I would like to say a huge congratulations to my friend and Sensei, Paul Mitchell, on attaining his 5th Dan. Those who know and train with him will not be surprised as Paul has an enormous depth of knowledge and ability. Although I have trained for a number of years, only 3 of which have been with Paul, he has had a huge influence on my outlook and direction in Karate.
Paul, (who also teaches Tai Chi), holds regular applied Karate seminars and Tai Chi course which are open to none club members. These are well worth attending for anybody who wants to gain a deeper understanding of either of these arts.
Paul is currently working on his own book, which will be a “must buy” for all Shotokan Karateka. More about that when it gets closer to being published.
Going back further in Okinawan Karate history before Karate was introduced to Japan, they had the interesting concept of Shu-Ha-Ri, which I have discussed before. However, to recap:
Shu: means that you copy your master as closely as possible, to learn his techniques in as much detail as you can. Ha: means that once your technique is up to a good standard, you have the freedom to make subtle changes to suit your own physique and experiences. Ri: means that you have mastered the techniques to the extent that they are a natural part of you. At this point the student may transcend the master.
This is not a far cry from Bruce Lee’s famous quote: “Absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, add what is specifically your own.”
The “Ha” part in particular tells us that it was expected for the advanced student to adapt their Karate to suit themselves. Although there is a certain amount of leeway for us to do this today, we are still in the main confined to what our seniors tell us is our style. We are not free to change our kata’s to do (for example) a Front Kick rather than a Side Snap Kick which we might struggle with. Can you imagine the masters of old raised with the concept of Shu-Ha-Ri, insisting that their student continue to do a technique that damaged their joints, simply because it was always done that way? If you want to train in the traditional manner, rather than a “traditional style”, then maybe you should consider making little changes to suit your own body.
To quote Matsuo Basho a haiku poet, we should progress: “Not by blindly flowing the footsteps of the old masters, but by seeking what they sought”
There are a number of examples of Shu-Ha-Ri in modern martial arts. I hope martial artists of other styles will forgive me for focusing on Shotokan Karate, but it is the style that I’m most familiar with, (though I’m sure other styles have similar examples).
Those of us who have trained in Shotokan Karate over the decades have instinctively known (especially in the early days) that something was missing. Not just in the unrealistic bunkai that was taught to us by our Japanese masters, but sometimes technically in the art. We would see films or read magazine articles about masters doing great feats with seemingly no effort, yet we were encouraged to put more and more effort into our training (overly exhaling and tensing to create kime) as we progressed. That seemingly mystical ability to generate masses of power with little effort, derived from pure technique which we thought we would attain as we progressed, seemed to become more elusive as we rose through the grades. Very few senior Sensei in those earlier days seemed to be able to show us anything except more of the same. As my former Sensei, Graham Mead used to say, “ We were ending up with 2nd & 3rd Dans who were really just very good brown belts”.
However, over the years things have gradually changed and mainly for the better. Sport science has obviously shown that fast movement requires relaxation rather than more tensing. The emphasis on deep stances has relaxed (though Shotokan stances are still deeper than many others). Little things like bending the back leg slightly in Zenkutsu Dachi (front stance) relieves the tension on the lower spine and hips has replaced the straight back leg which was common years ago.
These all help to reduce the damage to our bodies that many early practitioners suffered from.
The availability of many other martial arts have allowed exploration to fill the gaps and bring some of the answers back into mainstream Shotokan.
Master Hirokazu Kanazawa, 10th Dan and founder of the Shotokan Karate International, also studied Tai Chi. When he taught around the world he would often have Tai Chi seminars alongside the Karate seminars. His Karate has become much more softer and more relaxed than most others and he has inspired many Shotokan practitioners of all associations to take up Tai Chi (including me).
The Late Master Tetsuhiko Asai, 10th Dan, lived and taught in Taiwan form many years. During this time he also studied White Crane Kung Fu, Dim Mak (critical nerve points) and Qi Gong. He placed great emphasis on relaxation and using the body like a whip. He was the founder of the Japan Karate Shotorenmei and brought his own special influences to bear on the Shotokan world.
These influences along with many others have led Shotokan Karate to become very varied depending on which association or instructor you train with. Some versions are quite relaxed like the original Okinawan Karate making it a healthy art to practice, whilst others are still quite stiff like the early post war Karate which can be damaging.
Taekwondo too has also changed significantly over the years and now has many variations. Some associations for example have introduced a sine-wave movement into their step to also create a more relaxed manner of moving.
Please add any other examples below of how any martial art has been adapted to make it healthier to train.
My on-line friend Colin Wee, 6th Dan TKD, has proposed an Anti-Bullying Blogging Carnival. As I used to be bullied a lot back in far distant school days, I thought this was a good idea, so this is my contribution to the Carnival.
The obvious answer the title question is of course, YES, traditional martial arts can help somebody who is being bullied; but there are some limitations that need to be taken into consideration.
For somebody just starting their training, traditional martial arts can take quite a while to learn up to a proficient standard. Something like Kickboxing is simpler and can be learnt to a proficient level considerably quicker. Confidence is quickly gained when hitting an actual target (like focus mitts or punchbag). Traditional martial arts may have more depth and include a much greater range of techniques and capabilities (grappling, pressure points, grab releases, etc); but the emphasis on perfecting technique makes them more difficult and slower to learn.
For somebody who is being physically bullied NOW, taking up traditional martial arts alone may be a bit slow to produce results.
Another factor which is much more important however is the pre-fight build up and the emotional response to the threat of violence, which is often overlooked in traditional martial arts. A fight can be won or lost before the first punch/kick is even thrown by one person intimidating the other and undermining their confidence. Bullies routinely use this tactic as part of their build up; be it name calling, threatening, minor pushing around; all testing the response and intimidating their victim into a feeling of helplessness and fear. This loss of confidence and fear leads to hesitations and even freezing at a critical moment making it even easier for the bully to dominate in a physical conflict as the victim can become too scared to even fight back.
Simplistically put, the bully psyches them-self up, whilst the victim is psyched down.
Some instructors who have been in a number of altercations in their younger days assume that the pre-fight stage is a matter of common sense once you know how to fight. It may be common sense to somebody who has actually had experience at real fighting. But it is not common sense to somebody who has not been in that position before and hasn’t had that experience. It certainly is not common sense to somebody who has been routinely bullied and has developed an ingrained behaviour pattern of backing down and acting passively when threatened, they just don’t know anything else. When under this type of pressure, blood goes to the limbs (for fight or flight) and away from the brain. Therefore the brain does not think very clearly and relies on instincts and experience. If the last experience when being bullied was to act passively, then the chances are that they will act passively again. Not always, sometimes they snap and go for it, but in most cases they will do more or less the same as before.
Many years ago, whilst rising up through the coloured belts in my Karate, I trained hard, was naturally flexible and had good technique for my grade. However, when sparring or entering in a competition I would often not do very well, even when I was faster, sharper and had better technique than the person that I was facing. I realised later that it was because I was not very aggressive and had a passive nature. Yes, I was bullied a lot at school and no, I didn’t really stick up for myself.
So if I was not doing well in the relative safety of sparring and competition, what would have happened if I’d been involved in a street fight?
Many traditional martial arts give little consideration to the pre-fight stages of the conflict and how to deal with it emotionally or psychologically. Many systems do include pre-arranged sparring routines which can be used to work this area and include emotional intensity/pressure. When you face somebody who is going to come in at you fast and strong and if you don’t block, side step or evade, they’ll take your head off; then you do get used to dealing with the adrenaline and fear but it can take a long time.
Shortly after passing my black belt I was sparring with my Sensei. Whilst he obviously got the better of me, I stood my ground quite well and made it work for it. He said to me afterwards with a little smile, “what happened to that green belt that I used to be able to kick all around the dojo”?
Traditional martial arts training had made a big difference to me mentally and emotionally and by the time I had obtained my black belt I had overcome much of my limitations caused by my passive nature. However, it had taken me nearly 4 years to get there. For somebody who is being bullied NOW, that is a long time.
This is why I am in favour of reality based training which uses scenarios to de-sensitize people to the threats, abuse and taunts, and teaches them to function even under the effects of adrenaline and fear. Humans always learn much more quickly when in an emotional state, which is why reality based training gets very quick results and change that freeze reaction to an active response. As mentioned above, when under pressure the brain losses blood and relies on experience. If you can simulate a realistic experience where the victim takes action (be it assertive verbal behaviour to dissuade an attacker, or actual physical fighting back), then that becomes the default experience the next time that person is in that situation.
One of the first times I did this kind on training there was a young lady who was a reasonably high grade in Taekwondo. When the trainer (as part of the training scenario) venomously called her a “f***ing bitch”, she started to cry. She had obviously been through some abusive experiences in the past, but her traditional martial arts training had not prepared her to emotionally deal with this simple abuse and she went straight into the old ingrained behaviour pattern. However, she continued the exercise and learnt a new response to take away with her, so I applaud her courage for sticking with it. She took a bigger step forward that day than the rest of us.
I would warn however, that although learning under heightened emotional pressure produces quick results, it also hard-wires the response. So if you overcome the “freeze” response but swing wildly, then the wild swinging could become your hard wired (and not very effective) response. This is why I believe that scenario based training (reality based training) is very beneficial, but it should be used sparingly and should NOT become the default training method. Traditional martial arts are the best way to obtain the best long term results, but if you don’t have the time, then you need a little extra.
Stav is a very rare Norwegian Martial Art, which dates back to the Vikings. Along with numerous weapons and unarmed combat, it also has a very deep philosophical, spiritual and self development side to it, which is very different to anything that most of us would usually associate with the Vikings.
One of the World’s leading authority’s on this rare and ancient martial art is international Stav instructor and author, Graham Butcher; who has kindly agreed to do this interview.
Graham has a lot of insights to share which will be of benefit to any martial artists, regardless of style. This is despite the fact that it was developed in North Europe’s, whilst most martial arts have their origins in the Far East. In fact in some ways it gives a fresh perspective, whilst at the same time still having a lot in common.
So, on to the interview:
CW: Graham, I believe you practiced other martial arts before you found and focused on Stav. Can you tell us which other styles you trained in?
GB: As a teenager I started with Kyushindo Karate under Sensi George Mayo. I followed that with Feng Sau Wu Shu where my teacher was Graham Horwood. I also trained in Shotokan Karate in Southgate before I took up Kick boxing with Joe Holmes and the last style I trained in before I took up Stav was Nambudo which I practised for a couple of years before moving to Humberside where I met Ivar Hafskjold.
CW: Stav is a very rare martial art. How did you come across it?
GB: Sometime in October or November 1992 I was scanning the magazine stand in a Hull newsagent and I felt compelled to purchase the current edition of Fighting Arts International, a publication belonging to Terry O’Neill. I hadn’t bought a martial arts magazine in a long time so it was strange. I got it home and read it an there was an article called the Viking and the Samurai by Harry Cook. The piece was an interview with Ivar Hafskjold who had recently returned to Europe from Japan and settled in the UK. Over four pages the article covered Ivar’s experiences in Japan and Stav, the family system. It also turned out that Ivar lived only a few miles away in Beverley and he was interested in finding students to teach. At the time I was teaching a self defence class and I felt that getting in contact with Ivar Hafskjold was the right thing to do. I wrote him a letter and received a phone call in return. We met up and talked and I was shown some of the training Ivar had received in Japan. Not having done Japanese weapon arts let along seen Stav before it all seemed a bit strange but something made me think it would be a good idea to learn from Ivar. He was holding a class in Driffield at the time so I joined that and began training with him.
CW: Having practiced other martial arts, what was it about Stav as a fighting art that appealed and made you want to stay with it?
GB: Difficult to say really but I think it was two things. Firstly it was realising that Ivar could teach me stuff I didn’t already know and I wanted to learn from him. Secondly it was the emphasis on realising one’s own potential rather than having to attain an arbitrary external standard. That’s really it, I have learned stuff from Ivar which I am sure no one else could have taught me, and I anticipate that there will be new insights to gain from him when I train with him on the summer camp in July. And I continue to explore and develop my own potential using thepractice and principles of Stav as a framework and guide.
CW: Tell us a little bit about Stav as there’s a lot more to it than just a fighting system isn’t there?
GB: It is very dangerous making a comparison like this but I will risk suggesting that Stav can be compared to, say, Taoism in the sense that Tai Chi may be a Taoist art but Taoism is not Tai Chi alone. Stav may be learned, practised and expressed through martial training but there are many other aspects to it. Stav literally means “knowledge of the rune stav/e/s” . The runes have a roughly comparable place in European culture as the Iching does in China. (I know these are very imperfect comparisons but they may be helpful). The runes are symbols for learning traditional wisdom and accessing the intuition. The runes also provide the inspiration for the stances which are rather like a Chi gung form. Doing the stances daily promotes a good posture, maintains a full range of movement, develops deep and natural breathing, encourages the flow of Megin (vital energy) and induces a relaxed and focused mindset.
Stav also teaches an awareness of environment including plants, trees and animals as well as the seasons, weather and topography. Socially Stav is concerned with self-reliance and being able to take care of yourself while also understanding how society works and how human beings interact. The five principles of Stav help us with this.
Then there is learning to see the Web of Orlog which is about understanding how things are made and connected to one another. This is about seeing the underlying reality of any situation rather than just the surface impression. This applies to all aspects of life, relationships, business, health and making and creating things.
CW: With all these different facets to the art, do you practice them all equally, or is there any aspect that you specialise in?
GB: I do the stances daily and I have a particular interest in martial arts and martial training so I give time to that. I also work at making, building and fixing things in my Handyman business. I am interested in marketing, teaching and communication generally. I use these to promote my Stav teaching and the Handyman business. I sometimes work with runes directly and they are effective tools for developing self knowledge but I don’t give a huge amount of time to that aspect at the moment.
CW: Stav includes a number of weapons. Obviously knife defence is as applicable today as it was centuries ago when Stav was first created. What other weapons do you teach that are still directly applicable in today’s world?
GB: Firstly we teach basics with the staff because it is a very effective way of learning how to use the body. Techniques done with a long two handed weapon give very clear feedback on the positioning and alignment of the body. An almost imperceptible movement of the hand becomes a displacement of several inches at the end of a staff which the hand is holding. Not only can the teacher see this but the student quickly becomes aware of this for themselves and the staff in a sense becomes their teacher. When doing two person drills working with thestaff breaks down the difference in size and strength between those training. So the principle can be explored and seen more clearly than if all contact is body to body. So we would regard weapons primarily as teaching devices to build knowledge, awareness and confidence. Once these qualities are developed they will easily transfer to unarmed training.
Secondly we have to realise that human beings are tool using animals and weapons are just tools with a specific function. Unarmed self-defence is only relevant in the very artificial situation which exists in current western society. Does anyone teach tool free DIY or implement free gardening? The idea would be ridiculous and in reality so is unarmed self-defence. However present social conditions make it difficult to carry a weapon on a regular basis so we do need unarmed self-defence skills although we would do well to remember that however good we may be a weapon can confer a massive advantage to an opponent of even mediocre skills. You may obey the law in not carrying an “offensive weapon” but you can be reasonably sure that someone who is determined to hurt you for some reason may not be so deterred. The weapons which are most accessible to us (and least likely to be considered “offensive weapons” by those whose job it is to regulate, sorry, protect us are tool handles, walking sticks, walking staffs, martial arts “training” equipment etc. The humble stick in whatever form will never be obsolete as a weapon so teaching staff (broomstick) axe (pick handle, baseball bat, golf club) and cudgel (walking stick etc) will never be irrelevant.
Post interview note: Here is a video of Graham demonstrating knife defence. He also demonstrates the 5 principles of Stav, referred to above:
CW: How relevant do you feel it is to practice ancient weapons such as axe and spear in today’s world?
GB: Personally I use an axe and its smaller cousin the sax (a heavy bladed machete) on a regular basis. My work often involves clearing overgrown vegetation including trees. Cutting wood and other plant material is a great way of learning to handle an axe or sax, building strength, learning to see the web line needed for an effective cut and earning money all at the same time. Stav is a totally practical art.
Another reason for working with the axe is that to develop good defences you need a very good attack to defend against and the axe, in the hands of a competent person is a very good attacking weapon, so once again it is a teaching tool. And as stated above in extremes the axe is as good a weapon for self-defence today as it ever was for a Viking and you can have a perfectly legitimate reason for owning it.
A spear is essentially a longer staff so training with it adds some variety to practice of basics. That is the main reason. Of course if necessary a spear is very easy to improvise and in skilled hands it is the ultimate close quarter weapon.
I certainly have reservations about martial training systems which aretechnology based. By that I mean that they train with particular kinds of swords and everything is really geared to exploring the potential of the sabre, or rapier or broadsword or whatever. In Stav training we essentially with four sticks; long, staff or spear, medium, axe or two handed club, short, cudgel, walking stick or possibly one handed sword and tein, which can be a short baton or represent a knife or dagger. Each of these enables you to train for a “real weapon” but each is highly effective for self-defence in exactly the same form as you train with if you know what you are doing with it.
CW: I note that your website and other Stav websites use the title “Ice and Fire”. Clearly opposites! Is that the Viking equivalent of Yin and Yang? Does the Stav philosophy have a lot in common with the philosophies of Eastern martial arts?
GB: The Ice and Fire name comes from the Norse creation myth which describes how the world came into existence in the Gunning Gap a place between fire and ice and in the vapour that formed life developed. I suppose it is a similar concept to Ying and Yang but I think the Vikings were a bit more literal in their thinking, Ying and Yang are abstract concepts, Ice and Fire are everyday realities. All human beings have to engage with the same fundamental issues so there will be parallels in martial arts philosophies too. However it would take a long time to unpick them all.
CW: Are there any areas where Stav philosophy is significantly different to the Eastern martial arts?
GB: Another tricky one to try and unpick in a few lines. There is a major Confucian influence on Eastern martial arts hence the seniority of the teacher and submission to that seniority becomes an overriding imperative in the practice of the art. Whereas with Stav as a western system the emphasis is on the development of the individual. There is a lot more to be said than this about superficial differences but ultimately they are just different paths to the top of the same mountain.
CW: Martial arts are different things to different people; sport, combat, self development, business, combination of things. Can you sum up what is your personal philosophy on martial arts?
GB: For me it is primarily self-development, I think self-defence is important but the best way to protect oneself is stay out of trouble. I enjoy teaching martial arts and would like to do it full time, but to achieve that it will have to be a reasonably successful business.
CW: You describe Stav as your “primary activity”. How does Stav affect your day to day life and what benefits do you feel you get from your daily practice?
GB: It keeps me fit and healthy which is obviously important. It also helps me see things clearly which is very helpful for solving problems which is basically what I do in my ‘day job’.
Despite being centuries old, Stav is still being developed to make it morerelevant in today’s society.
CW: Can you tell us a little about your role in this development and what specifically you have brought into the mix?
GB: I have been working with Ivar since the beginning to make Stav into a system which could be taught as a public system rather than as a family tradition which is the way the Hafskjolds had passed it on for centuries. By learning the system myself and then seeking to teach it to as many people as possible I think we have got a little closer to having a teachable system than we had at the start. Ivar is an amazing teacher but he would admit that you have to be in the right place to start learning from him. I have focused on how to teach Stav from scratch to any one who is serious about learning.
CW: I note on your website that you have a particular interest in martial art training for older people. This is an area of interest for me too. Do you have any general advice for the more mature martial artist?
GB: Big subject, but very briefly I would recommend getting very focused in one’s training. Take an 80/20 approach where you concentrate on the few exercises and techniques which will bring the greatest benefits. Don’t over strain yourself or waste energy.
CW: You teach seminars in several UK cities as well as in Germany and the USA. Are there any other countries that you’ve taught in and how did this come about when so few people (even in the martial arts world) have even heard of Stav?
GB: I have taught a seminar in France a few years back and Ivar has taught in Australia and Scandinavia. It has been mainly people seeing the websites and getting interested enough to organise a seminar.
CW: You have written a book; Stav: The Fighting System of Northern Europe. How did this come about and is it the only book available on Stav?
GB: I wrote it when I had been doing Stav about three years. At that stage I felt I knew enough to produce a kind of manual. Quite recently I wrote a supplement to it which I provide to anyone who buys a copy. There are some booklets on other aspects of Stav available from my website. It is high time I wrote a new book but these days I feel like I don’t know enough, I just need to get over that and get on with it.
CW: You also run a blog about Stav at http://iceandfire.ca/stavblog which you post on regularly. Has this been well received and what type of issues do you focus on?
GB: I do get good feedback and I focus on any aspect of Stav and related issues, which pretty much means I can write about almost anything. I suggest readers have a look for themselves.
CW: You are currently doing Geoff Thompson’s Masterclass. How much of this do you find fits in directly with your Stav training and do you find any parts to be very different?
GB: The concept of the fence fits very well with our training in the five principles. Okay, I haven’t tested Stav in 300 fights but I do have some experience of violence. I find his teaching on fear and how to manage it very helpful and I am incorporating that into my teaching more than I used to. None of Geoff’s teaching seems alien but he certainly emphasises stuff I hadn’t always paid enough attention to.
CW: What are you future plans for your own training and for spreading Stav?
GB: I am looking more at the unarmed/self-defence aspects of Stav training, Geoff Thompson’s influence has been very helpful there. I am doing much more impact training than I have done for many years using punchbags etc and that is interesting. As far as spreading Stav generally is concerned I will be making more training dvds and writing more. I am also taking more opportunities to teach Stav at multi style events, these are always a good chance to spread the word.
CW: Do your Stav seminars have much to offer martial artists of other styles who are not looking to change style, but just want to explore the whole ethos of martial arts more deeply?
GB: Depends a bit on which one they come on. If I am focusing on five principles or working with the web training then these concepts are useful to someone doing any style. If I am teaching stances, or axe training or nine guards with staff or spear it is a bit more specifically Stav but it could still be of interest. I would suggest calling or emailing me first and saying what it is you are looking for and I can see whether or not that particular seminar is likely to be suitable for your needs.
CW: How should people contact you if they want to train with you, or to book you for seminars?
CW: Graham, thank you very much for taking the time to do this interview and for your insights. I wish you every success in your future projects and I’ll have to come and train on one of your seminars in the future.
For anybody interested in obtaining Graham’s book, you can get it from Amazon:-
A lot is written these days about how the basic blocking techniques in Karate/Taekwondo are not really “blocks”, but close quarters strikes, releases from grabs/holds, joint locks etc. It is often pointed out that though we practice these “blocks” against straight punches, the creators of Karate would not have been facing that type of attack. So we have “blocks” that don’t really work, practiced against techniques that we are not likely to be attacked with. They only really work with a compliant partner with a pre-arranged attack. The true meanings of these techniques have definitely been dumbed down in mainstream Karate/Taekwondo, yet many instructors are researching and uncovering much more workable applications for these same techniques.
So why is it that so many instructors who challenge the conventional wisdom of how these “blocks” should be applied, yet still teach these techniques in blocking drills against straight punches, despite the fact that they know full well they won’t work when applied this way in a real situation?
Is it simply for because it’s part of the art so we have to do it even though we know that it won’t actually work in reality?
Is it just to allow students to pass gradings (with unworkable applications)?
It probably is partly because it’s an accepted part of the art and part of the grading syllabus. But having said that, these basic blocking drills do still have some useful and practical functions with which to develop our Karate/Taekwondo.
Firstly, there is the reason for which much of the dumbing down started in the first place. That is that it is taught to children and you don’t want to teach then to break arms and legs then have them use it in a playground brawl. But what about adults who want to be able to use it in a real self defence situation against a mugger or rapist?
Well if we take for example an upper rising block (age uke), which works much better as an attack to the neck or under the chin then it does for blocking a straight punch. If this is done full force, smashing the forearm upwards under somebody’s chin whilst pulling them down at the same time with the other hand (hikite), then you could feasibly break their necks and kill them. You obviously can’t do it full power and would always have to pull the technique when practicing with a partner. Practicing it against a straight punch however, always allows you to practice and apply the technique full power against a moving target with an whilst being put under pressure of somebody coming at you fast and powerful (miss and you get hit). You can use your opponents arm as a substitute head which you can hit as hard as you like without the fear of damaging them.
There is some limitations within this principle as I’m sure that some will argue that blocking the forearm is not a realistic substitute for striking the head. However, the mind is a very powerful tool and if you keep focused on what the real intention/target should be, then it can still be an effective training method. Besides, you can still practice against the head as well (as long as you pull the technique) as there is no reason not to practice both ways.
It is also a convenient tool to teach a sense of distancing and timing. When these techniques were created, they were designed by warriors for warriors who would have probably had a keen sense of timing and distance already. But most of us who train today can’t really describe ourselves as warriors, so it is a useful exercise for us to learn these skills early in our martial arts training.
So I’m in favour of keeping these practices. Even though we know our blocking drill will not work as such in a real situation, they do teach us things that are useful building blocks in our journey through the martial arts. We just have to keep our mind focused on what the end objective really is!
I will shortly being doing an interview with Graham, so you can find out more about him soon! Anyway, over to Graham:-
Everyone seems to have a website these days and it is a good idea to have one for your club if possible. However many instructors get a mate to register a domain for them, put up a couple of pages with details of where and when they train, a bit about the instructor and how many Dan grades he/she has and how many competitions they have won and then wonder why it really makes no difference at all. The fact is that just putting up a website, however nicely presented it is and however many pretty pictures will have no perceptible benefit unless you make it work for you.
Now I know that optimising a website as a serious business tool is an arcane science and mysterious art so I am not going into SEO (Search Engine Optimization), PPC (Pay Per Click) or the difference between long and short tail key words (I think the long tail ones can swim better). I am just suggesting three things to think about which will make the difference between a local club website being useful and effective rather than being a waste of time and money. Although we are talking small scale here these three principles are the basis of success for a large commercial site too, so if you get them right at the local club level you will have a head start should you decide to become more ambitious.
The three principles are: • Traffic, does anyone actually visit your site? • Content, is there anything worth looking at when they get there? • Follow up, are you maintaining contact with people who have visited?
Firstly traffic, how do you get people to visit your site? If yours is a local karate club then you need to put the domain name in front of as many people as possible and try and add a reason why visiting it may be worth their while. There is a great deal to be said for doing this on paper in one form or another, leaflets, posters, your business cards, small ads in the local paper and parish magazine. I am not saying no one will find you from a Google search for martial arts clubs in your area but if there is another club with a longer established site with more links then that is the one that will probably be found first. So my recommendation is that you concentrate first on getting attention from offline sources.
Secondly, make the effort to maintain up to date content. At least once a month add something new and archive the previous material so the size of the site starts to grow. If you use WordPress you can easily add items as blog postings. Why not post self defence or fitness tips regularly and then your offline adverts can give reading these as a reason to visit the site? It is amazing how often sites are put up with several pages of reasonably interesting content but never updated again. It is probably better to put up three pages, a title page, one links and one of content and then add an extra page of content weekly or even monthly so long as you do it regularly. Then make something of it, tell your students at the end of class that there is a new article on your site that they should read, tell your Facebook friends, mention it in the next advert you place or leaflet you deliver. Think of your self as a publisher even if it is only a picture taken on your mobile phone and 200 words of text that you add each month, it is still a lot more than most people manage.
Which brings us to the third principle which is follow-up. There is a system called an auto responder which provides an opt in system and enables you to mail a large list of people on a regular basis. If you are receiving Charlie’s newsletter then you signed up to one of these, I have one on my website too. I will go into more detail on how to set one up another time although if you visit www.aweber.com you can find out more there. There is a modest cost. The other alternative is to create a Facebook group for your club and invite people to join it from your website. As members of the group they will be easy to keep in touch with. Making the most of Facebook is another vast subject which I will look at another time. Just having people’s email addresses is obviously good but be careful of just creating a mass email and sending it out. This creates two possible problems, one is that it will probably fall foul of spam filters and your messages will not get delivered and secondly some people get jumpy about having their email addresses distributed too freely. You can always BCC each message but if you are emailing to large numbers of people an auto responder is going to be worth the money.
Vast subject, short article but hopefully something to think about. Make the effort to drive traffic, especially from offline sources, regularly maintain and develop your content and find ways of maintaining contact with those who have made contact with you through the site. Make an effort with these three principles and your website will be a real help in growing your club.
For more information about Graham, please visit: www.iceandfire.org. If you would like to add your own thoughts/experience to help others promote their clubs, please leave your comments below.