There is more to martial arts than fighting: An Interview With Al Bartlinski


Q. Who is the biggest martial arts influence in your life?

A. Of course, my Sensei, the late Francisco Conde. In my opinion, he was ahead of his time. He told us never to be restricted by style, to explore and, in effect, create our own system. He developed in excess of 50 kata during a time period when many considered that to be anathema.

Another greatest influence is my father, Al Bartlinski, Sr., whose influence continues. It was he who took the time to explore other systems and taught various principles to me. We began training together in January, 1966. It’s hard to believe that this time next year, we’ll have been involved in martial arts for 50 years!

Q. What is your thinking regarding loyalty?

A. Years ago, a prospective business owner called me out of the blue for advice about purchasing a small division of a publicly traded company. For almost a year, he would occasionally “pick my brain” for advice, all at no charge. (I plead temporary insanity!) When he consummated the deal, he hired my firm to provide accounting, tax, and business advisory services at a very significant fee. He would sometimes let me know that he was being courted by firms larger than mine, but assured me that he told them he goes with “horses that got him there.” I always appreciated that loyalty. And it went both ways.
Loyalty permeates all that we do. It has to do with trust, faith, appreciation, honor, and honesty, to name a few. (There’s much more to it though.) It sustains healthy relationships, which is what life is about.

Q. Please could you mention five management activities for better retention?

A. A good new student orientation program.
B. 2-4-6 meetings.
C. C-student classification with a positive solution.
D. Taking the time to get to know students and parents.
E. Weekly instructor training on teaching and relationship-building

Q. What are your thoughts on the new emphasis on practical martial arts?

A. If you’re referring to schools focusing more on self-defense, I think it is a good thing. People enroll into martial arts schools for differing reasons. Of course, self-defense is probably the number 1 reason. We need to make sure that our students can fight – as my Sensei once said to me.

But those of us who have studied the martial arts for an extended period of time have generally found that there is more to it than that. With its physical, mental, and spiritual attributes, it has become a way of life.

I’m at a stage of my life where my body is frequently presenting its bill for services rendered! I can’t do things that I used to do or, if I do, I do them much differently. My favorite martial arts activity is practicing kata, which I do several times a week. It keeps me in tune physically, mentally, and emotionally. And, where I used to practice them with a lot of power, I now take a much softer approach. And when I feel energetic, I crank it up a bit!

Q. What are the greatest challenges martial arts school owners face?

A. Of course, getting and keeping students is at the top of the list. I believe we have to get better as an industry in communicating why people – young and old – should choose martial arts over other activities. 30 years ago the movie the ‘Karate Kid’ introduced martial arts to mainstream America as a great activity for children, which propelled the industry to new heights. I believe it has since been relegated (to an extent) to being perceived as just another activity for children.

Adults as well as children have more choices about where they spend their fitness and activity dollars. Think about it. How many TV shows or movies do we see that include scenes of martial schools compared to gyms, soccer, baseball leagues, etc. The industry and each school owner has to do a better job.

The industry and we as school owners must be able to answer 3 questions:

A. What are we selling?
B. Who wants to buy it?
C. Why choose us?
Answers to these questions are critical to the growth of our profession and schools.

Q. How do you motivate and influence your students?

A. First of all, I show them that I’m full of enthusiasm and energy that comes from enjoying what I do. I let them know that I see in each one of them a black belt waiting to emerge (different words for the younger ones). I follow basic teaching principles that I learned from my association with EFC, including:
A. Praise, Correct, Praise
B. Demonstrate, Explain, Correct, Repeat
C. Name X 3

Q. What is your process for renewing students and to what programs?

A. Within four months, students are invited into the BBC at a belt ceremony. The strength of the process rests upon effective after-sale service, which includes the aforementioned ‘100 Day’ process.

In addition to the standard special gi, they can attend more classes to help them qualify for the minimum hours to black belt. We require students to attest that they have practiced a requisite amount of time at home. This was a big issue for students and parents. Upon joining the BBC, they get home practice credit for the week simply by attending our Saturday makeup class. (No more tears for children and parents!)

Q. Do you have any advice for martial arts schools owners as a CPA?

A. 1. Be aware of the numbers. Take the time to understand your cash flow and profitability drivers. Work closely with a CPA who knows your industry, meeting with him or her throughout the year to review those issues.
2. Know what taxes you are obligated to pay and pay them in a timely manner. These include income taxes, payroll taxes, sales taxes, and use taxes.
3. Business is more complex than it ever was. Use advisors – CPA, CFP, Lawyer, Insurance professional, and of course, EFC.

Q. Your thoughts on EFC?

A. You asked about loyalty. I’ve been with EFC for 28 years or so. I was there when all of their principles were being developed. I’ve participated in industry events sponsored by other organizations and can easily trace their principles to EFC. As they used to say about the Rose Bowl: It’s the Granddaddy of them all! ‘Nuff said.

And John Cokinos has been there all those years, learning from the Guru himself, Nick Cokinos. John knows that times are changing rapidly, requiring the merging of timeless principles, knowledge, and experience with new technology and processes. Buckle up! It’s going to be a great ride!

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