Master Alley is Back!

In Kids Martial Arts Classes, Personal Stories by Don Alley

I have been out of teaching for about six months.

And I did it on purpose, too. I was busy opening the first location for Center Stage, and I also had always wanted to train a team of people to run my martial arts school without me having to be there, doing the day to day. And I accomplished it. My team was doing a stellar job, parents loved them, business was happening right, students were looking amazing, my after school program was rockin’, and I was…

Bored. Out of my mind. All that talk from business leaders and entrepreneurs boasting about replacing themselves and “not having a job” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Maybe for some, yes. Not for me. I like to work. I like to create. I like to hustle. Being Master Alley is fun. And in this current waiting period of getting Center Stage’s numbers where I need them, it would have been unwise to try and start something new. So what do you do?

Go back to work. And it’s been glorious. I love it. Maybe it’s just teaching the karate. Maybe I like seeing people make progress. Maybe I really am a martial arts instructor at heart, and even though I know for a fact that I will always have other business pursuits, maybe I will also always have a karate school. I remember being in Ireland a few years ago for a week, and by the end of the vacation, I wanted to grab random people off the street and teach them a side kick. That wouldn’t have been too weird…

But honestly, you know what I love? I love the interaction with people. I love the connectedness I feel. The special relationship that we get to build. They’re looking forward to seeing me, and I’m looking forward to seeing them. And I get to do it with 300 people every week.

Maybe it feeds me. Maybe I’m more of an extrovert than an introvert than I thought. Or maybe, after six months of not doing what I’ve done for more than the majority of my adult life, I just missed it. And that’s okay too.

I have friends that are trying to grow their martial arts organization so they can maximize their impact and teach more people, and they feel like they are teaching through the staff and instructors they create. And for them, that’s awesome. However, I think that if I could be completely honest with myself, I don’t really want that. While it sounds nice, I think I prefer to be on the floor, being loud, excited, passionate, and making students really good at what I myself have become very good at.

I like motivating people. I like having an outlet where my intensity is welcomed. I like being encouraging, and watching a student nod his head in agreement as I teach about the importance of being fit, strong, of being an achiever, of setting goals. I like watching a parent smile as I walk a child back outside and teach them how to hold the door open for their parent. I like being hard on a student, in a good way, until they accomplish the technique they are working on. Then watching their face light up with excitement at their own accomplishment, as
well as seeing my approval. That kind of stuff juices me.

And, I also like building companies. I like being an entrepreneur. I like creating something from nothing. Moving to Ashburn to start a company was an incredible feeling, and doing it again is awesome. I love watching my preschool flourish. I love the ideas that I have to grow it and turn it into the most exciting child care facility in the country. I like the stress and fun of having to learn new ways to market, new ways to reach people, new ways to connect with people, new ways of building a company that’s completely different than martial arts. How do you build a strong team at each location? How do you put team members in place to ensure that each operation is exhibiting excellence? How do you bring on investors for the next locations? Do I build the buildings from the ground up next time, or do I gut another bank. (I like the bank idea…) What’s the best question I can ask myself right now that will move me towards my goals? Ahh, fun questions. It’s challenging. Tough. Fun. Exhilarating.

I totally love it.

And the good news is, up until a few weeks ago, I thought I had to choose between the two. I assumed I couldn’t do both. I figured, if I am going to build Center Stage, I wouldn’t be able to be “Master Alley” that well. “He” would have to sit on the sidelines while “Don” created this preschool.

Nah.

I can do it all. My teams that are in place have given me a tremendous gift. I get to teach. Inspire. Create. Build. Work. Hustle. Push. Fight. Market. Train. All of the things that make me come alive.

And because of my amazing and talented martial arts instructors that help me run my school, because of my after school director and her team of hard-working counselors, because of the dedication from Center Stage’s director and the awesome team she leads, and because I have an incredible assistant who brilliantly executes my ideas, I get to be all the things I like to be, and do all the things I like to do. I don’t have to choose between the two.

And, after six months of trying, thankfully, I can say, I don’t really want to. Being on the sidelines is no fun. And it doesn’t have to be either/or. It can be both/and. I love teaching martial arts. And I love building an empire. Done.

I love this thought from Julia Cameron: “What we really want to do is what we are really meant to do. When we do what we are meant to do, opportunities come to us, doors open to us, we feel useful, and the work we do feels like play.” So, cheers to more playing. See you in class soon 🙂

Don Alley
Don Alley is the owner and chief instructor at Super Kicks Karate in Ashburn and Leesburg, and has been training in the martial arts for 28 years. He is currently a 6th degree black belt, and has dedicated the entirety of his adult life to teaching children and families martial arts. He is also the owner of Center Stage Preschool, a Montessori-based, performing arts preschool; and co-founder of Testudo Addiction Recovery, a non-profit organization serving families in the Northern Virginia area.