adding your own ideas to the style,” Anderson said. “We don’t change the style for the individual student.”
Knapp trained in taekwondo at an early age, but in high school he took up kung fu and was hooked, he recalled.
Growth of Moy Yat has been slow and steady, Knapp said, but he prefers it that way.
“It’s a slow but natural building process. I don’t try to have a huge operation,” he said. “If you try to push too much for big numbers things get out of hand and you can’t teach properly.” Knapp offers seven classes per week over four days.
On the other hand, two years ago Anderson’s ATA expanded to classes in Coralville and North Liberty.
“Business had been about the same for nine years,” Anderson said. “Now with classes in North Liberty six days a week, it has really grown a lot.”
He now has some 80 children and 20 adults enrolled in classes.
Anderson attributes some of his success in growing his school to offering flexible scheduling for students. “We do open scheduling. Families can adjust to fit their schedule every week,” he explained. “I know I am competing against t-ball and soccer and everything. Those sports will always win.
“But if I have a flexible schedule, taekwondo can compete.”
Another key to success is offering free tryout classes for beginners. Anderson offers two free weeks of classes for children — he also offers free classes for parents if their child is a student at the school.
At Moy Yat, Knapp offers a free class for adults and a free week of classes for children.
“You have to try it first. It might look cool, but then you take off the rose-colored glasses,” Knapp said.
He said most students can tell if kung fu, or another martial art, is for them after about three classes.
JUST OPEN THE DOORS
Children can be harder to keep in classes, Knapp said, because they are more activity-oriented and not looking for long-term commitment.
“When people ask you to teach kung fu to their children, they are asking you to entertain them. Kids have a good time and stay active, but to become serious at kung fu a student has to view it not just as a simple activity but must also have a deeper commitment.”
Running their own martial arts school takes more commitment and time than both Anderson and Knapp originally dreamed.
“When I first started out, I had the assumption that you just opened the doors and people would flood in,” Anderson admitted. “There are a lot hours involved if you want to have growth in your school.
“If you aren’t working hard to sign someone up, you aren’t going to succeed. I have to be the driving force behind getting people through the door.”
Along with keeping up with the details of running a business, Anderson and Knapp teach all their own classes.
“It means more work for me, but it’s work I really enjoy,” Knapp acknowledged. “The amount of work isn’t so bad as long as I focus on what I am trying to accomplish.”
And it’s obvious, that teaching is where their passions lie.
“Most business owners would agree that the nuts and bolts of running the business get in the way of work a lot of time. I would rather teach and train all day. I am more of a teacher than a business man.”Anderson agreed: “That’s really my passion, to be on the floor teaching students and being a mentor.”