We Revere the Innovators of Change

Gichin Funakoshi, the father of Japanese karate, is renowned – and deservedly so – for making massive changes to Okinawan karate so it would be more acceptable to the Japanese. We have great systems like Shotokan today as a direct result of his efforts. But isn’t changing a style to be accepted on a wider scale the ultimate in commercialization of the arts? Funakoshi had a deep understanding of the system, and he questioned everything. He made changes and found his own voice, and it’s a voice that echoes throughout the martial arts world to this day.

Jigoro Kano stripped the deadly techniques from jujitsu and created judo. He founded Kodokan judo at age 22! He is also the creator of the colored belt system, which his friend Gichin Funakoshi adapted for karate. How would you respond today if a 22 year old told you he was changing your system and creating a new one? Most of us would think, who the heck are you to change this style?

Both of these martial arts heroes had the courage to question and innovate. Yet many of their descendants are passionate that the systems these men created should not change. It’s as though the styles froze with the founders’ passing.

Joe Lewis pays homage to his instructors, yet he has his own voice. He took his theories and ideas and battle-tested them in the ring and is still innovating to this day. In 30+ years of working with world-caliber martial artists, I have yet to see an instructor who even comes close to him. He lives, eats, and breathes martial arts.

Bill Wallace is a good friend of mine who is also very proud of his Okinawan roots, but he certainly has his own voice. Like Lewis, his voice is totally different than his instructors.

No unique voice in the martial arts has had the long-term impact of Bruce Lee. His instructor was Yip Man, but he was clear in his pursuit of truth in the martial arts and knew it could not be found in the confines of any style or label. Lee said that the martial arts are about honestly expressing yourself, and I totally agree. However, I don’t see that a lot. I see a lot of robot-like mimicking and cloning. I see young instructors trying to call themselves Master, so they gain the implied wisdom that comes with that title.

Finding Your Own Voice is the opposite. It’s creating a school that authentically reflects you as a growing martial artist and as a human being, rather than quickly creating the illusion that you have already taken the journey and are on the other side as a Master. It’s about surpassing your instructors in every way and being proud of it, rather than ashamed.

Today, in addition to the implied wisdom of positioning yourself like a Master Po from the Kung Fu TV series, we have the martial arts millionaire syndrome. Consultants present the image that they have become millionaires as a result of a career in the martial arts industry and, if you do what they do, you can become one too. It can happen, but you want to make sure it’s really the lifestyle you want.

I have a consulting client who has been very successful. He has one school, and it profits him $250,000 annually, but he wants four schools. Why? Because he took a martial arts business seminar, and the speaker said the way to wealth is multiple stores (yes, he even called them stores). My client has now opened another black belt school and it is not only sucking him dry, but it is creating stress on his family.

I asked him why he got into teaching martial arts at all. He said he likes to help people and it’s a good quality of life. Well, his quality of life has gone from good to bad quickly. He has lost touch with his original goals of teaching for a living. Even his big income is threatened, because he got excited about achieving someone else’s goal. The seminar leader had goals of making millions, not quality of life. My client got caught up in it and allowed his own goals to be replaced by the seminar leader’s goals. He found the seminar leader’s voice, not his. This is a business example, but we often see a similar situation when a black belt remains in the shadow of his master for his entire career.

Widely recognized as the man who revolutionized the martial arts industry, John Graden launched organizations such as NAPMA (National Association of Professional Martial Artists), ACMA (American Council on Martial Arts), and MATA (Martial Arts Teachers Association). Graden also introduced the first trade magazine for the martial arts business, Martial Arts Professional.

John Graden’s latest book, The Truth about the Martial Arts Business looks into key strategies involved in launching a martial arts business and includes Graden’s own experience as a student, a leader and a business owner.

Graden is the author of six books including The Truth about the Martial Arts Business, The Impostor Syndrome: How to Replace Self-Doubt with Self-Confidence and Train Your Brain for Success, Mr. Graden has been profiled by hundreds of international publications including over 20 magazine cover stories and a comprehensive profile in the Wall Street Journal.

Presentations include: The Impostor Syndrome, Black Belt Leadership, The Secret to Self Confidence, and How to Create a Life Instead of Making a Living, John has taught his proven and unique principles of success to thousands of people on three continents since 1987.

From keynote presentations for thousands to one-on-one coaching sessions, John Graden is a dynamic speaker, teacher, and media personality who brings passion and entertainment to his presentations.

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