What's your typical morning routine? How do you get your day started off right?
In the morning I try to have a small breakfast and a cup of tea. Then we get the kids up and ready for school. This year has been different for everyone. We have a 9 year old and a 4 year old so mornings can be tough sometimes depending on our sleep. Sometimes our 4 year old will climb in bed with us so sleep can be broken. Then we wake up exhausted. But we try to have a good morning with the kids before school.
What did you want to be when you grew up? How did you get your work life started?
When I was really young, I wanted to be a baseball player. Then when I was 15, I started martial arts and gave baseball up for martial arts. When I graduated high school I was teaching martial arts for my instructor. One of the parents worked as a human resources person at an ophthalmologist office. He saw the way I taught and offered me a job in the medical records department until I found something better.. or opened my dojo. I worked there for 13 years.
Why the martial arts? Did you train when you were younger?
I started martial arts when I was 15 because in middle school I got bullied and didn’t want to get bullied in high school. When I started I fell in love with the workout, the learning and connected with my instructor right away. It came easy to me. I worked really hard and practiced at home every day. My instructor did not have limits on how many times a week you can train and classes were 2 hours long. I trained 6 days a week and during the summers he had morning classes as well as night classes. So during the summers I would train every morning and every night. Eventually he started picking me up to help him teach his classes. He also would pick me up on the weekends to travel out of state to be his partner for self-defense when he taught seminars. I was a really good partner (uke).
How did your school come about? Where it located is and what do you teach?
I started my school in 1999. We are located in Oakdale, NY on Long Island. I named it Dragon Gate Martial Arts Academy because when I was younger I saw a restaurant called Dragon Gate and thought it was so cool. Years later I heard the Japanese myth of the carp swimming upstream and leaping over the Dragon Gate to transform into dragons. I realized that’s exactly what we do as martial arts instructors. We help transform people into the best possible versions of themselves.
How do you define success? Was there a moment when you felt like you really made it?
This is a fun question for me. I recently told my wife I thought I was having trouble getting motivated, and it was a hard thing because I had some medical issues. And even before that, I had a hard time figuring out what I wanted to do. It wasn’t until I was forced to sit in my recliner at home after surgery, that I realized what my problem was. When I was younger I wanted to teach martial arts. I wanted my own dojo. I have that. I wanted an awesome wife. I got that, I wanted kids. I have 2 awesome kids - a 9 year old son and a 4 year old daughter. I realized that I was not having trouble getting motivated. I already had everything I ever wanted. My goal for my school was not to make it a business where I had someone else teach. I wanted to teach. Now my motivation is back because success to me is getting what you want. You know the saying "be careful what you wish for because you might get it". I had it and didn’t realize it so I thought something was wrong. Now I realize I have everything I wanted so now I get to have fun. I get to raise my kids. I get to hang out with my wife and I get to have fun running my martial arts school. That’s success to me.
It’s a difficult time to be a business owner this year. What have you been doing to keep your school going?
When covid hit and we had to close our school, we turned off everyone’s memberships and gave them the option of doing 2 virtual classes a week for $75 a month. At that time we were charging $150 a month. We were getting calls about people losing their jobs and them not being able to afford classes anymore. We also got a ton of calls on how fair we were being with not charging full price and taking care of the community. We did what we felt was right for our students. We are behind on our rent now but are lucky enough to have an awesome landlord who is willing to work with us to get back on our feet. We did virtual training for 4 months and opened back up August 1st. We had 140 students before covid and are back up to 90 now. We are still running some virtual classes for anyone who wants to train virtually. Most students are in house though and are using the virtual to train and extra time each week since they can only come into the dojo 2 times a week.
Thanks for being one of our awesome Black Belt Excellence schools! What is it about the program that you like? Are you using it in any interesting ways?
Oh you're welcome! We love the ease of the Black Belt Excellence program. It works for every age group. We do the mat chats and I also use the mat chats with the social media images to create Facebook and Instagram content. I try to shoot videos every month talking about the life skills in the program. Our students earned their Believe in Yourself stripe by getting up in front of the class and teaching a kata. Our 4-6 year olds had to teach a combo they learned. The coloring sheets are great for the younger age group. But even some of the older kids love the coloring sheet. It allows our students to learn the same life skill every month at a level they are ready for. Not to mention how awesome Master Silva is, and Valerie and Mark! Any time we need something they are on top of it.
What advice would you give to your fellow school owners? What has been working well for you these days?
My advice would be to have fun doing what you do. I know I was guilty of always trying to make sure our students were perfect. I would try too hard to get new students. I would be at home with my kids during the day and I was not present because I was thinking of the things I needed to do at the business. And when I was at the business I was resenting it because I was not with my kids. I decided I would not do anything anymore that was not fun. I make our lesson plans fun. I do the Black Belt Excellence mat chats and have fun doing them. Now when I’m at home I can be present. When I’m at the school I’m present. I have not even been trying to get new students and signed up 3 in the last 2 weeks.. even with covid still going on. I think if you don’t enjoy what you are doing, it really shows in your body language and the way you speak. Since I decided to just enjoy what I am doing, everything started to fall into place.
What is currently inspiring you and in what way? (Book, movie, song, charity, anything really…)
Cobra Kai! I was 9 when Karate kid came out. I grew up in the 80”s so when I watch Cobra Kai it brings me back. It’s not good for kids to watch because of the cursing but the ideas that both sides come up to teach lessons to their students is awesome.. and again fun! There’s just something about Miyagi-Do Karate that inspires me. It’s the way I want to be able to teach classes. I want it to be super interesting, challenging and fun at the same time.
How do you end a typical day? What do you do to unwind?
At the end of the night my wife and I go home. She works the front desk at our karate school and takes care of all the sign ups and billing. The school would not be able to run without her. Before she started working with me 10 years ago, I would have to ask people to come back on a different day to sign up because I could not do both (teach the classes and sign people up). So at the end of the night we go home, have a late dinner and spend some time with our kids before putting them to bed. Then we will try to watch something on tv and sometimes I read an educational book either on business, self-help, or whatever the next month’s Black Belt Excellence theme is.